Sunday, September 23, 2012

Classifying Prep: what is preppy? Where did it come from? Where is it going?


Where do preppy stylings come from? Some wonder about the about the origins of a style but preppy style seems to be born out of both practicality and privilege. In America much of the preppy basics we see arose from "Old Money."

The old money style comes from Quakers, Shaker, and Pilgrim ideals (some descendents are still alive today) while the newly minted takes a cue from the pomp and circumstantial style of the very top.... who wear it only occasionally but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Let's take a closer look at the various origins of preppy and study the various groups who gravitate towards prep styling. There are many types of prep groups subgroups today but in my view there are 4 "tribes" (being anthropolgical about it) or categories of you'll see in the western world:

English Aristocracy and the Royals


The quintessential origins that launched preppy style and comes from the top of society (British society that is): Barbour, Dunhill and the like- very expensive quality clothing that lasts and is sometimes bought new but mostly passed down and kept in decent condition throughout the years. Much of it is worn for occasions and practicality; style is an added benefit to wearing it. Today's equivalent is fox/ duck/ quail hunting, horses, country manors, old Land Rovers and mucking about in Wellies on the grounds.

Modern day Duke's, Lord's and Ladies who can tell you about the intricacies of generations of their family history and such. England is where the origins of stereotypical preppy style began generations ago. Maybe further than that. You don't need to call them preppy it's just how they are- they don't really know any other way of dressing.


Old Money/ WASPs'- Across the pond is the American equivalent of English aristocracy, you don't know who their ancestors are (except maybe the Quakers and pilgrims if you trace them way back) or who they are until you know or they realize who you aren('t).

They dress timelessly and traditionally American but try to blend in with everyone else (somewhat, though you can tell they come from money since their body language gives them away and they are cautiously friendly yet guarded with most people who aren't in "their" circle.

They are to be emulated if not for their style, which can sometimes be frumpy (don't let that fool you- their clothes are of excellent quality even though their pant cuffs are frayed at the edges they're nearly 20 years old pants Land End, or J Press who doesn't even make that specific style anymore, in fact J Press isn't even around anymore unfortunately. These are clothes bought before everything was made in China.

Hard to fool old money types them unless you were born in a WASP community or your grandfather was an influential part of history, business or politics 100 or so years ago in some way or fashion. This newly monied grandfather (well, new money at the time he made his fortune that is) set the tone for how the rest of the generations would dress.

Many times they seem like upper middle class suburbanites until they retreat to their old money institutions: prestigious private clubs which at least one member of the family occasionally goes to and various black tie events for various charitable causes. Old money and or WASPY teenagers are often referred to as "trust fundies", they tend to gravitate towards other old money individuals or at least those who have class and know the unwritten rules of old money (dressing loudly and flashily instantly breaks many of these rules) Not always republican so keep the assumptions about political leanings in check (ex: the Kennedies) If you can tell they live somewhat in the past.

New Money- Recently monied and wanting to show it off. Ralph Lauren shoppers who go to their Lambo's or other trendy vehicle(s) of the year... They tend to mix preppy clothes with other styles thus creating “Noveau prep. A bit gouche in this author's opinion but that's a matter of personal taste...Unlike the more subdued, reserved old money new money are very sociable sometimes to the point of being obnoxious. You have to see the new bright green Seesuckers pants they got to show their part of the money set too. As you can tell old and new money don't really get along and sometimes act like oil and water when they're together at social functions. But new money incorporates their background into preppy wardrobe whether it's a Chinese billionaire or someone who just got an investor for their restaurant finding app since it's the goal is to stand out as an individual.

Upper Middle Class Urbanites and Suburbanites- JCrew, Banana, The Gap, Sperry Topsider and North Face (or Patagonia) fleece are the brands of choice for this set for the Prep one's. All bought new, much of it not made the way it used to be unfortunately. Their style came mostly from the 1940's post war boom that embodies the stereotypical "preppy" look.

Influenced by Old Money, Madison Avenue does a great job of marketing the "lifestyle" to upper middle class strivers. It is the style Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren sells to upper middle managers and executives in their catalogs and websites. Banana Republic recently did a good job of incorporating the success of Mad Men into it's clothing line which did well with this segment. People want to hark back to the past with a trendy Fidora or skinny tie to stay "current" Though, this sometimes means taking too many trendy cues from the past and coming off trying a bit too hard such as the 1960's preppy trends that are now everywhere and may or may not be a timeless look a decade from now; mostly because certain stores clothing line is based on TV shows and movies.

Upper middle classer's follow trends and sometimes forget Prep styles is a timeless, classic look. A delicate balance and if pulled off correctly may land you in the company of WASPY company who are not sure if they should invite you to their Fisher Island vacation home to meet their other friends.

But most of all the thing that is important is to dress in whichever way that makes you feel good whether it's inspired by Toffs and English Lords or Mad Men- old money, new money or no money. ;)