Ivy or Preppy?

The mentor who brought me out of retirement, Christian Chensvold, Founder and Editor-in-Chief @ivy-style, recently reprised a 2012 dialogue we enjoyed preparing for the Museum of Fashion Institute of Technology smash exhibit utilizing his blog’s monicker, Ivy Style. Here is an edited version of the original conversation with a current add on:

The Ivy Style exhibit lets viewers make the choice whether the historic Ivy League Look I grew up with has evolved naturally into preppy or been vulgarized beyond repair. There’s plenty of old Brooks Brothers in the FIT mix, together with J. Press, The Andover Shop, Chipp, Gant, Langrock sharing the stage with Ralph Lauren.

Preppy and Ivy was the life that I led. It was in my blood, genes, and most of the air I breathed. The Ivy League Look was officially declared dead in the late ’60s? Baloney! 

The Ivy campuses exploded in the ’60s. The assassinations, Vietnam protests, and civil disorder all cast their mark on the Ivy League as on the rest of America. Amid the unrest, corporations continued to prosper and the suburbs fostered a second-tier business elite which fulfilled its business and social obligations wearing Ivy League suits to the office and patchwork madras on the 19th hole. It was the best of times in the worst of times and I was on the fringes of glory.

“Dick Cavett’s Clothes by J. Press,” appeared weeknights for a long run on ABC-TV beginning in 1968. Ryan O’Neal, the first preppy pop icon, was outfitted for “Love Story” at the J. Press Cambridge store. Robert Redford’s corduroy in “All The President’s Men” was chalked on our mezzanine floor. Lisa Birnbach’s preppy sendup included J. Press in the Locust Valley Lockjaw Hall of Fame. PYG (pink, yellow, green) worked the margins, but corporate America did not tolerate sloppy dress. There were no casual Fridays.

In 1980 Harvard and Yale banners hung over the counters, Ivy League songs played in the background and old-fashioned Ivy League was aggressively merchandised by J. Press licensee Onward Kashiyama in 75 stores throughout Japan. Jesse Kornbluth’s article in the June 15, 1980

New York Times Magazine headlined, “New Boost For The Old Guard: Japanese men are discovering the (American) stores synonymous with good taste.”

In 1983, suit bags with prominent J. Press logos were stage props for “Preppies,” a musical satire at the Promenade Theatre across from Zabar’s on the Upper West Side. NY Times critic Mel Gussow opined, “The show is intentionally traditional, upholding the J. Press dress code of button-down shirts, khakis and loafers. One production number featured nine blue blazers on the stage.”

Preppy or Ivy, the dressing combo worked for the Press family. Our goal was to provide the finest tailoring, diligently police our resources, and promote generational continuity of our inventory with competitive prices to satisfy the requirements of a demanding and devoted customer base diligently attended by a well-versed staff.

Onward Kashiyama bought J. Press in 1986. My first trip to Tokyo featured an on-stage appearance at a fashion show highlighting the company convention. My comments were often lost in translation, and what came out might have served “Saturday Night Live” well. Logos on Nantucket bags featured “J. Squeeze,” the insider’s nickname for Press. A Yale bulldog showed up on sweatshirts with “Boola Boola” scripted under his belly. I was responsible for some of the fluff, but my Japanese cohorts had also carefully studied the American Century. They recognized that the Ivy League Look appeared at the pinnacle of influence of the world’s greatest superpower.

Halftime on the once-upon-a-time museum fake quad looks more like York Street in the ’50s than York Street ever did.

J. Press still offers it all live, not as a museum exhibit, but real live flesh in its brochure and stores. Come on down to touch, feel and try it all on.

 

 RICHARD PRESS

10 comments

Please don’t succumb to the Brooks Brothers’ error of advertising to a counterculture for which Brooks’ was never going to be the right choice and alienating your real and loyal customer base in the process.

Stephen Elliott November 16, 2020

Another entertaining and informative piece of nostalgia.
Thank you, Mr. Press.

