Last week's men's 2011 spring clothing market had us sorting through button-down shirts, colorful crewnecks, plain-front pants, narrow ties, regimental stripes, tartan plaids, madras and seersucker fabrics, penny loafers and, yes, saddle oxfords. Clearly, what we have here is a resurgence of interest in the traditional American men's style known as "Ivy League".
For those of you born too late to have experienced this style firsthand here's a quick history: Ivy League is what those irrepressible (and elite) American college boys were wearing circa 1930-1965 to make sure they didn't look too much like their fathers.
Whereas Father (or maybe Pater, since we're talking Ivy League) chose a suit cut that might have come from London's Savile Row, Junior of course went for something different-- an all-American sack coat from New York's Brooks Brothers, J. Press or Chipp, for example.
Enter World War II and that generation of college boys grew up fast. When they came home, America was a little more democratic and ex-soldiers who might never have gone to college were able to graduate.
So young, educated, energetic and cocky, they all went to work building the post-war world and along the way adopted the collegiate Ivy League style and adapted it to become the uniform of the 1950's establishment.
Thus, during that decade, the man wearing a gray flannel suit to work or a navy blazer with button-down sportshirt and colorful madras plaid pants at the country club was dressed for success. Perhaps a little too codified and rather narrow minded from today's vantage point, but truly and exuberantly American.
In the 1960s the up-and-coming younger generation, rebellious as always,was clamoring against their fathers' Establishment and its uniform mode of dressing made an easy target. Ivy League style was no longer of-the-moment, but going out of fashion. By the end of the '60s hard-core traditionalists were a definite minority amid Nehru jackets, wide floral ties, bell-bottomed pants, psychedelic colors and polyester leisure suits.
Forty years later we've weathered all kinds of clothing trends, good, bad and indifferent, and I'm sure we all have blackmail-worthy pictures packed away in the attic or posted on Facebook to prove it. So it's enormously exciting to finally see new interest in American traditional style. After all, it's who we are.
The only question, then, is how do we evolve that style into something both traditional and up-to-date? Right now we're musing much on this question.
As the King of Siam observed (in "the King and I"), "Is a puzzlement."