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Posted Date: 6/6/2012

Museum at FIT Exhibition Reviews Ivy League Style

By Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor
The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) presents Ivy Style, an exhibition that celebrates one of the most enduring clothing styles of the 20th century. The exhibition will be on view from Sept. 14, 2012, to Jan. 5, 2013.

From its origins on the prestigious college campuses of America in the late 1910s to the many reinterpretations seen in contemporary fashion, the "Ivy League Look" or "Ivy Style" has come to be viewed as a classic form of dressing.

However, in its heyday, Ivy style was once a cutting-edge look worn by young men of means. Far more than a classic or static way of dressing, Ivy style spread far beyond the rarified walls of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to influence the evolution of men's clothing for decades. Focusing almost exclusively on menswear dating from the early 20th century through today, more than 60 ensembles, both historic and contemporary, will be intermingled to illustrate the creation and subsequent reinterpretation of Ivy style.

Ivy Style will present the three main periods of the look: the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s, the post-war era to the end of the 1960s, and the style's revival from the 1980s to the present. During the interwar years, from 1919 to the onset of World War II, classic items, such as tweed jackets and polo coats, were appropriated from the Englishman's wardrobe, modified, and redesigned by pioneering American firms such as Brooks Brothers and J. Press for young men on the campuses of elite East Coast colleges.

The second period, from approximately 1945 to the late 1960s, will illustrate the rise and dissemination of the Ivy look across the United States. The staples of Ivy style - oxford cloth shirt, khaki pants, and penny loafers - were being worn by a whole new, diverse population that included working-class GIs as well as leading jazz musicians. The final section of Ivy Style will present the revival of the Ivy look that began in the early 1980s and endures today.

The ensembles in Ivy Style will be arranged thematically in an environment that evokes an Ivy League university campus. The central part of the exhibition gallery space will be designed to look like a grass-covered quad, or quadrangle, positioned in front of a Gothic-style building façade covered with ivy vines. Archetypal garments, both old and new, such as tweed jackets, khaki trousers, and madras shorts, will dominate this space.

Opposite the quad will be a platform devoted to sport. This area, designed to resemble period athletic clubs, will feature both activewear and spectator clothes. Surrounding the quad and the sports platform on two sides will be typical university environments, such as a classroom, dormitory room, and fraternity house. Each of these "rooms" will present clothing and accessories in surroundings appropriate to their specific use: daywear, outerwear, clothing for sports, and formal wear. A re-creation of a mid-century university shop will pay homage to the purveyors of Ivy style that for decades have been near campuses in Cambridge, Princeton, and New Haven, as well as in cities such as New York City and Washington D.C.

Period material will include suits, letter sweaters, university reunion and class jackets, athletic wear, and textiles from the permanent collection of The Museum at FIT and private lenders. Objects by the following firms will be represented: Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Chipp, Gant, The Andover Shop, Bass, Arrow, Ralph Lauren, Jeffrey Banks, J. McLaughlin, Tommy Hilfiger, Thom Browne, Michael Bastian, and others. Many unique Ivy League objects, such as period photographs and sports ephemera, will be on loan from the Cary Collection, a New York City repository of rare books, fine art, and vintage memorabilia."

This exhibition is organized by Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and consultants Richard Press, former president of J. Press, and G. Bruce Boyer, leading men's wear writer and editor.

The publication
A more in-depth study of Ivy style will be featured in the accompanying book, also titled Ivy Style, edited by exhibition curator Patricia Mears and published by Yale University Press. Content will include essays by Patricia Mears; scholars Dr. Peter McNeil, Dr. Christopher Breward, and Dr. Masafumi Monden; leading men's wear writer G. Bruce Boyer; and founder of the Ivy Style blog, Christian Chensvold.

Dr. McNeil will analyze the style of the Duke of Windsor, arguably the most stylish man of the 20th century. This essay will focus on his years as the youthful Prince of Wales and his creation of the "Soft Look." The Duke was influenced by the Ivy style look that he encountered on his trips to America, and his adoption of the style subsequently influenced others.

Dr. Breward will present a cross-cultural study of the relationship between the Oxbridge and American Ivy style, beginning with the "Bright Young Things/Brideshead" generation of the 1920s, then moving to the post-World War II era of Cold War "Spies at Cambridge" and Rhodes scholars in the 1950s and 1960s. Dr. Breward will also explore the concurrent celebration of English academic styles in mid-century Hollywood movies and issues of style and modernization in post-war British universities.

Dr. Monden will explore the all-important appropriation of the Ivy style in Japan. He will examine how the craze took hold in Japan in the mid-1960s and then demonstrate how the Japanese preserved and transformed Ivy style - and then exported their unique version of it back to America.

Also included will be short excerpts by G. Bruce Boyer, a leading menswear writer and historian, from his 1985 book Elegance. The publication contained chapters on madras, Harris Tweed, the camel hair polo coat, and other elements of Ivy style. The importance of this period publication is that more than a documentation of these fabrics and garments, it captures the atmosphere of a time when Ivy style experienced a great resurgence in popularity. Mr. Boyer will also contribute a short essay on the influence of Ivy style on leading jazz musicians of the mid-century such as Miles Davis and Chet Baker.

Christian Chensvold, the founder and main contributor to the leading blog documenting men's wear, appropriately titled Ivy Style, will contribute an in-depth interview with Richard Press, grandson of Jacobi Press.

The main essay of the book, written by Patricia Mears, will be a general historical overview of the Ivy look in the 20th century. She will discuss the issues of the style's enduring popularity and its influence on contemporary fashion as well as the cultural and aspirational aspects of Ivy style's creation and allure.

The symposium
The museum's annual fashion symposium will take place on Nov. 8 and 9, 2012, in conjunction with the exhibition, Ivy Style, for which it is named. Speakers will include contributors to the book that accompanies the exhibition as well as other scholars and designers.

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