The Trad Style Primer

The Trad Style Primer

No doubt, by now you’ve read our in-depth Preppy Style Guide and primer on Ivy Style. In the final part of this series, we’re going to delve into a less commonly known variation of Northeastern American style known as Trad.

Trad is arguably the most classic and refined version of Northeastern college attire. Short for ‘traditional’, it’s a very contemporary take on classic menswear dating back to the roaring twenties when men seemingly took the most pride in their public attire. However, like preppy and Ivy styles, trad was born out of a need to rebel against the classic business suit as a way for students to develop their own independent personality while blending it with the attire their father thought to be appropriate for study at Harvard or Yale.

Trad Style at School

Trad Style at School

Perhaps a brilliant imitation of the more dapper gents attending Oxford or Cambridge, trad style became a way for young men who were uncomfortable in the casualness of polo shirts and boat shoes to still maintain some mutinous behavior without utterly offending the more conservative dandies of the upper echelons of society.

A prime example of classic trad style from a magazine

A prime example of classic trad style from a magazine

The Difference Between Trad and Ivy Style

If we consider that Ivy style is a more traditional approach to prepdom, we can easily say that Trad is a more sensible approach to classic menswear with a slightly contemporary and freeing approach that the preppies adopted their style around. The entire purpose of trad is to maintain a conservative approach to style without appearing dated. For those attending the Ivy League schools of Boston and New York this meant donning a more formal version of the navy blazer, often adorned with a small crest on the breast and paired with standard white dress shirts over button-downs with a repp or solid tie. For a more casual event while Ivy style might require a school sweater, the more traditional man would opt for a more formal sweater such as a v-neck, vest or turtleneck that would be partially covered by a jacket. Granted this was most popular back in the 1960s and 70s, when the bulky turtleneck was a style staple.

A little waspy with traditional style from Time

A little waspy with traditional style from Time

Today for the more dapper trad it might mean an odd vest under a tweed jacket with a bow tie. A very safe and less provocative style for the American man, the trad style grew from the popularity of ivy and prep styles as many of the more conservative students were simply not permitted to leave home in casual wear to attend functions or school. Similar to how many fathers today wouldn’t allow their daughter out of the house in a tube top or miniskirt, the traditional father of the 1950s wouldn’t permit his son to step foot in his alma-mater with anything less than a jacket and tie. Trad became that very safe alternative that still managed to allow young men the ability to express themselves and fit in with their peers who dressed far more contemporary.

A perfectly dressed trad man is the young man who can leave his home dressed to rebel his father but still looks charming enough that dad doesn’t notice anything is wrong.

How to Select Trad Clothing

The biggest tip if you’re looking to achieve the classic trad appearance is to simply try to dress conservatively with a bit of nonchalance.

Focus on traditional style staples like the navy blazer, the three-piece suit, and the cardigan sweater but stretch the bounds by choosing less common fabrics, selecting tweeds or opting for check suits over solid. Forget the matching vest of the three-piece suit and add an odd vest to your outfit. Forget the classic ties and instead opt for interesting tie patterns and textures. Choose less common knots for your tie such as the Oriental, Victoria or Kelvin knot and allow your lack of uniformity to shine in a way that people notice but can’t figure out how you achieved it.

The goal is always self-expression and like Ivy style it’s about rebelling against the rules of classic fashion. Oxfords are always a great shoe for business attire but rather than the standard black leather try pairing a suede Oxford with your suit instead. Simple changes such as colorful shoelaces over black can even alter your appearance and work to harmonize an outfit by matching it to your tie or suspenders.

David Wilder of the renowned Ivy clothier J.Press once explained trad style by saying “Imagine your best-dressed uncle throwing open his closet for you to frolic around in.”

Examples of Classic Trad Style

Suits are worn most of the time by trads whereas Ivy Leaguers and preps would often focus on blazers. While the preps would often fold up their pants the more conservative trad would never get out of the house before his father would say “roll those pants back down.” To mitigate this risk of embarrassment, the trad would cuff his pant leg. A perfect compromise between the standard uncuffed pant and the rolled look their preppy friend managed to get away with. It gave a sense of relief, albeit a small breakthrough from the stifling conservative traditions of a bygone era, it was still a way to minimally – yet appropriately – express oneself.

