State Of The Union: Ivy League Style

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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There's something evergreen about the appeal of the Ivy League look. It's prep, it's trad, it's F. Scott Fitzgerald and his American Dream, it's J. Press and J. Crew, and it's all lovingly documented in the menswear nerd's wet dream titled Take Ivy.

A lot of current trends trace their roots to that collection of lush, romanticizing shots of the future ruling class strolling around Neo-Gothic buildings. Think of shoes without socks, elbow patches, the resurgence of Made in America, pocket squares, maybe even sweatshirts as high fashion. Nostalgia and aspirational elitism are never a tough sell.

Most internet shrines to the Ivy League look give off a sense that this, the Oxford shirt and penny loafers, is how "real men" should dress—that we have lost the purest essence of America by relaxing, sissifying, and diversifying our standards of clothing.

But have no fear, Princeton is just as much of a bastion of conservatism as it ever was. The Princeton man, at least some specimens of him, is still capable of wearing a crisp, immaculate button up to class every single day. He just wears Sperrys instead of Weejuns now, and he might spend the winter lounging in flannel shirts, Exeter sweatpants and L.L. Bean duck boots, which is a good look on him.

The irony is that many of my classmates wearing their Take Ivy throwbacks would never have been featured in the original.

The men of Take Ivy are fit and handsome. The English translation released in 2010 allows us to appreciate the authors' gushing over their subjects' sound minds and sound bodies. Modern Princeton men take as much care of their appearance as their predecessors—22% of them are varsity athletes and a lot of those who aren't still live in the gym—though it's probably no longer true that "Princeton is the only place in the world where, when a boy and his date walk past a mirror, it's the boy who stops to comb his hair." Shoutout to this site's target demographic.

Despite some social progress, Ivy League students are still completely enamored with the Ivy League's past. A startup called Hillflint recently made a killing recreating the "1968" sweaters featured in Take Ivy with "2014" and "2015" blazoned in the same font. The irony is that many of my classmates wearing their Take Ivy throwbacks would never have been featured in the original. They're Asian, or Jewish, or gay, or didn’t go to prep school, or, you know, they're female. Frankly, they would have been marginalized in 1966 Princeton assuming they had even gotten in.

And that’s what makes this kind of nostalgia so toxic. Perpetuating the preppy aesthetic also perpetuates the ideology of the all-male, conservative, WASP college culture who embraced that aesthetic to begin with. The reason T. Hayashida and company developed such massive style crushes on Ivy League bros in the first place was what they perceived as the subversiveness of rich people wearing beautiful, expensive clothes sloppily and without caring about them. To outsiders coming straight from the poverty of postwar Japan, it read as pretty damn groundbreaking. But no matter how carelessly Bobby Rockefeller, Princeton class of 2017, throws on his Brooks Brothers shirt, he can afford to be subversive because he'll still end up running the country. As for the rest of us, if we dress like him the joke is on us. We are wearing the uniform of a club of which we will never be members.

Emily Lever is a French-American writer who wishes she led a life of adventure. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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