The Ivy Style Primer

The Ivy Style Primer

For many, the Ivy, Prep, and Trad styles tend to blend together in a way that makes it difficult to differentiate them from one another.We’ve discussed preppy style in detail and in this primer, we’re going to focus on the Ivy style, which unbeknownst to most, is actually a style of its own, separate and apart from prep and trad.

Of course, there are many similarities, but in most cases it’s not so much the clothing, but how they’re worn.

The prep look is far more nautical in appearance, more beach appropriate and an ideal style for the Hamptons and Cape Cod. Ivy style, on the other hand, is a dressier version of prep that’s ideal for the historic chambers in the hallowed walls of America’s Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

The History of Ivy Style

While the preppy style has been around since the early 1900s, first making an appearance around 1910, the ivy style really began to flourish in the early to mid 1950s on the grounds of the top universities and colleges in America. Just as prep style influenced many designers, ivy style took its fair share of the credit leading us to use the terms prep, ivy, and trad as synonyms of one another. Blended over the years, Ivy style was born out of an interest in appearing more elegant and well dressed than the casual undertones of the prep culture. While prep style was reserved for garden parties, sailing, and casual affairs, Ivy style was for more formal, casual occasions such as attending class at Harvard Law, going on a late dinner date with the young lady you met at the Square or an event your parents insisted you attend with them at the country club after giving you a stern warning to leave the boat shoes and anchor bracelets at home.

Ivy style was perfect for on campus lectures

Ivy style was perfect for on campus lectures

The style was a direct reflection of college life at the campuses only the most affluent and well-versed students could attend. It separated the men of Harvard and Yale from the common youth at other colleges, and especially in a town like Cambridge where there are more colleges than shopping malls, the Ivy style became a way to instantly recognize a member of your social circle. That is until the style caught on and began to rise in popularity amongst all young men and women throughout the Northeastern United States.

Despite the students of the Ivy League schools knowing the style as “Ivy”, the rest of the world simply adopted it as a more formal version of prep and thus the blending of the styles was introduced. It is only the rarest of gentlemen that can pinpoint the differences between the various styles, but is something we’ll attempt to explain.

What is Ivy Style

Ivy style is about two things. Representing yourself through your wardrobe as a member of one of the most elite universities or colleges in the world and dressing down when the authority figure such as your father would normally dress up.

It’s really that simple. Slightly more formal, yet still relatively casual. Of course, today the styles are intertwined like vines along an old rusted fence and ivy style as its own subculture fell from existence in the late 1960s. Today the only separation between the two is the varying degree of formality, yet even that is too close to distinguish.

Christian Chensvold of makes the perfect analogy. He says, “In 1964, when a spirited girl meets a handsome, reserved, all-American, clean-cut kind of guy who gets his clothing at Brooks Brothers, and simultaneously finds herself both attracted and repelled by him, she teasingly calls him ‘Ivy League.’”

“And in 1970”, he says, “after the fall of the Ivy League Look when this same spirited girl meets the same all-American guy, she mockingly calls him ‘preppy.’”

“So you see”, remarks Chensvold, “the clothing is essentially the same. It’s just how women referred to the clothing — and the men who wore it.”

Various Ivy Leaguers

Various Ivy Leaguers

Today, the only difference come down to semantics. True Ivy Leaguers will opt for penny loafers, Preps will choose boat shoes. A Prep will wear pants and shoes without socks. Conversely, Ivy Leaguers will only do so in the heat of summer. A Prep will almost never wear a suit and usually opt for a navy blazer instead. An Ivy Leaguer – while he loves the blazer – will still wear a suit almost half of the time.

When it comes to Prep, it’s about convenience, comfort and then style. For the Ivy Leaguer, it’s about style followed by comfort and then convenience. A Prep will throw on the first polo shirt he finds in his closet and pair it with GTH pants. An Ivy Leaguer will take the time to put it under a cricket sweater and wear linen pants in eggshell.

When it comes to sports and lifestyle, both Prep and Ivy styles intertwine completely. Polo, tennis and golf remain favorites and a weekend in Southampton is considered a sublime way to spend the summer. Winters are spent in Palm Beach, and there’s nothing better than spending a warm afternoon sipping G&Ts on a sailboat.

The tennis sweater was a pinnacle of ivy style fashion

The tennis sweater was a pinnacle of ivy style fashion

Ivy Style Purveyors and Clothing

Of course with blended styles, the same clothiers occupied both the preppy style industry and the Ivy style industry. The most popular for Ivy Style was J.Press followed closely by Brooks Brothers, both of which were instrumental in the development of the mingled style we know it as today.

Of course, with Ivy style being so closely related to prep, we urge you to read our Preppy Style Guide by clicking here for the most iconic clothing. However, let’s examine some style staples we would find in Ivy Style pre-1967.

