Band playing Jazz at Penn’s Skimmer Weekend – 1955
Just when I thought I’d finally compiled all of Bill Ray’s pictures of his visit to Watts in 1966 for Life magazine, I stumbled over a load of unpublished ones. Thanks to the LIFE website who recently published these with added editorial and captions.
See them all here LIFE magazine
“William Solomon (right, in his home in Watts) commands a big Watts street gang, which he openly admits took an active part in the riot. A champion hurdler in high school, he has no job but does have a police record and is on probation for assault. With two followers shown with him, he helps now at Westminster [Neighborhood Association], uses his influence to keep order there and, by his interest, gives its program a certain prestige in the streets.”
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
Probably the single biggest influence to me and I know a few others in the last year, since they came to my attention on The Weejun’s blog in December, 2011, have been a group of photos that appeared in the July 1966 copy of LIFE magazine with the cover story entitled, ‘Watts Still Seething.’
The 26 page article called, ‘There’s Still Hell To Pay in Watts‘ starts with an adaptation of Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy’s prize winning book ‘Burn Baby, Burn‘. A retrospective of the riots, and the circumstances surrounding their beginnings.
The article soon centres on the Watts of 1966 though, a year on from the troubles, and questions the likelihood of the riots happening again. It looks at the continuing situation of jobless young men in the LA neighbourhoods, as well as highlighting the feelings of suspicion still felt by the community towards the police.
It seems quite superficial then to concentrate on the clothes of these young men. The social situation the people of Watts found themselves in the mid-60’s are still reflected now around the world. The economic model of then and now means that wealth for the few means a serf like existence for the many. And from this the young and and disenfranchised look to express themselves in the limited ways they have available, one of them being clothes and fashion.
I think what really appeals to me from these photographs is seeing Ivy staples such as OCBD’s, heavy knitwear and pegged trousers worn in a way that is far removed from the more conservative campus style. Like Weejun mentioned, it seems to be a street style that has taken great influence from the Jazz artists of the period, and a look I know was also popular in Chicago, and New York at the same time. Although by now you could argue such Ivy details were just reflecting the popular fashion of the times, and a person didn’t have to shop at a University Outfitters to get something resembling ‘the look’, how deliberately was this style Ivy?
What follows then is hopefully a definitive list of all the photos Bill Ray took as part of his work for LIFE magazine documenting the young men of Watts.
We begin at the Westminster Neighbourhood Association Building, South-Central LA, home to The Watts Writers Workshop, that Hollywood screen-writer Budd Schulberg had set up in the wake of the 1965 riots. Schulberg described it as being one of the few building left standing on the street.
A walk up the railroad tracks, leads to another noted venue for the shoot were The Watts Towers near the 103rd Street-Kenneth Hahn Station, a LA land mark built by an Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia. Finished in 1954 and now listed National Historical Landmark.
Then what appears to be on a separate day, other members of the group meet up and take to a patch of local wasteland to hone their Molotov making and throwing skills.
Finally then we have last picture of the group, which hopefully completes this collection documenting all the photos available from Bill Ray‘s visit.
The LIFE article can be read in full here at Google Books, and also contains a few images I haven’t included due to the quality of the scans. If anyone knows of any other images I haven’t included I’d be very grateful to hear from you so I can include them in the post. Again thanks to The Weejun, and to Herb Lester for sending him the pictures and making them available to all of us.
Feel free to use the comments section to discuss the best and worst parts of the look these guys had, and what you think progresses well into the style many of us enjoy today.
Every week I will try and post up a few of my favourite items I’ve stumbled across on Etsy. It can be very easy to miss things on there, so hopefully this will bring things to your attention that may have otherwise passed you by. Again, I’m not the seller of any of these items, and don’t profit from them in any way.
Vintage 1950s summer-weight finely woven espresso brown fedora hat from mysweetiepiepie link to item
Marino Lillia Vintage 60’s Glass frames, available from GreenFlamingoVintage link to item
Raglan Sleeve 60’s Overcoat in Black, Blue and White Houndstooth Check available from StyleandSalvage 10% off discount code: HWIH10, Link to item
1960’s LEVI’S Deadstock Sta Prest, Slim Fit, Taper fit, peg leg jeans with a brass Talon Zipper, available from sidvintage, Link to item
Never-worn 1970s Wrangler chukka ankle boots available from WearAreTheyNow, link to item
One Way. The leaders of the Midget Vice Lords, the youngest contingent of the gang, pose for a photo in the heart of Lawndale. The photographer was a West Side youth worker who had established a close relationship with these youths.
White Gang. Members of a white youth gang stand watch on a street corner. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, white street gangs patrolled West Side communities, committing acts of violence and intimidation against African Americans seeking housing or just walking through their neighborhoods. Such actions served to reinforce bonds of racial solidarity and the will to mobilize collectively against racial injustices among the black youths who were the victims of such attacks
Info, and pics, taken from this online essay.
Loop collars from my knowledge were normally used on plain collar shirts, the most familiar being something like a Pendleton Boardshirt, a typical Hawaiian shirt, or something like the one below.
This example though features the normally more sought after button-down collar, but with the added edition of an off–centre button under the collar to secure the loop. I’ve never seen this type of hybrid before, and thought it was worth documenting. I quite also like the novelty print of the fabric. The shirt is available to buy at this Etsy Store. (I’m not the seller of this shirt)
”Manchild in the Promised Land (1965) is an autobiographical novel written by Claude Brown. It tells about the author’s coming of age amidst poverty and violence in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s. Published at the height of the civil rights movement, the book reached far beyond the traditional literary world, drawing new attention to the lives of those living in urban environments. It has sold more than 4 million copies and has been translated into 14 languages.
The book has frequently appeared on banned book lists for offensive language, and violence. The book is also celebrated by critics for its sense of realism.”