Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ivy Style

Now on view at The Museum at FIT is the exhibit Ivy Style focusing on collegiate menswear from the early 20th century to today. The look originated at Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and while the style may have been appropriated from pieces common to an Englishman’s wardrobe such as tweed jackets and polo coats, the items were modified by companies like Brooks Brothers and J. Press to become something uniquely American.

From Apparel Arts, a magazine devoted to menswear.

Cornell University blazers: A 1926 Reunion blazer on left, at right a Class of 1918 blazer.

The striped blazers are both circa 1928.

I don’t normally think this about fashion exhibits, but I have to say, Ivy Style is easily the best written show I’ve been to in my two and a half years covering museum collections. I wasn’t sure I’d be so excited to see menswear but the gallery text was fascinating and informative, giving a real sense of what was expected of young male American undergrads in the early part of the last century up to 1967, at which time the Ivy style began to lose popularity. There was a uniform, as much as if these boys were in the military, and they were expected to follow it to a T! From class jackets emblazoned with the school’s crest to the 1920s Raccoon coat craze, from Madras shorts to evening wear to Princeton’s Beer Suits—oh yes, you read correctly—this exhibit gives you an amazing sense of what the look was and how much it’s been used by designers such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger from the 1970s to today. It’s especially interesting to see these clothes in light of today’s male collegiate crowd, which for the most part looks like what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (himself a Harvard man, albeit one who dropped out) runs his empire wearing—black hoodie, jeans, khakis and those hideous Adidas flip-flops, worn with white socks!

Give me, any day of the week, the 1920s look straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, quotes from which adorn the beginning of the exhibit. I understand things have changed and college is not just the province of rich white young men anymore and costs a ton of money to attend. But still. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a young college man today wore a (vintage) bow tie to class? I know I would love it!

The Raccoon coat craze of the 1920s is the most famous college sartorial fad in US history.

A wardrobe stocked with ties, slippers and a straw boater.

I love these slippers.

Madras blazer by Chipp, 1970. My 9-year old son says he wants a blazer like this.

Patricia Mears, Deputy Director of The Museum at FIT and organizer of the exhibit, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the press preview, agreed when I told her I thought it was a unique show. She also noted that the museum’s security guards, used to seeing ladies’ fashions on display, have had their heads turned by this collection. “They’ve been pointing out things they like!” she said.

There are several things I liked as well and now I find myself wanting one of J. Crew’s tipped blazers so I can join in all this Ivy League fun. Nothing I like more than appropriating men’s clothing!

Ralph Lauren ensemble, 2002. I want a blazer like this!

Corbin Ltd. patchwork jacket on left, 1970, Chipp Tartan patchwork jacket, right, 1974.

The height of Preppy Chic!

Brooks Brothers’ evening dress on the left, from 1907, on the right, from 1926.

Princeton Beer Suits, circa 1929-1930.

As for the Beer Suit, this has got to be one of the most interesting stories about an article of clothing I have ever heard. Get this: debuting at Princeton in 1912, the Beer Suit was repurposed work wear worn to protect “good clothes” from spilled beer. The suits could not be washed and could only be worn by seniors, a strict rule that was upheld by the student body! They were worn by alumni to reunions for 25 years (can you imagine how stinky they were after that time?), only then could alumni don reunion blazers. Beer Suits were decorated with images invoking politics, culture or student life. They never caught on at any of the other Ivy League schools so they are exclusive to Princeton University.

I’m trying to picture Scott Fitzgerald in his Beer Suit. He went to Princeton (and like Zuckerberg, he never graduated from his Ivy Leave school), but did he have one? I will have to re-read This Side of Paradise, his first novel, and about his time at Princeton University, to see if he mentions it.

Ivy Style is on view at The Museum at FIT until January 5, 2013.

The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
New York NY 10001-5992
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: Noon-8PM
Saturday: 10AM-5PM
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays
Admission is free


Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

THANK YOU, JILL! I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed visiting these exhibits with you! I have never heard the beer suit story...that's great! You did an excellent job of reporting here! have a wonderful Sunday!

