Old Navy’s War On Prep


Summer 2015 will be remembered as the summer of outrage. On whichever line of Donald Trump’s combover you stand, each day brings some gaffe, injustice or felonious act about which to gripe bitterly to the enjoyment of your friends and followers on social media.

And so within this spirit of antogonism and hyperbole that I declare that Old Navy has declared a war on prep. Not to mention formality and the plight of the individual among the masses, the parrot among the crows. In a new ad campaign plugging its back-to-school items, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the social-climbing mother of a little boy she’s dressed for school in buttondown collar, rep-striped bow ties, charcoal suit, and penny loafers. “I look like our lawyer,” the boy gripes.

navy boy

Sure enough, when dropped off for the first day at his new school in an affluent suburb, the kid notices he doesn’t exactly fit in, and the young argyle-clad soldier waves the white t-shirt of surrender. “I just want to look cool and wear jeans,” he tells his mom, who gives in and rushes off to her local strip mall to cloak her son in the raiments of mediocrity.

And so what could have been a pint-sized savior of trad for the next generation succombs to the herd instinct of his peers. He will presumably show up in the next commercial decked out in lowest-common-denominator attire: cheap, mass-produced, fashion-sportswear disposable dreck hawked by a multinational corporation.

And we’ll probably see him during the Christmas campaign, too. After all, his new clothes will be worn-out by then. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

60 Comments on "Old Navy’s War On Prep"

  1. Old School | August 5, 2015 at 1:21 pm |

    Not just a war on Prep, but on good taste.

  2. Those ads bring back bad memories. I could not wear jeans to school because my mother didn’t want me to look like a farmer.

  3. And the irony was, when I was in school (the Eisenhower years), the farmers usually looked better than the city kids.

  4. Mitchell S. | August 5, 2015 at 1:53 pm |

    You have to remember that Old Navy is headquartered in San Francisco-the bastion of the every-day -is-casual-Friday ethos. The Bay Area, with its high number of engineers and computer scientists, subscribes to a kind of reverse snobbery where the better-dressed you appear, the less street-cred you have. It’s a kind of Bizarro world from the buttoned-up East Coast from Boston to D.C.

  5. Much more discussion of this on our Facebook page. Apparently others were thinking the same thing:


  6. Strange, didn’t Old Navy originally make it’s nut on preppy stuff? Well that, cargo pants, jeans and tees.

  7. I have to admit a chuckle when they tell her “Old Navy”, and she tells her kid “*The* Navy”.

    Although instead of saying, “Children who lie go to jail,” she should have said, “The children who made your $8 jeans and $4 shirt are slaves.”

  8. The kids who buy $4 t-shirts go to public schools. Nice of them to support their future employer.

  9. William Richardson | August 5, 2015 at 4:56 pm |

    Lemmings charging over the cliffs to conform. Who knew looking like a garbage man or a hooker would be so conformist. Old Navy notwithstanding, my wife and I went to the beach the other day and I do not believe I saw a woman (except my wife) without some sort of tattoo. I could not help but imagine what they would look like when they turn sixty. Conformity takes an ugly turn.

  10. Serenity NOW!

  11. @William

    Way to keep the hyperbole going!

  12. Careful with the public school comment. I went to public school, but the clothing stores where I purchase my clothes do NOT include the Old Navy crowd. Also, I was raised on a farm but never wore jeans – anywhere – because my parents didn’t feel they were dressy enough for school or going out. I wouldn’t own a pair of jeans until well into my college years. Needless to say, I really do find these commercials to be insulting.

  13. William Richardson | August 5, 2015 at 6:57 pm |


    I do get carried away sometimes. Still, have you noticed how slovenly so many people dress these days?

  14. I can sympathize with this poor chap; I myself once visited the Dark Side. It was mid winter in the early years of the eighth decade of the 20th Century on the East Coast of the Unites States. The moon was obscured by heavy cloud cover.

    Prior to this fateful turn of events, I had dressed in a rather stylish manner throughout grade school and high school, and intended to do the same when I went off to academia. However, before the first semester ended, I realized I was floating in a sea of bobbing slobs; and worse, it seemed many a coed was drawn to the most slovenly looking ne’er-do-wells.

