Beatnik Prep

Back in the chilly days of March I amused myself by playing with style juxtapositions. The concept of “beatnik prep” was pretty simple. Start with a beard or goatee (check), take your corduroy or tweed cap and wear it backwards at an angle, so it resembles a beret. Then add natural-shouldered sportcoat and maybe even a turtleneck. And don’t forget the sunglasses.

It’s a harder look to pull off in warm weather, but earlier this summer I was bicycling through Manhattan over to Ralph Lauren’s Rhinelander flagship on the Upper East Side. As I was locking up I ran into Tyler Thoreson, my editor at RL Mag (in fact, I believe he’s a VP in charge of the entire RL website). The fellow Viking, who’s blond and towers over me by at least four inches, hadn’t recalled seeing me bearded. I was in seersucker shorts, navy polo, navy cotton cap backwards, striped ribbon belt, canvas sneakers, and shades. I said I was playing with a look called “beatnik prep.” He said it was working.

Later I told him I should write a piece about it for RL Mag. Of course it doesn’t actually exist as a real thing, though maybe now it does, having been published on the Internet. There are at least a couple of cultural touchstones, such as the scene from “Dead Poets Society” where the rebel prepster dons a beret and plays the saxophone:

And there’s me shopping for a navy turtleneck at J. Press York Street last winter:

I didn’t hear from my editor, naturally, so here we go with an Ivy Style post. Photo at top is from Greenwich Village in the mid ’50s. Flute-accompanied poetry recital with sweaters draped over shoulders.

Yeah, something like that. Dig? — CC

23 Comments on "Beatnik Prep"

  1. In semi-related news, this 2015 Vogue article popped up on Twitter today, about desert boots and reggae:

  2. Mountain Cat Prep | August 3, 2017 at 3:02 pm |

    I like this idea a lot! Adding in some extra facial hair, a dash of rule bending with the cap, and you’ve got a preppy look that feels more chic. Hope to see you make a post about later in the fall.

  3. Gibson Gardens | August 3, 2017 at 3:32 pm |

    Are there one or two ‘els’ in bollox ?

  4. Mitchell S. | August 3, 2017 at 5:12 pm |

    Dig it, man…fair, Nordic completions and the color black don’t mix. Sorry, Daddy-o.

    By the way, there is nothing remotely preppy about beat style. Beatniks were not clean-cut, colorfully-dressed, or into status, like preppies were. In fact, they often wore black berets and blue artists’ smocks, probably because they were so inexpensive at the time.

  5. Mitchell S. | August 3, 2017 at 5:14 pm |

    I meant to say “complexions.”

  6. Charlottesville | August 3, 2017 at 5:15 pm |

    It goes well with your pipe, Christian. I don’t think I’m very bohemian and I am certainly not a beatnik (I don’t think that has been an authentic option since around 1966 or so). However, although I don’t currently sport any chin spinach or say Daddy-O, I like turtlenecks and tweeds in cool weather, enjoy my Ray Ban Clubmasters and Wayfarers, and even own an actual black Basque beret, which is easy to ball up in the pocket of a coat in case of sudden snowstorms. And saying “Dig it” and calling everybody “man” seems like a lot more fun than Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. If only I could play the sax.

  7. Mitchell S. | August 3, 2017 at 5:38 pm |

    @Christian: Grace Kelly could wear shower curtain and still look sexy. I don’t think that proves your point.

    I read in Alan Flussers “Dressing the Man” that everyone has colors that flatter him/her and colors to avoid. Blondes and black clash with each other. White is a much better choice.

    Exhibit A: Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct”

  8. Funny, Flusser is now a total convert to black. Probably partly because it annoys people who say a gentleman shouldn’t wear black:

  9. Give you a baritone sax and you look like Gerry Mulligan.


  10. Mitchell S. | August 3, 2017 at 7:37 pm |

    “How to be a Beatnik,” from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show:

  11. The little black dress. End of argument.

  12. Every man looks good in a black turtleneck.

  13. Minimalist Tras | August 3, 2017 at 11:39 pm |

    Every man also looks good in a black knit necktie.

  14. Minimalist Trad | August 3, 2017 at 11:41 pm |

    Sorry, I’m Minimalist Trad, not Minimalist Tras.

  15. Vern Trotter | August 4, 2017 at 12:30 am |

    My college roommate in 1957-58 was a Beat artist from the Rush Street area of Chicago getting his M.A. then Ph.D. He wore black everything except for his Clarks Desert Boots. Always a black turtleneck of various materials and a black beret. No facial hair. Slept on the floor.

  16. I think it’s a great look. Reminds me of the punk/prep look of the late 70’s and early 80’s. I would love to see an article on that!

  17. Reggie Darling | August 4, 2017 at 9:47 am |

    I remember a sizeable contingent of kids at my prep school in the 1970s who were very cool and nonchalant, and affected a hip prep look that was decidedly bo-ho. Not clean cut, but it worked. They were the “Too Cool for School” ones who hung out in the room on campus reserved for permitted smoking (called “The Butt Room” or “The BR”). If I recall correctly, the BR was a nasty, dirty hole of a room in the basement of the main building. Part of its allure, I suppose. I was kind of intimidated by those kids, but admired their Devil May Care attitude and slouchy style.

  18. Since no one has mentioned him yet, I will.

    Maynard G. Krebs

    Wonder whatever happened to him?

  19. “‘Consistency,’ quipped Oscar Wilde, ‘is the last refuge of the unimaginative.'” How very un-Trad! Nobody would ever identify the Irish Fop/Dandy as a Trad forbear, of course, but was surprised to hear this from Flusser. Although maybe I shouldn’t be: “imaginative”; “creative”; “in the vanguard” are not words & phrases we associate with the style we all enjoy so much.

  20. Roycru: I haven’t heard from Maynard since 1964 when he mentioned something about going on a three-hour pleasure cruise…

    Charlottesville: Don’t worry about learning the sax; all you need is to be able to tap out a good riff on a pair of bongos!

  21. Almost every skin tone can pull off black.
    Not every skin tone can pull off white. You need to have a nice tan to do so.

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