You Should Be Reading: Collegiate Style


Vassar students captured in Vogue, 1957.

Because the next few weeks mean back-to-school for many college students, today’s “You Should Be Reading” column focuses on a topic that’s been cropping up a lot in recent fashion scholarship: the impact of collegiate style throughout history. These three articles examine campus fashion trends from the twentieth century, starting with the Princeton men of the 1910s and 20s, moving to the Vassar women of the 1950s, and finishing with the broader concept of 1960s Ivy fashion. Each of these articles highlights slightly different aspects of collegiate style, including its role in creating new representations of masculinity or femininity as well as its place alongside folk music as an ambassador of idealized Americana. Enjoy!  

1. Clemente, D. (2013). Making the Princeton man: Collegiate clothing and campus culture, 1900-20. In. J. Potvin (Ed.), The places and spaces of fashion 1800-2007 (pp. 108-120). Retrieved from 

This chapter, part of an edited collection of essays on place and space in fashion, examines clothing as a harbinger of changing definitions of American masculinity in the first two decades of the twentieth century. At the center of the analysis is the clothing worn by the students of Princeton University between 1900 and 1920. During this period, the all-male university became a premier source for menswear trends. The “collegiate style”—one that would ultimately give the fashion world saddle shoes and cuffed jeans—came to prominence in the years studied and would dominate men’s clothing trends in the wake of World War I. The focus of this chapter is twofold. First, it aims to answer the question, “Why Princeton?” That is, how did the social and cultural climate of the Princeton campus produce a style of dress that was imitated not only by other college students, but by young men across the country? The second aim is to understand how Princeton’s elaborate social hierarchy served as a means of turning a Princeton boy into a Princeton man. Because of its emergence as a style center, Princeton and its students were in large part responsible for shaping the new standards of American masculinity throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century. – Adapted from Chapter Introduction

2. Tachi, M. (2013). Ivy fashion, folk music and the Japanese perception of American college culture in the 1960s. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 2(3), 439-456.   

This article examines the popularity of Ivy fashion in Japan in the 1960s to analyse the ways in which Japanese businesses and consumers domesticated American culture. Ivy fashion, together with folk music, represented the idyllic American college life and the affluence of American society, while at the same time, marked the rapid economic growth of Japan and the youth and optimism of Japanese baby boomers. Businesses that promoted Ivy fashion idealized Ivy League students, identifying them both as the privileged elite Americans as well as the appropriate role models for young Japanese men. Consumption of Ivy fashion provided young men who lacked role models domestically with a means to define a generational and gender identity by misappropriating American culture. – Full Article Abstract

3. Tuite, R. C. (2013). Fashioning the 1950s “Vassar Girl”: Vassar student identity and campus dress, 1947-60. Fashion Theory, 17(3), 299-320. 

In 1957, Clifford Coffin photographed real Vassar students as models for the annual Vogue college issue. High fashion and elite education were combined and the photographs underscore the significance of the “Vassar Girl“ as both a cultural and sartorial icon during this decade: a media-cultivated, almost mythical presence that permeates 1950s American media, popular culture, and fashion discourses. What these images more pressingly demonstrate is that, by the 1950s, the “Vassar Girl“ was a powerful entity in American culture: seemingly both real and imagined, but lucrative all the same. Genuine Vassar students had to navigate a series of sartorial assumptions and expectations to assert and formulate their own identity, both within and without, the campus culture, providing material for a rich exploration of individual and collective identity of Vassar students at the mid-century. Following the collection and analysis of original oral testimony of hundreds of mid-century Vassar graduates and studies of iconic garments of the period, this article provides an explorative analysis of the ways in which fashion functioned in the construction of personal and collective identity at Vassar, and the construction and perpetuation of a “Vassar Girl“ aesthetic and brand in American fashion and media discourses of the 1950s. Grounding the exploration in an analysis of Vassar’s revolutionary psychological and developmental study of its students during the 1950s (the Mellon Study), this article will undercut media discourses and hyperbole to root considerations of dress and identity in the statistical and narrative proof of original college records from the pre-feminist era, which was also the last full decade of all-female education at Vassar. – Full Article Abstract


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