“Everything About the Ivy League”: A Report on Campus Style
The campus, from place to consumer product…
In 1965, Kensuke Ishizu, the owner of a Japanese clothing brand called VAN JACKET, sent three young writers and the photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida to America on a “fact-finding mission.” The team was to visit all eight of the schools included in the Ivy League — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn, Brown, and Columbia — and report back to Ishizu on whatever the team thought constituted the American “campus style.” Ishizu, who apparently was always interested in Western fashion, was heavily influenced by the American soldiers that remained stationed in Japan following World War II, especially one that had attended Princeton as an undergraduate.
By the mid-1960s, Ishizu began to suspect that Western-style clothing was growing in appeal. He recognized that there was a generation of Japanese youth out there that had been brought up wearing state-issued school uniforms and were now entering Japan’s first period of modern consumerism. They didn’t really know how to dress, and given their need for some direction, Ishizu believed that Ivy League students would provide a captivating image from which Japanese youth could model their own consumption and behavior.
There are a number of ways one could frame or describe what Ishizu and his VAN JACKET team were up to on this reconnaissance trip. You could call him an appropriator of American style. That would entail some suspicion. You could call him an informal administrator of American hegemony, which would be even harsher. I think of him as a translator and comparativist of popular cultures. His eye was drawn to an image of the elite, but he was looking for this image because he recognized that it would have widespread appeal in a very different context. I’m always astounded (sometimes not in a good way!) by the entrepreneurs who have this ability to work across cultural and socioeconomic divides, whether it’s Ralph Lauren convincing suburban Americans that they should regularly dress as if they were going on a safari or Toll Brothers convincing the same group that they should live in a chateauesque McMansion.
The report that Ishizu’s team produced was originally entitled “Everything about the Ivy League” and was published later that same year as Take Ivy. As a kind of internal memo, one that happened to be published and circulated in photocopied form amongst the cognoscenti of the menswear world, it is strange and wonderful, falling somewhere between a contemporary J.Crew catalog and the kind of sensitive visual ethnography that would make an anthropology professor smile. “Everything about the Ivy League” consists for the most part of photographs of campus life with short, one to two-sentence captions. These are the kind of advertising images that branding agencies and Pinterest users now take for granted, in an age when the the “lifestyle” concept is taken for grant. In the mid-1960s, though, when most clothiers, including a purveyor of the Ivy-style like Brooks Brothers, still thought advertising clothing meant advertising articles of clothing, the images must have seemed novel. Clothing propped in a store window seems staged, an overt recognition of our fantasy lives (see William Leach’s work for the best account of the art of window dressing). Ishizu’s team produced images that were real, actually documentary, although this reality effect was tempered by the fact that they were from a distant place. A kind of occidentalism, if you will, or orientalism in reverse.
In “To classrooms,” for example, four Princetonians walk around the University Chapel in the direction of McCosh Hall. They’re each dressed in slightly different variations of one wardrobe that consists of penny-loafers, canvas sneakers, wool and khaki slacks, Oxford shirts, maybe a white t-shirt, sweaters, sports coats, a couple of jackets, and some school paraphernalia like class or varsity jackets. The photograph’s caption reads, “Each of these four Ivy leaguers is dressed according to his own style. Together they represent what we hoped to find on our fact-finding trip; the epitome of daily dress for Ivy Leaguers” (72). I think the point of stressing the quotidian-quality of the image is that their style, like the the daylight on a rainy day, is muted. These guys aren’t dandies. They are vain just like the rest of us but they aren’t people, in all likelihood, who care too much about their self-presentation. And that’s their privilege, of course, not just in life but on this particular campus. They may be competitive with each other and feel the need to assert their status now and then, but on this regular day, on a campus that remained without female students for another four years after the photograph was taken (it became coeducational in 1969), they didn’t feel the need to impress. And that’s precisely the point! There’s an element of unself-consciousness here and youthful obliviousness. For those who subscribe to a more traditional ethos of menswear, that unself-consciousness is what’s most important. There’s no word in English like sprezzatura, and this isn’t actually sprezzatura, but it’s related. These are the underlying values that were legible to foreign eyes.
Images like “To classrooms” made Take Ivy more than a success in the Japanese magazine scene; the report became an underground, cult-classic in the wider world of men’s fashion and a touchstone for the return to “heritage wear” following the economic downturn of the global economy in 2008. This afterlife is an interesting postscript that I won’t consider here, but I will note that I was introduced to this text around 2012 by a friend who worked for Sid Mashburn before and after getting a degree in architecture at Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. It’s not a text that I would expect to be taught or studied in academia and, to be honest, I feel strange writing about it as if I were to assign it to students. But those intellectualist hang-ups aside, I don’t see why it couldn’t be part of an American or East Asian studies course.
For present purposes (i.e. a blog about campus design), I want to ignore questions about the cultural dissemination or the criteria of the “preppy” or “trad” style. Instead, I want to focus on Take Ivy as a historical-visual record of the American campus circa midcentury. In this way, as a source for the cultural history of the American campus, it presents the kind of perspective that is usually of great insight: the outsider’s perspective. Ishizu’s crew might not have been equal to a Tocqueville or a Dickens, but they were nevertheless sensitive voyeurs. I think the fact that they had limited English was actually beneficial. I’m interested in what interested them and how the image they constructed compares to what I see today on the campus of a public school university in California — over half a century and 3,000 miles away from the Ivy League in the 1960s.
