Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ivy Blah

Somebody's been in touch and given me the idea to name a forum or two that might be of interest to Steve McQueen style fans. I'll refrain from comment and let you find out what they're like, but feel free at the end of this post to give suggestions and to comment yourself. Here's three of the best, far as I can see:

Film Noir Buff Forums
Style Forum
The Fedora Lounge

OK, here we go. It's impossible to talk about Steve McQueen without mentioning Ivy League style. The Ivy League is the collective name of eight prestigious universities on the USA's East Coast that have plenty of ivy on their buildings. It also signifies a style of men's clothes, popular across the USA in the mid-20th century and epitomised on the campuses of these universities. It was the sort of thing Steve McQueen wore. I invoked the look a couple of posts ago when I put the word natural quite close to the word shoulders. Unpadded shoulders are representative of an Ivy sports coat. The term three-two roll signifies the style as well.

Brooks Brothers was synonymous with this type of clothing. People knew the shop particularly for suits, but its most popular item was the "oxford cloth button-down" (OCBD) dress shirt. Plenty of presidents wore Brooks Brothers clothes. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George Bush senior, Bill Clinton. Barack Obama wears Brooks Brothers. The Fitzgerald collection is based on JFK suits. Kennedy can still cause fucking mayhem in Ivy circles, not least because the absolutely out of control philandering bastard-hero sometimes wore jackets with only two buttons. We all aspire to that level of rebellion, but it's a wonder somebody didn't beat Oswald to it.

Persol 714 Steve McQueen limited edition
with double arrow on temple arm

Kennedy was another Persol fan, by the way, and while I think about it: I got the photo of the supposedly limited edition 714s a couple of posts ago from the Persol website. I noticed after, it's a normal pair of 714s with (probably Photoshopped) blue lenses. The limited version is supposed to have the double arrow on the temple arm. I think they've fixed the image at least, but a few people have a few things to say about the actual sunglasses. Persol's attempt to replicate the McQueen version* is half-hearted, and the folding system is botched to the point where it's easy to damage the glasses. Thanks in particular to the comment left earlier.

Don Draper: Madman

OK, back to Brooks Brothers. Stars like Andy Warhol and, well, let's just say everybody from Jimmy Stewart to Jack Kerouac wore their stuff too. TV drama Mad Men is beautiful in many ways including aesthetically, and those aesthetics are Ivy. I mean it has smoky jazzy Ivy style draped across every modernist chair. Brooks Brothers supplied the grey flannel suits.

Here, after all that, is the anticlimactic information I have to impart in terms of Steve McQueen style jackets: the current Brooks Brothers sports coats are a way from our beloved Bullitt version.

The Ivy Look

The Ivy Look: An Illustrated Pocket Guide is a recent book, and the authors' names are Graham Marsh and JP Gaul. If you have an interest in this style, I recommend it. The blurb on the back calls it "a pictorial celebration of the clothing and accessories that dominated the American male dress code from 1955 to 1965".

J.Press brown herringbone
Pressclusive sports coat

J.Press is a bit like Brooks Brothers. The Ivy Look refers to it as "the other original Ivy retailer". J.Press currently sells a sports coat, in its "Pressclusive" (hmm) range, which gets closer in ways to the Bullitt ideal than the jacket I recommended last post. It certainly looks fucking amazing in its own right. You lose on the pockets and elbow patches, and conventional Ivy is a centre back vent rather than one to each side. It's a brown herringbone "sack", though, which means it hangs loose, has the important unstructured tailoring, the soft shoulders (remember to fasten only the middle button!). [Update: old rather than new J.Press is unstructured!]

J.Press delivers to the UK. The jacket is usually $595/£380, but a 25% off sale makes it $447/£285. I don't know if that's just for around Thanksgiving or what. (Thanksgiving is an important harvest festival in the USA. I don't know how much it's celebrated around this, but they get the fourth Thursday in November and the next day off work every year, like we get Christmas and Boxing Day I think. I've just looked it up and they don't tend to get Easter or Boxing Day as bank holidays, so no need for jealousy.)

