Gentlemen of Hampden-Sydney

I’ve listed Hampden-Sydney again this year as the most preppy college in the South.  It was founded in 1775, when George III was King of England, Virginia was a British colony and the Declaration of Independence was yet to be written.  One of only four all-male colleges remaining in the United States, Hampden-Sydney counts Patrick Henry and James Madison as two of its original Board of Trustees members.

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members at Hampden-Sydney College

Students at Hampden-Sydney take a great deal of pride in their appearance and believe in good manners.  In fact, the school has published its own etiquette guide:  To Manor Born, To Manners Bred (now in its 7th edition), which has been updated for the social media age.  That’s serious dedication!  Some gentlemen of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity above display a range of attire:  plain front khakis, blue blazers, a navy suit with a Brooks Brothers repp tie, freshly pressed pinpoint and oxford cloth button downs, bow ties, ribbon belts with motifs and a needlepoint belt.  This is all standard dress on campus, and one of the reasons Hampden-Sydney is considered a very traditional college.

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating - Football Weekend

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating Prior to a Football Game (Fall 2012)

In the February 2013 issue of Town & Country, Hampden-Sydney alumni were featured tailgating on campus prior to a football game against arch rival Randolph Macon. All of these gentlemen are sporting bow ties, and one is wearing Nantucket Reds with a pair of go-to-hell socks that would make President George Herbert Walker Bush envious.  Tailgating was spoofed in Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) in which she also listed Hampden-Sydney as the #3 preppy college in the country behind Babson (#1) and Hamilton (#2).

Off The Wagon:  The Tailgate Picnic - The Official Preppy Handbook

Off The Wagon: The Tailgate Picnic – The Official Preppy Handbook

Also in The Official Preppy Handbook, noted both for its finely drawn satire and anthropological treatment of preppiesis a section on body types with representative photos and descriptions of each.  The Good Old Boy’s biography includes attending Lawrenceville and Hampden-Sydney, and his stated attributes suggest a fun-loving, if not bawdy, demeanor.  He is holding a “genetically attached beer can,” while wearing a button down layered over a Lacoste shirt (Southern collar notably not popped), rumpled, flood level khakis and a pair of penny loafers, one of which is duct taped to keep the sole and the upper together – a practice cultivated at Lawrenceville.  He’s the one of the three I think I’d most enjoy being around.

Preppy Body Types - from The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

Body Types (Male) – The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

As an homage to Birnbach, whose publication became a national bestseller, the college’s Kaleidoscope yearbook staff responded with The Official Preppy Yearbook.

The Official Preppy Yearbook 1981

Kaleidoscope 1981 — The Official Preppy Yearbook (Hampden-Sydney College)

Birnbach visited Hamden-Sydney a few years ago to promote her most recent book, True Prep, in which she elevated the college’s sartorial place, writing,”… allow us to assure you, in no uncertain terms, that Hampden-Sydney is, without equivocation, the preppiest college in the United States.”  In fact, one enterprising student there, Samuel Thomas, recently co-founded a bow tie company called Dogwood Black (originally Southern Ties) and is now marketing his expanding product line nationally after getting requests from upscale men’s clothiers.

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie ($45.00)

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie

In addition to the classic madras bow tie shown above, Dogwood Black offers such unique items as a camo bow tie.  I think this qualifies as the Southern version of go-to-hell style, allowing  a wearer to go from duck blind to formal party without skipping a beat.  One quote on the company website functions as a philosophy about wearing one of their ties, “If you can handle being the center of attention.”

Dogwood Black:  Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black: Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black - Tie Box

Dogwood Black – Tie Box

Hampden-Sydney has become more diverse in recent years, and with that change has come a difference in fashion sensibility on campus.  The look among some students retains the preppy style but is much more updated.  The gentleman on the right (below) looks as if he might be wearing a Dogwood Black Delta Chi fraternity bow tie, but I’m not positive.  The gentleman on the left seems more aligned with Unabashedly Prep, which I’ve heard described as “new wave prep” or as “preppy with a twist.”

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Dogwood Black - Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dogwood Black – Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dr. Christopher B. Howard, Hampden-Sydney’s 24th president, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.   This gentleman was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Master of Philosophy and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics.  He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  Howard is the first African-American president in the college’s history, and he is proudly a Brooks Brothers man.

In 2010, Hampden-Sydney entered into a formal partnership with Brooks Brothers to provide a 15% corporate membership discount to students, faculty and staff of the college.  The program is titled “Dressing for Success with Brooks Brothers.”  In this YouTube video, President Howard discusses the program and the investment in college education with parents of prospective students at an event hosted in a Brooks Brothers retail store in Richmond, VA.

