28 July 2010

Cocktails by the Pool

Tin Tin recently did an interesting post about the upcoming re-issue of the infamous "Take Ivy". The book has by now been discussed ad nauseam, and though I too have been sucker punched and pre-ordered a copy, I won't talk about it here. But Tin Tin's last bit did get me thinking. He said:

Take Ivy holds a mirror to the reader. Some see it as a nostalgic look at a period long gone. Others see privilege. A lot of people see inspiration. Not only in clothing others but clothing themselves. I see someone from the outside looking in.

It was that last sentence about being "on the outside" that got my wheels turning, and rather than post my take in the comments section over at The Trad, I thought I'd get all long winded about it here.

I was ten years old in 1986. Back then I saw a lot of guys, mostly of Italian descent, dressed not unlike I dressed today. You know the look: button down shirt, crisp from the cleaners, with khakis, crisp from the cleaners, and loafers with bare ankles. Plain and simple. Pretty much the classic East Coast casual uniform (tangent: back then, such an outfit was still considered casual, by no means appropriate for funerals or weddings or even a day at the office). Us swarthy types put a slight Italian twist on it.

Two buttons open at the neck, sleeves rolled back. You'd see Weejuns and Sperry Topsiders often enough, on the kids, but mostly the loafers were Italian horsebits. I've eschewed the jewelry. Those guys always had gold chains, bracelets, pinky rings, the works...and they always did that thing with the sleeves where they'd roll them in instead of out. Little touches, but the clothes were largely the same as the Harvard guys.
My Dad's cousin Bob lives in this killer 1960s split level ranch in the 'burbs complete with a kidney shaped pool. He was always having barbecues back then. The kids would spend all day in the pool, surrounded by guys dressed like this, accompanied by ladies with smart hair-dos wearing tailored knee length skirts, heels and lightweight cardigans. Nearly everyone's last name ended in a vowel.

As the author of a blog that largely focuses on a particular type of menswear, it's no surprise that I frequently read a lot of related material. The internet has given everybody a strong opinion and a really loud voice to use in proclaiming it. Mostly the stuff I read is fun, but there's this creeping undercurrent of guys out there who still believe that if your family didn't come over on the Mayflower, descend from upright Saxon stock and send the boys to Harvard for the last three hundred or so years, then you're some kind of degenerate heathen who has some nerve wearing khakis and tweed and button down collars. To be frank, it's more than a little racist to claim that race and religion entitle one to any particular mode of dress. Because that's all this really is, a mode of dress. If a store is going to offer these things for sale, then the only thing that entitles anybody to wear them is the money to buy it.

Miles Davis bought clothes at The Andover Shop. Many of the little shops that sold this stuff were Jewish owned and operated. Where I come from, Italian dudes have been wearing a variation of this stuff forever. I can remember my Mom buying me Sero oxfords at Bradlee's as part of my Catholic school uniform when I was a boy. I certainly don't feel I'm on the outside looking in, and I really don't believe these togs have all that much to do with privilege, not anymore. Despite what some people may think, it's been an awful long time since any of this stuff was the exclusive province of the yacht club gang. Granted, I did grow up in Boston where the influence of the Ivy League set has always enjoyed a broad appeal, but still, its only clothes fellas.

Besides, you don't hear me whining about the way they stole Gucci loafers, Loro Piana sweaters and Ferraris from my people, do you.


Schmidty - Man Vs. Style said...

I love doing the two button open with the sleeves rolled up. Says im stylish and someone, but casual at the moment.

Good stuff.



Thornproof said...

Bravo! Stick it to the man ...

matthew said...

truly one of your best posts. thank you, man.

Anonymous said...

Well said. The elitist are everywhere and must feel threatened. I grew up in the Southeast with alot of this type of stuff.

The sad thing is, that folks who think like that miss out on so much...

Really enjoy your blog.
Vashon Is, Wa.

Cyclo2000 said...

