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
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays
Admission is free