Julian Bond and members of the SNCC, 1963, photo by Richard Avedon
The mid-50’s was a time when the Ivy marketing machine kicked in with full aplomb, sports companies like McGregor started to claim the ‘campus look’ for themselves, and began to produce styles most Ivy traditionalists would turn their noses up at nowadays. Forget Jazz being the major influence on the popularism of Ivy, the real trend setter, like it is today in many ways, was in fact sport.
When people say about Ivy as a marketing term, as well as a tailoring style, they are pretty much correct on both accounts. Brooks Brothers was the look that was feasted upon, and whether you like it or not, the button-down collar would always be linked to an affluent lifestyle by means of it’s polo playing associations, but these outsider brands that gathered at gates, brought their own ideas to the table, and everyman Ivy was born from a cocktail of modern American sports/leisurewear, and traditional conservative Ivy tailoring. Which ironically was late 19th century sportswear.
So what then is Ivy? And is this cross-over why Ivy is such a broad church, not just limited to the apparent conservatism of Brooks?
From the cross fertilisation of popular American mid-century styles many oddities were born, an awkward transgression from companies probably used to producing plain and loop collar shirts, that were now attempting to create button down collars to appease the new market.
Even Reyn Spooner had capatilsed on the Ivy look by cutting their shirts to Gant’s classic popover style, which appealed to the higher end of the market back in their native Hawaii. Everyone wanted a bit of Ivy League marketing magic it seemed.
Gant of course are company that has always been marketed ”Traditional American Sportwear” since their creation in the late 40’s. They introduced the locker loop on the back of their shirts clearly stamping out a market for themselves with the sporty Ivy Leaguers, it didn’t take a 1950’s marketing genius to determine that sport was the way into the hearts of most young and old American men whether they attend college or not, and the Ivy League of course had a long tradition of competitive sports to capitalise on. The succes of their marketing can be observed in the fact by the 60’s they were creating a special line of shirts for the Yale Co-op.
Gant was an expensive brand back in the 50’s, that looked to get a foothold in the most prestigious stores, but not too long after the companies success more affordable brands began to take on the campus style and make it available to all, through popular mid-range department stores like Sears.
To put all this into context then it is best to look at the most famous face of the zeitgeist, JFK. The Kennedy’s were savvy with traditional Brooks Brothers style, and seemed to be keen to align themselves with this emerging, young, sporty, and dare I say Preppy look. It seemed like the perfect match of youth and optimism and it wasn’t long until this take on Ivy began to shape (and shake) things up back at Brooks, with a narrowed down Number 2 sack suit introduced and slim-line shirts being marketed.
Many people dispute that JFK wore this style too often, by saying the suits he wore were far squarer in the shoulder than classic Brooks, well the fact is the number 2 suit was square in the shoulder, with a broader chest and deeper arm-hole to allow for what Brooks deemed as suiting the fitter younger sportier man. Even though this is an advert for the 1964 redesign of the number 2, it still covers the key adaptations made with the original number 2 suit introduced 3 years earlier.
So there we have the evidence of the tail wagging the dog, and how 50’s sportswear companies (originally influenced by traditional tailoring), went on to dictate back to traditionalist. A play back and forth that now allows us to describe a broad range of clothing as being Ivy, even though it’s history didn’t start on the campus. This also goes some way to suggest why pinning down true ‘Ivy’ is not as easy as saying traditional American tailoring.
Thanks to The Weejun, The Ivy League Look, and Talk Ivy members for the information and photos.
The Sears shirt featured is available to buy at The Ivy League Shop on Etsy