Ivy League Style in 25 Items Or Less

There’s a lovely new book called Ivy Style based on the Ivy Style exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I’ve been reading it, and besides the glorious illustrations and vintage advertisements featured throughout, one of the things that struck me was G. Bruce Boyer’s description of a college wardrobe in the Ivy era. What’s remarkable about it is that with some very modest tweaks (white bucks aren’t exactly standard issue these days), it could fly for most young men even today, fifty years later.

Six shirts, three white and three blue, and two or three pair of khakis would do the job. In cooler weather, a Shetland crewneck sweater in any color was added. A pair of brown penny loafers and white tennis sneakers (possibly a pair of white or tan buckskin oxfords) constituted the acceptable range of footwear. For outerwear, a cotton gabardine balmacaan raincoat (always tan), and a stout duffel coat (in tan or navy) were all that were needed, although many men also had a cotton gab golf jacket, also in tan… everyone had a tweed sports jacket (Harris or Shetland) and/or a navy single-breasted blazer for semi-dress, and a gray flannel suit for dress. Summer semi-formality was assured with a seersucker or tan poplin suit, some had madras sports jackets, for the more formal occasions a dark gray or navy tropical worsted suit. A half-dozen ties (regimentals, foulards or dots), and the necessary compliment of underwear, socks, pajamas and handkerchiefs filled out the basics.

That’s a pretty solid capsule wardrobe. Sadly, no crazy boating blazers, beer suits or raccoon coats.

The Essential Man’s Wardrobe
Perhaps the most frequent question we get at Put This On is: “what are the essential elements of a man’s wardrobe?”  Often it is framed in the context of something like, “if I were to buy five items to wear all the time and I never had to go shopping or buy anything again…”
I generally try not to respond to the questions that seem to be predicated on the assumption that a man should hate his clothes and want to spend as little time, effort and money as possible on them, so I’ve generally avoided the question.  Today, though, I’ll take a stab at it.
Here are some essential elements of a man’s wardrobe.  This list assumes that you do not wear a suit and tie to work (if you do, I’d recommend Will’s list, here). This is also not intended as a be-all, end-all.  I’d be happy to hear what you think is missing, or unnecessary.  I do think it’s an excellent starting point, however.
This wardrobe is useful not just for those starting out, but for those who want to simplify or those who wonder why it’s so hard for them to pack for travel.  These are all essential elements, and they are largely interchangeable.  Focus on very high quality and fit, and you will look great in them, even without accent pieces.
Solid gray or navy suit.
Navy blue blazer.
Good straight-cut blue jeans.
Khaki pants.
Mid-gray wool pants (preferably light weight).
Trim khaki shorts.
White and light blue oxford shirts (oxford is a heavier, textural cloth that is inherently more casual - in this case the collars would be button-down, as well.)
White and light blue dress shirts (something in a finer fabric, without a button-down collar, suitable for wearing with a suit).
Solid black grenadine necktie.
Other neckties based on needs and taste - colored, textured solids, knits, simple diagonally striped ties.
White linen pocket hankerchiefs.
Plain white t-shirts.
A couple of other plain t-shirts - navy or heather gray are good choices.
A trim-fitting solid polo or two (white and blue are good colors).
Gray crew-neck sweatshirt.
Cashmere v-neck sweater (light gray or camel/oatmeal are good colors).
Plain white sneakers.
Black cap-toes.
Brown dress shoes.
Brown or burgundy casual shoes or boots (chukkas or plain-toe bluchers are a good choice).
Belts to match shoes.
After this, you may need one or two casual jackets.  A peacoat or duffel coat is good for cold weather.  A Harrington or mechanic’s jacket is good for less cold weather.
Again depending on local weather, you may need an overcoat suitable to wear with a suit, gloves, a scarf or a trench coat or mac for rain.
Focus on fit and quality.  Quality is particularly important for the more durable goods on the list, like shoes.  Add accents that speak to you.  You’ll look good.
(Above: McQueen in a white oxford, oatmeal v-neck sweater and a Harrington.)

The Essential Man’s Wardrobe

Perhaps the most frequent question we get at Put This On is: “what are the essential elements of a man’s wardrobe?”  Often it is framed in the context of something like, “if I were to buy five items to wear all the time and I never had to go shopping or buy anything again…”

I generally try not to respond to the questions that seem to be predicated on the assumption that a man should hate his clothes and want to spend as little time, effort and money as possible on them, so I’ve generally avoided the question.  Today, though, I’ll take a stab at it.

Here are some essential elements of a man’s wardrobe.  This list assumes that you do not wear a suit and tie to work (if you do, I’d recommend Will’s list, here). This is also not intended as a be-all, end-all.  I’d be happy to hear what you think is missing, or unnecessary.  I do think it’s an excellent starting point, however.

This wardrobe is useful not just for those starting out, but for those who want to simplify or those who wonder why it’s so hard for them to pack for travel.  These are all essential elements, and they are largely interchangeable.  Focus on very high quality and fit, and you will look great in them, even without accent pieces.

  • Solid gray or navy suit.
  • Navy blue blazer.
  • Good straight-cut blue jeans.
  • Khaki pants.
  • Mid-gray wool pants (preferably light weight).
  • Trim khaki shorts.
  • White and light blue oxford shirts (oxford is a heavier, textural cloth that is inherently more casual - in this case the collars would be button-down, as well.)
  • White and light blue dress shirts (something in a finer fabric, without a button-down collar, suitable for wearing with a suit).
  • Solid black grenadine necktie.
  • Other neckties based on needs and taste - colored, textured solids, knits, simple diagonally striped ties.
  • White linen pocket hankerchiefs.
  • Plain white t-shirts.
  • A couple of other plain t-shirts - navy or heather gray are good choices.
  • A trim-fitting solid polo or two (white and blue are good colors).
  • Gray crew-neck sweatshirt.
  • Cashmere v-neck sweater (light gray or camel/oatmeal are good colors).
  • Plain white sneakers.
  • Black cap-toes.
  • Brown dress shoes.
  • Brown or burgundy casual shoes or boots (chukkas or plain-toe bluchers are a good choice).
  • Belts to match shoes.
  • After this, you may need one or two casual jackets.  A peacoat or duffel coat is good for cold weather.  A Harrington or mechanic’s jacket is good for less cold weather.
  • Again depending on local weather, you may need an overcoat suitable to wear with a suit, gloves, a scarf or a trench coat or mac for rain.

Focus on fit and quality.  Quality is particularly important for the more durable goods on the list, like shoes.  Add accents that speak to you.  You’ll look good.

(Above: McQueen in a white oxford, oatmeal v-neck sweater and a Harrington.)