During my last trip to NYC, I had the pleasure to dine with Patricia Mears, Bruce Boyer and Stephen Pulvirent. Of course, our discussion revolved around menswear, and so I learned that Patricia and Bruce had been working on the Ivy Style exhibition at the FIT,which opened its doors on September 14th. It will be open to the public for free until January 5th, 2013. In case you are in New York City during that time frame, do yourself a favor and stop by! It was quite interesting to hear from them what it takes to organize an exhibition of that kind. Since a great exhibition is never enough, the two are working on their next project about soft tailoring, so stay tuned! Fortunately, the exhibition has an amazing catalog in the form of a fully-fledged illustrated publication with essays that discuss Ivy Style in depth.
As such, even admirers from outside the US may learn more about this American (life)style. Today, I will review this charming book, which is titled Ivy Style, and was published by Yale University Press. The 192 page book is edited by Patricia Mears, who also curated the exhibition. Together with Peter McNeil, Chris Breward, Christian Chensvold, G. Bruce Boyer and Masafumi Monden, she created an assortment of essays that revolve around Ivy Style. In her preface, she underlines that the ever increasing number of fashion collections, clothes and accessories and the analogue decline in quality drove her interest in the fundamentals of menswear and style. Along the way, she met others who were interested in style such as Christian Chensvold who runs the blog Ivy Style and subsequently, the exhibition began to come take shape. Of course, Ivy Style is a broad term, and so she laid the focus on clothes and the context of Ivy Style in terms of fashion history. While reading the book, I was sometimes surprised to see how many aspects were actually tied back to Ivy Style and while I can understand that a book about the subject matter would do that, I do not always agree entirely. At least, I would have liked to see more evidence supporting statements such as: “Many of the most enduring sartorial images of the twentieth century can be traced to the prestigious college campuses of America.”
The Birth of Ivy Style
The first chapter by Patricia Mears is dedicated to the birth of Ivy Style and the inter-war years. I thought this chapter was very well written and informative in the sense that it really explained how the Ivy Style developed from inspiration by the English to the Ivy League colleges. Although the text is heavier than many other fashion related books, it features a number of nice vintage prints from Arrow and Apparel Arts, as well as pictures of exhibition pieces from J. Press, Brooks Brothers, et al.
The Duke of Windsor
The second chapter is dedicated to the Duke of Windsor, who was undoubtedly the male style icon of his day and the popularizer of soft tailoring. The author tries to emphasize the influence that American fashions had on him, such as the low cut trousers, the affinity to belts rather than suspenders, and zip flies versus button flies. Also, it is implied that the Prince was inspired by informal American clothing that he witnessed during his trips in 1919, 1920, and 1924. Personally, I think his influence on the Americans was stronger than the influence of Americans on him – though there was definitely a bit of both. At the same time, I wonder whether his aversion against certain established traditions in his homeland was stronger than his affinity to American style. In any case, most of this chapter is not as well linked to Ivy Style as the other chapters in this book – nevertheless it was an interesting read if you have not read the Duke’s clothes-heavy autobiography, or the Sotheby’s catalog.
Chapter number three is dedicated to the cross-cultural relationship between the Oxbridge and Ivy Style. Beginning in the late 19th century, passing the 1920s, and the post-World War II era up until the 1960s, Mr. Breward analyzes the romanticization of university life and its influence on clothes.
Interview Richard Press
The dedication of this book reads: “To the most generous and enthusiastic of our Ivy supports: “KING” RICHARD PRESS”. Just by that, you can see how important Mr. Press was for the Ivy Style project. He is in fact the grandson of Jacobi Press, who founded the
legendary J. Press brand that produced clothes for Ivy League students. He also ran this business until it was sold to Japan in 1986. In any case, he shared his enormous knowledge about the matter, dug up old Ivy League memorabilia and organized authentic Ivy Style clothing for the exhibition. It was only consequent to conduct an in-depth interview that provides detailed information about the style, the person and the menswear trade in the US.
Here is a video about Ivy Style & Richard Press:
Ivy Style – Heyday of the Mid-Century
In this continuation of Patricia Mears’ first essay, we now learn all about Ivy style clothes from the mid-century.
The following chapter is filled with reprints of G. Bruce Boyer’s articles from his book Elegance. If you do not have his book, you will learn about Ivy Style staples such as tweed, khakis, loafers, madras, and of course, the polo coat.
Jazz & Ivy Style
Interestingly, G. Bruce Boyer contributed a short essay on the influence of Ivy style on jazz musicians such as Chet Baker and Miles Davis. This was definitely an area which I had never considered before.
Ivy Style Renewal
In the third part, Ms. Mears focuses on the revival of the Ivy League style in the 1980′s and the groundwork laid by designers such as Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Jeffrey Banks. It then continues with designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Bastian and Thom Brown and reaches up to the year 2012.
Ivy in Japan
As evidenced by the fact that J.Press was bought by a Japanese company and the mere existence of Japanese publications such as Take Ivy, this style is big with the Japanese. And so, it was only consequent to have Japan native Dr. Monden explore the Nippon-interpretation of Ivy style. Over there, it became hip in the mid -1960s and in the following decades, they created their very own take on things, which led to such amalgamations as the Ivy Girl.
Overall, this is a great book dedicated to a niche area of classic men’s clothing and I am glad it exists. The informative content and stylish language overshadow occasional spelling errors and small pictures. Of course, there will be always those who complain about little details such as that, but no book is without mistakes and I prefer an content-rich book with slight flaws any day over no book at all. That being said, don’t expect a quick read -it is much rather a substantiated analysis of the subject matter and will give you lots of information to think about. Personally, I look forward to seeing the actual exhibition after having read Ivy Style. If you are interested in classic men’s clothing or preppy style at all, this book is an absolute must and if you can make it, visit the exhibition at the FIT. The book can be purchased for under $35 at amazon and made it on to the GG 100 menswear book list.
The Exhibition is located at : Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Seventh Avenue at 27 Street New York City 10001-5992 Hours: Tuesday-Friday – noon-8 pm Saturday –10 am-5 pm Closed Sunday, Monday, and holidays