When my wife and I left the New York City area for Texas early this year, I knew there would be things I'd miss and things I wouldn't. Pretty much at the top of my list of things I wish I was still in town for is the Ivy Style exhibit at the Museum at FIT. So I eagerly awaited what I hoped would be the next best thing, the publication of this book. Now I'm of mixed opinion. Parts of this book, like the curate's egg, are excellent. Other parts are quite good if not as obviously relevant to the topic. Then there's what felt like filler.
Importantly, this book is not "about" the FIT exhibit: There are many beautiful photos from the exhibition, but not enough to make up for not having been there. "Ivy Style" the book is meant to accompany the exhibition, and cover the topic in near-academic style. There's some serious analysis going on here, a long, long, *long* way from The Official Preppy Handbook.
The centerpiece of the book is a wonderful interview with Richard Press, grandson of the founder of J. Press and himself a former president of the business. His words more than anything else laid out the fundamentals and evolution of Ivy style. Bruce Boyer's excellent chapter on the intersection of jazz and Ivy in the 1950s is fascinating and important reading, while Masafumi Monden's look at "Ivy in Japan" highlights where the flame is perhaps burning most brightly today. Patricia Mears' historical overviews tie things together well.
Other chapters were more problematic for me. Peter McNeil's "The Duke of Windsor and the Creation of the 'Soft Look'" was an interesting look at one of the great icons of classic men's style, but despite the author's efforts seemed only tangentially related to Ivy style. The next chapter, "Ivy Britannicus" by Christopher Breward, was similarly interesting but even less relevant. (To repeat, both chapters are worthwhile reading on their own; I question their inclusion here.) Bruce Boyer is an excellent author -- I admire not only the chapter mentioned above but also his book about my particular idol, Fred Astaire Style. Yet the chapter here consisting solely of excerpts from Boyer's Elegance: A Guide to Quality in Menswear, especially a very long section on tweed, felt like filler. And, apart from Mears on the birth of Ivy style, this collection of excerpts is indeed the longest chapter in the book. Throughout, one more pass by a copy editor would probably have helped: There are more than a few errant apostrophes, for instance, and an egregious description of Alan Flusser as a "menswear doyenne" (p. 165).
There's one final problem with "Ivy Style," one that guaranteed I couldn't give the book more than four stars: As other reviewers have noted, the typography is bad, bad to the point of near-unreadability. A small, sans-serif typeface printed in medium grey on shiny stock almost guarantees illegibility. Captions and endnotes are tinier still. These layouts may have looked pretty to the designers at FIT and Yale University Press, but I hope the authors protested against the abuse their words were forced to endure at least as mightily as my eyes protested at trying to read them.
On the whole, though, there's a lot that's satisfying about "Ivy Style." Certainly, the book and exhibition is probably the first time (and maybe the last?) that this style of dress has been blessed by such substantial curatorial attention. For devotees of the style, this is essential reading despite its flaws (overlooking illegibility is a pretty big "despite"). Historians of fashion or socio-economic signifiers could get a lot out of it too. Like Ivy style itself, this book won't appeal to everyone. But those who see the virtues of the style will appreciate the virtues of the book, too.