Thursday, December 06, 2012

Seven Sisters Summer

Please indulge me as I explain my vision for how I plan to dress this summer. Basically, I'm aiming for a midcentury New England college campus look of the sort that is called Ivy League style in menswear.

Ivy style is the subject of a fascinating-looking exhibition on now at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. (Here are pics, and an interesting critique.) I'd love to have been able to see it, especially as I'm currently reading F Scott Fitzgerald's debut novel This Side of Paradise, which is set partly at Princeton and was hailed as the quintessential portrait of post-WWI youth.

When I first discovered the iconic Japanese photography book Take Ivy, I was kind of shocked to realise that it was basically devoid of women. It's troubling that so many men who are into this aesthetic are drawing sartorial inspiration from such a hermetically sealed homosocial vision.

While men were at the Ivy League, their female peers were at the Seven Sisters: Barnard (associated with Columbia); Bryn Mawr (associated with Princeton); Mount Holyoake (associated with Dartmouth); Radcliffe (associated with Harvard); Smith (associated with Yale); Vassar (also associated with Yale) and Wellesley (associated with Harvard and MIT).

I have become quite absorbed in a Tumblr called Vintage Seven Sisters that features archival photos of student life at these colleges.

I find the idea of a women-only college campus as weird as an men-only one (and I speak as someone who went to an all-girls' high school), but perhaps historically these campuses offered young women a certain freedom from the expectations of 'ladylike' comportment, while cherishing sporting and intellectual endeavour for women in a way the outside world didn't.

Despite the fact that the whole 'Seven Sisters' idea came about as a way to rebrand Barnard and Radcliffe as elite WASP schools (they had large numbers of Jewish students), these campuses also seem to have been surprisingly cosmopolitan places. Check out the ethnic makeup of this Mt Holyoake PE class in 1912:

However, this image of Smith College students has really inspired my Seven Sisters Summer:

It began as merely a Summer of Denim. Right now I have an antipathy to jeans, and denim skirts seem a bit too 'sister-wifey' to me:

But I haven't owned a blue denim jacket since my beloved jacket was stolen from a bar a few years ago, and I like the way it can instantly make an outfit look more insouciant. I recently invested in both a denim jacket and a denim shirt in roughly similar shades of blue.

I am particularly into the combination of blue denim and yellow. I have a bright daffodil-yellow high-waisted skirt, so I can do this look:

(Aside: I would also like a large, chunky gold men's watch.) Today I went to Savers and was looking at various navy and white gingham shirts so that I could achieve something similar to this:

(Although I would never wear a full skirt so grotesquely short. I am a grown woman, not a five-year-old. I think they look nicest at knee-length.)

I really like the idea of wearing clashing prints in similar shades:

However, none of the gingham shirts I saw today was quite right. However, I am immensely proud of today's turbo-charged Ivy-style purchase: a SEERSUCKER MADRAS SHIRT FOR $4!

It is from the embarrassingly dorky grandma brand Miller's, but I guess that's where you would logically expect to find this conservative stuff. Well, there or American Apparel.

I have rolled the sleeves up. I think it could look good worn untucked over my black ankle-freezer cigarette-leg pants, or tucked into a high-waisted skirt. I am going to wear the hell out of it this Seven Sisters Summer.

The other essential element of my Seven Sisters Summer is bobby socks.

Luckily, this time last year I invested in a bazillion pairs of colourful ankle socks.

If you'd like to follow my jaunty tastes in clothes, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to them. That's where most of these pics are from. I also have a Pinterest board specifically for Out of Shape source images – feel free to follow that too, or, hell, why not follow them all?


Estelle said...

Love that Mt Holyoake photo!! I want an outfit like their PE outfit -- looks dreamy.

shelby marie skumanich said...

I love the mixing of patterns in the same colors. That's gorgeous.

So, just of curiosity, do you think all denim skirts are too sister-wifey? I've been dying to make some full lighter weight denim (not jean) skirts (like the one on the red on red pattern mixing). It hadn't occurred to me that it would way too "Big Love".

Also, I am excited to see you are on pinterest. I've been following your blog for awhile and your work is so great. I'm excited to see the visual aesthetic that goes along with your words.

Mel said...

Thanks for the compliment, Shelby!

For me the sister-wife look is a) jean-style skirts; b) cuts that I think look dorky, eg tiered skirts, flippy gored skirts, dropped waists or long straight skirts; c) distressed or embellished denim.

The cuts I like are either knee-length pencil skirts or knee-length skirts that are full from the waistband.

But hey, it's a matter of taste.

Anonymous said...

I like to were Ivy clothes and get most of them from USA generally vintage from other o/s enthusiasts. I've got a few Ivy books too. Japan is probably the only place to get decent new Ivy styles mens clothes these days.

The Ivy Mens books generally focus on mens clothes not womens - er um - because its about mens clothes - I don't see that as a too "hermetically sealed homosocial vision"

I do think it is one (of many) of the legitimate criticisms of Ivy Style Radical Conformity - which doesn't explicitly say its ONLY about Mens clothes - I don't think it includes even one picture of womens Ivy clothes. At least Take Ivy has some womens stuff - even if its in background


Anonymous said...

Jean skirts, and double denim looks are solo far from sister-wifey I can't even tell you. I think they are very sophisticated. You just need to know what you are doing. I don't think you understanding of fashion works for me, but thank you for the great photos. i especially like the second one down with the jean skirts, actually. the top one is interesting, but I am just not in the mood for that. It doesn't rely fit with whats going on right now, does it.