Gouster or Ivy Leaguer?

Today, it’s a question of whether your pants are sagging or not (as far as I’m concerned).

In the Sixties, on the South and West Sides of Chicago, the male clothing signifier was whether you were a Gouster or an Ivy Leaguer.

A former co-worker who I guess would be classified as a Gouster now, but was an Ivy Leaguer then, told me:

Basically, Gousters dressed like old school gangsters (by this he meant O.O.G., like Thirties-Forties-Fifties era), and Ivy Leaguers dressed preppy.  Gousters were considered to be kinda like hoods, whereas Ivy Leaguers at least looked like they kept their noses clean (for a pretty accurate visual, watch Cooley High. Preach [Glynn Turman’s character] would have been considered an Ivy Leaguer. Many of the other cats were classic Gousters). 

This conversation started when I un-covered a record from about 1964 called “The Gouster” by a local group called the Five-Du Tones.

I found a really nice blog post from Wild-Child where she waxes poetic about the styles:

“I recently encountered an old friend who lived in the neighborhood back in the day. He lived on 35th Street and I lived on 31st. We were from the same neighborhood and attended the same high school. He was the coolest guy in history. Not only was he fine, he could DANCE. His fashion identity was Gouster style. I can still smell the Jade East.

Time had done him wrong and it started me wondering what time had done to me. I thought back on those days when we were young and would go anywhere to attend a dance. If a guy could Bop, he was king of the night.

Whether he was your lover, your good friend, or kind of like a play brother, back in those days, boys had one of two popular fashion styles, Gouster or Ivy League. An Ivy Leaguer was a collegiate wannabe, a 60’s version of J. Crew with just a touch of swagger. His style was straight-legged pants, sometimes with a belt buckle in back; a buttoned-down collar shirt; and tinted glasses.

Ivy Leaguers shopped at Brooks Brothers where they specialized in starched, buttoned-down shirts with French cuffs and cufflinks. The Ivy Leaguer would complete the look with a V-Neck, wool blend sweater thrown over the shirt to give us girls a thrill.

A Gouster’s style was dress-casual. He wore lose fitting, almost baggy clothes. His fine wool, alpaca and mohair sweater had three buttons at the neck, with a lazy, turned down collar. Pants with two pleats at the waist left a little room in the leg so that a Gouster could pimp. He usually pimped on down to Smokey Joe’s Fashion House to buy more fabulous outfits. As I said earlier, Gousters favored Jade East, while Ivy Leaguers spruced up with Aramis.

Girls were just beginning to wear pants, and many of us still wore mini-skirts and dresses to dances in order to show off our legs. Girls shopped at Brooks Brothers to show their allegiance to an Ivy Leaguer if that was who they were dating at the time. Sometimes we’d wear the sherbet colored, buttoned-down shirts, with plaid, pleated mini-skirts, matching knee socks, and suede, lace-up shoes called “Bucks”.

If we were dating a Gouster we’d wear cardigan sweaters that buttoned down the back and tight skirts, with pearl earrings and pearl necklaces. We’d finish that look with nylon stockings and Cha-cha boots.

Today, I couldn’t tell if my friend was Ivy League or Gouster. He just looked comfortable. But every once in a while, I see a brother my age with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ and I know right away which one he is.”

For even more on the term “Gouster”, including some pretty intense etymology, click here to visit Language Hat’s fascinating blog. Jive on!

UPDATE: Back in the 1970s, David Bowie recorded an album called “The Gouster” that was inspired by Gouster culture in Chicago. The album remained shelved until 2016, though a number of cuts were released on his classic “Young Americans” LP. Here’s an interesting write up on “The Gouster” album from Vice iD.

Also, do yourself a favor and check out the super-informative comments section below…


About ayanacontreras

i love the transportive powers of sound. i am a radio host/producer, DJ, Sound designer, 45rpm collector, and art lover living in the city of wind. View all posts by ayanacontreras

11 responses to “Gouster or Ivy Leaguer?

  • Dancing Lesson: Jamaican Import circa 1964 «

    […] the pony, the jerk, et al), few have such detailed documentation.  Anybody out there remember “The Gouster” (a Chicago flash-in-the-pan dance committed to wax by local group the 5 […]

  • damone

    My understanding of gousters is that they are the ones that started boppin or put that “cool dip” to it. They were trend setters for Chicago in that what they started developed into what we now call Steppin which is synonomous to Chicago as soul music is to Motown!

    • ayanacontreras

      Yessir… that sounds about right. “Gouster”. What a Chicagoism, and what a cool cultural signifier. Thanks, Damone for your comment. Jive on!

    • Ron W.

      Yeah I remember the gousters put some showmanship to the Chicago Bop. They added an exaggerated arm swing and extended the space between their partner to add some personality to the dance. They added a dip and would often start dancing conservatively before breaking into the “gouster bop” Exspecially to Motown records-like Marvin Gaye’s especially.

  • Sharon

    Do I remember the ‘Gouster Bop’ in K-town! Good Fun!

  • Vicki Basley Goldston

    damone has it BUT, you talk about cool? try an ivy leaguer who could bop and walk, (i hear you, “village caller”). and don’t forget about conservatives — those who were brave enough to mix styles, e.g., a brooks brothers shirt with pleats.

  • sableindian

    The article forgot to mention the female Gousters (pronounced Goustahs)
    Females wore pleated skirts right above the knee with sweat socks that were pulled all the way up and then pushed down with gleaming white tennis shoes. Oh yes, and both wore suspenders, male and female. I think Goustahs were very neat. They did not like anyone to walk on their shoes, the girls were always washing their shoes and polishing them.. The guys wore expensive Banlons and pullovers from Cherry the Tailor off 63rd street. The Goustahs of the West side were different from the ones on the Southside.
    They also danced differently. There was a dance called The Walk. They had different styles, one Ivy League, the other Goustah. Also, Ivy leaguers wore Collegians, which is a short haircut with a line all around. Goustahs wore their hair a bit longer and had a part near the middle or had a conk (rare for south-siders)
    I went to church in Ida B Wells, lived in Chatham and stayed in the summer with my grandparents in Woodlawn/Hyde Park.
    To see a Goustah decked out to take his girl to the Regal Theatre was something to cherish. Exquisite!

    • ayanacontreras

      Wow. Thanks for the insight, Sableindian.

      • sableindian

        Thank you. I understand that Herb Kent, a Chicago DJ, had alot to do with the expression, Gouster. He is still alive. I wish someone could ask him about the origin. I think that it was just a play on words and had nothing to do with Scottish. Just as a person was so ugly that they were ‘yagly’, a person was so ganster that they were maybe, gouster. As an African American from the South Side East Chatham location of Chicago, we did alot of play on words and I wonder if anyone remembers that Black women were fine fezzneckies with mellow ferns? Yeah, love Herb and

  • Janice

    Wow those were the days! I have a few comments I must add to this beautiful history of my beloved west side of Chicago.
    The Gouster style was created on the West Side and the other thing that set it off or identified a Gouster was a gangster Borsalino hat,. I may not have it spelled correctly. The Gouster style will return,I’m sure. I am a true Gouster babe! Radios Herb Kent was AFTER the style.

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