It's hard to look at a men's fashion article or browse a website that talks about how men dress without coming across a reference to the Ivy League. But what is the Ivy League, and how did the look of young men from good families studying in a closed club of universities influence the look of men for decades?
For men who care about their style, benchmarks are important, whether you decide to stick to them, break away from them, or even combine them. Just like the suit or the sportswear for example, the Ivy League style is one of these cornerstones.
This style was born from a social class: the students of the most prestigious American universities. The Ivy League first designated a closed club, that of 8 universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell) all nestled on the northeast coast of the United States, and where the most affluent students of the country have studied for several centuries. There is therefore a family, moral, and clothing framework, that of the American upper middle class.
Most schools have a dress code. In Yale's, among the 20 rules, one can read that for a date one must "wear a blazer and a tie", or that "pants can be in any material, but not tight". Until the 1960s/1970s, the suit was still the rule for men, and knowledge about it was passed on to young boys, especially in wealthy families. The clothes themselves pass from generation to generation and bear the stigma of these multiple lives.
But what is fascinating about the style of Ivy League students from the 1930s to the 1960s is the casualness and freedom with which they juggled these different frames to define silhouettes that have not aged a day. A round neck sweater transformed into a t-shirt, a jacket or an oilskin worn over an oxford shirt, a pair of white socks over worn out moccasins... Like any student, they free themselves from their parents' style.
These are THE most worn pants on campus in the golden age of the Ivy League. White, cream, sand, navy blue. More dressy than jeans, almost indestructible, this former military attribute was adopted and cherished by this youth from the bourgeoisie but who lived a student life where money did not flow freely. The cut evolves over time. Wider in the 1930's and 40's, it was worn shorter in the 1960's and showed socks or ankles in summer. Once they are too worn out, they sometimes end up as shorts.
Button down, of course. The classic American shirt, since its invention at the very beginning of the 20th century, when a polo collar (with button downs) was grafted onto an Oxford shirt. They were prized in all colors by students and teachers alike, who wore them with a tie or under a shetland sweater. It even had its own little name on campus, OCBD (for Oxford Cloth Button Down).
Born in the 1920s from a hood sewn onto a round neck sweatshirt, the hoodie was thought to keep the head warm after sports and exploded in the 1950s. With all the campus sports activities and the harsh climate of the Northeastern United States, hoodies were one of the most worn clothing items on campus outside of summer. It was also one of the best ways to signify to the world that you belonged, whether it was to the university or to a fraternity.
One of the Ivy League mantras "Study Hard Play Hard" synthesizes the two elements that drive campus life. Classes and sports. The Ivy League style owes much to this busy schedule. Classic pieces are very often paired with sporty ones. White athletic socks in loafers, a crew neck T-shirt worn over chino or madras shorts, or a varsity jacket over an oxford shirt. The historical rivalries between the different colleges continue on the field. Thus, displaying your school's colors on your sweatshirt or varsity jacket is well seen, even recommended.
Originally a weekend shoe for those who wore the derby in the city, the moccasin was emancipated in the 1960s. And especially among the youth of the Ivy League where it is ubiquitous. Some have also recovered those of their fathers, and wear them worn to the rope. And for the record, if the moccasin is nicknamed "penny loafer" in the United States, it is because the students of the Ivy League used to slip a penny in the strap.
*To go further, the book Take Ivy is a bible of the original Ivy League style. Its Japanese authors spent months on the 8 campuses of the famous league's universities and captured and chronicled its habits and customs, including the style of the students of the time. Cult. All the pictures in this article are from this book.
Take Ivy, Powerhouse Books, photos by Teruyoshi Hayashida
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