As Met Gala themes go, American Independence feels like an oxymoron. Especially menswear. My first thought when it comes to “American style” – cargo shorts and polo shirts. Wearing a T-shirt OVER a long-sleeve shirt. New Balance – and not in their current, meta-irony state either. Im talking New Jersey dad at the barbecue and his wife Karen in denim jorts, asymmetrical pattern top and bedazzled thongs.
It’s not wrong, but it’s also not historically accurate. Those late ‘90s early ‘00s sitcoms really did American style dirty. Especially the men. They deserved better.
Growing up, American style was defined by the worst possible tropes on TV – the daggy dad, the hapless awkward teens, the “jock”. Even The OC, which was meant to define high school fashion, Seth and Ryan looked like two dead sticks in comparison to Marissa and Summer. Yes, with hindsight, the show is a time capsule of some seriously deluded trends but at the time. Mate, cutting edge. I didn’t know a single girl who wasn’t pairing ballet flats with flares or draping a skinny little scarf around her neck while wearing spaghetti straps.
The true Americana menswear peaked in the ‘60s. The birthplace of prep style, they perfected the the art of leisurewear that was a blend of sport and tailoring and is even now still defining the best of menswear.
It’s the essence of what Thom Browne and Ralph Lauren, albeit done in very different ways.
The 1965 photographic essay Take Ivy, created by four Japanese style enthusiasts who were inspired by the “new American way of dressing” by young men who attended the country’s elite Ivy League universities, highlights how quintessentially timeless and directional this era for menswear was. All the familiar essentials are there: polo shirts, bermuda shorts, chinos, loafers, sweats and blazers. But the way they were worn – the fit, the spezzatura method of blending both sportswear and formal, tailored piece – feels as fresh today as it was then.
You can still see it in some of the biggest American names for menswear today – Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. All informed by the same effortless comfort, although Calvin adds their signature minimalist spin on it.