Photo of Vassar students from Vogue, 1957 via Ivy Style.
Schwinn Coffee 1-speed cruiser ($349); Peterboro bicycle basket ($54); London Weejuns ($109); Brooks Brothers Boy's pinstripe sweater ($80).
Vassar style became increasingly defined in relation to the neighboring Ivies. Many female students saw the Ivy League Look as a means of outwardly affirming their right to be in this exclusive, selective and respected academic world. “Looking too feminine wasn’t in,” recalls Mira Lehr ’56. “I started wearing less makeup and very simple clothes and hair cut—kind of a female version of what the guys were wearing at Princeton and Yale. I was dressing to show intellect and to be part of the elite.”
Soon Vassar women had adopted their own unofficial campus uniform: Bermuda shorts (madras or Black Watch tartan), knee socks, loafers, Brooks Brothers oxford shirt (preferably men’s), topped with a classic Vassar blazer, Shetland sweater or cashmere twin set.
The influence of Ivy-educated fathers, brothers and boyfriends played a leading role in this transition to full-fledged Ivy style. For years, college girls had watched boys visit Brooks Brothers, J. Press and Fenn-Feinstein for their collegiate wardrobe, and now girls rushed to these same stores to purchase their own college collections.
Vassar style was almost “a direct clone of men’s Ivy League style,” remembers Karen VanderVen ’59, adding that girls even wore menswear in small sizes to get the genuine look. Brooks Brothers had launched its women’s capsule collection in 1949, presumably profiting from the popularity of classic menswear pieces on Seven Sisters campuses. Yet many women continued to prefer the look and feel of a classic men’s oxford. —Rebecca C. Tuite, in an excerpt from the Ivy Style piece Boyfriend Jacket: The Vassar Girl and the Ivy League Look, 2010. Tuite's book "Vassar Style" is out this year.