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.