Highwater 501s & Derby of San Francisco : Black Ivy in Watts, LA

Update: Not knowing the exact source of this image, I’d googled ‘Westminster Neighborhood Association’ and found one in DC, which seemed to match the location of the shot. Today Herb Lester, a master of research par excellence, sent me some more images by LIFE photographer Bill Ray, from the same series which is actually about life in the Watts ghetto in 1966 – slightly later than I’d guessed (thinking it was circa 63) but that could also be because the Ivy look went West quite late. I’ve added more of these great shots below.

For most of the 20th century the tide of urban fashion went one way only – from underground black fashion to white middle class suburbia. Sometimes those trends moved fast, some would take decades. Interesting, then to see the effect of what was basically a white middle class fashion for Ivy League clothing briefly get picked up, and a twist added, by hip black youths. This photo of youths outside the Westminster Neighborhood Association (in D.C.?) is really fascinating. Chukka boots, heavy gibsons, button down shirts – all present and correct.

It’s well documented that Miles Davis liked to buy his clothes in the Andover shop, that many a modern jazz artist picked up on the sack suit for stage wear and LP cover, but this photo shows something altogether more commonplace at the street-end of the fashion spectrum, the trend for Ivy casual wear amongst young black guys in the early 60s.

Now, if you see a similar group of white college kids from the same era most of them will be wearing off white chinos, and very few of them Levis. Yet, here half of these kids are wearing 501s with extreme highwater turnups. It’s an interesting example of cross trends – the pork pie hat is a Jamaican thing, but the kid at the back with the driving cap and Derby of San Francisco jacket is pure college style, albeit with an edge. Actually, the images remind me also of how Mod interpreted Ivy in the UK and Europe.

I can remember clearly, as a fifteen year old, watching the Shirley Clarke movie The Cool World  from 1961 (with a great Mal Waldron score played by DIzzy Gillespie and Yusef Lateef) where the protaganists are wearing three button collar short sleeve BDs in wild paisley – part of the same look, but this time in Harlem.

I’d like to see more shots from this LIFE series kindly sent me by Herb Lester. Makes me think my highwaters are no such thing when I see those jeans and that the Ivy stance can be a tough one too, miles away from insipid American brochure-ware blogs and adverts for lime green Swedish trousers with lobsters decals.

On FNB sometime back someone called for a book of street Ivy, what real people actually wore during the Boom Years. I’d second that – it would be very revealing to show the reality without the distortion of ‘official’ history.


All images by Billy Ray for LIFE Magazine used under permission for non commercial use.


Posted in Weejunisms.


  1. Great article, fantastic photo. The poet LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka, himself a dedicated ivyist in the 50s and 60s, actually talks about a black version of Ivy in his autobiography. Funny thing is, he also distinctly mentions the paisleys as an ’African’ spin on the look. The mod comparison is spot on too, I think.

  2. Great Pic. Is this DC? The Watts Renaissance poster might suggest LA? Red socks and rolled up jeans seemed to be in fashion at the moment for the 30 year old teenagers.

  3. Inspired post. Intersesting parallel’s to the jamaican /black skinhead style. The guy in the newsboy cap’s, jacket is identical to a ‘peter’s I have. Note the gaudi style architecture too.

    • Hi Coltrane, the Peters is one of the well known copies of the Derby style with one peice shoulder. The Catalina was another. They became ubiquitous. The Derby was mostly lined and quilted with a gold paisley lining. I have one in golden tan corduroy, Catalina were often quilted inside too, with their trademark bird design on the lining. Shame is that Catalina jackets are mostly very short, like 24″ in length for a size 40, Derby seem to be a touch longer at 25″ – how is the Peter’s? Later Catalina came in L as well but not seen any US made ones, only offshore 80s models.
      The Gaudi style is the famous Watts Towers, work of one man, Simon Rodia, and built between 1921 and 1954.

  4. Hi weejun, its about 25” long, with a bird print sateen lining!. I have never found, a decent catalina,allways offshore as you say.and never a derby(your cord one sounds nice). just checked the watts towers,and simon rodia, really interesting. merry xmas , cheers!

    • The Peters jackets sound worth hunting down if they’re regular length.
      Here are some images of the cord Derby – for some reason no paisley on this lining! I like the reverse pocket opening detail.

      1960s Derby of San Francisco Wide Wale Cord Bomber

      1960s Derby of San Francisco Wide Wale Cord Bomber

      1960s Derby of San Francisco Wide Wale Cord Bomber

  5. Thanks for sharing these pictures they’re amazing, the fella in the catalina jacket with the red large gingham check shirt is about as sharp as it gets. Love that cord jacket aswell.

  6. Great pcitures, thanks. First time I see a direct link between american kids and british mods as far as the 1″ sew up on levis (thought the former sported higher roll ups and the latter re-enterpreted the look).

    • Hi Claudio, The link is one I make, but was definitely there. My Dad, an original modernist in 60-63 used to get presents from his American family (the American Uncle all European kids wanted!) including Dan River button down shirts and 501s (virtually unavailable in England then), magazines like Esquire, but also National Geographic – all of these influences from regular American clothing styles, reworked into the modernist idea in London. The same story as blues, jazz, ska 45s coming in from the US and West Indies. That Levis turn up thing is just one of the many details copied and adapted.

    • Thanks Victor, I’d been keeping tabs on the project on Facebook but thought it had stalled. Glad to know it’s still happening!

  7. Wow, nice photos. The UK skinheads adopted the small turn-ups from the Jamaican imigrants and red socks were a big thing amongst them as well (and still are).

  8. Excellent photos, but the location is undoubtedly LA not DC…as evidenced by the two LA police officers in the photos.

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