Some Ivy fans say they prefer J.Press to Brooks Brothers, that J.Press clothes are of better quality. Some prefer J.Press because Brooks Brothers are too popular, though. The next time you feel the need to defend your interest in stylish clothes from allegations of inherent superficiality, why not take solace in the what I have is better because I have it and you don't line of argument? Jesus Christ. Anyway, others say that both Brooks Brothers and J.Press stuff is poor quality. They say things aren't what they used to be. Well, that phrase is certainly as banal as ever. Thing is, people with a good deal more expertise than me have said it and, in this regard at least, I happen to put my trust in them. If they're right, the only way to get hold of the good stuff is on places like eBay. [Update: they're right! See Steve McQueen Style Ladies: Neile.]

It's easy to over think all this, though. Exclusivity is more important than quality, as real style-obsessed fans will tell you. The true Ivy devotees, for instance, have plumped to dress exactly like Julius Caesar for the next two weeks. Only they can say what's truly Ivy, after all. They'll wear replica sandals and a linen tunica for a fortnight, after which, depending on votes, they'll either dress as the Duke of Windsor on his 1937 European tour (this currently gets two votes) or the tambourinist from The Seekers (this has the other vote).

*A Hollywood optician called Dennis Roberts, whose clients also included Elvis, fitted the blue lenses to the "light Havana" colour (code 96) Persol 714 frames Steve wore in The Thomas Crown Affair. God is in the details and, while I'm at it, the earliest attribution of the phrase "God is in the details" is modernist architect van der Rohe.

PS This is quite a postscript for a frivolous style blog, I know, but I have to qualify my Mad Men admiration. Protagonist Don Draper, in episode six of the first series, works on a campaign for the Israeli tourist board. He flicks through Holocaust images.

Don: I can see why they want the guns.

I'm ashamed to say that, for a moment, I fear Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has just used one set of atrocities to excuse another. (Others wrote the episode, but Weiner has discussed his direct involvement with that scene in interview.)

Don meets beautiful Rachel Menken later the same episode. He discusses the group he met from the tourist board.

Don: Well, those people at the meeting were definitely Zionists.
Rachel: Zion just means Israel.

Oh right, OK. Rachel and the group from the Israeli tourist board then become as one:

Rachel: I don't know, a country for "those people" as you call us, well - it seems very important.

Ayn Rand was a novelist, an advocate of self-interest, a critic of altruism. Atlas Shrugged is one of her best-known novels, in which the world's most successful people get cheesed off with the rest of us cramping their style. They up sticks until society all but collapses without them and we see the error of our ways.

People wonder why Mad Men references Rand. I read somewhere on the internet that Matthew Weiner is an Obama advocate, but I can't find anything to substantiate it. Is it possible to support both Obama and Ayn Rand? Brad Pitt is apparently a fan of both, which seems plausible. Obama was cool in the run-up for office at least, and as for Ayn Rand, well, Hollywood stars are prime candidates for a philosophy that flatters the spoilt inner child: "I always knew it was OK to be selfish! It's just like Atlas Shrugged - the world ceases to spin without me!" If Brad Pitt disappears, we can replace him with a poster.

If Matthew Weiner were an Ayn Rand follower, he'd naturally think of himself in terms as the titan, the superman behind Mad Men. He famously fired one writer soon after she helped win them an Emmy, and you can read stuff about that. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Neil Armstrong went to the fucking moon. You can read about Weiner's behaviour towards the programme's writers and about the credits they receive. I get the impression that a Wikileak of the production would provide enough material for an award-winning television drama, but Mad Men itself is enough for now. It's a great programme. Much greater than the efforts of Matthew Weiner or any one person.

Now, how do I relate this back to Steve McQueen? My interest is healthily superficial. I care about his cardigans rather than his politics.


  1. Fun blog. I challenge your statement that JKF wore Persol, though.