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View-Master

Fancy a trip to the Moon but only have a lunch break to get there and back again. What about New York in the 1950’s? Well you can to these places and loads more too with the aid of a View-Master. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the View-Master from your own childhood. You probably thought of it as a great novelty toy, so why on earth is a fully grown man of a certain age waxing lyrical about a toy. Well I see View-Master as supplying a great archive of social history. While we ponder over old copies of Esquire, Playboy and Life magazine etc. View-Master provides us with pictures of Times Square, ticker tape parades on Broadway, off duty astronauts from Apollo 8 decked out in their finest Ivy clothes, and not only in sumptuous colour but 3D as well.

And for the child that remains in all of us, you can pop in an old Batman or Man from U.N.C.L.E reel. What’s not to love here?

Moods for Moderns

I’ve loved the art work employed during the heyday of Capitol Records for a long time now. Make no mistake - we’re not talking about ultra modern Reid Miles’ Blue Note cool here. Far from it. The Capitol world is often one of brash colour photography, dubious visual puns and less than inspired ‘concepts’. But for all this the record sleeves have an immediacy and charm all of their own and whereas finances no longer allow my hoovering up of Capitol product on a grand scale I still buy. Once a collector always a collector as I guess you know.  Perhaps the thing that’s always pushed the buttons for me is actually the sleeve backs which oftenhave quirky and quite idiosyncratic hand drawn embellishments. Mostly rendered by un credited artists you might find a caricature of the singer, an odd little ‘collage’ of song titles in visual form, a nightclub doorway, a guitar; a double bass – sometimes a city skyline. No doubt sales dictate that Sinatra’s albums are the most familiar examples of the era’s sleeve designs but there are others out there. 7” EPs too.

The “Modern Idiom” sleeve above is so mid century modern it hurts. A collection of Bop from 1949/50 released in this form in 1956 it spawned a Volume 2 the following year. Identical save for being violet rather than green in colour. Wish I possessed that one too. For any anoraks out there this copy is the Australian version. The “Classics in Jazz” series are well worth searching out.  A broad church the series covered everything from “Sax” and “Small Combo” themed collections through to Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis via Leadbelly and T Bone Walker. And that T Bone Walker EP brings me back to the beginning. The sleeve features a sparse yet superb line drawing of the uptown bluesman in action.  It’s on my wants list.

Do The Bus Stop

Have you ever been driving through somewhere and then seen something totally unexpected in a good way? Well that happened to me just recently whilst driving through Barnards Green which is just a mile downhill from Great Malvern in Worcestershire. There I was tootling along in the car and Bam! The best bus shelter I think I have ever seen. So much so I had to park up the car grab the camera to take a quick shot of it for The Town Outside.

On continuing my journey I spent quite some time wondering why on earth they would go to the expense of building an Art Deco bus shelter in a small community like Barnards Green. The answer turns out to be the fact it was built as a memorial to those who fell in the 2nd World War. I’m not sure I’ve heard of a bus shelter being built as a memorial before, but that will be the reason this shelter is still standing I would think. As a WW2 memorial it would also mean that it dates at least, to the mid to late 1940’s proving that Deco wasn’t confined to the 1930’s (at least in Britain) and was still an influence as the 1950’s approached.

In regards to the buildings more mundane use as a bus shelter, besides protecting the people of Barnards Green from the elements in style over the years, I also like to think that many a young courting couple have shared a kiss, cuddle and a bag of chips, in this “King of Bus Shelters” before the last bus takes one of them home.

Top Bossa!

Who ever said ‘less is more’? Well, me quite often - but, this has so much going on. Bossa Nova? Check. Attractive female? Check. Three button sports coat? Seersucker? Check. University shop? Oh yes. A shop logo that looks like something from Dennis Wheatley’s “The Devil Rides out”? That too. And a funny little ribbon to pin wherever. I love this. 1963 and towards the tail end of the all pervasive Bossa Nova craze.