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Now in its third century of operation, Hampden-Sydney has a beautiful campus, an excellent academic reputation, a long tradition and a very loyal alumni base, many of whom contribute substantially to the institution every year.  Its past is distinguished, and its future looks secure.



Hampden-Sydney Historical Marker

Summer Classics – eBay and Thrifting

Summer Classics

A Madras plaid tie makes a sharp addition to the summer wardrobe.  The one I’m wearing is from Ralph Lauren.  I bought it last spring for $6.99 at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY.  The retail price of the tie was about $67.99.  Patches, our border collie, decided to do a walk on in this photograph.

Breakdown on the rest of the clothes, a combination of eBay bidding and thrift store purchases:


  • Brooks Brothers blue blazer:  3-button, undarted, sack cut with natural shoulders for $76.00 vs. $598.00 retail.  This is the only blazer design I’ve ever worn, and it took several weeks of eBay monitoring to find one at the right price.  I would have preferred a J. Press blazer, but people don’t part with them that often.  This blazer is in perfect condition with no signs of wear.  The lining looks brand new.
  • Ralph Lauren buckle back khakis: 100% cotton, plain front with 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs for $19.99 vs. $125.00 retail.  Buckle back khakis were worn for a brief period in the 1950s, if I recall correctly.


  • Brooks Brothers pinpoint button down:  100% cotton, traditional fit for $8.99 vs. $87.50 retail at The Nearly New Shop in Greenville, SC.
  • Bass Weejuns in Logan Burgandy for $5.99 vs. $109.00 retail.  Purchased at The Salvation Army in Greenville, SC.
  • Dockers surcingle belt:  navy, braided cotton for $4.99 at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY.  I am unsure of the retail price for the belt, but I’d guess about $24.99.

The pocket square was a gift from my grandfather (priceless).  

Brooks Brothers Blazer - Retail

JFK in 1946 – Ivy Style


John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s first political campaign came in 1946 when he ran for Congress in the 11th District of Massachusetts.  He was 28 years old, a graduate of Harvard University and a veteran of WWII, having served as a PT Boat commander in the Pacific Theatre.  He was recognized for heroism, helping to save his crew members after being rammed by a Japanese destroyer.

Kennedy is shown here relaxing in a chair below one of his campaign posters.  Photographs of his mom, Rose, and his father, Joseph, are on the mantle.  He is wearing a white shirt with a rep tie and gray flannel pants.  When inaugurated as President of the United States in 1961, Kennedy brought a dramatic improvement in style to the White House.

Thrifted Brooks Brothers Poplin Suit

Poplin SuitSince the move to South Carolina last summer, I’ve had a chance to scout thrift stores in my area and have found some really good ones.  But the Brooks Brothers olive poplin suit I’m wearing above is one that I bought while still in New York City.  It’s from Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, a short walk from where we lived at the edge of Van Cortlandt Park and 242nd Street.  We were so far north in the city that the Westchester County line was only a half mile away.  Riverdale was a great place to go thrift shopping.

The Brooks Brothers suit was a nice find at $15.00 and in perfect condition, showing no signs of wear.  But I’m picky about suits.  This has a 2-button front, and I like 3/2 roll.  It also has darts, and I prefer suits without them.  However, I couldn’t pass up this find.  A poplin suit is wonderful for summer, and the fit was correct (44 regular).  The the sleeves were precisely the right length, allowing 1/4 inch of cuffs to show, and the only alteration necessary was to have the collar lowered in the back, taking out a slight ridge that showed when standing still.

As for the suit pants, they are exactly what I prefer:  plain front with cuffs and the slightest of breaks.  The bottom of the pants just touches the top of my loafers.  These cuffs are 1 and 1/4 inch, which I wear most often.  But some of my pants have the more traditional 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs.  The suit pants needed no alterations at all.  This is the sort of find that is the best when thrifting.  Having to have several alterations done for a single suit can quickly become expensive.

The closest comparable suit to this one on the Brooks Brothers website is the sage colored Madison Fit Poplin Suit for $498.00.  The cut is a good bit different.  This one appears to be tapered on the sides, while mine is roomy and more of a sack suit cut.

Sage Poplin

The other thrifted items I’m wearing are a pair of tassel Bass Weejuns with a beefroll from the Salvation Army ($5.99) in nearly new condition and a silk rep tie from Christian Pelini also from the Salvation Army (.50 cents).

My button down is a 100% cotton oxford cloth traditional fit model from Brooks Brothers.  It came from the flagship Madison Avenue store and was a birthday gift from my wife last spring.  However, she did use her 30% corporate discount card to buy it ($55.65).  My cordovan leather belt is from the men’s department at Sears ($19.99).  We’re penny pinchers to the end!


