State Of The Union: Ivy League Style

There's something evergreen about the appeal of the Ivy League look. It's prep, it's trad, it's F. Scott Fitzgerald and his American Dream, it's J. Press and J. Crew, and it's all lovingly documented in the menswear nerd's wet dream titled Take Ivy.

A lot of current trends trace their roots to that collection of lush, romanticizing shots of the future ruling class strolling around Neo-Gothic buildings. Think of shoes without socks, elbow patches, the resurgence of Made in America, pocket squares, maybe even sweatshirts as high fashion. Nostalgia and aspirational elitism are never a tough sell.

Most internet shrines to the Ivy League look give off a sense that this, the Oxford shirt and penny loafers, is how "real men" should dress—that we have lost the purest essence of America by relaxing, sissifying, and diversifying our standards of clothing.

But have no fear, Princeton is just as much of a bastion of conservatism as it ever was. The Princeton man, at least some specimens of him, is still capable of wearing a crisp, immaculate button up to class every single day. He just wears Sperrys instead of Weejuns now, and he might spend the winter lounging in flannel shirts, Exeter sweatpants and L.L. Bean duck boots, which is a good look on him.

The irony is that many of my classmates wearing their Take Ivy throwbacks would never have been featured in the original.

The men of Take Ivy are fit and handsome. The English translation released in 2010 allows us to appreciate the authors' gushing over their subjects' sound minds and sound bodies. Modern Princeton men take as much care of their appearance as their predecessors—22% of them are varsity athletes and a lot of those who aren't still live in the gym—though it's probably no longer true that "Princeton is the only place in the world where, when a boy and his date walk past a mirror, it's the boy who stops to comb his hair." Shoutout to this site's target demographic.

Despite some social progress, Ivy League students are still completely enamored with the Ivy League's past. A startup called Hillflint recently made a killing recreating the "1968" sweaters featured in Take Ivy with "2014" and "2015" blazoned in the same font. The irony is that many of my classmates wearing their Take Ivy throwbacks would never have been featured in the original. They're Asian, or Jewish, or gay, or didn’t go to prep school, or, you know, they're female. Frankly, they would have been marginalized in 1966 Princeton assuming they had even gotten in.

And that’s what makes this kind of nostalgia so toxic. Perpetuating the preppy aesthetic also perpetuates the ideology of the all-male, conservative, WASP college culture who embraced that aesthetic to begin with. The reason T. Hayashida and company developed such massive style crushes on Ivy League bros in the first place was what they perceived as the subversiveness of rich people wearing beautiful, expensive clothes sloppily and without caring about them. To outsiders coming straight from the poverty of postwar Japan, it read as pretty damn groundbreaking. But no matter how carelessly Bobby Rockefeller, Princeton class of 2017, throws on his Brooks Brothers shirt, he can afford to be subversive because he'll still end up running the country. As for the rest of us, if we dress like him the joke is on us. We are wearing the uniform of a club of which we will never be members.

Emily Lever is a French-American writer who wishes she led a life of adventure. You can follow her on Twitter here.

17 Responses to “State Of The Union: Ivy League Style”

  1. nerd-182

    interesting perspective, one you don’t really hear often enough in fashion publications.
    While i certainly agree with you, that the fashion of the Ivy League is really the fashion of conservative-white-maleness, it should also be noted that fashion’s inherent pattern is to be worn by the elite/ruling class (who can afford it) from where it then trickles down to the rest of us. Certain elements of that don’t hold true (workwear, streetwear, hobby specific apparel), “capital F” Fashion is and always will be FOR the ruling class BY the ruling class to be coopted by the rest of us, who seek to dress more for the position in society that we feel we want rather than currently have.
    Essentially, the argument against the ivy look is the same as the arguing against fashion, and while that from a social/anthropological perspective certainly warrants the discussion you’re alluding to, i don’t think you’ll find that perspective spectacularly popular amongst the readers of this site.

    TL;DR: lol u broke.

  2. Schwartz

    I disagree with the last line, “We are wearing the uniform of a club of which we will never be members.” I think you miss the point. Isn’t wearing ivy league style when you’re not technically of the demographic it originated from like shouting “It’s not just for you anymore”? I don’t think that it’s very different from re-purposing derogatory slang into something with a positive connotation. Wearing a uniform originally intended for a different group is how we make social commentary through the clothes we wear.

    I liked the article I just think you discredit how far we’ve come. Doesn’t the fact that people of all backgrounds are able to have nostalgia about a book like Take Ivy say something about how we look at the world today? If a female, or asian, or Jewish kid can look at Take Ivy and be inspired by the style that is portrayed there, and not just discount it as being a book about white people for white people, then I think we are all the better for it. When FP readers see articles about steezy Italian old heads or Japanese craftsmen, it’s really the style of the clothing they wear that is inspiring and “cool”, not their social background. While that may still be a factor I don’t think that it is THE factor. At least not anymore.

  3. Dan

    All these guest writers on the pinz make it obvious how much better of a website this could be if yall didn’t simply focus on pushing products and making hollow jokes.

  4. Sam

    Emily, your take on Ivy Style’s progression is interesting but somewhat misplaced. Though Take Ivy has come to represent to many people the expression of Rockefeller-esque aesthetics (read: wealth), the Ivy uniform came about with the end of WWII and the GI Bill which, as I’m sure you know, led to a massive influx of relatively poor veterans into the traditional bastions of the wealthy elite. They brought with them khaki pants, casual jackets, and OCBDs; for a while, these prep staples actually represented their lower status, setting them apart from the rich students who didn’t fight in the war and who continued to wear starchy shirts and tweedy suits and whatnot. Though I have no empirical evidence to back this up, I think it’s because these dudes actually were the manliest bros around (after, y’know, kicking some German ass) that the Ivy look took on the “real men” vibe you mentioned, not because of its socioeconomic/douchey subversiveness. Though that’s certainly why the Japanese were so attracted to it. But I also would hesitate to claim that everyone in Take Ivy was super rich. Though not on the same scale as today, poor students could find ways to attend these institutions.

  5. jack

    what do you want tho emily

    “Princeton is the only place in the world where, when a boy and his date walk past a mirror, it’s the boy who stops to comb his hair.” Shoutout to this site’s target demographic.

    go back to jezebel or whatever site won’t have you

  6. WAVY

    Fuck yeah! We all should like dress like so fucking like totally normcore because like fuck that mainstream shit you know and give ourselves like unorthodox descriptions like French-American writer and stuff you know and like write elaborate parlour pink blogs posts about like how fucking lame are like rich people that don’t dress as cool as us just as rich people but with like personal style and stuff like that right? SMFH where’s Thirstin Howl when you need him?

  7. Kristin

    This article is exactly why Four Pins is the best menswear site. Too often menswear blogs are ignorant to the roots of the clothing they glorify. And so, Emily Lever and Four Pins, I thank you for writing and making space for content like this.

  8. tr143

    I don’t know – one can still subvert the concept the way the StreetEtiquette guys did with Black Ivy. That way it’s not just pure aspiration (which DOES mean the joke is on them) and more subversion and appropriation.


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