Classic Penny Loafers

Classic Penny Loafers

Penny Loafers

Introduced in 1936 by the G.H. Bass shoe company, penny loafers became an instant hit amongst the wealthy undergrads at Ivy League Schools in the United States. The ease of slipping them on combined with the formality of leather and suede made it the perfect compliment to a formal and yet very casual wardrobe. Read more about the penny loafer by clicking here. That, or click here to buy your own pair of penny loafers.

A casual day in the life of an ivy leaguer

A casual day in the life of an ivy leaguer

Khaki Pants

Also called chinos, these are generally made from 100% cotton and despite being worn today by many retail stores and trades workers as uniforms, also work very well to compliment a blazer or with a sweater and tie. Available from numerous merchants, the classic chinos come from Brooks Brothers and are designed as a pair of business casual trousers perfect for a variety of events. They’re especially comfortable to wear in the summer as they breathe nicely, but they also work well due to their sturdier construction when compared to dress slacks. Click here to get a pair of khaki pants.

Knit Ties

Made from silk and wool, knit ties are a great way to fit into a more formal business environment while displaying a certain amount of sprezzatura and casualness. Their luxurious feel and cri de la soie texture make them a style staple for future corporate raiders, oil barons and media moguls that are still grasping onto their youth. Click here to see a selection of the finest knit ties from Fort Belvedere.

A classic Ivy League student

A classic Ivy League student

Herringbone Jackets

The herringbone jacket is a perfect way to turn what could otherwise be a more formal jacket into something casual without a wild pattern. With its country appeal, it became very popular for wear by those who frequented or took part in equestrian events. It was the jacket to use when you wanted to dress up for a date on the town but without looking like you were attending a funeral. With flap pockets and larger buttons to increase its casual tone, it has been and still remains a staple in ivy style. Today, it works very well with a pair of boots, an oxford cloth button down shirt and corduroy pants. Click here to buy a herringbone jacket.

Two Button Cuff Jacket

Almost a homage to avoiding anything worn by your father, the two button cuff jacket became the standard worn by the Ivy League crowd. As if intended to piss off the older generation, it’s still worn today by Ivy Leaguers and is a great way for anyone to turn a formal jacket into leisurewear.

The iconic letter sweater

The iconic letter sweater

School Sweaters

School sweaters are usually reserved these days for the cheerleading team, but back in the 1950s, men would wear these knit sweaters boasting their School’s letter in the center of the sweater. Not necessarily popular today, it was a standard amongst men on game days both on and off campus as a show of support for their school.

Recommended Reading

Here are a few of our favorite books on Ivy Style.

Preppy Cultivating Ivy Style

Preppy Cultivating Ivy Style

Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style by Jeffrey Banks

An authority on preppy style, Jeffrey Banks focuses on the style that helped shape what we know today as Prep. Taking us back to the Ivy League campuses of the fifties, this incredible book shows us the most fashionable ivy league style staples from its heyday. Click here to get a copy.

Ivy Style Book by Patricia Mears

Ivy Style Book by Patricia Mears

Ivy Style: Radical Conformists by Patricia Mears

A look into the styles of the most prestigious college campuses in the mid 20th century, Mears introduces us to what was pinnacle of classic preppy fashion. A great read filled with insights and history, you can get your own copy by clicking here or read our review here.

The Ivy League

The Ivy League

The Ivy League by Daniel Cappello

While it discusses the style, this book focuses on everything Ivy League related. From the private clubs to the classroom, it’s a really fantastic read if you’re interested in the schools and the lifestyle but never had the chance to attend. Click here for your copy.

The Ivy Look Pocket Guide

The Ivy Look Pocket Guide

The Ivy Look: Classic American Clothing – An Illustrated Pocket Guide by Graham Marsh

“Democratic, stylish and comfortable”, The Ivy Look is literally a pocket guide to everything Ivy Style. Focused on life before the preppy style, it showcases what it meant to be a member of the Ivy League in the early 1950s to mid 1960s. It’s an interesting book but one that tends to tread slightly outside of the Ivy Style focusing on celebrities who attempted to replicate parts of it. Click here for your own pocket guide.

Take Ivy by Shosuke Ishizu

Described by The New York Times as, “a treasure of fashion insiders,” Take Ivy is a look at the classic Ivy Style and how the American fashion influenced Japan. An archive of photographs serves as its road map to discussing the trend that swept the nation and then jumped the pond. Click here for your own copy.


Hopefully, this has given you a glimpse into the minor differences between Preppy style and Ivy League style. Obviously, there aren’t many and it’s very difficult to differentiate the two; especially when designers, the media and the general public all classify them as one in the same.

We highly recommend checking out our Preppy Style Guide for more information. Stay tuned as we’ll soon discuss Trad style and learn about its differences and similarities.

The Ivy Style Primer
Article Name
The Ivy Style Primer
Discussing the similarities and differences of Ivy Style and Prep.
9 replies
  1. Arnold says:

    Great article! I would love to see more in detail as to what was and is acceptable in the school’s dress codes. I see photos in my research pertaining to Ivy style yet I don’t see the connection of the colors of the school in their outfits. I see ties worn by students that don’t match the school colors etc… So I’m interested in knowing where is the fine line between Ivy dress code and a classy outfit worn by a student. For example in your first photo I see a couple wearing so many colors its hard to define what school they represent. Same with the third photo you posted of the guy with the two girls beside him. I cannot tell what school they are from either.

