The Debate | Classic American Style

George H. W. Bush

The debate of the ages, for the Ask Andy About Clothes (Trad) crowd anyway, is the Ivy League style of dress the only true American classic? It is all about the Darts people! Tony Ventresca over at Film Noir Buff breaks down Classic American Style in a “short” 2433 word article. The story provides insight into the influences, development and “cross-pollination” of American men’s suiting over the last century.

Some selections from the Ventresca’s article are below:


The Ivy League Style

Introduced to America by Brooks Brothers in 1895, the American Sack Suit is a variation of earlier Victorian-era lounge suits. In its purest and most correct form, the sack suit is single-breasted with two or three buttons, centre vent at the rear, natural shoulders, and has little or no shaping around the waist (no darts, the vertical seams on the front of the jacket reaching upwards from the hip pockets).

Sack suits first gained popularity among Ivy League students in the 1920s but remained an insider style until after World War II and a fashion cycle that made it widely popular in America for over a decade. Long after the style had been a marker of America’s academic elites, the so-called Ivy League Look became an “everyman” style of middle-class aspiration from the mid-1950s through 1967.

Today the Ivy League style or sack suit is available only from a few retailers such as J. Press and Brooks Brothers. While J. Press sells sack suits almost exclusively, Brooks Brothers usually offers only a few sack suits each season.

The Updated American Style

The Updated American style is considered a response to the introduction of shaped, padded, and stylish Italian suit and jacket styles to America, incorporating some European shaping and structure into the sack suit. The Updated American style takes the sack suit and adds darts for slight waist suppression and some shoulder padding to make the shoulders more prominent, but keeps the centre vent at the rear and sticks with a two button single-breasted configuration. While never approaching the shaping of the Savile Row or Continental styles, the Updated American nevertheless recognizes that most men can benefit from some improvement on nature.

According to Karlen & Sulavik:

A variation on the Sack is the so-called Updated American suit…[the] coat is slightly suppressed (tailored closely to the shape of the torso) and shoulders have more padding, imparting a slight ‘V-shape’ to the torso. Trousers are often pleated and cut full.

But the best description of the Updated American style is found in Jackson:

This cut [the Updated American cut] is becoming the most popular style. Unlike the traditional Ivy League suit, the Updated American suit has a slightly suppressed waist with added vertical seams [darts] in the jacket to give shape and style. The lightly padded shoulders and crisper line are flattering to many body types. This cut also has a higher armhole and smaller waistline in proportion to the shoulders… It may have a single or double vent. Like the Ivy League cut, the pants hang straight from the knee, though the circumference of the pants legs is usually smaller than that of the Ivy League.

Flusser credits the New York retail store Paul Stuart with introducing the Updated American style to American men in 1954. Located just around the corner from Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart offered men “an alternative to the overtly stylish menswear from Europe and the repetitious predictability of the Ivy League look”. The Updated American style gained a boost when John F Kennedy, the popular new senator and later president, wore suits and jackets from Paul Stuart.”

Comments on “The Debate | Classic American Style

    Russell Street on April 14, 2008 3:50 PM:

    Good to see Tony’s essay here. One which I very much enjoyed…

    Ummmmm – about “Trad”…

    Every time you use that word a troll has a bit of a chuckle you know. And I should know because I am one of those trolls…

    If you think that “Trad” is real anywhere outside of Japan then you are a part of the punch-line to our little joke, old chums.

    Classic American style isn’t actually called “Trad” anywhere in reality outside Japan… unless you’re one of our dupes on Ask Andy.

    Ask Andy “Trad” is our scam. It’s raised the profile of Classic American style like the equally made-up “Preppy” did before it, but you’ve gotta be a bit of a goof to think that it’s real.

    What a world, what a world!


    mw362797 on April 14, 2008 4:06 PM:

    Dear Russell,

    I’m happy to provide fodder for the trolls and entertain the peanut gallery.

    Best regards,
    A Continuous Lean.

    Russell Street on April 14, 2008 4:28 PM:

    … And I have to say God Bless You for letting me posture on your platform, albeit briefly.
    I shall clear the stage now and go and have a pop at Styleforum. It’s their turn again.

    I like your site very much, btw. You have a very good eye.

    Best Wishes –

Comments are closed.