As the former president of Ivy League outfitter, J. Press, Richard Press—co-curator of FIT’s latest exhibit, “Ivy Style,” which examines the sartorial modes that developed on those illustrious New England campuses—is an expert when it comes to buttoned-up, khaki-clad, collegiate flair.
“We forget a phrase that’s no longer in the fashion vocabulary, and that’s good taste,” Press told us. “Ivy Style always represented, in my mind, excellent taste. It wasn’t a symbol of economic superiority, it wasn’t necessarily the dress of the wealthy…it’s inter-generational. Which means it represents economic value. If you buy something that is traditionally Ivy Style, when you pull it out of the closet two years later it isn’t, ‘Oh, that’s what they wore in 2012.’ It could have been worn in 1930 or 1960.”
Here, Press (pictured above) shares the ten essential components of an Ivy-inspired wardrobe. Just make sure to not confuse Ivy Style with preppy, which Press says refers more to weekend Ivy wardrobes for the golf course or the yacht.
1. A Grey Flannel Suit. “Students don’t wear a suit everyday, of course, and especially not to class,” says Press. “But there are certain formal occasions in a student’s life that require a suit. And that doesn’t mean they need a whole bunch of suits in their closet, but they do need one and possibly two depending on where they are and their station in life—maybe for a wedding, a funeral, or for an interview. To represent Ivy Style, I would say it should be a grey suit—a blue suit is too formal for the daytime. I would suggest an old-fashioned grey flannel suit, or a grey chalk stripe suit in a mid-weight flannel that can be worn not in the heat of summer, perhaps, but certainly from September to June. It is the quintessential Ivy Style suit—although the Duke of Windsor used to wear one in England, too.”
2. A Blue Blazer. “A blue blazer with brass buttons can be worn with grey flannel trousers for relatively formal occasions, or it can be dressed down with khakis, jeans, or corduroys. It also goes terrifically with tartans, brights, or Nantucket reds.”
3. Flannel Slacks. “A pair of mid-weight grey flannel slacks are a classic Ivy Style look, and come in handy on more formal occasions when jeans or khakis aren’t appropriate.”
4. Khakis. “Khaki pants are a must,” Press emphasizes. “Khaki is really more a signature to Ivy Style than jeans. Brooks Brothers today sells Levi’s and that works perfectly fine, I have nothing against jeans, but my personal preference is for khakis. Khaki is the classic informal pant. I asked the students at Yale what the preference was today on campus, and jeans are up there, but khakis are still popular, too.”
5. A Crisp Oxford. “Blue or white, really,” says Press. “If you look at pictures of President John Kennedy and the family out at Hyannis Port playing touch football, they were all wearing button down shirts with rolled-up sleeves and khaki trousers or bermuda shorts. That’s quintessential Ivy.”
6. Bermuda Shorts. “In the summertime, whether you’re in the East Village or on the Upper East Side, everybody is wearing bermuda shorts. Madras or khaki, it doesn’t matter. They always look great.”
7. Neckties. “Are neckties going the way of fedora hats? What’s going on with ties today?” Press wonders. “On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough doesn’t wear a tie but Bill Geist often does. Except for TV anchors, many media figures are more often than not pictured without a tie. But from my view, I think it’s gauche, to the worst degree, to wear a suit and a dress shirt without a tie. It looks sloppy and unfinished…To my way of thinking, particularly when ties today are $75 and often a lot more than that, a rep stripe represents the best value and can be worn with anything.”
8. Dirty White Bucks. “The shoe of ultimate snobbery used to be dirty white bucks,” says Press. “They are white buckskin shoes, and they began at Princeton and eventually graduated to Yale and throughout the Ivy League. The cliche in the middle of the ’50s was that if a Yale man was a ‘shoe,’ which meant that the aristocracy of the Ivy League always wore dirty white buck shoes to show they were members of the cognoscenti.”
9. Corduroys. “I went to Dartmoth, and when a lot of the students at Yale and Princeton and Harvard were wearing khakis, at Dartmouth we wore corduroys, which had a really New England connotation. In general, the antecedent of Ivy Style really was New England….a lot of the fashion drifted from L.L. Bean, which was an archetype of the New England country wardrobe. So Ivy Style was a derivative of places where Ivy Leaguers spent their off-time whether it was Maine, Cape Cod, or the Hamptons.”
10. Shetland Items. “Shetland Isles items are key to the wardrobe,” says Press. “Shetland ‘Shaggy Dog’ crewneck sweaters are classic, and also Harris or Shetland tweed sport coats together with blue blazers.
“Ivy Style” is now on view at the Museum of FIT through January 5. For more information visit fitnyc.com.