Earlier this week the UK-based website Fashion United ran a piece entitled “The great prep revival a growth opportunity for menswear,” which introduces the term “remix” into the latest iteration of neo-prep. Ralph Lauren takes the opening of the piece, followed by Rowing Blazers, which is driving much of the publicity for the new prep-meets-streetwear trend.
As is the case in times of change (which is essentially always), there is an interesting push not just to move the present towards the future, but to look back upon the past in a way that is more in sync with the desired destination.
From the article:
Jack Carlson, founder of menswear brand Rowing Blazers, and author of the book of the same name which documented the history of the rowing blazer throughout Europe, is a former US national rower who therefore lived the preppie life before outfitting it. His brand’s recent collaboration with J Press, the mens clothier founded in 1902 on Yale University campus, also sold out in a day. He told the Project Mens crowd, “Prep is a dangerous word and when I first started the brand I was very skittish about it. It comes with a lot of baggage. A lot of people think of the 80s country clubs attended by an elitist buttoned-up clientele, exclusively white. That’s a problem in 2019. So it’s important to look at the original heritage behind it.”
The Anglo-American codes of prep are being democratized for today’s consumer. Tongue-in-cheek, rebellious, or subversive spins are the entry points. Fake crests slapped on everything might once have frustrated the true prep but can be cool now in an ironic way. Critter pants, those trousers embroidered all over with tiny fish or dogs or lobsters, worn with a blinged-out Gucci logo sweater, why not?
“It may be an Anglo thing but to me it’s a punk thing, a hiphop thing,” says [vintage curator Josh] Matthews. “Mainly because prep was a breakaway from normal ideas. It said ‘I come from money and know what’s expected of me, but I’m so cool I can wear these clothes, I don’t have to wear the suit.’”
“The false boundaries between preppie, tailoring and street are being broken down because people are increasingly cultural omnivores,” explains Carlson. “Fashion is not supposed to be one-dimensional. The rugby shirt has been re-appropriated often throughout history. But as a brand we’re happy to educate consumers on why it is this heavy weight, why are the buttons this way, it’s important for people to know those decisions aren’t random. We look at how Mick Jagger wore the rugby shirt or David Hockney or Tupac. This world of prep can be a lot more inclusive than originally thought.”
It should be no surprise that the path of Preppy-Ivy-Trad-Americana is winding in tandem with a changing America, and that the two should mirror each other. During the heyday, Ivy was a style that had already been set by society’s uppers and adopted by those in the middle as a matter of good taste. In the preppy ’80s the same phenomenon happened again, with the best-selling “Preppy Handbook” offering an irreverent glimpse into the lives of what remained of the old WASP establishment. The Ivy trend during the publication of “Take Ivy” some eight years ago seemed to herald a newfound appreciation for a forgotten style, though was quickly followed by neo-prep fashion excess.
But now it’s as if the clothes are being adopted as an act of sartorial conquest: overthrow the establishment and don its vestments ironically in a celebration of victory:
Upper class connotations, be gone. A new breed of millennial international playboy is taking back prep, and he’s not interested in being a member of your club.
So it’s trads versus neos, or dinosaurs versus mammals. And we know how that one turned out. — CC