Often when we find some vintage clothing, especially shirts like Gant or Sero, they will have had the store name tags made up and sewn in alongside the brand. This kind of co-branding for local loyalty was common in the US and a kind of precursor to the ubiquitous Brand X Hip Store that we see today.
Nowhere was this more evident than on the boom years ivy style sports jacket. For around a decade from around 1958 to 1968, the concept of dressing like an idealised Ivy League student was mass market in a way that’s hard to imagine today. From local menswear stores with names like The Toggery, to large single state or city based departments stores (and all the way to Hollywood & The Ivy Look), the ‘Varsity’ name sold lifestyle clothing to men and boys – many of whom would never go near an Ivy League college in their lives. In a country obessessed with change and wiping away the past, clothing for both men and women maintained a curious set of rules and traditions that are still visible in today’s global American based brands.
Seen as it is today as a particularly 1960s phenomenon, it’s also easy to forget that the fashion for the ivy look was even then a retro one – tweeds, lapped seams, framed patch and flap pockets, white bucks, buckle back chinos, button down oxfords – these were all items with their roots firmly in the clothing of the 1920s and 30s pre-war elite (and even then an idealised idea of Oxbridge elites).
For the everyman who wanted to fit in, a ‘Varsity Shop’ existed as a kind of mainstream alternative to the on-campus Co Op stores and was seen as a ‘must have’ for any mid to upmarket department store.
Today I bought this classic mid 60s jacket from Newton Street Vintage, typical of the fashion of the day (as opposed to the unchanging ‘trad’ of the day like J Press or even Brooks Brothers). The label intrigued me, but a quick search online found this wonderful website – a resource for all those who want to find out a bit more about the provenance of their off the peg ivy togs.
This jacket came from Denholm’s of Worcester, and you can see from the entry here that the Varsity Shop was located on the Third Floor and would have been aimed at a younger late early twenties demographic. (Check out the wonderfully pun-named ‘The Poise And Ivy Shop’ on the Chatham Street listing!!)
The Department Store Museum is curated by a Polish American guy called BAK and is an amazing resource dedicated to the American department stores of yesteryear.
As the intro says:
The on-line museum of North America’s independent department stores. The museum holds all sorts of information about classic department stores which either no longer exist, or are changed beyond recognition. A few of them are still with us, and provide an interesting connection to North America’s retail past. The others are presented so that they may be properly remembered as a tangible part of the lives of their customers, shopping destinations where memories were often made.
Well worth a browse.
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