Old School November 03, 2020

Preppy or Ivy, don’t care. Last night (it’s cold in Central OR) around the fire pit jpress Harris Tweed circa 1965 and yellow shaggy dog circa not that old. Seems the yellow shaggy dogs wear out too fast at the elbow! Billy

Billy Walik, HGS 66 November 03, 2020

Authentic Brooks Brothers OCBD’s, cut full and requiring ironing, were made in the Garland, North Carolina factory of 100% supima cotton in many colors, including white, blue, ecru, stone, pink, violet, green, peach, yellow, blue candy stripe and red candy stripe. in the late ’80s when they were still affordable, I owned them all.

Robert W. Emmaus November 03, 2020

PS

We called it Preppy. An individual might be referred to as a Tweed.

Kenneth Bednar November 02, 2020

My experience is that the “look” redates 1960. My personal shop was Bunce Brothers in Cleveland in the middle 50’s. That was prior to Brooks Brothers coming to town. Later there was Huntington, Corbin, the old Jos. Banks, Culwell and Son, Cable Car, Woodhouse Lynch, Satel"s, Ed White, Muse’s, and all those on the Talbot Tie Tree. Lots of three-button natural shoulder suits and coats Was it Corbin who labeled their pants “natural shoulder trousers?”

There are still some of us out here.

Kenneth Bednar November 02, 2020

We sold our Firm in 1988 to the Sanwa Bank, which at the time was the world’s 4th largest bank. The senior executives were horrible dressed, literally in Sears plastic suits. Maybe that’s one reason the bank no longer exists.

Robert Solomon November 02, 2020

The J.Press/Ivy League/Preppy look is always in good taste and fashionable. When one looks in a mirror in that garb, one simply never fails to exhibit a smile of satisfaction and contentment.

Rick Schwab November 02, 2020

I enjoyed this article. Re: Locust Valley Lockjaw, in 1993 I wrote a chamber opera called “Locust Valley Lovesong,” in which one of the musical numbers was a chorus, “Locust Valley Lockjaw (Cakewalk).” The setting is a summer dance sometime in the early 1960s. The sung text of the cakewalk ran as follows:

Our teachers try to get us to articulate; Our parents tend to mumble and to obfuscate.
So whenever we endeavor to enunciate, we clearly have a problem, you can see.
Our parents never move their faces when they speak; The lockjaw this produces is almost unique.
It’s practiced to perfection with a fine technique. It clearly is a quand’ry, you can see.
(A course in elocution is clearly on the books; whene’er we speak confusion reigns along with puzzled looks.)
But we know what we’re saying even if you can’t; professors are excluded though they rave and rant;
It does however change the way we sing and chant. It is a strange dilemma, you can see.

We’ve picked up from our friends this form of arcane speech, we practice every summer on Southampton Beach.
We modulate all sounds, even our groan and screech; we just don’t care to change it, you can see.
Though other variations are said to exist, our Main-Line lockjaw cousins are revisionist,
And Beacon Hill has recently dropped off the list. Long Island’s clearly in ascendency.
(Our Locust Valley Lockjaw is known both far and wide; it’s imitated from Montauk to Vail and Telluride.)
It’s easier to talk this way and let chips fall, although when we get tired our mouths don’t move at all.
It really doesn’t matter at the Assembly Ball. There isn’t any problem, there isn’t any problem, you’ll agree.

The opera was given two performances at Bucknell University in 1993, but is now “between engagements.”

Jackson Hill November 02, 2020

East Coast Establishment … a Code of Dress. !! I started with Brooks Brothers in 1964 , with their Shirts (4) Peach, Blue , Stone , Pink !! Lloyd & Haifa Shoes 👞 ( Firth) tasseled loafers / Monk Straps and Cap Toes . The Look was a Well coordinated Outfit !! Neat was the Key !

Robert Foster November 02, 2020

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