American Trad Hits Japan
The subject of American style in post war Japan, particularly Ivy has always been of interest to me. Pre-internet days one could only guess at the roots – Hollywood movies, GIs in occupation, loss of confidence in Japanese tradition after the war.
Well it turns out that these are good guesses, but the whole story is far more interesting. It’s told in an entertaining fashion by David Marx, an American based in Japan, who appears to have had sufficient access to the history of the principal players in the story of Japan’s Ivy and Americana obsession to create that rare thing – a documentary on the subject of mens fashion in the online age that reads as authentic.
Far from clearing up the mysteries of sartorial history, the online world usually just finds the nearest factually incorrect material and reproduces it until it becomes a new truth (like how Steve McQueen wore Tod’s before the company existed – or more recently ‘wore Sanders’; GH Bass’ current marketing pretending they invented the beefroll loafer and not the penny strap; and let’s not get into Brooks Brothers OCBD cuts and labels down the ages).
Even serious history has always been rewritten and untruths compounded through distorted lenses and, in the area of such ephemera as ‘button down shirts in post war Japan’, most people would take the lazy route and just regurgitate the usual stuff. So hats off to David Marx for going for the detail needed to bring the story to life (it’s a Japanese obsession story after all, so detail must be a prerequisite).
The actual background stories to just how this ‘aibii’ style came to dominate Japanese menswear and then infuse into the export market in the late 1990s on beyond (Levis Vintage Clothing was perhaps the first example of what became a flood on these shores from the 90s onwards) reads like a comic strip in itself. Key players controlled the print media, the manufacturing and the marketing of Ivy in a way unthinkable in the West, thus allowing a homogeneous style to dominate mens apparel in Japan for decades.
Ivy Fish Out of Water
It’s fun to read of the early ‘mistakes’ made by the first adopters of the elusive Ivy style and the somewhat warped view the young Japanese had of exactly what the USA was really like, what students wore, what was really hip on campus compared to what they’d misread in Esquire or misinterpreted as Ivy from Hollywood examples. This mirrors what I’ve written in the past about studying the clothing worn by American tourists in London in the 80s for the tell tale clues to copy – flat fronted chinos, soft collar OCBDs, Burberry raincoats, surcingle belts – all clues but often adding 2 + 2 to make 5. Ivy writer JP Gaul has said the very same thing – amusing to me as we would have been active at the same time, but pre-social media, who’d have known? Just like these early Japanese ivyists, we all thought we alone were strange obsessives.
The background to the promo film that provided the impetus for Take Ivy in 1965 is also amusing – the Japanese crew finding that actually no one at Princeton wore suits to lectures and not quite believing the (studied) nonchalance of their American idols.
The only thing that lets Ametora down is the very poor quality of the actual book. The paper and hardcover are like those cheap hare krishna books they used to give away at airports. The photos are great, but consequently not done any justice by the cheap semi transparent paper. It’s a shame because the book is well written and a key piece to the global puzzle of Ivy outside of the USA, with all its idiosyncrasies normally rightly lost on its original American practitioners. However, we should be thankful that Marx has taken the time to set this down on record for us non-Japanese and given us a glimpse of a such a key time in the global spread of the Ivy look.
Available on Amazon globally since Dec 17th it’s well worth a read over the Christmas holidays.
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