Jeebus. Impossibly Cool, eh? These strapping young gentlemen pictured above represent our forefathers who paved the way to our present rendition of traditional American dress. Before Fratty. Before Preppy. There was only Trad. TNSIL. The Princetonian. The Ivy League Look. The photos above were taken from TinTin’s uploads of his copy of the original Take Ivy that you have heard me reference countless times throughout the blog before, and I unabashedly pay ode to once more. Originally published in 1965 for the Japanese market, the Americana-preserving measures like the Take Ivy photobook have firmly supplanted our Pacific brothers as the principle connoisseurs of modern Prep (as indeed the notable cases of both their acquiring of J.Press and a strong demand for classic Western haberdashery that has since triumphed over our domestically based, ADHD-focused fashion senses.) Take Ivy carries as much literary importance to our cause as the OPH does, in my book (boom pun!) I have the 2010 reprint. Why so? Because without Japan’s efforts, and in addition to the entire menswear internet community’s homage and preservation of Trad, us younger guys would have never taken up the torch that has now been entrusted to us. And new apparel companies would not have the heritage to source from.
My moral compass, which happens to be made out of cedar wood and is situated on top of my dresser right beside my velvet casing for my wrist watches, points due north with the starlight from Take Ivy’s constellations shining the way throughout. Those half century old pictures of our once-youthful grandfathers, found also in old issues of Life, in dusty basement cabinets of Fashion House archives, and other secretive vaults; gave us a celebrated rediscovery that was purported by an initial set of male clothing bloggers like SirTrad (TinTin). And once surfaced, our appetite turned to a supposedly new, but familiar hunger, for what we have always known as the flavor of the tried-and-true. Our wardrobe turned back from the array of ridiculous trucker hats and tight ringer tees as worn in the early-2000s, to the classically influenced garments that hone on to the understated, with a post-2008 apocalyptic duty that returned us to familiar ideals in brace against a newly violent and unpredictable world market. So too, did the fashionably forward designers coordinate in partnership for a mutual drive to “returning to the basics.” The overture of Americana rang in our ears once again. Result: our clothes became trimmer, J.Crew and Alden became partners, we romanticized our beloved 1960s in Mad Men, low breaks became a thing again – showing a plethora of hairy ankles, and most importantly, we were acclimated to perfectly tailored suits that Kennedy himself would be proud of.
It’s been a few years now since Trad and Prep’s reinvigoration. We are now on the elastic part of the demand curve in the years following. Ivy-inspired collections and collaborations are not exactly a new thing hitting Milan’s runway anymore, and we have already experienced diminishing returns of Americana. We have seen Michael Bastian’s Gant. Thom Browne’s Black Fleece. Ralph’s Rugby and the Brothers’ Flatiron. The thousands of new “Southern _____” frat labels. However, I don’t see us reverting back to primordial soup like we had in the latter parts of the 20th century. This time is different, no? The soul of McQueen and Dean may have gone over the heads of our parents’ generation, whose acid-tripped minds gave us bell bottom jeans and 1990s triple pleated slacks and balloon office suits, but their teachings live on through us; even if the Fashion Houses have moved increasingly forward in finding the next hottest trend, such as in metaphorically “picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off”. From the 2008 Crash, to the Americana revival, and finally onwards and ahead once more. Fashion is an art that can’t keep looking to the past. But hopefully, as we transition again to the boldly stated, the echoed voices of Princeton’s Class of 1967 will keep yet-to-be-drawn fashion forward silhouettes somewhat grounded, however ridiculous they will undoubtedly be seen by us Trad elitists.
Further still, you will get an occasional snappy newcomer out of the woodwork that adds something fresh to the pile of worn-out brainstormed ideas. Enter: Vintage Campus USA. Established by University of Chicago alums Chris Stavitsky and Tiffany Young, this duo set out in 2012 to try their hand in reconnecting the past with the now. With the full disclaimer that the marketing team behind Vintage Campus USA reached out to me first, I reviewed their burgeoning efforts and was left impressed by their “Take” on Ivy (pun..hah!….ok fine). Companies have reached out to me before, but only if my sage eyes like what they see, and my judging opinion approves of a dedicated reasoning for an unfilled need; do I relay a particular endorsement to the reader. I serve you afterall, and I try to keep an integrity paramount in the name of giving you my candid and unbiased interpretation. Also for the record, I do not have any affiliation with the brand nor receive(d) compensation and/or percentage of sales revenue via this article or any other source, as of posting date.
A patronage described by a meeting of the clean cut, red-blooded preppy American (as exemplified by the aforementioned photo archives of Ivy Leaguers of years past) with a reenactment of that same physical archetype in tune to a sensibly modern approach is the real reasoning behind this editorial. This is my purpose I am leaving to you – not to necessarily sell you sweaters from a specific company, but to showcase that intrinsic attitude for which to combine the two adages effectively without looking like a victim of a Ralph Lauren advert. And if done so with just the right amount of taste, you come forth as an intrepid individual on campus. One who can effortlessly manipulate an innate ability to seemingly walk out of a certain prized Japanese photoessay one day at school, to playing beerpong as a hardened party animal rocking a snapback and Chubbies at the fratcastle over the weekend.
