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Preppy (also spelled preppie) or prep (all abbreviations of the word preparatory) is a youth subculture in the United States associated with old private Northeastern college preparatory schools. The terms are used to denote a person seen as characteristic of a student or alumnus of these schools. Characteristics of preps in the past include a particular subcultural speech, vocabulary, dress, mannerisms and etiquette, reflective of an upper-class upbringing.[1]


The term preppy derives from the private, university-preparatory or prep schools that some American upper class and upper middle class children attend.[2] The term preppy is commonly associated with the Ivy League and broader group of oldest universities in the Northeast as well as the prep schools which brought students to them,[3] since traditionally a primary goal in attending a prep school was admittance into one of these institutions.[2] Preppy fashion derives from the fashions of these old Northeastern schools in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Lisa Birnbach's 1980 book Official Preppy Handbook was written to poke fun at the rich lives of privileged Ivy League and socially elite liberal arts college students. It portrays the preppy social group as well-connected, and although exclusive, courteous to other social groups without fostering serious relationships with them. Being educated and well-connected is associated with an upper-class socioeconomic status that emphasizes higher education and high-income professional success.[3]


Clint Eastwood wearing white golfing V neck sweater and racing green polo shirt with oversized collar, 1981

For men, preppy fashion has its roots in, and substantially overlaps with, the and "Trad" and "Ivy" styles of dress, which originated circe 1912 and had become widespread by the late 1950s.[4] J. Press represented the quintessential Ivy League style, stemming from the collegiate traditions of Ivy League schools. In the mid-twentieth century J. Press and Brooks Brothers both had stores on Ivy League school campuses, including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale.

Ivy Style was inspired by leisure activities commonly enjoyed by the upper-classes in the United Kingdom and northeastern United States (such as polo, sailing, hunting, fencing, crew rowing, lacrosse, golf, tennis, rugby, squash[3] and swimming) and adapted the sportswear associated with these activities as everyday wear. As such, it incorporated aspects of traditional British country clothing (tweed sport coat, brogue shoes, etc.). Distinctly preppy fashions then emerged as a still-more-casual, youthful interpretation of Ivy League style (rugby shirt, boat shoes, etc.). Thus, the sportswear, casual lifestyle apparel and outdoor gear offered by retailers such as L. L. Bean in the Northeast (with its eponymous "Bean Boots") and Eddie Bauer in the Pacific Northwest came to form an important component of preppy style. Both outfitters, along with Vermont-based Orvis, were featured in The Official Preppy Handbook. The mostly tongue-in-cheek guide published in 1980 described L. L. Bean as "nothing less than Prep mecca." Their catalog was said to be "the biggest seller of the rugged New England Prep look."[5]

By the 1980s, mass marketing of brands such as Lacoste, Daniel Cremieux and Izod embodied preppy fashion's acceptance into mainstream casual wear.[6]

For women, preppy-influenced fashions emerged in the 1960s, a trend led by designers such as Perry Ellis and Lilly Pulitzer, influenced by designers such as Oleg Cassini, and popularized by female students at the Seven Sisters Colleges, sister institutions to the Ivy League.[7] These classic ensembles of the 1960s and 1970s include tailored skirt suits, low heels, wrap dresses, shift dresses, silk or cotton blouses, and jewelry with a refined style. Such clothing often includes elements drawn from typical preppy style, such as nautical stripes, pastel colours, or equestrian details.

The Official Preppy Handbook points to daughters "borrowing the clothes her mother wore in Prep school. Before long, they share a charge account at The Talbots." The handbook also stated that "Behind the red door on every Talbots catalog cover is the best selection of women's Prep fashions anywhere." And that "the clothes here are a rare combination of Preppy, tasteful, and sophisticated."[8]

Though traditional interest in the preppy style generally fell in the 1990s, some of the newer outfitters such as Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Vineyard Vines, Gant, and Elizabeth McKay are often perceived as having preppy styles, with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Luella Bartley adding the preppy style into their clothes in the 1990s.[9]

Examples of general preppy wardrobe staples include: - a navy blazer; - repp stripe neckties; - sweaters (particularly with cable knitting, argyle patterns, or university logos); - school sweatshirts; - grosgrain or woven leather belts; - chinos (particularly khakis and Nantucket Reds; - madras and seersucker trousers and shorts,[1]; - button down[3] Oxford cloth button down ("OCBD") shirts,[6] - pearl necklaces and earrings; - gold bangle or large chain bracelets; - penny loafers (for both men and women); - polo shirts (often with a popped collar); and boat shoes.[1][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Colman, David (17 June 2009). "The All-American Back From Japan". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "Preppy Look". Fashion Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Hogan, Chris. "The Roots of American Preppy". Men's Flair. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  4. ^ Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design. New Age Publishers. 2007. p. 25. ISBN 978-81-224-1371-7. Ivy League: A popular look for men in the fifties that originated on such campuses as Harvard, Priceton [sic] and Yale; a forerunner to the preppie look; a style characterized by button down collar shirts and pants with a small buckle in the back.
  5. ^ Birnbach, Lisa (ed.) (1980). The Official Preppy Handbook. Workman Publishing. pp. 151, 154. ISBN 9780894801402
  6. ^ a b Peterson, Amy T. & Ann T. Kellogg (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History 1900 to the Present: 1900–1949. ABC-CLIO. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-313-04334-5.
  7. ^ Eisenstadt, Peter R.; Moss, Laura-Eve, eds. (2005). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press. p. 550. ISBN 978-0-8156-0808-0.
  8. ^ Birnbach, Lisa (ed.) (1980). The Official Preppy Handbook. Workman Publishing. pp. 128, 154-155. ISBN 9780894801402
  9. ^ Camille (2 December 2010). "The Preppy Look: A Brief History". Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  10. ^ Olian, JoAnne (5 September 2002). Everyday fashions of the fifties as pictured in Sears catalogs. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-42219-0.

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