Corrine said...

What a great review. Ages ago I did read a novel (?) that mentioned the "Beer Suit!" I would need to mine my reading journal to remember, but it does bring back some memories of how my boy friend dressed, in college, in the 60's. Think button down oxfords, madras, wing tip shoes, the blazers etc. The Uniform of the Private College. Thanks for sharing this, great photo's.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lovely exhibition. This looks like all the things David/Edward (the abdicated King of England) would have worn ;-)

Anonymous said...

chances are, since FSF didn't graduate he didn't have a beer suit since they were only for seniors

jill815 said...

Hi Anon, FSF didn't graduate, but he could've been a senior at Princeton. I will have to look into it, I know more about his life when he was writing 'Tender is the Night.' XO, Jill

jill815 said...

Hi Pam! I wish you could've been with me at this exhibit, it is a journalist's dream, it is so well done and you learn about the background of things like Madras, Chinos, and Wee-Juns. I may have to do further posts on this show. XO, Jill

jill815 said...

Hi Corrine, do come back and let me know what novel it was that mentioned the Beer Suit if you remember! XO, Jill

jill815 said...

Hi Happy Face! You know, part of the gallery text does indeed talk about what a huge style influence Edward the Prince of Wales was in the 1920s, before he became king, and you can definitely see it in those evening suits. There were also several blazers there made of Prince of Wales check. I love seeing 1920s photos of Edward, he really was a stylish guy! XO, Jill

Anonymous said...

I am with you, sister -- bring me a preppy-wearing brainiac in a tipped blazer!!! I think I dressed like a preppy boy during my senior year in high school and freshmen year in college. I vaguely remember 18 pieces of plaid clothing in my wardrobe. Anyhow, what a cool exhibit! I miss the formal days....

Veshoevius said...

I have always adored stripey blazers and love those slippers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jill,
What a fun post... "Beer suits"... We all easily imagine how students would react today if they had to wear such a suit and to take care of it for 25 years - and as you said these must have been stinky after a while :-))) Maybe theu would accept to wear a "Coke suit"???
Oh my it's amazing how times have changed! You should copy Mark Zuckenberg of your email. Maybe he has the sense of humor in addition to his obvious sense of business...
As for men's clothes on women I have always thought this is a fabulous way to enhance... femininity. My favorite outfit is a man's white shirt (ask my husband... sometimes he wonders where his favorite white shirt is) Men's large sweaters also do miracles. Not even mentioning tuxedos adapted to women like the great Yves St Laurent taught us...
Thanks for this fun trip in the old good times!
xo from Florida,

jill815 said...

Hi Rebekah, I'm so with you, I had a lot of plaid in my wardrobe in college. I don't know if I can return to that pattern but I definitely need a tipped blazer after seeing this exhibit. XO, Jill

jill815 said...

Hi Veshoevius, aren't those slippers the best? I want a pair myself! XO, Jill

jill815 said...

Hi Anne, I'm glad you brought up Yves because I still love to see a woman in Le Smoking. So chic and sexy! And this exhibit reminded me how very much designers I love like YSL and Chanel and Rag & Bone borrow from the boys and give to the girls! XO, Jill

Anonymous said...

I may forward this post to my son. He graduated from Princeton a few years ago. I noticed the orange and black stripe Princeton! This is a fun and informative post! Thanks!

jill815 said...

Hi Jeannie, forward away! Did your son have a Beer Suit while at Princeton? I am fascinated by the story behind that garment and wonder if current Princeton boys and girls are proudly upholding that fine tradition! XO, Jill

Bella Q said...

My boyfriend just had me google "beer suit" because of a podcast he's listening too, and your post popped up-!

jill815 said...

Hi Bella, that is so exciting! I love having the words "beer suit" lead people to me, ha ha! I wish you and I could don a couple of those beer suits and hit the town. I think we'd be SO popular. XO, Jill