One of my favorite blogs, Ivy Style, just completed a five part series on the rise and fall of “the Ivy League look.” It’s largely for people who are interested in the history of men’s style (particularly classic American style), but if you are, this is a great, great piece.
Personal Style Through Elimination
Ivy-Style had a nice post last week about the well-edited wardrobe, which reminded me of how much stuff I’ve gotten rid of over the years. Christian, the writer behind the blog, is a bit more ruthless about culling than I am. He had a great post many years ago praising small wardrobes, and the accompanying photograph was of just one tie. I assume that was shot for effect, but I don’t think it’s far off from how he operates.
In any case, there’s a passage in his article that I really like
As a result, I’ve never understood the web’s notorious clotheshorses and their compulsive acquiring. Money is not the issue, as some spend lavishly while others are inveterate thrifters. At some point both must reach a stage of surfeit, when it’s impossible for every item in their wardrobe to be fondly cherished. It’s the difference between having a dog and having a kennel. At some point it’s just variety for it’s own sake, and at that point are your clothes really an extension of you?
And just because an item is already broken in doesn’t mean it will automatically feel second nature to wear it. Whether it’s an old rep tie or a vintage Harris Tweed, an item new to you is still new, and will take time until you’re wholly unaware of wearing it. But before then the item will not feel like a part of you, but a kind of awkward sartorial prosthesis.
I perhaps value variety a bit more than Christian. I find it’s nice to have a wardrobe that will suit any kind of occasion, weather, or mood one might find themselves in, and to do that, it’s hard not to have a sizable wardrobe. Still, I’ve gotten rid of quite a lot over the years: patterned pants, pastel shirts, fabric belts, sack coats, and a smattering of designer clothing. Basically things that caught my eye in a store, but didn’t feel natural enough to me when I got around to wearing it. So in continually editing out things that don’t feel right, I think I’ve come to a better sense of personal style.
Which is to say, if you’re just starting off, perhaps it’s not as good of an idea to “buy less, buy better.” Instead, dabble around and shop in the middle-tiers of quality. That way, you don’t lose out on too much as you try to find your own sense of style. Let your tastes slowly mature, be honest with what you wear, and cull everything that doesn’t feel like a natural extension of yourself. That’s the best way, I think, to find your own personal style: through a process of elimination.
“White bucks and saddle shoes— Lyrics to Bobby Pedrick Junior’s "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes." (via Ivy Style)
That’s what the kids all choose
Chinos and slacks of course
Oh, yes, they sure look boss
Getting ready to go steady are
White bucks and saddle shoes
Button-down shirt and a crewneck sweater
Lets all the kids look so much better”
Ivy Style at the F.I.T. Museum
I’m headed out of New York this morning, having taped a few episodes of Judge John Hodgman, enjoyed a San Francisco Giants World Series victory, ordered a few shirts from my friend Carl, and attended WFMU’s Radiovision conference. I didn’t have a lot of free time on this trip - blame the baby - but I did make time to visit the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum and their lovely exhibit Ivy Style.
Among the sights:
- Some stunning tartan sportcoats by Jeffrey Banks, the former protege of Ralph Lauren, author of several menswear books, and sole African-American contributor to the exhibition.
- Some delightful Berk slippers, featuring a pair in crescent moon and star theme which match some I bought for my wife recently.
- Ralph Lauren outfits pieced together from collections 30 years apart, but sharing a near-perfect aesthetic symmetry.
- A Thom Browne Ivy-inspired suit featuring a spiked crotch.
- Some genuinely gorgeous bleeding madras in shorts, coats, and everything else.
- Some amazing information about a Princeton tradition, still extant, called the Beer Suit. Derived from workwear, it was clothing made to be worn by seniors while drinking, to avoid ruining the good stuff. They look a bit like a painter’s outfit, with graduation years and slogans stenciled on. After graduation, the suit was worn to reunions until the 25th reunion, when one could finally wear a class jacket - usually (by the looks of it) a crested blazer.
If you’re in New York, don’t miss the exhibition, which is free. And don’t forget the symposium, which is in just a few weeks.
Ivy Style Symposium
The Museum at FIT, which has been holding the special exhibition on Ivy Style, is having a symposium on the same subject November 8th and 9th. The list of scheduled speakers is impressive. Included are menswear authors Bruce Boyer, Daniel Cappello, Jeffery Banks, and Doria de La Chapelle; bloggers John Tinseth of The Trad, Dusty Grainger of Maxminimus, and Clark Aldrich of The Daily Prep; industry folks such as Richard Press, Paul Winston, and Michael Bastian; and finally a bunch of academics who have written on the subject of men’s dress. The presentations and subsequent conversations here are sure to be worthwhile.
