How To Tie A Bow Tie – With Rush Wilson III

As fun as it is to find well-made, classic clothes at bargain basement prices, I also believe in supporting local retail clothiers – particularly when certain items are difficult to find otherwise.  High quality bow ties of 100% silk or cotton are perfect examples.  Recently, I stopped by Rush Wilson Limited in Greenville, SC to look at the current selection of bow ties, with a particular eye for the madras variety.

In this video, store owner Rush Wilson III demonstrates the correct way to tie a bow tie.  He is a very friendly gentleman and will spend time answering each customer’s questions.  His father – Rush Wilson, Jr. – founded the Greenville store in 1959, having opened his first store in Davidson, NC a few years earlier.  Over the years, he developed very close relationships with the community.  You can tell that Rush III has continued that way of doing business.  He cares about the people who shop there and wants them to look their best.

In an era of mass-marketed style, it’s nice to see a traditional  men’s shop thriving, one where the sales associates know you by name.  Aside from offering clothing of superior quality, Rush Wilson Limited’s long-term success is based on getting to know each customer in order to best meet his wardrobe needs, rather than trying to sell him just anything. If you’re ever in town, you should definitely stop by. You don’t find this sort of unique and personalized retail experience every day – so don’t be in a hurry.

Interior view of Rush Wilson Limited in Greenville, SC.

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Trinity’s Preppy Culture Defined

The Quad at Trinity College, Hartford, CT


Trinity’s Preppy Culture Defined

By: Matthew Longcore ’94 Alumnus (This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2010 issue of The Tripod).

It is official: Trinity is the preppiest college in New England. This proclamation was made by none other than Lisa Birnbach, author of the 1980 tongue-in-cheek bestseller The Official Preppy Handbook and co-author (with Chip Kidd) of the recently released follow up, True Prep. In the original Preppy Handbook, Trinity was listed among the top 20 preppy colleges in America. For True Prep, however, Birnbach decided not to create such a list, instead giving Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia the honor of being “the preppiest in America.” When yours truly asked Lisa on the Facebook fan page for True Prep why Trinity was not accorded this honor, she replied: “I have to stand by my decision. I’m willing to say that Trinity is the preppiest school in New England. For a small college, Trinity alumni are EVERYWHERE.”

Birnbach later validated Trinity’s preppy status at an event held at the New Canaan Library in the preppy hamlet of Fairfield County, Connecticut. This event included a fashion show featuring clothes from the super preppy brand J. McLaughlin. When asked (again by yours truly) if she was willing to stand by her Facebook proclamation, Birnbach replied that yes, indeed, Trinity is the preppiest college in New England. She described Trinity as “a hot school that everyone wants to go to.”

Trinity’s longstanding reputation as a preppy school predates the Preppy Handbook by many years. In 1963, Gene Hawes published an article in the Saturday Review titled “The Colleges of America’s Upper Class” in which he provided statistical data about the alma maters of men listed in the Social Register. Trinity came in fifth place behind Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Pennsylvania but well ahead of much larger institutions such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth. This article was published in what is now known as “the Mad Men era” when Trinity and several of the Ivy League schools were still all-male bastions. A decade later, coeducation had swept Trinity and its peers.

By the 1970s, a fictional Trinity preppy made his silver screen debut (albeit a brief cameo appearance) in the movie Jaws. In the opening sequence of the film, the male character Cassidy (dressed in a blue oxford button down shirt and khakis) mentions that he attends Trinity. When police chief asks, “Do you live here?” (“here” being the preppy summer resort of Martha’s Vineyard) Cassidy replies, “Na, Hartford, I go to Trinity. My folks live in Greenwich.” Greenwich, as preppies know well, is very preppy indeed.

Fast forward to 1980 and by this time Trinity men and women had earned their rightful place in The Official Preppy Handbook, which describes the student body as follows: “Universally Preppier, students here embody good-looking devil-may-care-ism.” The “Fraternal Instincts” section of the Preppy Handbook also seems Trinity-inspired in its description of Greek life on preppy campuses: “There are some nationally established Preppy frats, where most of the members are from Darien and almost all went to Prep school in Massachusetts – Psi U and St. Anthony Hall fit this mold most consistently.”

The Preppy Handbook’s list of the top 20 preppy colleges in America includes over half of the 11 schools of the NESCAC (Amherst, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Trinity, and Williams) but only one member (Princeton) of the eight schools in the Ivy League, despite the public perception of the Ivies as “the preppiest” of schools. The logic behind this is explained in a section called “The Ivy League Dilemma” which states that “the pink-and-green scale tips in favor of the more homogeneous smaller schools.” Tailgate culture at preppy colleges, in which the actual game is ignored in favor of socializing over Bloodies and Whiskey Sours, is also described in the Preppy Handbook. The “Discovering Prep” section of the book highlights “some crucial points of the Prep Ethos” which include favoring “fake college football (Williams vs. Amherst)” as opposed to “real college football (Michigan vs. Ohio State).”

