How elegant clothing has become an enduring fashion trend | Popgen Tech


Ralph Lauren polo shirt. A varsity jacket. Khakis and loafers. Is it business casual attire? Nightwear for a date night? Is it a “neat” look? It just so happens that the answer is all of the above, and that’s because they share a common fashion ancestor: Ivy.

Based on the mid-century clothing worn on Ivy League campuses, the Ivy is a fashion trend that has stood the test of time. In his podcast Articles of Interest: American Ivy, journalist Avery Trufelman traces the history of ivy style, from its roots at Princeton University to modern iterations at brands like Uniqlo.

Truffelman spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Rysdal about ivy and its legacy today. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Avery Truffelman: In the mid-20th century, ivy was a super-duper huge clothing phenomenon. And over time it evolved into what was called ‘preppy style’ in the 70s and 80s, and what I’m claiming now has almost no name. I mean, as menswear writer Derek Guy says on the show, you know a button-down shirt is just a shirt. Khaki pants are just pants. But it was all once part of a style known as Ivy.

Kai Ryssdal: Okay, this is going to be a little bit meta, but this whole season is kind of — and like I said before we got on the mic, I’m not exactly sure how this interview is going to go — so I have to stop there for a minute and talk about this idea that you talk about in the first episode of this season about trends, because that’s what happened here. Ivy was a thing, it became a trend, and now it’s—correct me if I’m wrong—everywhere in what we wear.

Truffelman: Yeah, I think if you want to wear something to an interview, if you want to look good on a date, that’s the standard style of clothing. You know, if we really trace the origins of where it comes from, it comes from the Princeton campus and from Brooks Brothers. And once upon a time it was about looking white, looking rich and looking male. But this is where the study of trends comes in. In the 20th century, we went from wanting to look rich to wanting to look cool. And the amazing thing about it is that elegant clothes have changed along with all these trends. When you track it throughout the 20th century, it really says so much about the state of American desire in such a fascinating way.

Rysdal: Which is very interesting because the roots of what we now see as ivy started in Japan.

Truffelman: Ah, yes. Ivy was exported to Japan by this one guy named Kensuke Ishizu. And that really started the modern fashion industry in Japan, and Japanese brands started making American clothes better than American companies. And this is seen in very niche Japanese brands like Evisu and Kapital, but especially Uniqlo. If you look at it more closely, it’s really an iteration of mid-century American preppy style that they then exported and sold to us. And we love it!

Interior of the Uniqlo store in Washington, DC (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Rysdal: We do. But with this idea that we love it and the trends that grow and become everything and everywhere at the same time – don’t mix my media if you’ve seen the movie – someone in one of your episodes said about trends that are so many times ‘caustic that they get a lot of capitalization because it’s all a business and you have to make money. And here’s why and how it happens.

Truffelman: Here’s why and how it happens. But I do believe that tendencies are to some extent inherent in human nature. And yes, I think they can be corrupted by capitalism, just like love can be corrupted by capitalism, you know, for Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards. And at the same time, I think the Ivy style, the preppy style, the basic style—whatever you want to call it—has kind of been driven by trends over the decades. Ironically, it’s also a way to buck trends. And one person I interviewed said, “You know, it’s so cool because it’s so, so dumb.” And you look at pictures of Miles Davis in button down shirts that look so cool.

Miles Davis looks good in a button down collar as pictured in 1959. (Halton Archive/Getty Images)

Rysdal: He looks so good.

Truffelman: I mean he looks so good. As if the coolest way to be cool is to wear dumb clothes and take them off. I think we’re seeing the return of Ivy style right now, you know, I know the pandemic isn’t over, but while we’re kind of coming out of our pods and looking around, the easiest thing to always come back to is make sure you look like a basic acceptable – this is ivy. It’s a trend that also defies trends.

Rysdal: We’re all sort of reverting to the mean, aren’t we?

Truffelman: Yes, in a way.

Rysdal: This chronologically throws us out of order, but 70s and 80s kids won’t forgive me if I don’t mention Ralph Lauren’s name here.

Truffelman: Oh, Ralph Lauren is a huge part of history. I mean, Ralph Lauren started out at Brooks Brothers. He was a salesman when he was about 20 years old for one year. And he kind of got an idea of ​​what the style was, but he got it [the clothes] were kind of boxy. And he thought, what if I make this look and make it kind of fleshy, make it smooth? And he did it. He made an updated version of the Ivy and really went back to the preppy era, introducing the polo shirt into the canon of Ivy clothing. And one of my favorite fun facts is what we now call a polo shirt was actually a tennis shirt. It was invented by a tennis player. And now we’re naming it after a Ralph Lauren campaign, we’re naming it after another sport, which I think is really funny.

Rysdal: At the end of this podcast, you’ll kind of clean up a little bit. And you say, you know, you’ve always thought of yourself as an outsider in this Ivy thing, but you’ve looked around a little bit and found that you’re actually in it. And I think, I wonder, can we all – can we all walk away from this if we wanted to?

Truffelman: I mean, it’s such a fun thing, right? Because these clothes are strongly associated with the concept of class. And, yes, I did have a payoff at the end of it, which was that I went to prep school. And I really didn’t like that style because I didn’t like what the private education system that I was part of represented. And, you know, my theory that I have about it is that Ivy clothing represents everything that the Ivy institutions themselves are not: it’s a relatively affordable, accessible look that’s really open to a lot of people. And it’s so powerful. I mean, that’s why, you know, the far right was wearing khakis and polo shirts at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. It’s because it was a look that conveyed openness and friendliness and, you know, they kind of took that power of Ivy’s clothes and twisted it. But that’s the fun part about this outfit. They really have a power that is open to everyone—including me—and I realized that instead of just denying it or trying to walk away from it, I should just embrace it.

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