Where-as it is true that these clothes are not the exclusive garb of the yacht club gang, someone did approach me in a bar last week and ask which club I was in.
"That badge....Royal Dublin ain't it?"
"Err...Ralph of Long Island actually..."

Cowboy Prep said...

Long time listener, first time caller. Perhaps the creeping undercurrent is much more prevalent in certain areas of the country? Both my wife and I can trace our ancestry to so called east coast American “blue blood”, but quite frankly those ancestors were either last in line for inheritance or pissed it away. In grand American tradition they migrated West where fortunately who you’ve become is far more important than ancestry, race or religion. Afterall, most everyone migrated for free land and unlimited opportunity, all eventually blending in with immigrants seeking the same. I’ve long followed several menswear blogs and have personal preference to those that perpetuate a traditional look. I’ve never really thought of myself as on the ‘outside looking in’, but rather someone who selects wardrobe based on timelessness, quality and sensibility. I do frequently, however, take exception to those who contribute unnecessarily harsh commentary criticizing cut, cloth or brand. In my opinion, any guy not tramping about in graphic shirts, distressed jeans, pointy shoes and ball caps should be respected for the effort to counter the infiltration of the disposable wardrobe designers would rather have us purchase. These guys are neither social climbers nor conformists, but individuals simply reinforcing the sensibility which has long held American culture inspirational for both foreign and domestic.

Anonymous said...

That was awesome. I am a fellow Catholic (my mother always bought me top siders to wear with my uniform) who grew up in San Diego (California? The horror!!!). I love trad / preppy clothes (Although I will admit, with a Beach Boys spin, you can take the girl out of Ca but...) and sometimes the snootiness of some bloggers is a bit much. To quote a fellow Californian, "Can't we all just get along?"

SB7 said...

Amen, brother. I feel the same way you do regarding this mode of dress and privilege. I wonder if it might be Boston to some extent.

I've spent my life in DC, but learned about clothes from my father, a Bostonian. (Well, Somerville, actually.) He came up in housing projects, not prep schools. He and his family swept floors at Harvard; they didn't take classes there. And yet he dressed — and still does in many ways — like the boys in Take Ivy.

M.K.O.R. said...

Well said!! As a Bostonian/person of color/lover of Ivy style, I'm completely on the same wavelength regarding that kind of ridiculous elitism.

davidsl said...

my family [paternal and maternal] are all new englanders for only a very few generations [i'm 3rd generation on one side and 4th generation on the other]. mother's family is very wasp and well heeled. father's family is working class italian. they all dressed exactly the same. just like i do now and just like the fashions you post about. i like your thoughts on this. i never gave it much thought...it's only clothes, as you say.

and i still roll my sleeves up by rolling them in, not out. much neater.

njglenn said...

Well said!

Young Fogey said...

I have no disagreement with what you say. However, just to play the contrarian here...

All over the world, people know where they came from and who they are descended from. One's background determines a lot in many societies. It seems to me that the prevalence of this attention to ancestors is not only natural but also the default, and it is only in more recently settled places that one's origins are less important. Add American egalitarianism to the mix, and we get what obtains on the West Coast: no one really cares too much about who your ancestors were or how long your family has lived someplace.

On the other hand, looking from the outside, it seems to me that the East Coast has been settled long enough for people to be more concerned about those traditional issues. It makes sense that some people get miffed about outsiders usurping their traditional whatever-it-happens-to-be.

So, to a degree, I can understand the blueblood disdain towards the "uppity" hoi polloi. Doesn't mean I agree with it, but I also think that racist may be too strong a term. (I also think that racist is so abused these days--people who oppose the current administration, even those who support Sarah Palin, are smeared with that label, in the absence of any evidence for actual racist beliefs or actions--that it either has no meaning or a completely different meaning from the original. But that's another issue.)

Michael Q. said...

Nice post and interesting thoughts.

I can relate with your conclusions, but I just want to clarify your initial supposition.

