November 15, 2012

"Ivy Style" at the Fashion Institute of Technology

Of all the trends in men's fashions, none is as distinctive or as enduring as the "Ivy League Look".  Quintessentially American, the vogue has its origins in elite college campus' of the early 1900s.  While sometimes considered a conservative way of dress, at the time of its inception Ivy Style was cutting edge and its appeal quickly spread beyond universities to working class G.I.'s and jazz musicians.  Even though its popularity waned a little in the 1960s it has come back stronger than ever thanks to its re-invention as "preppy" and a lot of attention from designers such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, to name just two.

As further testament to its enduring style, the Ivy League Look has recently been celebrated with an exhibition at The Museum at FIT, Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology in the heart of the Garment District on Seventh Avenue.  In the interest of full disclosure I should also mention that I was even more compelled to see the show because my friend Christian Chensvold was involved in the exhibition and contributed an essay to the catalogue.  But personal feelings aside, this is a fabulous show.

Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, the exhibition explains the collegiate origins of the style and then creates a stage set of an Ivy League university campus.  Mannequins wearing lounge wear are in a dorm, outdoor clothes on the "Quad", evening wear at a fraternity function and athletic clothes in a locker room, with each environment fitted with the appropriate props and recorded band music plays in the background.  This is a trip down memory lane!

You didn't have to go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton to know what Ivy Style was about or to aspire to "the look".  Iconic pieces such as Weejun penny loafers, Oxford button-down shirts, crewneck Shetland sweaters, chino trousers, duffel coats and Madras anything were de rigeur on any college campus and brand names like Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Chipp and Gant were the signatures of style. Today's "preppy" look now extends to women and is a little more trendy but the characteristic elements remain.  This is what is so remarkable about Ivy Style.  It is a uniquely American look that has stood the test of time - updated but classic, elegant yet playful, sporty yet refined - and still very much alive.

"Ivy Style" is on view at FIT until January 5th, 2013 and admission is free.

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