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I-V League

Clothes in the ivy-league style “must hit the ineffable balance between carefree, careless and correct,” writes Laura Jacobs in The Wall Street Journal (9/27/12). It’s a dress code rooted primarily at Princeton, according to “Ivy Style,” an exhibition at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Princeton’s trend-setting status is attributed to its “relatively rural location, the homogeneity of its student population — nearly 85% white Protestant men, graduates of elite private schools from wealthy families — and its reliance on a unique student-regulated society, typified by its stratified and ostentatious ‘eating clubs.’”

Perhaps it doesn’t hurt that the school’s name has the word “prince” built right into it. “The crested blazer and modern sport jacket trace back to Princeton, as well as the emergence of white flannel trousers and buckskin shoes.” The so-called “go-to-hell” look, “a mix of bright colors normally considered outside the masculine palette — coral, yellow, mint –” was popularized by “Chipp, an offshoot of J. Press,” which, along with Brooks Brothers, Arrow, Hathaway and Gant are the classic Ivy labels. The gray flannel suit is another major feature of the Ivy wardrobe. “It was arguably the most important Ivy style look … worn by men not only during college, but also after, in business.”

The exhibition demonstrates that the “archetypical silhouettes” of Ivy fashions “are not only going strong but have evolved little, despite instances of postmodern and millennial tweaking.” It also reinforces Bill Blass’s observation “that men are happiest in uniforms.” For Ivy types, getting that uniform right or wrong either locks you in or “out of the tribe.” It’s a tribe that evidently dates back to the 1800s, and four schools — Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. Some speculate that the term “Ivy” referred not to the plant life growing on university buildings but rather the four — or, in Roman numerals, I-V — schools in their football team conference. It wasn’t until 1954 that “the term ‘Ivy League’ became an official designation for the Northeastern athletic conference that” by that time included eight schools. Ivy Style runs at FIT through January 5, 2013.