Trinity’s preppy reputation has endured into the 21st century. A 2007 article in The New York Times titled “Pink Shirts Welcome” describes the uber-preppy crowd at Bar Martignetti in Manhattan’s SoHo district. The article quotes the bar’s owner, Trinity alumnus Anthony Martignetti ’02, as stating, “I went to Trinity, which is the epicenter of preppy partying in the Northeast.” The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, which is published annually by The Yale Daily News, includes Trinity on its “Top Ten Preppiest Student Bodies” list along with such schools as Princeton and UVA. In June of this year, The Huffington Post published a similar list – the “Top Ten Preppy Colleges” – and once again Trinity made the cut, coming in at a respectable #3 behind #2 Princeton and…yup, you guessed it, #1 Hampden-Sydney College.

Though the Bantams lost out to Hampden-Sydney as “America’s preppiest college” in True Prep, Trinity College is actually mentioned several times in the book. Two of the fictitious preps featured in the books are described as Trinity graduates: English teacher “Mrs. Radcliffe” (page 66) and well-dressed post-grad “Anderson Flatto” (page 112). Among the many elements of Anderson’s preppy wardrobe is a CK Bradley embroidered belt which holds up his cords embroidered with whales. CK Bradley, as many Trinity preps know, is a preppy brand of clothing designed by Trinity alumna Camilla Bradley ’99, who started the line during her college years by making ribbon belts for her classmates. True Prep concludes with a timeline of preppy-related events which have taken place in the last 30 years since the publication of The Official Preppy Handbook. Trinity is mentioned twice in this chronology. The first mention is the February 21, 2010 victory of the Trinity men’s squash team which marked the team’s 12th consecutive national championship. According to True Prep, team members were “compared to preppy rock stars.” The second mention in the timeline is September 2, 2010 when the “full-time, First-year students’ meal plan begins with dinner at Trinity College.” Why exactly this particular date is mentioned, no one but the authors can know for sure.

Are You A Preppie?

Remember the poster Are You A Preppie?  It was printed in 1979 by University of Virginia undergrad Tom Shadyac, who went on to film school at UCLA and later directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Evan Almighty.  The poster was wildly popular when it came out.  I have to wonder whether it might have inspired Lisa Birnbach’s more in-depth anthropological treatment in The Official Preppy Handbook, which appeared one year later.

The layout of the Birnbach’s prep personae is very similar to Shadyac’s sartorial diagram.  Birnbach also recognized The University of Virginia as one of the preppiest campuses in America.

Prep Persona

Prep Persona (The College Years) From The Official Preppy Handbook

Elements of the preppy look never seem to change that much and have been appropriated by corporate culture as something of a uniform – khakis and button down shirts are now the norm instead of suits and ties.  Nathaniel Elliot Worthington’s “flood level pants” have been a hot trend in men’s fashion for the last few years.   The look was generated by prep school students who outgrew their khakis, but continued to wear them anyway.  By the time those students arrived at colleges, floods had become a form of preppy rebellion and can be seen all over the pages of T. Hayashida’s 1965 book Take Ivy, a cult classic for devotees of men’s fashion, including Ralph Lauren.  It was  recently republished by powerHouse Books in Brooklyn, causing a hipster run on thrift stores in search of preppy items to wear around Williamsburg.  Hipsters love irony; and what could be more ironic than a hipster wearing a Brooks Brothers button down while spray painting “Yuppie Go Home” on a luxury loft building wall?

In the shot below, Hayashida has captured a group of Dartmouth College students, who have stopped to watch an intramural softball game.  Everyone is wearing floods, and the student second from left has gaffing tape on one of his penny loafers.  Yes, preppies actually do this!

Flood Wearing Dartmouth College Students (Photo Credit:  Take Ivy)

I taped one of my loafers the same way when I was in college because I didn’t want to pay for repairs once a sole had detached from the leather upper.  It was a way of being frugal and playful at the same time.  Not long ago, I saw a new pair of very expensive Tommy Hilfiger loafers – one of which had a grosgrain band stiched across the top as a reference to the practice of taping.  Amazing!

Penny Loafers With Gaffing Tape Reference  (Photo Credit:  True Prep)

Go To Hell Preppy – It’s Not An Insult

The over the top style known as “go-to-hell” in the preppy world is characterized by a blend of sensible and shocking clothing – a blue blazer and white oxford cloth button down paired with Nantucket Reds or a pair of lime green pants embroidered with little yellow tennis racquets, or perhaps a nautical motif.  The look might venture into a patchwork plaid madras jacket paired with khaki pants, a neutral colored shirt and penny loafers without socks.

