Discover more from Articles Of Interest
American Ivy: Chapter 1
What is a trend?
Hello. It’s launch day. Here it is. Articles of Interest season 3 episode 1:
Man, I can’t believe it. While I have truly world’s best editor, engineer, and fact checker by my side (and some of the greatest musicians), it has been mostly a solo journey. So of course every other day I’m like “what have I done, was this whole thing stupid?” But it’s too late now! It’s out!
Ultimately it’s an honor to share this work with you. Thank you to those who take the time to listen. And for those of you who want to read a transcript, here it is:
So. What’s this all about. In 2016, I did a story about the Trend Forecasting industry, specifically focusing on the trend forecasting juggernaut known as WGSN.
In 2016, WGSN showed me what jeans would look like in 2018. They looked like this.
Well ok, this was just one pair of jeans in WGSN’s jean predictions (there was an entire denim report). But at the time, it blew my mind. I had never seen pants like these. How did they know we’d all be wearing them? Although, maybe they didn’t have to know. Maybe they could just say so.
Almost every major brand and company consults WGSN, and WGSN is powerful enough that they could effectively dictate what trends are. WGSN made trends all feel like a giant conspiracy theory.
I started thinking about WGSN again early this year, when talks about trends started to absolutely dominate the public discourse. It felt like in the “post-pandemic” era, everyone was just poking their heads out of their little holes and being like “hey guys whats up, what are we all wearing?!” No one seemed to have any idea. Or rather a lot of people seemed to have a lot of ideas.
Ever since my mentor Roman Mars generously gave me the IP, I knew I wanted to make another season of Articles Of Interest. I started thinking that maybe I would do an entire season of AoI about different trends. Perhaps one episode would be about Ugg boots, another about choker necklaces, another about raver pants, you know? Get in on some of that millennial nostalgia! One of those trendy episodes was going to be about preppy clothes. I was going to focus on Abercrombie (that scourge of my youth), and question why everyone in my middle school was popping their collars.
Then, once I dipped a toe into the story of preppy clothes, I quickly realized this was a much, much larger tale. It is—hear me out— perhaps, the most incredible fashion arc of the 20th century. The story is long and ramifying and extremely revealing about American notions of taste, class and democracy. I had always thought that preppy clothes were boring and ugly and for old rich people with no taste While this is not-not true, there is so much more to these clothes. And our story begins with this book
Take Ivy was published in 1965, in Japanese. For the Japanese market. It was an in-depth anthropological survey of the clothes worn on Ivy League college campuses.
And you have to admit, these college guys definitely know how to wear the hell out of these dorky fuddy-duddy clothes. They look great:
For many menswear aficionados, Take Ivy is IT. It is the guide, the bible, for nailing the preppy look. And it is in part because Take Ivy is so in-depth, so well-observed, you can tell that it was made by a photographer who wasn’t from America.
The story of how Take Ivy was made, and how it rocketed to success, is the keystone in the arc of the story. And that thread of this series will mostly be from the iconic book Ametora by W. David Marx.
However! To understand how a trends takes off- any trend, be it in history or in a contemporary setting, in the United States or in Japan- one must use a tool that many trend forecasters employ: a PEST analysis. Sometimes it’s also known as STEEP or PESTLE or PESTEL or STEP or DESTEP or PESTO or STEEPLED. Whatever. All those acronyms are ways of saying that one must look at the larger forces behind a trend:
This is functionally what I have tried to do over 7 episodes of this season of Articles of Interest. Understand how we got from Take Ivy to today, with the new Michael Bastian Brooks Brothers, the great chino revival, and Aime Leon Dore. How prep went from being a niche look on the campus of Princeton to an accepted style all over the world.
I was in Rome recently, eating pasta and listening to this song over and over. And let me tell you, Rome was like… extremely preppy. It was wild. All the classy older men were tying sweaters around their shoulders like they had gotten off a yacht. They generally dressed like this picture of Lucio Dalla.
While I didn’t really do much shopping in Italy (I somehow missed my chance to go to Société Anonyme), my boyfriend found a great coat at the chaotic Porta Portese market… where… preppy stuff was also in full swing:
I promise, after you listen to this, you’re going to start noticing preppy clothes everywhere, like I do. And I wonder: is preppy a look that comes back over and over? Or did it never quite go away? Is it immune to trends? Or perhaps the greatest trend of all?
I promise, there are plot twists in the story. I learned a lot from this research, and I hope you can get something from it too. Stay with me these next 7 weeks.
Until next time.