Ladies Choice

Women wearing trousers is a common sight in any Western city these days, but as most people know it wasn’t always that way, although the practise goes back a little further than most people think. It is known that women wore trousers during the late 19th century for industrial work in England. The Wigan pit brow girls caused a scandal in Victorian society by wearing trousers to carry out their work. At that time it was so unacceptable for women to wear just trousers they actually wore dresses over them, which they rolled up to keep out of the way when working.

It wasn’t until the 20th Century and the early 1930’s in particular that clothing inspired by menswear such as trousers or suits started to become fashionable for women, the main influence being the style of film star Marlene Dietrich.

This next photo was taken in 1933 on the rooftop of Nicolls (originally a military clothing supplier we believe) on Regent Street, London. The model is sporting the new Dietrich inspired fashion and working her best “femme fatale” look (whilst also being precariously close to the edge).

Hollywood stars like Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall may have embraced and continued to showcase the style of men’s suiting or trousers as fashion but the fact remains that trousers for women took quite a while to gain widespread acceptance and popularity, the 1970’s probably being the tipping point and by then it was probably more to do with the popularity of denim jeans rather than tailored clothing. From then on in it’s been a common site on many a High Street in the Western World.

Here’s to all those that embraced the look and paved the way, including those trailblazers, the Wigan pit brow girls.

Ivy League on the starting grid

Do you want to know how to fit in with the Florida motor racing clique? Have you ever wondered what to take to Connecticut but never to New York? In 1958 John Weitz answered all these questions and more in his paperback primer “Sports Clothes for Your Sports Car”. For the $1.95 cover price your sartorial quandary would to be identified and addressed from your brown suede chukkas to your car’s ideal picnic basket.

As recently as 1948 the English racing critic had dismissed the garb of the crowd at New York’s Watkins Glen track in no uncertain terms: “American racing crowds have little dress sense….a cross between Laramie and Alice in Wonderland”. But times were changing.

The trend setting sartorial quirks of the drivers had long been noted and John Weitz eulogizes all aspects of eccentric dress from Louis Chiron’s polka dot scarf, Schell’s two-tone loafers to Count Johnny Lurani’s roll neck sweater.  The author’s philosophy is simple: “To those of us who like the way a sports car sounds, why deny a little vanity?” But it’s not the style of the reckless playboy at the wheel in Weitz’ main concern but rather those who would travel miles to stand on the other side of the fence to watch their heroes risk their necks to compete and entertain.

In Weitz’ view it was imperative that the spectator look right; to dress right. Knowingly sharp and modern but with a keen eye on their environment and ever mindful of practicality. Setting his ‘East Coast’ stall out early Weitz from the off humorously brushes aside the “preening peacock”  fashions paraded under the Californian sun at the Pebble Beach track; people overdressed “from the hubcaps up”. The East Coast race fans are his real interest. Hardcore enthusiasts with clothing taste to match.

There’s something quite gossipy and modern about the way detail and trivia is collected and analyzed in this 50+ year old clothing primer that belies its age, and for good or for ill it strikes a minor chord with today’s celebration of ephemera and celebrity watching. More “OK” Magazine than Haynes manual is what I’m trying to get at. Weitz may have been uniquely qualified in this department being both a fashion designer and a committed amateur racer and there’s a hell of a lot of detail packed into those 120 pages. It’s interesting to note that Weitz was to observe the revival of a 1920’s collegiate fashion sense amongst the racing crowd some 30 years on with reappearance of items such as the Letter Man sweater and the dreaded raccoon coat.  The cars too began to approximate the small, low slung, seat of your pants rides of the previous generation.

Thankfully the youthful Ivy vibe translated itself in an altogether sharper and more tasteful way to the man in the stands peering through his binoculars.  At Florida’s famous Sebring track the dress code is “lightweight sports coat, knitted shirt, slacks and loafers” with a raincoat over your arm just in case. Sebring is the location of Weitz’ sole concession to ‘glamour’ with his recommendation to buy a ‘paddock ticket’ by which means the ordinary spectator can observe the “exceedingly well dressed people who are members of Florida Automobile Racing Club (who often include) movie stars and other well known folk, and frequently they are a good fashion show in themselves”.

The New York haunt of Watkins Glen in September is serious suede chukka territory with the unpredictable weather sometimes necessitating heavy soled Cordovans. With corduroy slacks and flannel shirt for Weitz it’s ‘comfort first, smart second’. You at track side and you at your warm and dry motel can often be a distance of a mile or two across rough terrain and unmade roads. Sober grey flannels and a plain open neck OCBD will successfully transfer you from track to a post race supper with only the swankiest restaurants necessitating a tie. Have a plain knit stashed in your car’s glove compartment just in case – alongside your pig skin gloves naturally. The blazer or tweed sport coat will need to be topped off as the Fall meets Winter. Ivy style flat caps? Of course, with the occasional dark green Tyrolean spotted.  You’ll notice that Weitz is quite specific with his colours.

By way of contrast the relaxed atmosphere of the Bridgehampton, Long Island meet in June will allow for Bermuda shorts, slacks and matching hatbands “as mad as you please” and under your sports coat here your V neck will be cashmere. This is East Coast peacock territory:

“Day or night, tomato colored linen slacks, pyjama stripe pants or bright red sports shirts are quite a usual sight. As are foulard print pocket handkerchiefs and Madras sports jackets”.

Weitz deems Lime Rock and Thompson Raceway both Connecticut in the unpredictable Spring and Fall as “Ivy League territory. The clothes of the area are ‘deep country’ in the tweediest of terms”. As with Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton the emphasis is on preparation for the ‘variable’ weather and the need for a tan coloured Trench or Duffel. Combine this with "a bulky black sweater, grey whipcord slacks, grey cashmere socks and a bright red woollen shirt”. One noticeable difference between here and the other East Coast gatherings is the definite need for a tie in “rather stuffy” Connecticut restaurants.  A similar summary is placed too on race meetings in both Virginia and Maryland.

Whereas Weitz is very specific as to type of clothing best worn he rarely strays in to what I guess what we’d now might refer to as product placement. At the drop of a hat throughout his text he advocates the wearing of long sleeve polo shirts of the wool knit variety for both racer and spectator alike. To this effect he name checks “LaCoste” (sic) at the close of the book and recommends the reader mail David Crystal of Seventh Avenue, New York for a list of stockists. It may be interesting to note that Lacoste is the only brand name mentioned in the book other than that of the cars, the serious racing driver kit and the actual automobile accessories. 

With special thanks to Andy B for gifting me the John Weitz book in the first place. All the black and white illustrations used above come from “Sports Clothes for your Sports Car” and, as far as I can gather, were in turn originally licensed from Esquire magazine.

And to conclude, a brief return to Watkins Glen, New York c.1965. Some great clothes here IMHO with the then retail prices noted. This includes a lovely Stanley Blacker blazer. Quite an infamous item of clothing in some Anglo Ivy circles I’ll have you know!

Driver Richie Ginther (left) with Ford Motor’s Roy Lunn wearing

Blazer by Stanley Blacker $60

Stretch slacks by anthony Gesture $15

Shirt by Aetna $6

With drivers Jim Clark left and Pedro Rodriguez right, at centre:

Wool Glen-Plaid jacket by Stanley Blacker $60

Wool & Orlon slacks by Esquire $17

Stretch shirt by Matson $11

Ascot by Handcraft $5

To the left, British racing legend Graham Hill, to the right:

Hop-sack weave blazer and slacks cordinates by J&F $65

Oxford buttondown by Manhattan $6

Silk ascot by Handcraft $5

Shaggy Dog pullover by Himalaya $15

At right, driver Joakim Bonnier. To the left:

Fortel and cotton seersucker jacket by Haspel $35

Placket shirt by McGregor $6

Centre and right, Elaine and Sterling Moss.