    Late one evening during freshman-year Christmas break, approximately a fortnight after winter solstice; I threw the sartorial towel into the fire. I decided to leave all my good stuff at home and adopt a regulation Early 70s Collegiate Look: old tee shirt, fraying jeans and ubiquitous N3B Air Force Parka. The parka came in blue or sage; I went with sage.

    There was one interesting gent that still dressed up for classes. He wore impeccably tailored suits and sported a ring that was also a watch. It appeared to be a vintage piece from the 1930s. He carried a briefcase on campus, only it wasn’t some run of the mill leather case; it was crafted entirely from walnut and walnut veneer, including the handle. On a few occasions, he came to class wearing a cape.

    I still have the parka.

  15. But you can’t go and play in your “good” clothes, and the (apparent) current thinking among the roughly 15-40 year olds seems to be that you need to stand ready to jock it up at any moment…either that or hit the road with the band…or pound pitchers on the sports bar patio.

    In any event, cheap wash and wear crap is the standard uniform: grime it up, sweat it up, puke on it, stick it in the washer and repeat. And this applies to former prep school MBAs as well as “the masses”.

  16. Ezra Cornell | August 5, 2015 at 9:55 pm |

    Perhaps Old Navy is just not the particular herd to which you want to belong. But there is a predictable herd of commentators here — tradition — harumph! — class — harumph, harumph! — declining standards! — harumph, harumph! — individualism — harumph! — the lower people — harumph! We like our herd, but let’s not pretend the trad/Ivy look is anything but another herd.

  17. I keep reading comments that mention these “public schools.” They certainly sound like scary places.

  18. In England they’re even scarier.

  19. Bags' Groove | August 6, 2015 at 9:15 am |

    Scariest bit being when a student’s parents hand over approx 30,000 of their hard earned pounds…per annum.

  20. Ward Wickers | August 6, 2015 at 9:36 am |

    Rumor has it that The Donald has a big stake in Old Navy.

    The cape made me chuckle.

  21. @BG,

    They’re no cheaper in the US. Private school tuition is eerily similar to what you pay for your kids’ college. I’m fairly sure that when I pay the last college bill for my two sons in a couple of years, it will truly be one of the high points of my life.

  22. William Richardson | August 6, 2015 at 10:32 am |


    You seem to be a member of a herd that regards some as “lower people.” Valuing good traditions, having high standards and being an individualist, I think, are admirable traits. Having grown up poor and being the first in my family to attend college (and only for two years, I left to get a job) gave me a special appreciation for these traits.

    Did Ezra attend Cornell or is that his last name? It is not only generally lowered standards and dying traditions that I lament but also predictable snobs who admit to belong to a herd.

  23. Some people have way too much anxiety about being “individuals.” Besides, I thought we were all in favor of school uniforms here.

  24. Bags' Groove | August 6, 2015 at 11:33 am |

    My high point was seeing my kids putting their educations to good use…by which time I’d (almost) forgotten the cost.

  25. @L-field,

    On a somewhat more serious note, talking to fellow prep school alumni decades after we graduated, I’ve heard from more than one of them who came from families of modest means that our dress code was one of the best things that ever happened to them because it greatly reduced the visible signs that they were poor which made it much easier for them to feel like they fit in. My memories are a bit different, but it was definitely the closest that I’ve ever seen to a meritocracy – if you were smart and worked hard, you were respected, no matter how affluent your family might have been.

    So, yes, I’m definitely in favor of school uniforms.

  26. William Richardson | August 6, 2015 at 11:43 am |


    My anxiety often takes the forms of bewilderment and bemusement. (Thom Browne-Pee Wee Herman suits) I did enjoy your use of irony about our “all” favoring school uniforms.


  27. Wright Hall | August 6, 2015 at 11:43 am |

    it would actually be great if all parents could afford to get their kids even the inexpensive stuff from Old Navy to wear to school ….

  28. William Richardson | August 6, 2015 at 11:54 am |


    I concur. Perhaps we will soon have leadership that will foster an environment that will allow individuals to make a good life for their children. Like the way I worked in individuals?

  29. Ward Wickers | August 6, 2015 at 12:31 pm |

    I’ve never seen much difference between good public schools and private schools, certainly not enough to warrant such expense. Education will be changing dramatically in the coming years thankfully. Who knows, we might not even have schools in the not-too-distant future.