Because of the collective nature of their study, Take Ivy helps us rethink the definition of “the campus.” The team did not study one campus; they studied eight. And yet they were interested in a singular, common quality: “Ivy.” This is how they reconciled the problem of commonality in difference:
What is ‘Ivy’? Its implications go beyond the group of eight prestigious universities that belong to the Ivy league, American football, or the vine itself that covers the buildings of Ivy League schools. It is also not simply about Madison Avenue, Brooks Brothers, modern jazz, and folk songs. They do play a part in defining ‘Ivy’ as a whole, but each of them is only but a peripheral component that makes up ‘Ivy.’ ‘Ivy’ encompasses offices on Wall Street as well as the fine men’s boutiques and department stores on Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in New York. It also includes the restaurants and coffee shops, the modern jazz and folk songs found in venue in Greenwich Village. These things together are what ‘Ivy’ is all about.
In order to entirely understand the spirit of ‘Ivy,’ you must appreciate and master all aspects of American East Coast culture. Despite the U.S.’s relatively short history as a nation, it is not an easy task to thoroughly understand the American past. The ‘Ivy’ we witnessed during our fact-finding trip is nothing but the tip of the iceberg and is not, in any way, something shallow and limited. You need to gain knowledge not only about the Ivy leaguers but also about the peripheral factors surrounding them. Gaining a complete understanding of these factors is the proverbial ticket to becoming a full-fledged Ivy Leaguer (p. 92).
There are two different strategies for definition in this passage, one simple and the other complex. The complex strategy is to posit an underlying cultural identity: American East Coast culture. Interestingly, however, that’s not really what seems to interest the team in their report. They didn’t decide that they needed to travel up and down the Eastern seaboard in order to figure out the meaning of “Ivy.”
Instead, they went to New York. They recognized that all eight of these campuses have trajectories. The campuses are not static places, they’re not impermeable to other forces affecting the zone between youth culture and work culture, and they’re not disconnected from the larger life itineraries taken by students. Like pilgrims, for Ivy Leaguers in the mid-1960s, “all roads lead to Rome,” and by Rome I mean New York. So in studying the Ivy League campus in this period, the Japanese team of researchers recognized that they were really studying this embryonic phase of New York. If one takes this lines of argumentation further, one begins to see how images of the bucolic campus involute into images of urbanism.
What’s interesting is how the researchers identify the roads to Rome, as it were, or the means of connection that tilt or orient the Ivy League campus in a particular direction. “Ivy” is constituted by an open constellation of images that includes football, Madison Avenue, Brooks Brothers, modern jazz, and folk songs. (The only constellation point that surprises me is folk songs, but I guess when Simon and Garfunkel released Sounds of Silence in 1965, that record was mostly played in places like a Columbia University dormitory). If we think of the Ivy League campus as a consumer good instead of a place, than it becomes clear that the Take Ivy team recognized their object of study as a “Diderot Unity,” a concept theorized by the sociologist Grant McCracken in a book entitled Culture and Consumption that was published in 1988…
More on McCracken later but for now I have to go moderate a colloquium! The point I’m leading up to is that this constellation is neither arbitrary nor fixed and that it works to ratchet up consumer desire instead of making the image more widely accessible. I find McCracken’s work useful because when we start to think of the campus as a product instead of a place, than our terms of analysis need to change accordingly.
Finally, in lieu of a conclusion, a list of superficial observations, thoughts, and questions inspired by the images of Take Ivy. If you are familiar with this text (I’m looking at you, Raj), please add your own to the comments section!
- Brooks Brothers is to Take Ivy as Urban Outfitters is to UC Berkeley and almost all other American campuses today. What would an in-depth study of Urban Outfitters tell us about the American campus today? What, for that matter, does it tell us about urbanity?
- In Take Ivy, students walk around with hands in their pockets or carrying books. They don’t seem to use book bags at all. When and why did the book bag intervene? How have the use of personal electronic goods impacted the image of campus life?
- If we assembled a huge collection of “Back-to-School” advertisements for college-aged students, how do we think that would differ from the images in Take Ivy, including and in addition to the obvious demographic differences?
- So many college students are now commuters. A residential college experience is increasingly becoming a rarity. Given this fact, and the fact that so many of the photographs in Take Ivy are about college students on the move (the authors especially loved the sight of students on bicycles), how would we replicate a similar study today? The pivotal moment for Take Ivy is right between classes. What’s the pivotal moment in campus life today?
- The photographer Hayashida was drawn to students studying while sunbathing. This reminds me of an important function that is often lost within the the vocational transformation of the university: learning about leisure. That’s the classical ideal, damn it! Other parts of the education system are not about leisure — high school isn’t and neither is graduate school. But during the undergraduate experience students need to figure out what they want to do with their free time, and that includes a wide variety of pleasures like drinking, smoking, staying up late, talking, reading, having sex, etc.
- The authors write, “Through a seemingly liberal fashion culture, students eventually gain the ‘fashion knowledge’ to prepare for the real world. During their college careers, students look to professors as living examples of how a working person should dress” (127). This now seems preposterous to me!
More images from Take Ivy: