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The Essence of Ivy

The Essence of Ivy

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Rising to prominence in mid-century America, the Ivy League style of dress was characterised by the interplay of items previously considered at odds with one other. Combining elements of casual or sportswear (button-down Oxford shirts, khaki pants, tweed jackets, polos, penny loafers, etc) with more formal attire, the Ivy aesthetic transformed the landscape of menswear in the US and beyond. By the 1960s the look had been fully adopted into mainstream men’s fashion, with celebrity style icons such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and President John F. Kennedy amongst its most high-profile proponents. But what exactly is Ivy? And how did a manner of dress that evolved on the campuses of America’s elite universities grow into a global style phenomenon?

Like most trends Ivy was born out of rebellion. Intent on differentiating themselves from the stuffy, traditional attire of their parents, students at prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale began to experiment with their own unique style. Trading out dress shirts for button-downs, suits for separates, Oxford shoes for loafers and Brogues, the Ivy Leaguers created a fresh, clean-cut aesthetic that swept the nation. Incorporating items traditionally associated with British upper class sports such as sailing, golf, tennis, polo and hunting, Ivy implied a certain lifestyle to which its enthusiasts subscribed, or at the very least aspired.

But whilst the Ivy look enjoyed its heyday in America during the late 1950s and 1960s, its popularity began to decline into the next decade as more casual fashions – chiefly associated with hippy culture – assimilated into the mainstream. At this time it was the young men of Japan who kept the aesthetic alive, importing key principles of American Ivy and modifying or embellishing them with their own cultural interpretations.

However, from the 1980s onwards, Ivy and Prep fashion (a sibling style similarly influenced by collegiate trends) once again became popular in the US. No longer the reserve of the East Coast elite, Ivy dress – helped by the emergence of iconic brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren – soon became a universally recognised symbol of American style.

Today the Ivy League aesthetic remains very much in vogue with post-pandemic shifts in attitude, at least in part, responsible for its latest revival. True to its roots, contemporary Ivy mixes high and low styles in a playful manner, creating a seemingly limitless number of looks which blur the line between formal and casual dress. From soft-shouldered tweed jackets to flat-fronted trousers, shetland sweaters to sportswear, boat shoes to button- down shirts and baseball caps, the Ivy-inspired wardrobe provides the perfect capsule for the style-conscious 21st century man.

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