    A recent TED award winner carved a hole in a slum wall and parked a computer in it. Kids with no education were learning in no time. In another, similar experiment, young kids learned by themselves advanced concepts in biology. Other experiments show great promise in self-organizing learning environments.

    Schools–as we know them today–came from the British schooling system designed to teach skills needed to run the colonial empire–largely clerking and bureaucratic skills–and it worked well for that. But this education system today–whether public or private–makes everyone alike in many ways (consider as a close-to-home example, the uniforms). Unfortunately, this alikeness is especially true in thinking. Although there are exceptions, most come away from the educational experience as quite mediocre. What this guy has done may very well change all of that. Too bad, of course, for Old Navy. It won’t have traditional school kids to sell back-to-school clothes to any more.


  30. Having attended private school as a day student, I fully understand the desire to break free from the khaki and OCBD/polo conventions. Looking back, with the perspicacity which time warrants, these conventions were and are deeply rooted in principles that now direct my life.

  31. @Ward I didn’t see your comment before posting. You’re wrong because your experience is limited to a couple internet videos that you’ve watched. The primary difference between public and private, aside from the data that clearly shows private school students test 1.5 years ahead of public, is found in the principle of paying for and determining ones educational bias as opposed to allowing the government to dictate the bias and the tax payer to foot the bill. Sickens me to think that my parents double paid via tuition for my sisters and I and via property tax for the poor folks across town.

  32. @WFBJr,

    Indeed. Attending a private school was probably the most defining part of my life. We had to work extremely hard, which turned college into a very easy four years. I didn’t have to work as hard until grad school. We were, in general, a bunch of smart rich kids, but we definitely weren’t given any special treatment. Quite the opposite – expectations were extremely high. And, in general, I’d guess that that’s the most important difference between public and private schools: the expectations are here higher in private schools and students tend to live up to the higher expectations.

  33. @Im – well said. I could have gone to (what is regarded by many as) the best public high school in the country. I didn’t and I was sent to a nearby Jesuit-run College Prep school. The bottom line is that the kids who attended the public school largely were a bunch of shitheads who would later attend state (“Wow-I heard Boulder has a great accounting program!”) schools and go into meaningless careers. They all thought they were cool and they dressed like the shithead-looking kids in the Old Navy commercial. I’m sure they don’t feel as cool now as they work another shift down at the mall or as a CPA.

  34. William Richardson | August 6, 2015 at 3:01 pm |


    College is not for everybody, private or not. I just looked up the median salary for CPA’s and was amazed how meagerly they are paid. I understand there is many a Starbucks barista with Ivy League credentials as well. Choose your major wisely.

  35. Ward Wickers | August 6, 2015 at 3:17 pm |

    Yes, WFBjr, I am prodding a scared cow. It is disheartening to know that you paid double to get 1.5 years ahead on the same information. That doesn’t sound like a particularly smart deal to me. Now, you really don’t know my experience, but I will tell you this: I’ve always been a late bloomer pretty much throughout my life. A year and a-half amounts to nothing. But that’s not really the issue, as I see it. Not only did you pay double and, by the way, spend years in classrooms, many of which were dry as dust boring and most of which taught you many, many things you never needed or used, you might have gotten all that you did get and more much faster with a computer in a wall.

    A little out-of-the-box thinking coupled with new technologies will change the way education is delivered. But that is very unlikely to come from either current public or private systems.

  36. universitystripe | August 6, 2015 at 4:40 pm |

    I would say that a private school testing 1.5 grades above a public school, on average, has far more to do with the home lives of those students. In public schools alone, the parents from more high-earning families do far better than their classmates from low-income families. It’s because these students tend to have parents who can help them, either personally or by hiring tutors.

    Sure, there are some low-income students in private schools, but not nearly enough to balance the averages.

  37. They would’ve paid triple as long as it meant by sister wasn’t bullied by white trash. They paid for the environment more so than the education. 1.5 years is an average. I tested far above that, received scholastic scholarship and as a result of my education now make 7x the average household income. Simple arithmetic proves it was a very, very sound investment. I’m glad that my parents decided phlegmatic teachers pining over the classics and an intransigent adherence to a dress code was a better investment than throwing their children to Board of Education’s Falstaffian clutches.

