The expression “Joe College” in Esquire, January 1934, caught my eye.
I have a few other illustrations of “college life,” and will find more, no doubt. Perhaps it’s because the school year starts in September, but an autumnal color palette is common to them. Also, clothes for college men were more casual than business dress, and clothes for male country wear and sports traditionally echoed the colors of the landscape, favoring tweeds in browns and loden green over navy blue and charcoal gray.
The article in WHC, supposedly written by a 23 year-old married sister, assumed that the Freshman girl would have attended an all-girls boarding school, and would therefore need social advice for a co-ed campus. (She reminded her sister to be as carefully dressed and well-groomed for class as she would be for a dance, since male students would see her all day long. This was in the bad old days, when any woman who attended college was suspected of “trying to get her M.R.S. degree.” No doubt, some were — college was a good place for intelligent and ambitious women to meet intelligent and ambitious men.)
“Nonchalant'” Joe College
The clothes featured in Esquire had an upper middle class, East Coast bias. Yale’s bulldog mascot appears at top left.
Belted jackets, like the greenish one in the background, evolved from country wear to urban sports jackets. The coat over that student’s is a large-scale plaid. The student in front wears a three-piece brown suit, a shirt with a button-down collar, and a knit tie under his reversible tan overcoat with cuffs that can be made tighter at the wrist with a button tab. Two out of three wear snap-brim hats or smoke pipes.
“… University clothes, at least for on-campus wear betray a studied carelessness… Rough cloths….From Princeton to California, the better dressed undergraduates are wearing shetlands, Harris tweeds, cashmeres and cheviot suitings…. This outfit, with its rough-textured suit, buttoned down collared shirt and crocheted tie, is almost a campus uniform.” — Esquire
“The reversible topcoat of tweed and gabardine, which swept the country after its introduction at Princeton almost two years ago, is another established favorite. College men… have resorted to an odd trick in the matter of headgear — the combining of a brown hat and a black hat band…. The new hats, by the way, have a lower crown and a slightly wider brim. The exact proportions are shown in the hat at the left.”
Soft-collared shirts — button-down, in this case — were replacing shirts with detachable collars, in offices as well as on campus.
Other college trends were pictured in the Autumn, 1933 issue of the magazine.
The text describes this as a “bat” tie: “In the bat style, foulards and twills are preferred, while in the four-in-hand the first call goes to the heavier material, such as the silk and wool poplin in which the striped ties sketched at the right are made up.” The pull-over sweater” is described as a required item “in the college and prep school wardrobe.”
Three of these men wear sweaters. The man at left wears a shirt with a collar pin under the tie knot, a V-neck sweater, a tweed sports jacket, and cuffed trousers in a darker shade than his jacket. (A decade later, this was the “uniform” of a college professor.) All four male undergraduates wear neckties to class.
In Esquire, on the page facing the clothes for underclassmen, this outfit was recommended for upperclassmen and young, recent graduates.
“The coat sketched here, with four patch pockets, is the type that has been made up by the better tailors, for some time, for [upperclassmen at Princeton and Yale] and for the recent graduates in the New York financial district…. Natural concomitants for the rougher clothing fabrics are crocheted ties in both horizontal and diagonal stripings as well as in rich dark solid colors and wool hose in the traditional Argyle plaid patterns.”
I would have thought that a gray coat would be recommended for graduates looking for a job on Wall Street, but perhaps trying to stretch your clothes budget was not considered a problem for Esquire readers. The coat’s hidden button placket is certainly a dressy touch.
The editors went on at length — and with disapproval — about Joe College’s insistence upon wearing “bruised” and “battered” dark brown snap brim hats, “pinched unmercifully at the front of the crown.” We “know that nothing can be done about it,” they admitted, although “right thinking citizens and hat makers” were offended.
Ah, the good old days — when college students could express a rebellious streak just by wearing a battered and sharply pinched brown felt hat with a black (instead of matching) hatband. The sight of an eighteen-year-old solemnly smoking a tobacco pipe must have amused — or outraged — a few adults.
7 responses to “Clothes for Joe College, circa 1934”
Well, I know you need a really sharp eye to evaluate these things, but I was amazed at how formal the clothes depicted are. They all look like young business men imitating their fathers down to the pipe!
I was shocked the first time a high school student told me he didn’t want to become an adult. He wanted to hold on to childish irresponsibility for as long as possible. That was in the early 1980s. I had always assumed that teens looked forward to adult freedoms. Judging from the way teens (and even school aged children) dressed in previous eras, their role models were adults. The idea of “teenagers” as a separate market niche with its own culture was invented in the 1960’s, as far as I can tell. Any other ideas?
Have you read ‘Seven Sisters’, which is largely about the dress codes in a group of seven women-only US colleges? I enjoyed it, despite knowing nothing about American colleges (I’m Australian – our traditions are quite different).
I haven’t heard of it — will look for the book. My own women’s college required us to “dress,” i.e., wear stockings and high heels with appropriate clothes to dinner at night, and we could not leave our dorms wearing trousers unless we wore a knee length coat over them
I’ve just checked – the book is called Seven Sisters Style, by Rebecca Tuite – and the clothing they wore to class was rather surprising – for one thing, they wore lots of jeans and shorts (despite the weather). But women at those colleges were largely the wealthy, who have always got away with things that the rest of us could not!
There’s a video of the author showing images from this book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sP9WHKz9GI