If you’re interested, you can read more about the symposium here. The deadline for pre-registration is October 26th. Tickets aren’t cheap ($100 for both days to the general public), but students get in free with proper ID.
I know I’ve posted about the Ivy Style exhibit enough, but this is a truly great video. Shot by Andrew Yamato for A Suitable Wardrobe, this clip features Christian Chensvold, Richard Press, and Bruce Boyer talking about the history one of America’s most classic sartorial styles.
So disappointed that I can’t see the exhibit for myself.
Women’s Wear Daily has some nice photos up of FIT’s Ivy Style, for those who were not able to attend the opening. Just click on the slideshow link to see more. Also, Richard Press wrote a nice post about his experience helping set the exhibit up, and talks about some of the memories these clothes inspired.
Ivy Style Exhibit Coming to FIT: Sept. 14th - Jan. 5th
If you haven’t already heard, The Museum at FIT in New York City is hosting an exhibition on the classic American “Ivy League style.” The exhibit, simply titled Ivy Style, will show the development of the look over three distinct periods: the interwar years of the 1920s and ’30s, the post-war era to the end of the ’60s, and the style’s revival from the ’80s to present. In the first period, the interwar years, American clothiers Brooks Brothers and J. Press took classic English pieces such as tweed jackets and polo coats, and appropriated and modified them for young men in elite East Coast colleges. After the second World War, the “Ivy League look” started to disseminate across the United States. OCBDs, khaki chinos, and penny loafers were adopted by a much larger, more diverse population, including working class GIs and jazz musicians. Finally, after a period of dormancy in the 1970s, Ivy League style started to see a revival, from the ’80s until today.
The exhibition will be on view from September 14th until January 5th. The museum is also running its annual fashion symposium on November 8th and 9th. This year’s talk will be connected to the Ivy Style exhibit and will feature speakers such as Bruce Boyer and Christian Chensvold, as well as other scholars and designers. We’ll publish info on that symposium as the date approaches, but for the time being, we encourage you to check out the exhibit.
For those not lucky enough to be able to attend, know that a more in-depth study of the Ivy League look will be featured in the accompanying book, also titled Ivy Style. It will contain essays written by the museum exhibit’s curator, Patricia Mears; scholars such as Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden; and leading menswear writers Bruce Boyer and Christian Chensvold. Boyer and Chensvold, in my opinion, have written (and continue to write) some of the best material on classic men’s style, and I’m really looking forward to reading their new project. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.
Shetland Sweaters for Fall
I have mixed feelings about Shetland sweaters. On the one hand, they’re itchy, scratchy, and not the most refined looking of knits. They neither have the softness of cashmere nor the smoothness of merino. On the other hand, that’s what makes them charming. As one member at Ask Andy once unironically (but hilariously), put it, “merino is too ‘metrosexual.’” A rather ridiculous statement, but point taken – these are not fashionable sweaters; they’re frumpy.
But sometimes a little frumpy is good. With a pair of dark green, wide-wale corduroys and reddish-brown shell cordovan tassel loafers, what could be more appropriate than a navy or mid-grey Shetland wool sweater? It has a classic American-trad/ schoolboy charm. To protect yourself from the scratchiness, you can layer it over an oxford cloth button down shirt. Those are the kind that belong underneath these sweaters anyway.
There are a number of places to pick up a Shetland. The best are from O’Connell’s and The Andover Shop. I slightly favor O’Connell’s because it has the more traditional form of a saddle shoulder, but both are top notch in terms of quality. There are other good Scottish ones at Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver, as well as an American made Shetland from Bill’s Khakis, which you can read more about at Ivy Style.
For something more affordable, consider LL Bean and Brooks Brothers. If you’re an unusual size and need something custom made, try Spirit of Shetland. They’ll knit you a custom Shetland if you tell them the chest size your best fitting sweater. Like with most MTM clothing, I advise erring on the side of fullness rather than slimness. Remember that you can always wear a sweater if it’s slightly full (these are meant to be a bit frumpy anyway), but you’ll never wear a sweater if it’s too tight.
Should you pick one of these up and find that they’re too itchy, consider brushed Shetlands, which have that charming uneven loft that J Press made famous. There are also lambswool sweaters. They look similar to Shetlands in that they’re more textured than merino and harder wearing than cashmere, but they’re not as itchy. You may still need to layer them over a shirt, but at least your loved ones won’t be afraid to hug you.