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Ametora : Japan falls for Ivy and keeps American style alive

We have to add a note here that although some of the Triplstitched team have been working regularly in Japan since the 80s, we have to thank W. David Marx and his book Ametora for this section. It’s a wealth of details on post war Japanese mens fashion. A great book and highly recommended.

In the summer of 1964, shopkeepers in Ginza,Tokyo reported to the police that gangs of teenagers were roaming the streets wearing strange clothes. The county was about to host the Olympic Games and the city had to stamp this out. The police rounded them up and the kids disappeared. Their crime was to dare to wear button down shirts, 3 button jackets, madras, tight chinos and brogues. Ivy had arrived in Japan, but how?

Post war Japan was even more austere than Britain. Boys wore their school uniforms and men wore dark suits with white shirts, and that was that. To actually be interested in fashion was serious rebellion. However the country was flooded with GIs with the American occupation in the late 40s and early 50s. Their style rubbed off on some of the kids, especially on a young Kensuke Ishizu. He set up a highly influential clothing company, Van Jacket, in the early 1950s. The timing was perfect, as Japan was becoming flush with cash from supplying the needs of the Korean war. He travelled to the States, specifically Princeton University, in 1959 and fell in love with traditional Ivy style thinking it would be the ideal durable, functional but stylish clothing for the new baby boomers. He also loved the way these students sometimes wore collars that were fraying or elbow patches, as it resonated with a Japanese look of hei’I habo where wealthy Japanese students were proud to wear slightly shabby uniforms.

Ishizu was a great marketer and got involved writing for what was to become Mens Club, Japan’s first mens fashion magazine. He developed the now classic Japanese style of going into minute  detail in what to wear and how to get your look right for any occasion.

This all started to come together in the early 60s as his company both made and wrote about chinos, navy blazers and button down shirts. He was probably the first to start street photography in 1963 to show the rest of Japan how Ivy style was being worn in Ginza. He also commissioned cartoonist Hozumi to create the now famous Ivy Boy, showing how to wear Ivy every day. And as well as writing for Mens Club, he also wrote pocket-sized manuals showing how to put outfits together. The look took off all over Japan and has never really left.

But Ishizu is probably best known for commissioning the film and book Take Ivy in 1965, with still photograph by Teruyoshi Hayashida, that become a cult classic and was reprinted in 2010. Here was a detailed study of what students actually wore at the Ivy League universities.

So Ivy had become tribe like wear for the young Japanese, along side the others like the Bikers and the Beach fashion tribes that existed at the time. It was a Japanese version of the true look but arguably all the better, as it managed to keep the love of Ivy going.

As things moved into the late 60s, Ivy became mainstream fashion for men in Japan as it evolved into the love of all things traditional. So Ivy could be worn with Arran sweaters and a Burberrys (pre Burberry, lets remember) trench coat. Button downs were here to stay.

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