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Michael Bastian’s take on classic American style

A few years ago, we had a chance to sit down with award-winning fashion designer Michael Bastian and discuss his belief that what we know as classic American style was in fact born from the confluence of three distinct social trends. In this article we revisit that conversation and Bastian’s insightful observations of American men’s style.

If there’s one thing you need to know about Michael Bastian, it’s that when it comes to American menswear and its various influences, he is a student of history. Growing up on the East Coast and attending Babson College in the 1980s, Bastian was surrounded by a unique set of cultural forces that shaped his philosophy of and appreciation for all-American Ivy League style.

America’s Style Roots: Battlefield to Campus Quad

For Michael, the origin of classic American style (which encompasses such descriptions as Ivy League, East Coast, Preppy, and the ‘college professor’ look) can be pegged to the winding down of World War II. In the mid-1940s, young American soldiers began to flood back into the country at an unprecedented rate. Because of the newly created GI Bill, many found their way to college campuses across the country. These young men brought home with them a completely different perspective of fashion, born of military necessity and focused on comfort.

Imbued with a more free-wheeling (for the time) sense of life, the daily wardrobe for these men was looser, tougher, more casual, and in many ways, more adaptable.

Comfortable khakis and cargo pants – literally everyday wear on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific – were paired with more traditional oxford cloth shirts and blazers. Once seen only in the field, rucksacks appeared in classrooms hauling books instead of bullets. Sturdy military jackets, like the now-iconic M65, became standard wear.

Military gear always has a place in the menswear space; it is after all the most masculine form of dress. But this was different. A fundamental change to the core elements of today’s American style, is directly traceable to this post-war cultural shift.

The Birth of Sportswear

Another growing influence at the time was sports. Collegiate athletics was fast becoming the new glue that bonded student to college and college to collegiate rivalries. Sportswear, inherently casual, began to work its way into everyday life, blending and blending with other active wear influences.

Today, we see polo shirts, sport coats, crewneck sweaters, and boat shoes as dressy casual office wear. However, at the time, the adoption of these preppy staples into everyday use was a fashion and cultural change. Where there had previously been clear lines of demarcation between work and backyard clothing, a gray area was beginning to spread. Sportswear as an identifiable form of dress allowed for a degree of creativity and experimentation that would also lead to a more defined subset of American Preppy style.

The influence of sports and sportswear in American style continues to this day. And, with consumers continuing to blend dress and casual, formal and informal, the focus shows no sign of waving.

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