  38. Ward Wickers | August 7, 2015 at 10:09 am |

    Oh, they would have paid triple … Well, that explains it nicely. Universitystripe is accurate that home environment counts greatly. Socioeconomic status is a robust predictor of academic success. Decades of research shows that the higher the SES, the better kids do academically. All else pales in comparison.

    It should come as no surprise that private schools are heavily populated with kids from high SES families. So research has sought to tease out the effects of SES vs the school. Recent, well-designed studies show that when you control for SES, the difference between private and public schools fades. Some studies have shown that public schools achieve better academic achievement when controlling for family background–a Simpson’s Paradox. So, almost all the variance in achievement comes from SES, not the type of school.

    Research shows that private schools do have one edge. Their students do a little better on standardized tests, but that’s about it. Recent research of kids’ cognitive abilities and intelligences out of Harvard, MIT and Brown show that the private schools’ increase in standardized test scores come from an increase in crystallized intelligence–the knowledge and skills kids learn in schools. They didn’t find commensurate gains in fluid intelligence–the ability to analyze novel problems and think critically and logically. So, in other words, the private schools train kids to take tests better, but not think better.

  39. UniversityStripe | August 7, 2015 at 10:53 am |

    “1.5 years is an average. I tested far above that, received scholastic scholarship and as a result of my education now make 7x the average household income. Simple arithmetic proves it was a very, very sound investment.”

    Honestly, it sounds like you were gifted if what you say is true. You probably would have done outstandingly in a public school, as well.

    You bring up income. I’m no product of boarding schools, but I know from personal experience that wealth tends to breed wealth. The result of inclusive institutions, such as private schools, certain churches, and fraternal organizations is that you meet the correct people who can help you in your career.

    It’s hard not to earn the average income when your parents already have the connections, or the money to help you make your own.

  40. UniversityStripe | August 7, 2015 at 11:19 am |

    That should read “exclusive,” not “inclusive.” Also, the last paragraph should read about earning more than the average income.

    I clearly need coffee, or a good editor, before commenting on my favorite blogs.

  41. Ward Wickers | August 7, 2015 at 11:22 am |

    Yes, IQ has a lot to do with genes. Of all the traits studied believed to be inherited, IQ has one of the strongest relationships in that regard.

    The fallacy is equating schooling as the causal factor when so many other variables like SES and IQ actually play the determining role. We may like to think our schooling was better and gave us a better education than other scholastic settings, but that just isn’t true. Understanding this and accepting it opens up the mind to new, exciting possibilities like sticking a computer in the wall and gaining serious traction on educating people who would ordinarily not have such opportunities to learn. Rather than dismissing these ideas out of hand, a little though would suggest that the self-organizing educational settings by their very nature have a better chance of developing fluid intelligence than traditional classrooms because of the way kids become involved. It isn’t about how phlegmatic or passionately involved the teaching staff, in fact it isn’t about the teaching staff or school at all.

  42. Regarding the real value of a private-school education, I’d suggest it’s really in the intangibles that tests may not measure well, or at all. These days, for example, you can get the content of some truly excellent college classes absolutely free through on-line operations like Coursera. This tells me that the value of the actual classes is very low, perhaps even zero, and what I paid a bazillion dollars for my sons’ college was really the environment that they’re exposed to while they’re there. Similarly for private schools. Sure, I can still quote parts of the Aeneid from memory, but that probably hasn’t been very useful in any other way than helping me pass Latin IV. But I’m fairly sure that the intangibles have been extremely valuable.

  43. Ward Wickers | August 7, 2015 at 12:05 pm |

    Or you are just trying to maintain cognitive consistency with what you’ve already bought in to. The major findings are clear. Intangibles would be a minor factor at best.

  44. How do you reconcile that POV with the economic reality – that the actual educational content seems to have zero value?

  45. @ Mr. University Stripe

    You’re entirely correct. The best schools, churches and fraternal organizations are THE major factors in “success.” A kid can graduate from public school with fantastic grades, maybe even the best grades of his class, and never get to be valedictorian or much honors, for that matter. The valedictorian is usually someone connected in the community, albeit public school. Same with Community Colleges, I knew someone who graduated with a two year degree (in accounting, and was given every honor, certificate, and trophy the college had to offer that graduation day. Everyone else got nothing. The guy’s father had a construction business, who did business with every major business and local government agency. Seeing that guy get up and down a dozen times from his seat to accept the numerous awards was positively repugnant.

