Ivy Style: The Museum at FIT

While in New York on Saturday, I made a special trip up to the Museum at FIT to check out two exhibits. The first was the Ivy Style exhibit and the second  are highlights of their permanent collection.

Gah. What a great value the Museum at FIT has in that it’s F-R-E-E.

What did I think? I loved both exhibits for different reasons. The Ivy Style is a little insular in its view.

Ivy Style celebrates one of the most enduring clothing styles of the 20th century. It examines the “Ivy League Look,” which began during the early years of the century on the quads and in the libraries of elite, all-male, American universities, such as Harvard, Yale, and especially Princeton. — from the website

I saw my friend Jon shortly after visiting this exhibit. He went to Princeton and I told him he should check out the exhibit. But, as an early 40s, straight, Jewish male obsessed with the Giants, he said it sounded ‘dumb’. heh.

Yes, Ivy style means WASPY, wealthy, American style that was only worn by the elite for many years. The donations come from names like Muffy, Rockefeller and Forbes. It’s a slice of Americana that as a child of immigrants I’ve only observed from afar and in books. Personally, I would have been curious to see how the Ivy Style was interpreted / trickled down at the Howards and Morehouses and Spellmans or state schools across the country.

The selections from the permanent collection I had to fly through. But, what can I say. I wanted to grab entire dressforms fully clothed and dash out the building.

If you can go, I recommend both.


  1. The funny thing is that Ivy style has been gone from the Ivy schools 40 years. At Harvard it was gone by the 70’s. Occasionally into the 80’s I’d see older male faculty wearing it but the store in Harvard Square that sold all these clothes (The Crimson Shop) closed in 1992. No one dresses likes this in Boston and Cambridge now, although Lilly Pulitzer is popular with rich BU girls from New York but then BU is not an ivy (although it sure wants to be!)

  2. Check out the Of Another Fashion blog: http://ofanotherfashion.tumblr.com/.

    It is a blog of vintage fashion (as far back as pre-1900s to the 80s or so) featuring women of color — so black and Asian flappers!! Who knew they existed?! You will see photos of college girls over the decades in this blog.

    I’m Korean-American and I never really thought that the whiteness of fashion — including vintage — really affected me, until I realized how glad I was to see someone who looked a lot more like me rocking the vintage looks I love so much.

    Hope you enjoy!

    • Thanks for the link. Of course, photos like that aren’t surprising to many black and African American people — I have some very stylish 1930s photos of my grandparents — but it may fill a void for some.

      About a year ago, a white blogger whose work I usually like posted an “inspirational” photo of a black woman because she was sewing a dress for a black co-worker. She picked a neo-realist painting of a lady who looked like a broken-down cleaning woman. To her credit, she did replace it when I pointed out that her first image was hardly aspirational and actually quite insulting to the object of her generosity.

      It also has to be remembered that until the last three or four decades, African Americans, like other outsiders, emulated the mainstream.. They didn’t romanticize a ghetto sub-culture. They aspired to look like everyone else, even better despite their their meager finances. You may know that the tune “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was originally about blacks, but the reference was changed because they were being mocked:

      Have you seen the “well to do?”

      Up on Lenox Avenue?

      On that famous thoroughfare,

      With their noses in the air?

      High hats and colored collars,

      White spats and fifteen dollars.

      Spending every dime,

      For a wonderful time!

      If you’re blue and you don’t know

      Where to go to, why don’t you go

      Where Harlem flits?

      Puttin’ On The Ritz!

      Spangled gowns upon the bevy

      Of high-brow[n]s from down the levee,

      All miss-fits,

      Puttin’ On The Ritz.

      That’s where each and every Lulubelle goes,

      Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus, Rubbin’ elbows!

      Come with me and we’ll attend

      Their jubilee, and see them spend,

      Their last two bits,

      Puttin’ On The Ritz.

  3. I’m an African American woman who went to a “Big Three” (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) Ivy League college and grad school. I also went to an independent (“prep”) school on a scholarship and had other black students as classmates.

    Ivy/preppy style is still worn by a certain segment of the population, including people of color, although some folks, including myself, interpret it. Head-to-toe Ralph Lauren, who is really nouveau, aspirational (but doing it very well) faux-preppy, is exhausting to look at.

    I like lots of preppy looks — it’s an incredibly practical style, and the individual wears the clothes, not the other way around — but I don’t like the super-asexual shapes that some women wear. For an example, look at the blogger Muffy Aldridge: http://www.muffyaldrich.com/2012/10/ll-bean-wants-input.html

    As a woman with lower body curves, the pants (chinos and cords) have never worked for me, only beautiful young girls with androgynous bodies really good in them, in my opinion.

    The blog by two black guys (I’m not sure that they’re both African American), “Street Etiquette,” often plays with Ivy looks. http://streetetiquette.com/the-black-ivy/#

    And what about the famous “Take Ivy,” a 1960s-era celebration of Ivy style at Princeton by a Japanese author? http://www.amazon.com/Take-Ivy-Shosuke-Ishizu/dp/1576875504

  4. HOW AWESOME! I would love to check out the collection. I owned an Official Preppy Handbook (back-in-the-day, it’s probably still at Mom’s and I have since bought a used copy at a secondhand store). LOVE PREPPY CLOTHES! Thanks for sharing!

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