Before the failed mish-mash of today's designer menswear, the most important influence on mens' dress was the Ivy, or prep, look. Until sometime in the 1970s when the whole thing fell apart, a man paid little attention to labels, dressing himself from a palette of British cloth and traditional styles. Gone now for the most part (the principal exception being some of the work of Ralph Lauren), Ivy Style is currently the subject of an retrospective at New York's Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The book coming out of that exhibit, Ivy Style: Radical Conformists, is due to be released on October 16. Edited by Patricia Mears, deputy director at the museum and the individual most responsible for the exhibit (which runs until January 5), the volume's essays trace the evolution of the Ivy look from the end of World War I until the present day.
Like many compendia, Ivy Style is uneven, but the worthwhile sections outnumber the filler. There is a very good essay on the influence of the Duke of Windsor by Peter McNeil, a piece on jazz and the Ivy look by G. Bruce Boyer and several classic excerpts from Boyer's 1985 Elegance that are worth the purchase price by themselves for anyone who does not already have the original.
Perhaps the best of the good things about Ivy Style are the more than 100 photos ranging from a selection of wonderful full page shots of the clothing on exhibit to old Apparel Arts drawings. The striped blazers, seersucker suits and Weejuns delight the eye and recall what was probably the best dressed era of modern times.