Madison Avenue Does Main Street Ivy

Last week I broke out a tweed that I don’t think that I have posted before. It is probably the most ivy looking jacket that I own. It is also not as ivy you might think.
Varsity Town Madisonaire JacketI rarely thrift or buy second-hand clothes these days. It is not because I am too good for it and have all my clothes MTM, but rather it almost never works out for me. I am currently batting about 10%. This jacket however i purchased on a second-had site and (drum roll!) it worked out. The jacket is Varsity Town’s Madisionaire. If this name rings a bell it is probably because Christian at Ivy Style wrote an article about it (Varsity Town’s Madisonaire, 1966).
The Madisonaire is a perfect example of heyday Ivy. It has a 3/2 roll, natural shoulders, narrow lapels, swelled edges, and a hook vent. The lapel rolls the way they do in the old movies. It just looks ivy, and while it looks ivy it wasn’t made for the Brooks Brothers or J.Press crowd, but instead was intended for mainstream America. To quote the Ivy Style article, “Either way it’s still Main Street, a wonderful example of commerce at work and the flourishing of the Ivy League Look to men across the nation, who, if they couldn’t get the real deal, could at least get a replica.”
IMG_5614A few things to take away from this post. One, is that authenticity is tricky. Is this item ivy league or is it a cheap replica? Two, even though your vintage item may have been mid-market in its day its quality may be closer to today’s high-end tailored clothing. Three, repp ties are great, but don’t forget about foulards. They are perfect for tweed.

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

9 Comments on "Madison Avenue Does Main Street Ivy"

  1. Richard says:

    The fact that mid-market retailers could reproduce this elitist style and have it look at home on the shoulders of a broad swath of American men is part of its appeal. It supports the post-war American way of broad education, upward mobility, and a democratic approach to aristocratic ideals. A great meeting of old and new, I think. And it just looks damned good. Nice find.

  2. Joel Vau says:

    Jerrod, the tie and shirt?

  3. Irving G. Steinberg says:

    Nice Post as always. I feel your pain about 2nd hand these days. I have mostly been striking out on eBay as well, an even bigger gamble than going to the thrift store where you can at least try it on first. Even when I ask for the measurements to be double checked, viola, it arrives and is off by inches. Over the years, I have had a few lucky breaks where the seller under stated the size, but mostly, size inflation has been the issue these days. Thats the problem with liking vintage styles when you are a 40-42 long suit size.

    I have always been curious about the purist stance that true Ivy was only by “traditional” makers. Being a classical musician, such absolutism on what’s truly classical, romantic, modern, or baroque, and or who are the true great composers, or great violin makers, etc, will only distract from the true nature of the art. I am much more of the thought “if it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck” outlook.

    Speaking of main street and ivy, I have a 1960s Botany 500 brown hopsack sport coat with all the trad ivy details, patch pockets, short hooked vent, narrow lapel, rolled 3rd button (not true 3/2 but close enough), natural shoulders, and sack cut. It only lacks a true lapped seam on the back. The Clothes supplier of the Dick Van Dyke show and most middle managers throughout the county, essentially “Your Dad’s Oldsmobile” of suit brands back then, is hardly a famous Campus Icon, but I wear it with pride alongside my JPress and Brooks Brothers examples of 1960s Ivy. Now, if only I can find that jacket in a flannel Navy in my size!

  4. Fortingale says:

    That so-called “replica” may very well have been made in the same factory as those “authentic” Ivy League jackets.

  5. Hollywood Argyle says:

    I used to go to thrift stores several times a week, and would usually leave empty-handed. Successful thrift shopping comes from consistent effort. Once you know what to look for, you can find that needle in the proverbial haystack, but you have to understand that the haystack is spread across several stores and many days.

    In other words, 10% sounds like a booming success.

  6. oxford cloth button down says:

    Joel – The shirt is a red university stripe from Michael Spencer. The tie is vintage Brooks from there lowe-tiered “Brooksgate” line.

    Hollywood- I agree with everything that you wrote. My 10% is the percent of what I have bought that has worked out. Still not bad!

  7. Jon DiBenedetto says:

    I love that jacket and it looks great on you!

  8. Gamma68 says:

    Nearly all of my jackets and both of my suits are thrifted items. It’s taken a lot of time to assemble my wardrobe, but once I determined my measurements and resisted the temptation to vary from them (opting instead for a great weave or cloth), online thrifting became easier.

    I couldn’t agree more about the merits of mainstream-American menswear from the period when your jacket was made. There was just a greater emphasis on quality 50 years ago than today, when so much clothing is considered disposable. It seems that every town of moderate size in the late 50s/early 60s had a quality menswear shop with Ivy items. Nearly all have disappeared.

    As for Brooksgate — don’t sell that brand short. I thrifted a Brooksgate British Warm overcoat a couple of years ago. It’s a steller item that would likely cost hundreds of dollars today — if you could find it.

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