    The Ivy community and “old boy” network far exceeds any nepotism I’ve mentioned above. For what it’s worth, I was a public school guy who became a CPA. Big 8 and major corporate positions were out of my reach. They just don’t recruit from the Hoi Polloi.

    It’s just the way it is.

  46. UniversityStripe | August 7, 2015 at 1:27 pm |

    Wriggles, while being connected certainly does help, I do not mean it to sound as if it is completely unfair. While I am the product of a public school and university, I am also a member of a mainline protestant church which tends to cater to upper-middle and upper-class individuals. I’m also a member of a community based fraternal organization.

    I have tried to persuade some friends of mine from various backgrounds to take part in these organizations, but many do not seem interested. The gates are open but many do not take advantage. They are seen as activities for old fogeys.

  47. University stripe, I also do not to wish to appear as if it is totally unfair. But, I have seen many such situations as I have described. I had to work much harder than many who had influence. But, life has many twists and turns, no matter what income level.

    As I told a fellow draftee who I was in the service with 45 years ago, “The US Army sure evens us all up.” He had been bragging about how he belonged to a country club, and how locker room attendants cleaned his clubs and shoes while he showered and then lunched.


  48. William Richardson | August 7, 2015 at 4:01 pm |


    Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.

  49. @William

    Nietzsche said it all.

  50. I just came across an almost-relevant story:


    It seems that trying to move upward in social status, like many people do when they’re dressing Ivy/prep without actually being from the social group that naturally does that, might actually cause genetic damage.

  51. Ward Wickers | August 18, 2015 at 7:00 pm |


    And your point is, what exactly? People who aren’t of the class they want to get into shouldn’t bother trying and just accept their lot as unsatisfying as it is because they will likely die young, or the so-called upper classes ought to make it a helluvalot easier for putative outsiders to enter else they risk killing others early?

  52. William Richardson | August 18, 2015 at 7:14 pm |


    Would you agree with the findings in this article?


  53. Research has shown a connection between stress and genetic disorders. (Here’s an example: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081030110959.htm) I believe that this was first noticed in a study of women in Holland who starved in the Dutch famine of 1944, like that link discusses. ISTR that the effects could actually last three generations (woman, baby in her womb, germ cells of the fetus were all affected).

    The article that I posted the link to just cites research, so I’d probably be foolish to disagree with it (I don’t do research in that particular area), but it did make me wonder if people who go out of their way to dress like they’re of another socio-economic status might suffer the same sort of effects.

    I seems to recall (perhaps a post here) a story about someone who bought a used blazer and found that the previous owner had added a fake buttonhole to make the blazer look like it was 3-2. My interpretation of the post was that the previous owner was probably desperate to look a certain way, desperate enough to essentially damage a perfectly good blazer to do this. That’s the sort of person who I suspect might suffer epigenetic damage from stressing over how they dress.

  54. William Richardson | August 18, 2015 at 8:17 pm |


    Did you say in a previous post that you own, how many Thom Browne suits? 14? 17? It is difficult to take you seriously. I’ve done research on the matter, so you would probably be foolish to disagree.


  55. @WR,

    OK, seriously, if you’ve done research in the matter, I’d love to hear more about it. Maybe a link to a publication or two. I actually do find epigenetics fascinating, although it’s definitely not what my degree’s in.

    (And I’m afraid that I actually *do* have 17 Black Fleece suits.)

  56. William Richardson | August 19, 2015 at 6:31 am |


    My friend, of course I have not formally studied the issue. The evidence to contradict the findings in the first publication you sited would appear to be all around us. The suggestion that anybody who would strive for a better life may do so at the peril of their health seems to be more of a gratuitous assertion which can just as gratuitously be refuted.

    I believe that faith in God, free will and responsibility would trump many of the findings in the study.

    I suppose what I objected to most about your post is that you feel you would be foolish to disagree with the findings. Many, many horrible things have been done and many laws have been enacted or dictated based on similar studies which go unchallenged. Climate change, as it is now known, comes to mind. Oh dear, I do believe I am going to ruffle some feathers with this statement.


  57. Excellent commentary writing CC… “Raiments of mediocrity.” Spot on.

  58. Is Seve serious in his comments? As I have observed on other articles, my guess is yes, given the nature of his comments towards people outside of his personal stomping grounds who are not of his own class. Sad, really.

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