At left, sleeveless wool sweater vest by Fashion Hill $9

Oxford shirt by Sero $6.50

Alpaca tie by Rooster $3.50

Arnel & cotton  jacket by Gordon Ford $35

Centre left, two button Arnel & cotton jacket by Mavest $35

Lambs wool sweater by Robert Bruce $12

Hackney, London 1973

"Admiral Ken and his Box Men" photographed by Dennis Morris in 1973. With the 1966 registered van and the sharply dressed rude boy styled quartet unloading their sound system this looks at first glance like it comes from a decade earlier with perhaps only the lapel width of the guy in the foreground nudging this image into the early 70’s. A fabulous shot from Dennis Morris’ new "Growing up Black" collection of photographs published by Autograph. You’ll need to dig deep to buy it. At the moment it exists only as a limited edition of 500 priced at £300.

Gordon House - Painter, Designer; Modernist

"Square Maze Border Red-Green" 1960                  

Gordon House in Cecil Gee suit c.1960 

"With nostalgic memories of student days in the late ‘40’s and a close friendship with Richard Smith (now distinguished painter working in NY). A teenage enthusiasm for local jazz, movies, plastic discs and radio; the recording of international musicians of the time; the Kenton’s Bebop, Brubeck and the MJQ, with cool urban interpretations fired our weekend visits from out of town art school, by train to the City – London: Dankworth’s Club 11, Windmill Street, The Florida, Leicester Square and on to Oxford Street 100 Club. Then it seemed or need for sounds linked with contemporary style.During the Sixties I worked as a graphic designer on many albums. I encountered major talents of the music industry; Lennon & McCartney, Harrison, Starr, along with other performers visiting EMI Music and passing through Apple Records. Apple offices at Savile Row were with all mod.cons., secretaries and white walls, with all the latest office technology of that day. Across the road at Hanover Square I found myself working at the Rolling Stones offices – less high tech., mostly pine. Both empires equally active.” 

(From exhibition catalogue 1999)

 

Peter Blake and Gordon House c.1957 

Gordon House (1932 -2004) was born in Pontardawe, South Wales but was to spend most of his adult life in and around London his family having relocated to Bedfordshire as a child. Although relatively unknown in comparison to his British contemporaries House enjoyed a long and varied career that I’m not even really going to try to scratch the surface here. A short overview can be found here but the definitive memoir now comes at a price when available. Suffice it to say, his 60’s work ranged from the purely abstract canvases early in the years of the decade to design and typographical projects in the music world in the latter years – his association with the Beatles Apple Corps beginning with typographical and sleeve production work for both “Sgt Pepper” and the “White Album” in conjunction with his friend and associate Richard Hamilton. GH’s longstanding friendship with Peter Blake would lead to designing for both Kilburn & The High Roads and Ian Dury & The Blockheads in the 70’s. 

 G H in front of “Welwyn Site” painting 1958

Combining a dual career firstly in advertising then as a graphic designer for industry all the while lecturing at various art schools during the late 50s and early 60’s House honed his artistic chops with a rare synthesis of abstract painting practitioner and be-suited company man; the louche, smoked filled rooms of student life and the sleek stark corridors of the multinational. Pointedly remembered by his contemporaries as a sharp dresser it’s probably quite apt that Gordon House is represented by a sole image in Dr. David Alan Mellor’s authoritative documentation of the 60’s art scene in London. That image being a photographic portrait of the artist: cigarette in hand, cropped and very cool, slightly knowing and wearing a Cecil Gee suit as the caption in the book tellingly reveals. 

