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.

May 21, 2009


"In the early 50s, friends of mine and I picked up from somewhere a bit of verbal play which involved categorizing almost everything and everyone as shoe or unshoe. As new alumni of an Ivy League university, we obviously considered being shoe a compliment.

I remember that in clothing, button-down shirts, striped ties and gray flannel suits with narrow lapels were shoe. Anything less conservative was unshoe. The Ivy League and kindred schools were by definition shoe. State colleges were definitely un. Professional careers were generally shoer than business ones. Shoe people were confident and casual, unshoes insecure and overeager.

We grew up and less smug, of course, but for a short time, with our whole adult lives before us, we felt unafraid, undefeatable, immortal and very, very shoe.

Winifred G. Newman
New York, New York

Source: "Gimme the Ol' White Shoe" from No Uncertain Terms, William Safire, 2003


"When Denny and I were at Yale, one of the adjectives in common use was "shoe" - presumably derived from "white shoe." I still see "white shoe" in print now and then, used to mean patrician or old-money WASP: the Times has referred to, say, Morgan Stanley as a white-shoe investment-banking firm. "Shoe" meant more to us than "white shoe." It could indeed indicate a background of boarding schools and trust funds - something like what "preppy" came to mean a decade later, although without the scorn that term carried with it. It could mean dress or behavior that reflected such a background, even if the person involved came from entirely different circumstances. It could also mean something approaching cool or suave."

"I've been told that a few years before we arrived the term "white shoe," which we didn't use, was often heard at Yale, along with "brown shoe" and "black shoe." The white shoe people were, of course, shoe. Apparently, the brown shoe people were the bright student council presidents from white middle-class high schools who had been selected by Yale to be buffed up a bit and sent out into the world, prepared to prove their high-school classmates right in voting them among the most likely to succeed. Black shoe people were beyond the pale...They were called weenies."


Remembering Denny, Calvin Trillin, 2005

At Yale there is a system for pigeonholing the members of the college community which is based on the word “shoe.” Shoe bears some relation to the word chic, and when you say that a fellow is “terribly shoe” you mean that he is a crumb in the upper social crust of the college, though a more kindly metaphor might occur to you. You talk of a “shoe” fraternity or a “shoe” crowd, for example, but you can also describe a man’s manner of dress as “shoe.” The term derives, as you probably know, from the dirty white bucks which are the standard collegiate footwear (you can buy new ones already dirty in downtown New York to save you the embarrassment of looking as though you hadn’t had them all your life), but the system of pigeonholing by footwear does not stop there. It encompasses the entire community under the terms White Shoe, Brown Shoe, and Black Shoe

White Shoe applies primarily to the socially ambitious and the socially smug types who affect a good deal of worldly sophistication, run, ride and drink in rather small cliques, and look in on the second halves of football games when the weather is good. They try so hard not to be collegiate in the rah-rah (or, as they would say, “Midwestern”) sense of the term that they are probably the most “collegiate” types now in college. Brown Shoe applies to the general run of those who are socially acceptable but above thinking that it really makes any difference. They constitute the general middle class of the college that overlaps somewhat into both White and Black; their ambition is to be the average citizen raised to the highest power compatible with being a cultured and relaxed gentleman. Black Shoe implies some of the attributes of the “grind” and is applied to those who participate a little too eagerly in seminars, literary teas, and discussions of life, literature, and the pursuit of philosophy. They are in college because they consider it primarily an educational and not a social institution; they mind their own business rather intensely, are probably in love with the girls they will eventually marry, and in many respects appear a good deal more sophisticated and  grown up than the White Shoe crowd.

The shoe categories obviously allow for a great deal more precise definition than this, as I have no doubt the first Yale man you meet will tell you. But pleasant as it is under the elms of New Haven, let us move into other groves of academe. We will have to take our “shoes” with us, however; the terminology may not be the same in all the colleges, but we will keep finding men whom the shoes will fit.

Source: Esquire - September 1953 "How Shoe Can You Get", Russell Lyne

A friend of mine was at Brown in the 1950s. At the time the phrase for being cool was "shoe."

Yes, "shoe." And the "shoe" guys wore brown or burgundy penny loafers.

Only the Slide Rule Brigade wore black loafers, according to Val. They might have been genuises, but they were not "shoe."

Source: Andy's Trad Forum


OldSchool said...

From Google:

Another Reply to Safire's Column:

The NY Times
November 30, 1997
Gimme the Ol' White Shoe

In my Ivy League days (Radcliffe, mid-50's), the word ''shoe'' alone was used to allude to a young man of a preppy background. And yes, he was generally conservative, though not necessarily cautious!

Eleanor Watts

Westport, Conn.

Anonymous said...

Hard to remember in an era when Ivies ban military recruiters but before the mid-70s there was a strong connection between Ivy grads and service in the U.S. Navy. So maybe the 1950s Ivy shoe slang and related biases evolved from Navy veterans flooding campuses, even the Ivies, after WWII.

In the 1930s “brown shoe” was a term for naval aviators, the first U.S. Navy officers to wear khaki uniforms (presumably because they traveled better in aircraft of the era). Because of the glamour, panache and exclusivity supposedly associated with aviators, “brown shoes” adopted the term as a badge of honor for themselves and an indication of their own sense of superiority to other naval personnel.

Even when non-aviator officers and CPOs started wearing khakis during WWII they still wore black shoes with them. So “black shoe Navy”, a derisive term if spoken by an aviator, referred to everyone and everything not associated with naval aviation.

Sometime after WWII all officers and CPOs started wearing brown shoes with khaki uniforms, and the term “brown shoe”, though still in use, lost a lot of its original meaning to most sailors.

In my era – late 60s-early 70s – there were no standard issue brown shoes so the shoes worn by officers and CPOs were far from uniform, which stood out glaringly when everyone lined up for inspections or ceremonies. For guidance the acceptable shade of leather was referred to as baby sh-t brown.

And my experience was that enlisted personnel in that era – at least outside aviation units - were known as “black shoes” since that’s the only color shoe they wore.

U.S. Navy officers have always worn white shoes with white uniforms in all modern eras, of course, which set them apart from both enlisted personnel and the officers of the other service branches.