  • Brooks Brothers suit ($498.00 retail vs. $15.00 Thrifted) = $483.00
  • Bass Weejuns w/Tassel ($109.00 retail vs. $5.99 Thrifted) = $103.01
  • Brooks Brothers OCBD ($79.50 retail vs. $55.65 discount) = $23.85


Note:  Christian Pelini no longer appears to be a retail brand and is considered a vintage tie.  So I don’t have any information on the savings for that item.

Poplin Close Up

Thrifty at the Races – Middleburg, VA

My wife and I recently made a trip down to Middleburg, VA for the spring point-to-point races at Glenwood Park.  She took this photo just after the final race of the day.  Most of what I’m wearing was thrifted.  Here’s the breakdown:

Thrifted Items

  • 3-Button linen/wool sport coat by Huntington:  $6.99 @ Salvation Army, Greenville, SC.
  • Brooks Brothers 100% cotton button down:  $9.99 @ Unique Thrift Store, Bronx, NY.
  • Silk/Linen tie by Robert Jacobson for Rush Wilson Limited:  $1.00 @ Salvation Army, Greenville, SC.
  • Ralph Lauren 100% cotton plain front khakis with 1 and 3/4 inch cuffs:  $8.00 @ The Nearly New Shop (Junior League), Greenville, SC.
  • Total:  $25.98



Paul Fussell – Ties and Social Class

In his book Class:  A Guide Through The American Status System, cultural critic Paul Fussell presents a concise analysis of ties and their class significance in America.  I am posting the text of that passage in its entirety along with representative images of each type of tie he discusses.    


The principle that clothing moves lower in status the more legible it becomes applies to neckties with a vengeance.  The ties worn by the top classes eschew the more obvious forms of verbal and even too crudely symbolic statement, relying on stripes, amoeba-like foulard blobs, or even small dots to make the point that the wearer possesses too much class to care to specify right out in front what it’s based on.  (This illustrates the privacy principle, or the principle of mind-your-own -little-disgusting-middle-class-business, a customary element of the aristocratic stance.)

Small white dots against a dark background, perhaps the most conservative tie possible, are favored by the uppers and upper-middles and,  defensively, by those nervous about being thought low, coarse, drunken or cynical, like journalists and TV news readers and sportscasters, and by those whose fiduciary honor must be thought beyond question, like the trust officers working for the better metropolitan banks.

Moving down [in class ] from stripes, blobs, or dots, we come to necktie patterns with a more overt and precise semiotic function.  Some, designed to announce that the upper-middle-class wearer is a sport, will display diagonal patters of little flying pheasants, or small yachts, signal flags and sextants.  (“I hunt and own a yacht.  Me rich and sporty!”)

Just below these are the “milieu” patterns, designed to celebrate the profession of the wearer and to congratulate him on having so fine a profession.  These are worn by insecure members of the upper-middle class (like surgeons) or by members of the middle class aspiring to upper-middle class status (like accountants).  Thus a tie covered with tiny caduceuses proclaims “Hot damn!  I am a physician!”  (Significantly, there is no milieu tie pattern for dentists).  Little scales signify “I am a lawyer.”  Musical notes:  “I have something to do with music.”   Dollar signs or money bags:  a stockbroker, banker, perhaps a wildly successful plastic surgeon, or a lottery winner.

I’ve even seen one tie with a pattern of little jeeps, whose meaning I’ve found baffling, for surely if you were a driver in any of our wars you’d not be likely to announce it.  Other self-congratulatory patterns like little whales or dolphins or seals suggest that you love nature and spend a lot of time protecting it and are thus a fine person.

Any of these milieu ties can be alternated with the “silk rep” model striped with the presumed colors of British (never, never German, French, Italian, Potuguese or White Russian) regiments, clubs or universities.

As we move further down the class hierarchy, actual words begin to appear on ties, and these are meant to be commented on by viewers.  One such artifact is the Grandfather’s Tie in dark blue with grandchildren’s names hand-painted on it, diagonally, in white.  Imagine the conversations that ensue when you wear it!  Another reads “I’d rather be sailing,” “skiing,” etc., and these can also be effective underminers of privacy – “conversation starters,” and thus useful adjuncts to comfy middle-class status, in the tradition of expecting neighbors to drop in without warning.

Some ties down in this stratum affect great cleverness, reading “Thank God It’s Friday” or “Oh Hell, It’s Monday”; and a way to get a chuckle out of your audience  and at the same time raise your class a bit is to have these sentiments abbreviated  on your tie with yachting signal flags.  At the bottom of the middle class, just before it turns to high prole, we encounter ties depicting large flowers in brilliant colors, or simply bright “artistic” splotches.  The message is frequently “I’m a merry dog.”  These wearers are the ones [John T.] Molloy is addressing when, discussing neckties, he warns “Avoid purple under all circumstances.”