 G H working at Crouch End 1959

"Olsen Line" 1959 

"London for us was the centre of our sought culture. There was an exciting atmosphere of creative rebirth with all possibility in the air, especially in our eyes for the arts now showing an aftermath of the Neo Romantic School strongly reflecting that post war period. Not only did we experience new creations in a gallery but there were meetings in coffee shops centered in Soho harbouring over a frothy cup from the latest import – the Gaggia machine – repatriated dreamers having completed the military service call up.” “I am most flattered that one such successful (student) commenting to a friend fifty years later that ‘We liked Mr. House. He seemed so young and one of us’. I have reflected since on his observation and can only put it down to my Ivy League short haircut of the day and dark suit – a uniform of the 60’s for an urban creative, probably the nearest contemporary equivalent of that early photo of Cezanne in bowler hat and banker’s suit out and about in Aix en Provence c.1904”.

 

G H 1958

Gordon House’s breakthrough was to come in 1960 with the selection of three paintings for the landmark “Situation (in London)” exhibition of 1960. Criteria for inclusion was solely that work be abstract in nature and of a size no smaller than 60 x 60. Of the three works selected and hung one was to be damaged by “overenthusiastic helpers” delivering it to the gallery. Subsequently repaired and exhibited it was later destroyed by House who admitted that he couldn’t live with its imperfection. This obsessive attention to detail noted by his contemporaries applied in equal measure to clothing and his autobiographical writings betray a keen eye for sartorial detail - the “sharp, light suited” Austrian art master or thefellow tutor boasting a “good wristwatch bought from the (Cardiff) docks”; “the tall crew cut, Co-op suited Russian”.

  G H at the “Situation” exhibition 1960

(At the time of the opening of the “Situation” exhibition)….“At Leicester Square Bernstein and Sondheim’s ‘West Side Story’, originally a ‘50’s musical from Broadway, was here now showing as a film. Around the corner, catching a bus in West One, in its way encapsulated for us life in the city and my West End Story of the moment. In the same street, practically adjacent to a bus stop, was Cecil Gee’s shop. It was there, with funds permitting, we would seek from the racks…..suits that went with Louis’s haircut from Lyle Street on a corner close by. With emerging galleries around the Bond Street and Soho areas, along with bookshops nearby in Charing Cross Road, close to the Modern Jazz clubs, there seemed much to stimulate for us the creative process”.

 ”Asymmetry” 1962

 G H working freelance on exhibition graphics,  Bounds Green c.1963

 GH painting centre at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York 1967-68

 I think that what intrigues me most about House and his British contemporaries is their seminal work of the late 1950’s in direct response to American Modernism - specifically the “New American Painting” exhibition at the Tate in 1959, and the subsequent massive cultural shift in ’aesthetic leadership’ from Paris to New York. The USA so long at the cutting edge of popular culture now for the very first time sitting at the top table of high culture much to the combined chagrin and bafflement of many European taste-makers and commentators. Not so for the outspoken and influential British art critic Lawrence Alloway. He was to draw a distinct line in the sand. For him ‘Anti-Americanism’ was simply and definitively ‘Anti-Modernism’. An ethos that would have a profound effect on British art of the 1960’s - a fresh and exciting attitude that had bubbled under the surface of British painting since the end of the War .

And a confession: In the mid 80’s while in art college I had the opportunity to meet and interview Gordon House at his London studio. I was quite ignorant of his work at this time and knew little about him. I made excuses and cried off - leaving the assignment to a fellow student. A big regret and an opportunity to talk clothes and art sadly gone forever.

The Ivy League Look In London - 1963

Daytona Beach Morning Journal – Jul 14, 1963

U.S. Male Styles Hit Britain

LONDON – A Westerly wind of change in fashion is making British men look more like Americans.

The Ivy League look, the crew haircut, the buttondown shirt, the tall crowned hat are a major fashion trend. Younger men are abandoning traditional British styles for the American line.

“To younger men the U.S. symbolizes success,” said John Taylor, editor of the magazine Tailor and Cutter, the voice of Saville Row. “They’re attracted by success- so they affect American style of dress”

The trend is gathering pace fast – boosted along by expensive advertising campaigns. An advertisement by a chain of men’s wear stores declares:

“One of the smartest trans-Atlantic fashions is the cleancut, slimline look sported by American college men”

And there’s an illustration of a cleancut young man who looks as though he has just stepped out of Brooks Bros.