  2. Joe says:

    Your article starts by saying PREP started around 1910 and then says IVY then started to flourish in the 1950s. Something doesn’t sound right.

    According to WikiPedia, “Preppy fashion has its roots in the Ivy League style of dress, which started around 1912 and became more established in the late 1950s.” It goes on to say, “Preppy fashion emerged in the 1970s with cues from the original Ivy League style.”

    That doesn’t really sound right either. Many argue that WikiPedia is not a great source of absolutely accurate information. I tend to agree somewhat, and always check other sources. However, it’s damned hard to find them on this subject! Here is an interesting paper that indicates Prep goes way back to British boarding school uniforms of the 1800’s… . (I’ve only scanned through the article but it looks like a very interesting read.) Apparently the term “Ivy” itself as it relates to the schools, let alone fashion, only dates back to 1933. As I’m not at all expert on the subject and have only a tiny amount of time to dig into it, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind listing the references you used in writing these nice articles so we can dig further.

  3. BJV says:

    Having been a teenager and high school student (58-62) during the height of Ivy League style in Phila, Pa., I can tell you that we were extremely sensitive to avoiding any article of clothing that was NOT “Ivy.” Sport coat lapels and ties were thin. Shirt collars were either button-down or tab, Trousers were trim and broke gently at the instep, and shoes were most likely penny loafers, wing tips, floaters, desert boots, or cordovan & tan saddle shoes. And EVERYTHING had to be clean, pressed, and matching. Anyone who wore blue jeans (dungarees) was considered “jive,” which was about the worst thing one guy could call another. Male style disintegrated in the late 60s/early 70s, and we’re still feeling the effect of that slovenly attitude. Just look at how today’s teens dress (or fail to).

    • You nailed it... says:

      “Just look at how today’s teens dress (or fail to).”

      Absolutely, and yet… at least where I live in the Burbank, CA area, adults set the worst example. It’s not a low-brow are and people tend to be well above the Kmart wardrobe line in terms of income, but dress like they are absolute slobs. If I wear a pair of chinos and a button down shirt, I’ve just overdressed. Oh well.

  4. Dr. Bob Strippy says:

    Terribly sorry, but Ivy is a brand upon the soul, not a style. You can’t achieve it by any form of dress. You have to earn a degree from one of the eight Ivies. It’s easy to tell real alumni from impostors in costume; two or three well-known questions will do it, as only real Ivy Leaguers will know the correct answers. And despite Lisa Birnbaum’s entertaining Preppy Handbook, you can’t become preppy by dress, car, or any other external accessories. You have to be born preppy, and by the way, it’s limited to WASPs. Finally, the preferred chinos among the Ivy do not come from Brooks Brothers, which is now just another chain retailer like Jos. A. Bank or Men’s Wearhouse; they come from L.L. Bean, outfitter to the authentic Ivy and the preppy for almost a century. I know whereof I speak: Episcopal Academy, 1952; B.A., B.Arch., University of Pennsylvania, 1956; M.A. Harvard, 1957; and D.Litt., D.Mus. Paris, 1960 (well, you can’t get everything you want at the Ivies).

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Bob,
      Thanks for your comment. It seems a bit contradictory to me. On the one hand you claim “you have to be born preppy”, and on the other hand you list your educational achievements as if they are what legitimizes you.
      Don’t you think it should be possible for all people to adapt the “ivy soul” regardless of the color of their skin or religious beliefs? Limiting it to White Anglo Saxon Protestants seems very wrong in this day and age.
      Btw, what questions are you referring to specifically?

  5. GI Zhou says:

    Thank you Dr Bob. Ivy style, if such a style existed reached its zenith in 1940 /41 on the campuses of Princeton, Yale and Harvard. The people who went to those universities were almost all the scions of the wealthy and shopped at Brooks Brothers, J Press and other purveyors of clothing of the teh wealthy. oor wore bespoke and there . Because that is what they did and much of it was copied from the British wealthy.

    After the Second World War, the GI Bill and post-war prosperity saw the style become commonplace. ‘Ivy’ was a marketing gimmick as its origin relates to the ‘blue blood’ universities playing sports against each other. ‘Ivy Style’ is what people wore in the late 1940s and until the early 1960s.

    Sack jackets, cinos, button down collars were de rigeur and the little things like went the rear button on a OCBD shirt, cuffed trousers and rear buckles on trousers went in and out of fashion. Anchor bracelets were never a major Ivy fashion accessory as they catch on crap.

    The Official Preppy Handbook was tongue-in-cheek yet many took as a fashion bible.

    For the record I only wear Brooks Brothers, J Press and bespoke and holiday in Martha’s Vineyard in the late Fall. And attended Harvard as an affiliate in research having been in the military for 28 years. .

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