Ivy Style Column: The Journey to Define Women’s Ivy
My latest column for Ivy Style is now live! As a reminder, on Wednesdays you can now find me on Ivy-Style.com, sharing my thoughts on traditional style, clothing, and much more. This week’s post is about the journey to define women’s Ivy style–its influences, its differences from men’s Ivy, and a story shared with me about one former Radcliffe student’s attempt to use the Harvard library (and where she is now.)
Note: The cover photo is Vassar students stretch out in their cuffed jeans and sweaters (including both a Fair Isle sweater and a cardigan buttoned backwards, which became a popular campus trend), outside in 1950. © Seven Sisters Style: The All-American Preppy Look by Rebecca C. Tuite, Rizzoli New York, 2014.
One of the topics I’m most looking forward to discussing with this community is how women’s Ivy differs from men’s. Women’s Ivy has had a limited presence in the general conversation of Ivy style. In contrast to the multiple books on men’s Ivy, there’s only one dedicated to women (though a fantastic one—Seven Sisters Style by Rebecca Tuite [Rizzoli 2014]). There are endless lists and debates about men’s Ivy staples online, in magazines, books, and newspapers. Conversely, there is no definitive guide to a women’s Ivy wardrobe. Much of the women’s Ivy conversation has been about women in menswear. While menswear is foundational to women’s Ivy, that’s not all there is. (For those interested in reading more in that vein, Laura Arnold has an incredible post here).
While some staples can be found in the wardrobes of both men and women (the OCBD key among them), there are some significant differences. Ivy Style emerged at a time when women were not allowed to enroll in Ivy League universities, but instead had their own colleges, notably, the Seven Sisters. Their education was just as rigorous–the same faculty taught the same courses at Harvard and Radcliffe, for instance–but they were not allowed full access to the same resources their male counterparts took for granted. One of my former neighbors in D.C., a Radcliffe graduate, recounted how she managed to finagle access to the Harvard library—she became a research assistant to a Harvard student, and was thus able to use his library card to check out books for herself. She went on to become one of the leading historians in her field. (This was not unique to her–a similar situation was immortalized in that classic Ivy movie, Love Story).
The separation between the sexes, as well as greater freedom for women in the years following World War II, contributed to a unique subculture and style. Pieces that don’t necessarily have a place in men’s Ivy–denim, for instance, and tennis shoes–were embraced by women’s Ivy. Factory women had popularized denim and flat shoes during World War II, and without a male presence on campus, women chose to adopt comfortable clothing. They paired these new items with more traditional ones, such as sweater sets and pearls, leading to their own unique style. (You can see such items illustrated here, in photographs from Seven Sisters Style).
These silhouettes and fabrics are still desirable today–and in my opinion, just as revolutionary. Look at the bulk of contemporary women’s clothing–it’s impractical. Trousers don’t have pockets. Shoes aren’t comfortable or made for walking. Blouses don’t button properly. It goes on and on. Women’s Ivy eschews restrictive fashion and embraces functional style. It allows the wearer to be at ease in their own skin and move through life without their clothes holding them back. It’s a lifestyle, not just a style of clothing.
I’m looking forward to delving into what makes women’s Ivy style unique here in my column, and I’m eager to hear from you. What aspects of women’s Ivy would you like to discuss? Please share in the comments below.
This article was written by me and originally published on Ivy Style as part of my Women’s Ivy column. I retain ownership of all text and images (except noted) included in the original column.