Around the university campuses of today, one often sees the usual uniform of comfort. Whether it’s a hoodie, a pair of flip-flops, sweatpants, or a wrinkled shirt, one cannot deny that American style screams comfort more than any other adjective. But the fine line of being at ease in one’s clothing has crossed over to the just-rolled-out-of-bed look, which simply does not belong in the academic setting.
It does not come as a surprise that clothing is highly characterized by comfort these days, with America considered the creator of the term “sportswear.” The archaic notion that dignity and comfort were not simultaneously attainable was destroyed with the creation of American Sportswear and its new staple of easily worn, finely tailored, quality clothing. Though nowadays it seems as if only the easily worn quality remains in our clothes, there was a time when all the attributes of American Sportswear were epitomized on University campuses.
Looking back at the Ivy League campuses of the 1950s and 60s, one finds a student of a rather different look. He wears a button down shirt of light blue, made of soft fabric and a soft looking collar with the sleeves rolled up ¾ of the way. He wears a navy single-breasted blazer loosely undone over his striped oxford. He wears a pair of light chinos with dark brown penny loafers. He wears a Harris Tweed suit, an olive green wool crewneck, a pair of boat shoes, argyle socks, madras, poplin, plaid, khaki, and seersucker. He wears clean-cut clothing of the utmost quality, yet manages to look relaxed and down to earth.
This “Ivy Style,” was a clean, classic, and refined aesthetic, with its wearers shopping at stores such as Brooks Brothers and J.Press, whose flagship stores could be found on the Ivy campuses of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The stores followed a motto of good clothing at good prices, providing menswear that was of top quality and tailoring. Clothes were both formal and casual, with the relaxed attire paying as much attention to fine detail as the business side. Color added variety to the clothing.
By word of G. Bruce Royer, the menswear writer for Town and Country and a product of the Ivy League Generation, “A lot of guys wore olive or gray flannel and brightened it up with a rep tie, a pink button-down and argyles. But then there were more guys of a more dandyish bent who were really out-there with the lime-green shetlands and animal corduroy trousers in bright orange, and bright plaid sport jackets. You got a beat on a guy from his sense of color more than anything. Some guys were more quiet and conservative, and others were more out-there. Some guys looked more like bankers, and others like they spent their lives on the golf course, but they were wearing the same clothing.”
Perhaps the most prominent and important aspect of this traditional uniform was its contrasting air of nonchalance. A fine balance between quality and ease had to be maintained to avoid the stuffy feeling of tradition and the sloppy feeling of comfort. Men looked as if they had been “living in the their clothes since the day they were born,” said Royer in his blog called “Ivy Style”, and it was a look that sometimes had to be achieved by students sandpapering the collars of their new button down shirts so as to make them look worn.
This casual yet classy look could only be genuinely accomplished through the purchase of fine quality clothing. Royer explained that it was better to have “one good pair of shoes than a half dozen cheap ones, because the cheap ones look cheap even when they’re new, but the new ones look good even when they’re old.”
This is not the “preppy” look that most often comes to mind when thinking of collegiate style. The Ivy look is traditional sportswear at its best, leaving preppy as its “irreverent, almost quirky” cousin that has been watered down to mean anything that is “remotely clean cut.”
Though the Ivy Style seemed casual, undone, and easily put together, it focused on the minutest details of fine tailoring and quality. This was the epitome of American Sportswear and collegiate wear, and was a prime example of what should be seen on college campuses today. This is a style of tradition and class that managed to keep its wearers at ease, and it should be remembered before any pair of sweatpants or flip-flops is ever put on again.