As a style that emerged at country clubs and areas where preppies summer, go- to-hell clothes are a form of fun loving one-up-manship, a way of stating two messages at the same time. The sensible clothing says, “I know perfectly well how to dress with good taste,” while the outrageous item says, “I can be more bold than the next guy and if you don’t like it, you can ‘go to hell.'”  But the style still has certain parameters.  Not all of the items should be loud and over the top, or the ensemble will look clownish.  I refer you to the horrible combinations @ 1:12 and 3:13 in the video above to support my claim.

There is subtlety in nonchalance, a point which the preppy redux in men’s fashion often fails to take into account.  Certain designers have gone too far in the go-to-hell direction.  They would do well to consider the wisdom of Tom Townsend’s line to Audrey Rouget at the end of the film Metropolitan:  “You look really great, and that’s what’s important.  You don’t want to overdo it.”  For example, I wouldn’t wear a motif belt with motif pants, nor would I wear a brightly colored shirt with brightly colored pants.  I would not wear a wild tie with a madras plaid jacket.  The more moderate elements of the wardrobe hold the chaos of color in check, which is part of the code for this style.

Classic Go-To-Hell- Preppy (c. 1980):  Blue Blazer with Nantucket Reds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, whenever comedians or Hollywood filmmakers want to make fun of preppies, they train their sights on the go-to-hell style.  It is an easy mark.  Nothing sets off class resentment and laughter more quickly than a “fancy pants rich kid” getting his comeuppance.  The assumption is that preppies are stereotypically mean and arrogant people, which I don’t think is true at all.  But that’s the whole point of the Alden the Pompous Preppy sketch on Letterman.

Just know that if you wear go-to-hell clothes, you will be asserting the most confident and carefree preppy style there is, but you will also be opening yourself to ridicule from certain people.  You have to really own the fun , slightly self-deprecating attitude behind the clothes and display indifference to criticism in order to pull it off.  You can’t be preppy if you don’t feel preppy.

One Pair of My Go-To-Hell Pants – Ralph Lauren Khakis of 100% Cotton                                                                   Embroidered With Lime Green Tennis Racquets. Thrift Store Purchase ($7.99)

Quintessentially Preppy Shoes

Bass Weejuns are perhaps the most versatile and identifiably preppy shoes around.  They seem to go with just about anything – khakis, gray flannels, madras shorts or even a poplin suit.  The only paring I can’t see them with is formal wear.   I prefer the traditional cordovan color and don’t really care for black.   The uppers will last a long time and simply need to be resoled from time to time.  For those who don’t want to bother with the expense of shoe repair, duct tape will always do the trick.  It’s not unheard of for the same pair of Weejuns to be worn for 20 years or more. They’re a bargain even new ($80-$90), but I recently found a pair in a thrift store – nicely broken in and in great condition – for a mere $9.00.  Bass Weejuns have been around since the 1930s and were inspired by Native American Indian moccasins.  They are truly shoes for the ages.

Patchwork Plaid Madras “Go To Hell” Shorts

Warmer weather is coming.  Soon we’ll be into spring and then on to Memorial Day, which is the gateway to the summer prep wardrobe – linen, poplin, seersucker and, of course, madras.  As with traditional retailers, thrift stores begin to shift focus to the coming season(s).  Today, while shopping at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY, I found not one, but two pairs of excellent madras plaid shorts.  One pair was the much sought after patchwork variety, a true summer prep staple, known as “go to hell shorts.”  Those bold enough to wear them simply could care less what anyone else thinks.

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

These flat front, Bermuda length shorts were made by Gap (not my favorite retailer by any means and hardly preppy on many things).  However, they got it right with these shorts made of 100% cotton India madras.  The stitching is first rate, and I’m willing to bet that side by side you couldn’t tell the difference between this pair and ones  from much more expensive outlets such as J. Press, Brooks Brothers or O’Connell’s.  The asking price for mine:  $14.00.  Brooks asks about $90 to $100 for theirs.

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

With a navy blue Lacoste or Polo shirt (or even a white button down), paired with a surcingle belt, these madras shorts will look great in summer.  It’s unusual to find madras of any kind in a thrift store.  So when you see it, snap it up.  It won’t be around long.   It’s even more rare to come across multiple madras items on one expedition, but I was lucky this time.  This second pair I found was flat front in Bermuda length with a basic plaid pattern — not patchwork — from Land’s End.  The price was $14.00 as well.  For another $9.00, I picked up a white 100% cotton oxford cloth button down from Ralph Lauren.  It was in perfect condition!

100% Cotton India Madras Shorts from Land’s End