The swing is apparent mostly in shirts, hats and jackets. A London salesman said:

“Almost half the shirts we sell today are either buttondown or tab collar types. The pinched in collar look has really caught on”

There’s also a rush on the tall crowned, narrow brimmed trilby’s which one men’s wear store chain has labelled “the Atlantic look.”

“Television has a lot to do with it said a salesman. “There’s an American TV series where the policemen all wear hats like that. I must say I like them – but I prefer the bowler.”

Bowler is British for derby.

Editor Taylor doesn’t see it as an American invasion.

“What’s really happening,” he said, “is that old British styles are returning here after being used and developed in the U.S.”

The buttondown collar, for instance isn’t American, said Taylor. “I remember it when I was at school.

“The Truth is that Americans seldom originate anything in men’s fashion. They adapt, they adopt, they overaccentuate- and then some time later it comes back here.

“That’s what’s happening now.”

Taylor says Americans are getting more sober in their dress.

“They are taking themselves much more seriously since they achieved responsibilities of World leadership.

Taylor reaffirmed his preference for the unadulterated British fashions and said:

“Some Britons may be going over to socalled American styles. But in New York the best dressed Americans prefer the English look.”

 - - - - - - -

The above article appeared in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal on July 14th 1963. Now just why this small American newspaper was so interested in the men’s fashion scene in London we haven’t quite fathomed out as England had hardly started to “swing” at that point in time, particularly in the eyes of the rest of the world. So The Town Outside can only assume that the Daytona Beach Morning Journal has re-hashed this piece from another newspaper, most likely a major city publication, maybe the New York Times? Or likely a British newspaper, as Fleet Street often looked to his editorial column of The Tailor and Cutter for a quirky story.

The Ivy League look, or elements of it, had been making its way to the UK for a while by 1963, mainly via such avenues as; British jazz musicians working their passage to America (New York in particular)  with the bands on the big cruise ships, also the British workers on said ships. On leave in America these guy’s soaked up not only the sights and sounds of the country but also the fashions, a lot of which they bought back to these shores.

Some American visitors to London, both business and tourist, would have been sporting The Ivy League look too. Plus you can’t discount the American G.I.s stationed here and the clothes they may have worn.

Then there were there were shops such as Austin’s (founded by Lou Austin, himself a former sax player on the Queen Elizabeth) and Cecil Gee. In fact could it be Cecil Gee they are referring to in the article when they talk of; “The trend is gathering pace fast – boosted along by expensive advertising campaigns.      

Admittedly that doesn’t look like an expensive advert and there is no illustration of a man who looks like he has “just stepped out of Brook’s Brothers”. We have to admit to a little artistic license forced upon The Town Outside by the very fact that the only advert from Cecil Gee we could dig up was from 1956 not 1963. But this serves to illustrate our point when we say that American fashion was already making its way over here, even if not a strictly Ivy League look at that point in time.

John Taylor was an astute guy. As well as being editor of Tailor & Cutter he had also started up; Man About Town magazine, in 1952. That publication being the forerunner of the men’s style mag in the UK. His comments of; “old British styles are returning here after being used and developed in the U.S.” and “They (Americans) adapt, they adopt, they overaccentuate” were insightful because those “over accentuations” are what made the clothes different and desirable to the British male. 

Taylor was known for his criticisms of the dress of politicians, royalty and celebrities of the day and he doesn’t miss a chance for some provocation with his parting shot “Some Britons may be going over to socalled American styles. But in New York the best dressed Americans prefer the English look.” Ouch!

One final point; it’s interesting to note that this article is from 1963 and that the cementation of The Ivy League look in Britain (London in particular) was to be boosted in 1964 by former Cecil Gee employee John Simons, buts that’s another story.