I could muse on design details for days, but this doesn’t feel like the right time or place. The gauge of the knitted ties, the quality of the worsted herringbone tweed, and the masterful roll on the button-down shirts in the new Buck Mason collection are all important to the story. Still, I’d rather focus my interest on the Ivy Look as a whole.
If you already know about its history, feel free to jump the next couple of paragraphs. But if not, the crib notes begin on Ivy League campuses - Princeton, Harvard, Yale, et al., while the look defined and popularized American style between the mid-50s and '60s.
Since then, it’s been associated with everyone from prestigious old boys’ clubs, fast-talking advertising execs, high-minded architects, ultra-cool jazzers, courageous civil rights leaders and Hollywood heavyweights Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Cary Grant, and of course, my personal Hollywood fave Fred Astaire. Most significantly, it was these Hollywood stars who gave Ivy that undeniable glamour and made it a truly global style.
Films like The Thomas Crown Affair, The Odd Couple, and Love Story are still used for contemporary design references, and while the remakes of Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, and Oceans 11 are all worth watching, they’re nowhere near the aesthetics of the 60s originals where stars sported the Ivy look.
Along with glamour, California knocked some of the East Coast stuffiness out of the Ivy look, showing the world a way to dress comfortably and still look good. Incorporating diverse backgrounds and interests, army chinos and white tees became classic underpinnings paired with vulcanized tennis shoes, while loafers might go sockless for the summer. Clothes were put through the paces in an active and adventurous lifestyle — nothing was precious.
If you’ve kept up with trends, you’ll have noticed that the Ivy look is making a return. The truth is, it never went away. Like the fabric of America, it morphs and evolves as new people get into it. Whether you’re into American tailoring, casualwear, or vintage, you’re also, by definition, an apostle of Ivy style whether you know it or not. The trick, or rather the challenge, is to find your own expression of Ivy.
Maybe that’s why I’m genuinely excited about the new adventure Buck Mason has embarked on. Their blend of function with ease fits firmly in line with the roots of the Ivy style and informs a further bending of the rules, a studied carelessness synonymous with the California lifestyle. The bandana under an open collar, a full suit with tennis shoes, tweeds with well-worn denim on a winter’s day — there’s a utility to this irreverence. What’s successful here is that they’ve returned Ivy style to its West Coast roots while staying true to those all-important design details that can make or break a garment (which I promised not to get into here). In the words of Mark Twain, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."
– Jason Jules, London-based writer & author of ‘Black Ivy - A Revolt In Style’