The fashion industry’s stance on cutting edge style immediately conjures up images of trailblazing designers, such as Vivienne Westwood and the late (great) Alexander McQueen. Many designers, from Jil Sander to Junya Watanabe, spend their illustrious – and often notorious – careers championing the individual and his need for extreme self-expression. One would be mistaken, however, to limit such courageous style within the confines of anti-establishment rebellion and the realms of safety pins and ill-fitting trousers. Indeed, the greatest testament to subversion through fashion can sometimes be total societal conformity. Such sartorial satire can clearly be seen through the evolution of Ivy Style, whose humble beginnings belied the influence it would later have outside of its political sphere; as the precursor to the ‘prep’ it seared itself onto our collective fashion consciousness from the early 80s through the fashion powerhouses of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.
The term Ivy Style was coined in the late 50s, when, seemingly overnight, hallowed halls of academia along America’s East Coast became significant to the fashion industry for the first time. Students at Ivy League colleges, such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale had only been previously known for academic excellence and social elitism in equal measure but this was all about to change. Not only were students attending Ivies without any personal connections to the Rockefellers, Vanderbilt or Roosevelt families – perish the thought – but some of the first African-American students were beginning to enrol too.
It is ironic that this new student body had more to teach their peers than to learn from their professors, as they parodied the conservative attire previously reserved for the uppermost echelons of American society. Their message to the predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) student body was not convoluted by controversy, they were, after all merely wearing identical Ivy League staples from the original on-campus university outfitters: J. Press and Brooks Brothers. Simultaneously, however, they did manage to usurp the societal boundaries imposed upon them by capitalising upon their peers’ inertia. They succeeded not only because their message of class mobility and betterment through education was just but also, because they looked damned good doing it!
The pared-down cool of Oxford shirts with thick argyle knitwear and flat-fronted chinos with battered boat shoes exemplified the height of Ivy League cool, so it came as little surprise that celebrities began to globalise this look and, whether they were aware of it or not, the political statement firmly stitched into their new button-down collars. During this time, all-round kings of cool Steve McQueen and Miles Davies perfected their own Ivy looks that helped even the most discerning dresser to see the benefits of squeaky-clean, American style. As American as apple pie, Ivy Style became renowned for its smart-casual approach, conservative colour palette and a timeless, classic quality that enabled it to be worn by a son, father and even a grandfather; hardly an image associated with brave fashion at first glance.
Ivy Style has remained consistently appropriate and whereas its political role has diminished over the years, stylistically it is more popular than ever before. The rise of social media and blogging has introduced classic American menswear to an entirely new audience of technocrats… as opposed to the aristocrats of yesteryear. Scott Schumann’s The Sartorialist is a good example of how universal Ivy Style now is. Previously Schumann’s blog was limited to New York but now, whether he is in London, Stockholm, Paris or Milan, a nattily dressed dandy is predominantly featured on the blog with his check blazer and tortoiseshell glasses firmly in focus. Clearly, the resurgence of Ivy Style ought not to be ignored, so sharpen your pencils and open your minds because class is in session:
If you need any more inspiration, my Ivy League mood board is below, as a revision guide of sorts!
Remember, failing to prepare is preparing to fail! Words to dress by…
Lots of Razz love, Toby.