When Tin Tin says "I see someone from the outside looking in," do you think he means that in a pejorative sense?

If that's the case, then I can understand the slightly offended tone in your response (and like I said, I agree with your conclusions- that everyone has a right to dress in the Ivy Style (or whatever they wish)).

I'm not so sure he meant it in that sort of way. I think me means that they (the Take Ivy photographers) observed the style of their subjects as unfamiliar observers. They knew nothing the cultural references and sources of Ivy Style. They were "looking from the outside at something attractive in its foreignness" (as Tin Tin says). They were looking at it with unbiased eyes.

That isn't a judgement on the photographers; it's a statement that Ivy Style was appreciated purely for its aesthetics (and not for any other cultural, sociological, or nostalgic reasons).

He even says "I might as well be Japanese." Meaning that when he returned to the style after a long absence, he came to it with new eyes.

Now, if I'm completely off base here, please let me know.

SkinnyGuinea said...

Gucci, Loro Piana and Ferraris.
Also: the friggin' Renaissance.
Keep on keeping it real, cuz!

tintin said...

If you put that wonderful post in a comment on my blog more people would'a seen it.

Adam Williams said...

Great writing on this subject, Giuseppe. Very nicely put.

Take Ivy-related, I graduated from Dartmouth in 2002, where I worked as a bartender at the Hanvoer Inn.

We frequently catered reunions for all the classes. I remember tending bar for classes of the 50s and 60s. Very few of those guys bothered to dress as sharp as they looked back when they were undergrads.

Zach said...


Gentleman's Outfitters said...

Great post on a fascinating subject. It’s ironic that the Ivy leaguers were documented by Japanese photographers. Like a reverse Orientalism, this time the romanticized gaze is turned on the elite bloodline who’s ancestors helped to shape our false ideas about "the other" in the first instance.

In response to Young Fogeys comments, if racist is too strong of a word, what would be more suitable? as upsetting as the 'R' word is for some people, I think it would be hard to argue that it isn't a fundamental part of W.A.S.P ideals.

Also, not liking the current administration isn't racist, just unrealistic. They are going to need longer than 18 months to sort out this mess!

Back on subject, I just picked up a great SERO "the purist" white button down in a fantastic broadcloth material. Absolutely bulletproof!

Young Fogey said...

Michael Q,

Dunno how G feels, but I think you're right.


Most people change with the times; why should those old grads be any different? We're the ones trying to turn back the clock (or whatever metaphor butters your biscuits)--but without it turning into a costume.

Anonymous said...

awesome post

Anonymous said...

A little late on this one, but...

I've got a foot in the door on the whole WASP culture issue - my mother, grandfather, and great grandfather went to Yale, I went to an ISL boarding school (the same one my great grandfather went to...), and I can trace my lineage back to the Mayflower, blah, blah blah. I was lucky enough to have been born half blue-blood, half rural Pennsylvanian, though, and I grew up in the city of Pittsburgh, far removed from that culture.

Due to my background, and my ties to both camps, I can say that, yeah, it is saddening to see certain people complain about the rabble adopting "their" style of dress. I'd agree that racism is part of WASP culture, as it has been parts of many cultures throughout the history of the US and the world. I agree with the fact that if you have the money and the taste for the clothes, then you are just as entitled to wear them as I am.

However, my problem comes from the pretenders, who see dressing this way not simply as a stylish way to carry one's self, but rather as a costume. The pretension that a man who doesn't know the culture outside of RRL advertisements can don a blazer and a J. Press shirt and talk about the "rabble", and their opinions on W.F. Buckley, and so on and so forth - to me - is just as ridiculous as putting on a doorag and baggy jeans and all of a sudden acting like you grew up in Harlem. We all know certain blogs where this is the case.

By all means, wear the clothes, people, they look fantastic! What irritates me is when people pretend they're something they're not. Wear the clothes, but be yourself.

- Ben from Pgh