Welcome to The Ivy League Look

This blog presents a historical view through articles, photographs, reminiscences, and advertisements, of an American style of men's fashion of the mid-20th century known as "The Ivy League Look" or "The Ivy Look."

This blog will not present modern-day iterations of this "look"; it will be shown in its original context as an American style worn during this specific era. Author commentary will be kept to a minimum.

This is not a commercial site and links to commercial sites will not be posted.

April 17, 2009

"...well bred, understated, but not fussy."

Ivy League and Preppy Look

New England is home to four colleges that comprise the Ivy League athletic conference: Harvard, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. The other colleges - Princeton, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia - are also in the Northeast...

In the conformist 1950s, students at these colleges popularized the Ivy League look, which had its roots in the conservative styles of New England.

For men, the Ivy League look consisted of a suit with a narrow-shouldered unfitted jacket, worn with a button-down shirt, skinny tie, and penny loafers (preferably Bass Weejuns). Charcoal gray and olive were the preferred colors. Chinos and tweed blazers offered a casual alternative. The look spread beyond campuses to young men in all parts of suburban America where details such as buckle straps from Ivy trousers were transplanted to caps, shirts, and shoes. High school students wore a more extreme four-button jacket bearing the name "Jivey Ivy."

By 1960, most men sported modified Ivy models that incorporated unpadded shoulders, narrow lapels, and tapered trousers. Brooks Brothers, a citadel of conservatism, came to the forefront as the Ivy League style became popular. When the young John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts, became the president of the United States, the Ivy League look reached the White House.

Ivy League women wore cashmere twin sets, Shetland sweaters, or blazers with kilts or tweed skirts. In the summer, blouses with peter pan collars were worn with Bermuda shorts. A pearl necklace set off any outfit.

The Ivy look is well bred, understated, but not fussy. Many New England men and women held to the conservative, classic styles that compromised the Ivy League look during the sartorial upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 1970s, conservative styles once again seemed right for the times, and the Ivy League look resurfaced as the preppy look.

The essential ingredients for the male preppy wardrobe included a conservative gray flannel suit, preferably made by Brooks Brothers, a long-time favorite label of New Englanders. For less formal wear, button-down oxford shirts or Lacoste polo shirts worn with khakis or corduroys sufficed. Other favorites included Harris Tweed jackets, down vests, Burberry tench coasts, L.L. Bean field coats, and camel hair Polo coats.

Preppy women wore female versions of masculine styles: khaki, flannel, or corduroy slacks; a kilt or plaid skirt, a blazer or tweed jacket; and a Shetland or Fair-Isle sweater over a ruffle-necked white blouse or cotton turtleneck.

Preppy styles for women were rather androgynous: female versions of the men's styles produced by the same companies. Both genders wore clothes of Indian madras, a cotton plaid fabric that had first become popular in the early 1960s. Shoes common to both men and women were loafers or Sperry Top-Siders (boat shoes). Socks were optional. Men donned wing tips for dressy affairs while women wore simple pumps.

Like the Ivy League look before it, the preppy look emphasized the wearing of classic fabrics from natural fibers. The only departure from conservative dressing was the bright pink and green color combinations seen in preppy ensembles. Preppy clothes were well made, with attention to detail. Brand names were important. The American designer Ralph Lauren has built a financial empire on fashions inspired by this old money New England look.


Sletcher, Michael. New England - The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures . Greenwood Press, 2004. Pages 156-7.

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