Trad style from Princeton

Trad style from Princeton

Casual shoes are a staple in Ivy style. Preppies love their boat shoes; Ivy guys swear by the penny loafer, but neither of those shoes did the conservative parent believe was appropriate to wear out.

That’s where the white buck came into play. It offered a traditional approach to a modern era. It was just fashionable enough that Dad might do a second take as you walked out the door, but he probably wouldn’t be able to place exactly what was off with the outfit. Even if he did think it was inappropriate, he would probably have a difficult time arguing why. So long as you were wearing it casually and not with formalwear, you got away with it.

A casually trad outfit

A casual trad outfit

Just like a miniskirt on the girl, the goal for the prep was to show off just a bit. Bright colors, slim-fit shirts and shorts that showed some leg, the preppies got away with a lot. They were the hooligans of Harvard at the time, and the style grew in popularity. Trad style followers would never dare show off their bodies that way. Slim fit shirts were a no-no, shorts were only acceptable while sailing and bright colors were left on the shelf at Brooks Brothers and J.Press. For the trad man, it was all about natural fitting clothing that covered the body. Leg hair didn’t show, abdominal muscles didn’t peek through the shirt and navy was considered a color unless it was on the tie. If that was the case, standard collegiate colors were acceptable. Showing off was something left for the preppies but it didn’t mean you couldn’t carefully showcase some style.

Perfectly trad with a little prep in his step

Perfectly trad with a little prep in his step

Today bright shoelaces, socks and pocket squares are widely accepted. However, back in the day where Dad put on a suit just to check the mail or get a haircut, men had to be far more careful. This meant using brighter colors for hidden accessories such as your key fob or a handkerchief. If you were a real rebel you might throw on a crocodile or lizard grain belt over the standard leather. It was just your way to show off a bit without an authority figure noticing.


Unlike prep and Ivy styles, trad is no longer as known or popular as it once was. Today, society has become far more lenient and men are more free than ever to adopt a more colorful palette of expression. In fact, if the average person saw someone wearing the standard trad outfit today, they would probably think they were very classically attired and its subtlety would be lost. Nevertheless, it’s still important for the sartorially-savvy man to be familiar with the style as there remains a small contingent of men that follow the trad style rules.

How do you quietly rebel against classic menswear? Do you have any unique ways of expressing your style without making it noticeable?

Article Name
The Trad Style Primer
Learn the subtle difference between Preppy, Ivy and Trad styles with tips and staples that elevate your style.
7 replies
  1. Andrew says:

    Sir, thank you for your guides. I just recently found your website. It’s surprising to me in today’s society how much notice one can get by simply borrowing a few casual elements from the Trad or Preppy styles. Today, after reading your articles, I simply tucked my oxford button-down shirt into jeans, swapped my sneakers for an old pair of bluchers, and added a sports coat.

    On a very short trip out a man asked me if I was attending a nearby business meeting, and a woman noted the sports coat. I laughed, because after reading your guides I realized the whole outfit wouldn’t even pass muster for traditional casual dress codes.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what reaction I will get out of real pants, or just adding a boutonniere and pocket square.

  2. Moller says:

    Many thanks for the interesting read. The outfit showcased as “A casually trad outfit” looks horrible by the way.

  3. Dr. Glenn Jakobsen says:

    Thanks for a great article! Just as in music, where one can categorize by genre, I see that there is a good amount of overlap in fashion elements as well. From this article I’ve learned that I’ve inadvertently mixed prep style, like slim fit khaki’s, woven leather belt and white or navy polo, with trad (penny loafers). Far from the ivy “campus hooligan”, I usually shun business suit and black oxfords and prefer to be the hooligan of the medical office! I’m learning that despite distinctions between styles, they share common DNA. I hope you’ll continue to write primers on the various fashions seen by well dressed men today.


  4. Jonathan says:

    Thank you for this really interesting article. I’ve enjoyed reading your primers about prep, ivy and trad style.

    I have a suggestion and I’m not entirely sure where to write, so I hope it’s okay that I do it here. Maybe an article about traditional British clothing and style, an article that focuses on quintessential pieces and things that define the style (if it even is a style?) and sets it apart from other. Just my thoughts. Thank you again!

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