Further down still, where questions of yacht ownership or merry doghood are too preposterous to be claimed even on a necktie we come upon the high- or mid-prole “bola” tie, a woven or leather thong with a slide (often of turquoise or silver), affected largely by retired persons residing in Sun Belt places like New Mexico.

Like any other sort of tie, this one makes a statement, saying, “Despite appearances, I’m really as good as you are, and my necktie, though perhaps unconventional, is really better than your traditional tie because it suggests the primitive and therefore unpretentious, pure and virtuous.”  Says the bola, “The person wearing me is a child of nature, even though actually eighty years old.”  Like many things bought by proles, these bola ties can be very expensive, especially when the slide is made of precious metal or displays “artwork.”

The point again is that the money, although important, is not always the most important criterion of class.  Below the bola wearers, at the very bottom, stand low proles, the destitute, and the bottom-out-of-sight, who never wear a tie, or wear one – and one is all they own – so rarely that the day is memorable for that reason.  Down here, the tie is an emblem of affectation and even effeminacy, and you can earn a reputation for being a la-di-da by appearing in one, as if you thought yourself better than other people.  One prole wife says of her spouse, “I’m going to bury my husband in a T-shirt if the undertaker will allow it.”

Confessions of a Preppy Tie-o-Holic

“Hi, my name is Preppy Croc, and I’m a tie-o-holic.”  If you’ve never been to this meeting before, the correct response in a very affirming tone would be, “Hi, Preppy Croc!”  You’re just seeing the top layer of my tie rack.  There are several layers more underneath this one.  52 ties total.  All but four were thrifted, some for as little as .99 cents.  Most are Brooks Brothers and 100% silk or linen/silk blends.  Some are 100% cotton madras.  None contains polyester!  You may also consider me a tie hoarder.  Not so bad.  In fact, much better smell-wise than cat hoarding.  I sense a new reality show on the horizon, but that would be a decidedly unprep.  Hmmm.

Thrifted Ralph Lauren Madras Plaid Tie – $6.99

I always check the tie rack of any thrift store because there will inevitably be a gem lurking among the horrid polyester designs.    Yesterday, I found a perfectly good 100% cotton madras plaid tie by Ralph Lauren.  It was priced at $6.99.  One man’s last season tie, is another man’s treasure.  But I’m not sure whether I will actually wear this one.  I really don’t like logos on my ties – just a personal preference – so it may go up on eBay.

In one store, I found a slew of fine 100% silk Brooks Brothers rep ties for .99 cents each.  There was no sign of wear on any of the ties – you always have to check the section of a tie where it is  knotted (where friction occurs) to see if the material is worn.  You should also check the tip of the tie, where it is pulled through the knot, for signs of wear.

I wanted to compare the price of my thrifted tie vs. the Ralph Lauren retail price. There were no madras ties on the main website, but I did find an example on Lauren’s Rugby site.  The asking price was $69.50.  So my savings through trifting = $62.51.  Ties are usually priced low in thrift stores, and the asking price vs. retail creates a huge savings opportunity.

Huntington 3-Button Wool & Silk Sport Coat

Total Cost of Sport Coat, Tie and Shirt: $16.99.

This combination features a Huntington plaid sport coat of wool and silk in a spring/summer weight.  The sport coat has several traditional features:  3-button front (3/2 roll) with 2 buttons on each sleeve,  natural shoulders and a single hooked vent in back with 1/4 inch welted edges, an Ivy style afficionado’s dream.  This was a great find at the Salvation Army in Greenville, SC ($6.99).  At the same store, I found a silk and linen jacquard tie ($2.00) made by Jacobs Roberts for Rush Wilson Limited, a local clothier.  The 100% cotton button down is Polo by Ralph Lauren, which I found on another outing ($9.00), and the pocket square was a gift from my grandfather.

All of these items are in excellent condition with no visible signs of wear.  I won’t buy a sport coat unless it is my exact size – 44 regular.  I realize that taking any good find to a tailor for minor adjustments is almost a given – not so in this case!  Not only was the item a perfect fit in the shoulders and chest, but the sleeves were also the perfect length, allowing just 1/4 inch of shirt cuffs to show.  Apparently, I have a doppelganger in Greenville.  To top it all off, I found a traditional Haspel sport coat of go-to-hell yellow linen with a faint turquoise window pane pattern.  It had a Rush Wilson Limited store label and was a 3-button model with 2 button sleeves and  natural shoulders.  This item was half-lined on the interior and will be perfect for a late spring steeplechase race.  The fit of this sport coat was absolutely perfect,  and I’ll post images of it in the next week.  The same person must have donated both sport coats.  Lucky finds!

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.