How did ready-to-wear become a permanent fashion trend?
A Ralph Lauren polo shirt. University jacket. Khakis and moccasins. Are these clothes business casual? Date night outfit? Is this a “preppy” look? Coincidentally, the answer is like all of the above, and that’s because they share a common fashion ancestor: Ivy.
Based on the mid-century outfits worn on Ivy League campuses, Ivy is a fashion trend that has stood the test of time. On his podcast, “Articles of Interest: American IvyJournalist Avery Trufelman traces the world-traveling history of Ivy style, from its roots at Princeton University to modern iterations of brands like Uniqlo.
Trufelman spoke with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal about Ivy and today’s legacy. Below is a transcript of their speech.
Avery Trufelman: Ivy was a huge clothing phenomenon in the mid-20th century that got super smashed. And over time, it evolved into what was called “preppy style” in the ’70s and ’80s, and what I’m discussing now has almost no name. I mean, as menswear writer Derek Guy said on the show, you know, a button-down shirt is just a shirt. Khaki pants are just trousers. But once it was part of a style known as Ivy.
Kai Rysdal: Okay, it’s going to be a bit of a meta here, but this whole season is a bit like that – and as I said before I turn on the mics, I don’t know exactly how this interview is going to go – so I need to stop here for a minute and talk about this idea that you talked about in the first episode of this season about trends, because it’s here. something like this happened. Ivy was a thing, it became a trend, and now – correct me if I’m wrong – it’s everywhere we wear it.
No. Yes, I think if you want to wear something to a job interview, if you want to look good on date night, this is the standard dress code. If we really follow where this is coming from, it’s from the Princeton campus and it’s from Brooks Brothers. And once it was about looking white and looking rich and looking manly. However, this is where trend studies come into play. In the 20th century, we went from wanting to look rich to wanting to look cool. And the weird thing about it is, like preppy clothes are changing with all these trends. If you watch it through the 20th century, this fascinatingly says a lot about the state of American desire.
Ryssdal: This is really interesting, because what we now see as Ivy has its roots in Japan.
No. Oh yes. Ivy was exported to Japan by a man named Kensuke Ishizu. And it really kicked off the contemporary fashion industry in Japan, and Japanese brands then started making American clothing better than American companies. And this is seen in very niche Japanese brands like Evisu and Kapital, but most importantly Uniqlo. If you look closely, it’s really an iteration of the American mid-century preppy style, which they then exported and sold back to us. And we love it!
Ryssdal: We do. But on the idea that we love it and that trends grow and become ubiquitous all at once – so as not to confuse my media if you’ve seen the movie – someone in your episode says that what’s so abrasive about trends is that they’re so capitalized because it’s a job and you have to make money. And that’s sort of why and how it happens.
No. Why and how does this happen? But I really think trends are innate to some extent in human nature. And yes, I think it can be corrupted by capitalism, just as love can be corrupted by capitalism, you know, for Hallmark Valentine’s cards. And I also think that Ivy style, chic style, basic style – whatever you want to call it – has been somewhat supported by trends over the decades. Strangely enough, it’s also a way to resist trends. And one person I interviewed said, “You know what, that’s cool, because it’s very, very stupid.” And you’re looking at pictures that look so cool wearing button-down collar shirts like Miles Davis.
Ryssdal: It looks very good.
No. I mean, it looks very good. As if the coolest way to be cool is to put on stupid clothes and take them off. I think we’re seeing the comeback of Ivy style now, you know, I know the pandemic isn’t over, but sort of as we step out of our pods and look around, the simplest thing you can always turn to is Ivy, basically make sure you look acceptable. It’s also a trend that resists trends.
Ryssdal: We all go back to the mean, right?
No. Yes, in a way.
Ryssdal: That makes us chronologically extraordinary, but kids of the ’70s and ’80s won’t forgive me if I don’t mention Ralph Lauren here.
No. Oh, Ralph Lauren is a big part of the story. I mean, Ralph Lauren started by working at Brooks Brothers. He was a salesman for a year when he was like 20 years old. And he got an idea of what style was, but he realized [the clothes] They were a bit like a box. And he, what if I take that look and make it kind of body-conscious, kind of stylish? And he did it. He made an updated version of the Ivy and introduced the polo shirt to the Ivy clothing code, truly invoked in the preppy era. And one of my favorite fun facts was that what we now call a polo shirt is really a tennis shirt. It was invented by a tennis player. And now we’re naming it after Ralph Lauren’s company, naming a different sport that I think is hilarious.
Ryssdal: At the end of this podcast, you come clean a bit. And you say, you know, you always thought of yourself as outside of this Ivy thing, but you took a look around and discovered that you were actually in it. And I guess I’m wondering if the rest of us – can we all just walk away from it if we wanted to?
No. I mean, this is a very interesting thing, isn’t it? Because these clothes are so connected with the concepts of class. And yes, I actually had a showdown in the end, so, you know, I went to prep school. And I didn’t really like that style because I didn’t like what the private education system I was a part of represented. And, you know, my theory on this is that Ivy dresses represent everything Ivy institutions don’t have: a relatively affordable, accessible look, and really open to a lot of people. And very strong. 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. This power of Ivy clothed and deflected her. But that’s what’s fascinating about these outfits. There really is a power in them – including myself – and I realized that instead of denying it or trying to get away from it, maybe I should embrace it.
A lot is happening in the world. Despite all this, the Marketplace is here for you.
You trust Marketplace to analyze what’s happening in the world and tell you how it affects you in a factual, approachable way. We count on your financial support to make this possible.
Your donation today strengthens the independent journalism you trust.. By paying just $5 a month, you can help maintain Marketplace so we can continue to report on what matters to you.
#readytowear #permanent #fashion #trend