With it’s roots set in top American College life, the Ivy League has influenced, inspired as well as innovated countless subcultures in the UK. Its peak of popularity is generally thought to have been between the mid 50’s through to the late 60’s, the basic Ivy League look can be traced back as far as the very early 1900’s.
The name Ivy League was bestowed upon eight colleges in the North Eastern part of the United States, each renowned for sporting prowess, as well as high academic achievement. Amongst that particular elite are America’s most prestigious – Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The origin of what became the Ivy League look can be traced back to 1902 when entrepreneurial former Latvian national Jacobi Press opened his first gentleman’s outfitter outlet on Yale campus under the simple name of J. Press. Longest running American menswear chain-store, Brooks Brothers also had, and continue to have, an influence on the Ivy League style.
Button down collar shirts, plain, striped and patterned. Natural shouldered jackets, usually three buttoned, with casual trousers such as sta prest and chinos, with penny loafers as the chosen footwear complete the basic Ivy League picture. Polo shirts and cashmere knitwear are often adaptations to the look. While those exponents of the Ivy League look with argyle socks and bold striped college (or sports club) block striped ties.
In Britain, America and elsewhere the basic Ivy League look has been adapted and adopted. The roaring twenties saw boating blazers, smart men’s attire worn with a casual look and two tone shoes. As the 60’s arrived a sizeable part of the Ivy League look was taken by Mods and mixed and matched with Italian cut clothes. Later the suedehead and the skinhead ( hard mods), would revisit and revive similar elements, albeit in a slightly more regimented manner. Soul boys of the early seventies frequenting clubs in the North of England, such as Manchester’s Twisted Wheel, The Torch in Stoke On Trent, Wigan Casino and The King Moro in Sheffield, drew heavily on the Ivy League look. Blazers sporting a club badge, a button down collar shirt with block striped tie and highly polished leather soled shoes preceded the more functional 70’s all-nighter ‘uniform’ of bowling shirt or vest, wide, baggy trousers and leather soled shoes. Even in the 80’s the Ivy League look was worn by the Football Casuals on football terraces all over the UK.
Big screen productions like the 1968 film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, is the best example of the on-screen Ivy League look. McQueen’s character Frank Bullitt is cited by many as being attired in the epitome of the definitive Ivy League look and style.