September 21, 2010

Old Fashioned, but Still Cool

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Ever wonder what Cornell, or any Ivy League school looked like in the 1960’s? Well, as the book Take Ivy shows us, it was pretty much exactly same — at least in terms of men’s fashion.

Published in Japan in 1965, Take Ivy chronicles the life and styles of Ivy Leaguers. Originally written for the Japanese public, the book was recently translated into English and re-released by powerHouse Books — a publishing company that specializes in fine art, fashion and pop-culture works.

Take Ivy is a series of beautiful, energetic snapshots of 1960’s Ivy League students going about their daily business — getting food in the dining halls, playing intramural sports, studying, etc. The photos, taken by Teruyoshi Hayashida, perfectly capture the Ivy League campus of the era and the quintessentially “American” fashions of the students.

And were it not for the indoor smoking, class-year emblazoned apparel and almost entire lack of female and non-white students, the photos could easily be from today. Indeed, what makes the book so astonishing is just how similar our fashions are to those of the ’60s. When looking at Take Ivy you’ll simply find it hard to believe that the pictures are not current. (I know I could’ve sworn that the guy on page 74 was in my French class… )

Perhaps the best parts of the book, however, are not the images but what accompany them. Alongside each photo is a note explaining either the fashion, or lifestyle trend depicted. But since it was originally written for the Japanese market, the commentary is often hilarious and at times feels more like a field guide than fashion guide.

For example, the caption for a picture of a boy wearing a rugby shirt in the rain reads, “As if to make the statement that stormy weather is no excuse for giving up on a rugby game, a student wears a rugby shirt and walks undaunted in the rain […] he is clearly living up to the Ivy League standard.”

A candid of a student reading outside has the explanation, “Ivy Leaguers frown upon students who earn good grades but have pale skin from spending too much time inside.”

Stilted? Definitely. Part of the book’s appeal? Unquestionably — probably the reason the new translation left this sort of language intact.

Indeed, what makes Take Ivy so fantastic is its academic, formal quality. The attempt by photographer Hayashida and authors Shosuke Ishizu, Toshiyuki Kurosu and Hajime Hasegawa to methodically depict and understand a unified Ivy League culture is fascinating to anyone who has experienced it firsthand.

As one unaccustomed to being studied (in school I mostly study others), looking at my own life, peers and campus culture from another perspective is a trip, to say the least. And though some of the observations are, as I said earlier, hilarious, others are simply insightful. They hit the nail on the head. Or, as the case may be, the elbow patch on the cotton twill jacket. The checker on the Bermuda short. The skinny tie on the collared shirt … I could go on, and on.

As if all of this isn’t enough, the book also has a glossary with all the information an aspiring Ivy Leaguer could need. Highlights include a section called “Ivy Wardrobe Directory” (an itemized list of a typical Ivy Leaguer’s closet), and a section called “Ivy League Neighborhoods” (a list of all the places one can find Ivy grads — Madison Avenue, check, Fifth Avenue, check, Boston suburbs, check).

While, as mentioned earlier, the book shows basically only men (many of the schools were still single-sex at the time), Take Ivy is a book that will interest women too. Especially given the fact that nowadays a woman is just as likely to don some of the fashions from the book as a man. Oversized flannels, men’s blazers and boat shoes are just several examples of Take Ivy fashions that women have made their own.

So fellahs, hipsterettes and fratstars, think your clothing choices are­ totally original? Well, think again. Or better yet, pick up a copy of Take Ivy and see for yourself in how over 40 years our styles have managed to come so … close.

Or, at the very least get some fashion inspiration (I know I am). Speaking of, does anyone have a Jacquard sweater I can borrow?

Original Author: Hannah Stamler