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How to Build an American Ivy Wardrobe

Timelessly chic, effortlessly classy, the American Ivy style is one that never goes out of fashion. If you are tired of chasing the latest clothing trends, you might consider building your wardrobe to fit this sophisticated fashion that remains just as attractive as it did when it first emerged, nearly a century ago.

American Ivy descends from the smart-casual clothes common to Ivy League campuses in the Northeast, like Princton, Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth. A mixture of youthful and mature, ivy clothes can elevate any man’s style, regardless of age, and because the look is relatively easy to achieve, with only a handful of basic pieces, every man can and should have a few American Ivy outfits ready to wear should the proper occasion present itself.

Men can begin cultivating their own American Ivy looks by assembling the following essential pieces from top men’s clothing brands:


The Oxford cloth button-down (OCBD) is the quintessential staple of the Ivy style. Button-down shirts are related to button-ups, in that they close around the body with buttons down the front and have long sleeves that button at the wrists, but with a key difference: buttons on the lapels keep the collar straight and neat. Because OCBDs don’t require fastidious ironing and careful hanging to keep collars flat, they tend to be associated with a younger, more casual crowd. Yet, because they are so reminiscent of button-ups, OCBDs remain slightly elevated above other casual wear, like cotton t-shirts, making them the perfect foundation for an Ivy outfit.

Men should have a handful of OCBDs in different colors. White and light blue are essential, as they are the neutrals that can be worked into almost any look. Men might also invest in OCBDs with some character, like soft pink, ecru, sea green or fancy stripes.


Chinos are unpleated trousers that otherwise have a similar fit and construction to dress pants or slacks. Like the OCBD, the style and fabric of chinos makes them easier to care for than pleated pants, which gives them a slightly more casual look and feel without drifting all the way into comfortable like jeans or shorts. Chinos are slim-fitting and minimal, which makes them versatile additions to any wardrobe but essential in creating an Ivy look.

Men looking for a more traditional Ivy aesthetic should stick to earth-toned chinos — khaki, beige, camel. As tempting as more vibrant colors might be, they are too overwhelming and do not fit the simple, sophisticated Ivy look. Those who do want to add something extra to their bottom half can choose a simple woven or striped fabric belt.


Layering is essential for surviving the ever-changing weather in the Northeast, where most Ivy League schools are located. In particular, men need a handful of preppy jackets to wear over their OCBDs. The most popular options are sports jackets and blazers, which lie OCBDs and chinos, tend to fall on the more casual side of menswear. Navy is a must-have neutral color that looks a bit more elevated, but the Ivy aesthetic is also flush with variations on earth-toned tweed jackets — replete with leather elbow patches — which are more easily dressed up and down for different occasions.

Sweaters or Cardigans

Another popular layer in American Ivy is the cardigan or sweater, both of which are much more comfortable and casual than other staples on this list. Pulling on a sweater immediately makes an outfit friendlier and more approachable, and as long as it is surrounded by other hallmarks of Ivy fashion, it won’t impact the sophistication of the styling. Ideally, sweaters and cardigans will go over OCBDs. When they aren’t being worn, they should be draped over the shoulders or stashed out of sight, never wrapped around the waist.

When it comes to colors and patterns, sweaters and cardigans offer men some incredible versatility. While solid colors can be preferred, men can experiment with argyles, plaids, raglan, stripes and even monograms.


No outfit is complete without footwear, and in the Ivy style, that means loafers. Though today loafers are more often worn during formal occasions, this type of shoe was originally conceived as a more comfortable and casual alternative to dress shoes. Ideally, men should wear their loafers with socks to keep them looking (and smelling) fresh; for the no-sock look, men can find no-show socks that fall below the ankle bones. Most men prefer to wear penny loafers, though other loafer styles, like tasseled or horsebit loafers, can have their place.

American Ivy is a style that every man (and woman!) can appreciate, and it is remarkably easy to pull off when one has a closet filled with the basic components.

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