Fashion has a way of telling the story of our society and culture, evolving with time and trends. The Ivy League style, which gained prominence in the late 1950s, serves as a fascinating chapter in the history of men’s fashion. Originating on the campuses of elite American universities, particularly those of the Ivy League, this style has left an indelible mark on the world of fashion. In this article, we will delve into the origins, characteristics, and legacy of the Ivy League style.

The Birth of Ivy League Fashion

Ivy League dress emerged as a departure from the more formal and structured styles of the past, often referred to as “Trad” styles. This new approach to fashion was characterised by its casual and sporty elements, drawing inspiration from the sporting attire of the British and American upper classes. It incorporated elements from golf, polo, sailing, rugby football, hunting, croquet, cricket, and tennis, making it a versatile and distinctive style.

Key articles of clothing associated with Ivy League fashion included the sport coat, blazer, oxford shirt, and chino trousers. Surprisingly, these items of clothing originally had their roots in sportswear but were embraced as everyday attire by the elite. The influence of British country clothing, such as brogue boots, Argyle socks, tweed sport coats, and plus fours, played a pivotal role in shaping this style.

Rise to Popularity

During the mid to late 1950s, Ivy League fashion saw a surge in popularity, particularly among college students. The Ivy League look became a symbol of leisure and sophistication, drawing young men towards its charm. The clothing stores J. Press and Brooks Brothers played a significant role in popularising this style. J. Press, with two of its four locations found at Harvard and Yale universities and a Princeton branch that had operated until 1943, became the quintessential purveyors of Ivy League attire.

At the heart of Ivy League fashion was the iconic “sack” suit jacket. It featured a distinctive “3-to-2” or “three-roll-two” front closure, characterised by three buttons with the top button sewn on the underside of the lapel roll, leaving only two usable buttons. These suits had no front darts, and a single “hooked” vent at the back. The jackets were boxier, less structured, and less form-fitting than traditional business suits, contributing to the casual elegance of this style. The trousers accompanying these suits had a lower rise, were often held up by a belt, and were typically not pleated. It’s worth noting that in 1957 and 1958, approximately 70% of all suits sold were of the “Ivy League” style.

A Casual Take on Tradition

While Ivy League fashion might appear formal and dressy by today’s standards, it was actually a relaxed and casual interpretation of more traditional styles. The sack suit and sport coat were designed with natural shoulders and a roomier fit, giving them a laid-back appearance. Ivy Leaguers frequently paired these suits with button-down collar oxford cloth shirts, which were originally created as sportswear for polo and tennis players, instead of the more formal dress shirts with starched collars and double cuffs.

Footwear was also an important element of this style. Penny loafers or brogues were preferred over traditional Oxford shoes, adding to the overall casual appeal. This style allowed for the mixing and matching of pieces, like wearing grey flannel or khaki chino pants with a sport jacket in situations where others might opt for a full suit. The incorporation of knitted silk or animal print ties with business suits further exemplified the casual and unique nature of Ivy League fashion.

A Glimpse into the Wardrobe

The Ivy League look encompassed a range of clothing items and accessories. Commonly worn hairstyles included the crew cut, Harvard clip, and regular haircut. Wardrobe staples included cardigan sweaters, sweater vests, Nantucket reds, khaki chino pants, knitted ties, white Oxford shirts, Tootal or Brooks Brothers ties, Ascot neckties, tartan, grey tweed cloth or flannel sportcoats, and seersucker blazers in the South. These pieces collectively defined the Ivy League style, and their popularity endured for a significant period.

Mainstream Popularity and Decline

From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, Ivy League clothing became a desirable mainstream choice for American middle-class adults. However, as the 1960s progressed, the Mod subculture in Britain introduced new fashion trends, combining the latest Italian fashions with American film icons like Steve McQueen, James Dean, and Paul Newman. The Mod style incorporated elements such as grey flannel suits, tonic fabrics, and narrow-brimmed hats, marking a departure from Ivy League fashion.

In the United States, the Ivy League style saw a decline towards the end of the 1960s. It was replaced by the wide lapels, flared slacks, and vibrant colors of the Peacock Revolution, along with the more casual attire of the hippie counterculture. While it may have lost some of its mainstream appeal, the Ivy League style remains a timeless and influential chapter in the history of fashion.

Conclusion

The Ivy League style, with its roots in prestigious American universities and a unique blend of British and American influences, left an indelible mark on the world of men’s fashion. Its relaxed and sophisticated approach to clothing continues to inspire fashion enthusiasts and designers to this day. As we look back at the Ivy League fashion era, we can appreciate its enduring legacy and the impact it has had on the way we dress and express ourselves.