The concept of varsity lettered garments is not new, and it’s clear to me that Vintage Campus got their mission statement influence from those same handsome fellas and their collegiate clothing at the top of this article as I do. Nevertheless, the brand’s direction gives us commanding inspiration. I appreciate a grassroots small company with a monstrous vision that seeks to change our ingrained habits, with this case being the uphill battle of replacing techprep fleece jackets and bookstore souvenir apparel with a vastly more refined alternative to show our school spirit. They have no other theme nor expanded clothing line. They are the origin species – the (re)innovator. Right now, there is a lost art of prominently featuring BLOCKHEAD lettering across your chest in pride of your school or fraternity, as was a trend that once was so popular, but nowadays so rarely seen done right. Vintage Campus wants to change that. Your University of Texas tee is probably made with a loud Longhorn graphic and printed on artificial textile of sticky polyester, a la Nike DriFit. Am I right? Or your Vassar College sweatshirt that keeps you warm as you walk to your morning lecture at the inhumane 8 o’clock morning hour – does it have a hoodie attached? Drawcords you’ve chewed through? Predistressed logo perhaps? That front pouch that is not any better than pant pockets in keeping your paws warm?…You are all plebs!
Not without constructive criticism for Vintage Campus mind you. Understanding that the company is in its infancy (primarily relying on crowdfunding), I still wish they embarked on Made in USA manufacturing. There are other niche brands that have started out on that route, and you know that I am all up for domestic sponsoring. Want to attract customers by selling a higher range priced sweater that looks like it lasted half a century, to literally do exactly that? American made quality communicates to us a perceived durability that China just fails to deliver. Plus, as domestic goods have become the last frontier for the preppier than thou (as in, with the hyperstate of brand competition where every John and Joe can buy a Lacoste polo, we the consumers demand the final bastions that prove our membership to the most authentic of the preppy clans, that is only done with Hecho in USA labeling.) It’s been accomplished with school spirited knitwear before. Harder to do and more costly, yes. But hopefully a goal to strive for eventually as upward scale allows. The current retail price is $89.99 for a sweater. 100% wool.
There is still honor in looking to the past. Sure, have your frockets and brand logo everything and Patagonia Synchillas. But just FYI, the crewneck Varsity sweater was the “first” Synchilla of its day. Your ol’ Gramps would have worn his Class Year on his chest the same way you now wear a fleece or your school’s team merchandised jacket out to the library. A simple capital “C” on a maroon wool background is all that is needed to prove you are a UofC econ major/smartypants. Not some loud graphic portrayed on baggy outerwear with an attached hood that makes you look like you are waiting for mommy to pick you up at the quad after nap time. Wear Vintage Campus with a bengal striped oxford shirt peeking from the crewneck, cuffs slightly rolled back to reveal a minimalistic Reader watch with NATO band adornment, slim no break chinos, and a pair of pennies. Or update and go neoprep with a plaid tartan shirt tucked underneath, raw denim, a tannery belt, and ranger boots. Yes, yes indeed. This was the Ivy League Look that Mr. Hayashida sought to capture all those years ago for Japanese fans to feast upon and emulate! And this is a contemporary model I can stand behind for which to judge all timeless appearances by.
Horses. Hold them. Do not think this is a blanketing statement left hook that knocks out all of my past sartorial suggestions. I strive for a continual balance between the old and the new, the traditionally placed and the forward bound. Don’t throw away your Synchilla just yet, but just know that you have choices. I love my Synchillas; and I love my Shetlands, my Cashmeres, my Cable Knits and my Ragg Wools. There is a time for Fratty. A time for Prep. A time for Trad.
University of Chicago, c.1897
A hymn worth repeating:
In fifty years when you’ve now become Grandpa, what kind of young man do you want your grandchildren to see and aspire to in your old picture albums? A budding professional that could just as easily look impossibly cool in 1964 as he does in 2014?
Or some 20 year old pimple faced kid in a baggy hoodie, dated cargo shorts, and nasty flip flops?
Click the logo to preview the initial collection of select Universities and Greek organizations. Expect an expanding selection in the near future. Campaign funding and reservations end September 10th, 2014. Shipments of met minimum quantity estimated out by February of 2015.
Edit 9/19/14: Cannot believe I hadn’t mentioned this classic dormitory poster anywhere in this article until now. Never has it seemed so pertinent, with good ol’ Bluto exemplifying the letter blockhead sweater. And fun fact: Animal House was based on the film writer’s own college days, Chris Miller, as a Brother of ADPhi at Dartmouth in the early 1960s…probably not the idealized Ivy League imagery that Mr. Hayashida would have wanted to photographed when he visited Dartmouth for Take Ivy just a few years later!