Saturday, October 1, 2011
J.Press Polished Cotton Ivy League Trousers (2011)
Legendary Ivy League haberdasher J.Press (started in 1902 on the Yale University campus - a fuller account of which can be found here) are currently stocking their contemporary equivalent of an obscure but iconic piece of clothing: the Ivy League trouser. It's available in both tan cotton twill and charcoal super 110 worsted wool. How do they shape up? We'll get to that in a moment, but first what the hell is an "Ivy League trouser"?
The notion of putting a cinch or buckle on the back of men's trousers just below the waist was not an Ivy League invention. In fact it goes back at least to the late-1800s as partly evidenced by Levi's Vintage Clothing's recent 1878 reissue (above). It is a detail that crops up every few years in the early 20th Century, but by the end of the Second World War it was a trend that had not been revisited since perhaps the 1930s.
Sometime in the early-1950s, clothes-makers re-introduced the detail as part of the emerging post-war "Ivy League" trend. The above ad is from a 1954 issue of Gentry and is the earliest reference to this detail in the Ivy context I have seen so far (source: Ivy Style blog). Most photographic evidence of the back buckle from this era shows its presence on chinos, so it is especially interesting to see this ad mention both worsteds and flannels.
The back buckle (often referred to these days as a "buckle-back") became so synonymous with Ivy style that "Ivy League trousers" became the generic term for any flat-front, straight-leg trouser with this detail - although it did most often refer to chinos or polished cotton twills. The trend itself lasted almost 10 years. By the early 1960s the trend seems to have gone to the wayside, yet again. If you are interested in a good discussion of the matter, follow this link. Historic side-note: I just recently learned that chinos were also known as "suntans" early on - particularly by WWII and Korean War vets - obviously the moniker did not stick (see the below 1956 illustration for a reference).
But let us return to the present. Back in June 2009, the Ivy Style blog carried this piece on the back buckle. And although it took a couple of years, retailers did pick up on the detail. There are a couple of options out there. NYC's Thoroughstitch has produced a very handsome pair of chinos - unfortunately the initial run is sold out and they've been unable to give me an indication of when it will be re-run. Somewhat surprisingly, Levis brand Dockers is doing a version - although the rise is (not surprisingly) geared towards a more contemporary crowd that doesn't quite seem to know where a man's waist is located. Regardless for the right body shape and weight, this US-made garment could be a good, affordable option.
Which brings us back to the J.Press trousers. They too, are made in the USA - by Martin Greenfield, no less, for Press. Good news indeed. The polished cotton twill is a step-up from the military-style Cramerton cloth chinos of which there are so many good options to choose from these days. Nearly perfect for dressing up without looking like you are adhering to casual Friday conventions. They sit at the true waist - perhaps a little high for some (at first) and with no concession to current mainstream trends, but they look good (and, dare I say right) when paired with a button-down and odd jacket. There are some nice details. The slanted pockets drop about half-an-inch from the 1.5" waist-band, which is a detail typically only seen on some vintage items. The straight-leg width measures 10" at the knee and just over 9" at the cuff, which certainly puts them in the provenance of "classic" if you read books such as these.
Postscript: if you have read this far, might I recommend this link for a little more on the origin of the buckle on khaki chinos.