Ivy League Style 101

Ivy League Style 101

The origins of Ivy League Style - or Ivy Style as it’s often called - stretch back more than 100 years. It’s history is interesting, and many aspects of the Ivy Style fashion foundation are still very much in play today. In this Ivy Style blog post, we’ll address five common questions: 

  • What is the origin of the Ivy League look?
  • Who first produced Ivy League apparel?
  • What are the Ivy League Style essentials? 
  • Ivy League, Preppy Style, Trad - what’s the difference?
  • What is French Ivy Style?

What Is the Origin of the Ivy League Look?

Not all fashion historians and fine clothiers agree on the moment when Ivy style clothing became popular among the Northeastern university set.

But it’s nearly unanimous that it originated with prep school boys accustomed to wearing a daily uniform of jacket and tie. When these chaps were set loose to choose their own clothes, or “mufti”, they wanted to look sharp … but not by activating the same fashion formula as their fathers.  

These boys - at first from Princeton and Yale - were close enough to city life to discern sophistication and near enough to the country to appreciate comfort. They wanted to be well dressed, but not dressed up. Spiffy and self-assured, yet with an air of effortlessness. 


Who First Produced Ivy League Apparel?

First to release what would become a staple among Ivy League clothes was Brooks Brothers. In 1895, they released the “sack suit” with its signature natural shoulder, rolled lapels, soft-front construction and straight-legged trousers. It would perhaps have been less well received from a more nascent clothier - but from one established in 1818, the “unstructured” and “unrefined” garment was a triumph. In fact, a version of the original sack suit has been introduced every decade of the Brooks Brother brand and continues to deliver today.

Brooks Brothers Sack Suit Ivy Style

Image Source: Brooks Brothers Magazine

A smaller, but extremely popular Ivy League clothing brand, is New Haven-grown J. Press. Its first store front was located on the Yale campus and, later, the brand expanded into such strategically selected markets as Cambridge, Princeton and San Francisco. Other players engaged during the blossoming of Ivy were Fenn-Feinstein, Chipp, and Arthur Rosenberg.

The relationship between these retailers and their dapper clientele was symbiotic. The designers looked to Ivy League campuses for how their customers styled their clothing, and the students looked to these stores for pieces that would further their aesthetic.     

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What Are the Ivy League Style Essentials?

Indispensable pieces for the original Ivy Style gentleman allowed them to seamlessly move between town, country, and campus. They then had numerous foundational garments to support their transition to the board room or the courtroom.  

Ivy style herringbone sports coat ralph lauren

Image Source: Ralph Lauren

In addition to a tidy haircut and manicured nails, as essential back then as is today, are these: 

  • The ultimate Ivy League shirts: OCBD, or Oxford Cloth Button Down shirt 
  • Plaid shirts
  • Tweed and herringbone sport coats, ideally with: 
    • 2 or 3 buttons at the cuff
    • Flap or patch pockets
    • Leather-padded elbows
  • Crew Neck and V-Neck sweaters
  • Cardigans
  • Camel hair polo coats
  • Khakis, earth-toned chinos, wool trousers, corduroys
  • Argyle socks 
  • Penny or tassel loafers, bucks 
  • Striped, rep or knit neckties 

Fortunately, now out of style after a period of being in demand is the racoon fur coat!  

Ivy League, Preppy Style, Trad - What’s The Difference?

Some use the terms Ivy, Prep and Trad (for "Traditional") to refer to the same style of dress - but there are quite distinct differences:

Preppy Style

With Ralph Lauren at the cornerstone of the style, Prep is considered to be a more distilled and personality-forward style than is Ivy. Done right and the preppy gentleman can theoretically transition from the office to the tennis court or to dinner. Compared to Ivy Style, Preppy Style tends to prioritize:

  • Comfort first, style second
  • Separates over suits (Ivy tends to wears suits 50/50)
  • Less restraint; more color and visual interest
  • Madras and check shirts
  • Jersey turtlenecks or Polo shirts
  • Sweaters draped around the neck
  • Colorful chinos and shorts
  • Boat shoes instead of loafers
  • Socks only when absolutely necessary

Wanna give it a try? Here's Your 5-Step Guide to Preppy Style.


Preppy Style


Trad Style

Trad is the least common among these similar-seeming fashion segments, and certainly a dressier take. Simply stated, it’s a modern take on the roaring 20s. The Trad man prefers: 

  • Suits, predominantly; but not necessarily business suits
  • Personalized but subtle pieces
  • More muted colors and luxe tones
  • Crest blazers and sport coats
  • Cerebral layering, such as a turtleneck under a blazer
  • Traditionally cut shirts over close-fitting tailored pieces
  • Rep ties
  • Full-length trousers - never rolled up
  • Navy shorts - never patterned or bright
  • Penny or tassel loafers - never boat shoes 

What is French Ivy Style, and British Ivy?

French Ivy is somewhat of an amalgamation between Ivy and Prep that was made popular by young, French men from affluent families. Students mixed American Ivy and Prep with selvedge denim and French favorites including, of course, Lacoste, and then applied impeccable tailoring. Layering was important, turtlenecks featured prominently, and scarves were a necessity. The finished look was one of old with new, luxury and utility, and casual but refined.  

French Ivy was further defined by which side of the River Seine you lived on. From the Right Bank rose Bon Chic Bon Genre - BCBG - which was more practical and reserved than its showier cross-water kin, Bourgeois-Bohemian - BoBo - from the Left Bank. 

British Ivy is more in line with what we call Ivy Style in America, with a few British classics peppered in. Regatta stripes, rugby shirts, cricket sweaters, mackintosh and chesterfield coats, club and regimental neckties (like this Dragoons 6th Striped Necktie below) and proudly displayed patches and crests. 

Dragoons 6th Striped Regimental Necktie




Do any of these styles sound like your ideal cup of tea? Show us! Share with us your favorite Ivy, Prep or Trad looks on Facebook and Instagram. Check out our #RHanauer posts for ideas and inspiration, or connect with us - we’re here to help!