Preppy Forever? Choate On Prep

How do prep-school students view clothes in a post-preppy world? Here’s an example published in 2012 in the school newspaper of Choate Rosemary Hall — the school that gave us the navy pinstripe/yellow socks/ribbon belt/bow tie look — sent to Ivy Style by Doria de La Chapelle, co-author of a book on preppy style.

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Last Thursday marked the annual “Dress like Deerfield Day” at Choate. The layered pastels and out-of-season white pants reminded me of the “preppy” style boarding schools are well known for. Brightly colored polos, popped collars, blazers, cashmere sweaters, madras, and plaid ensembles dominated Choate dress, mocking the tradition of “preppy” dress that we somewhat ignorantly disregard has not disappeared from schools, including our own.

This look that we mock is not only present at Deerfield but rather has developed and morphed into a modern version of prep. There has been a growing presence of preppy style as the ’50s and ’60s Ivy League clothing comes back into popularity within America. Looking back on the classic Ivy League, preppy style of the ’50s and ’60s it was a time of obsession with detail as men worried about, according to “Preppy: Cultivating Ivy Style” by Jeffrey Banks and Doria De La Chapelle, “the roll of a collar, the width of a lapel, the vent of a jacket, and the vital question of whether a shift cuff should possess one button or two and a sport coat two buttons or three.” Men had a relaxed, nonchalant elegance that is now lacking in the age of sweatpants and t-shirts. The women of the same time, like Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy, also oozed self-confidence and elegance.

While “preppy” usually referred to white, WASP-y, wealthy, American families, the evolving style has become inclusive, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious. Japanese fashion especially has taken great interest in the “preppy” style revitalizing old, preppy American brands such as Woolrich or Gant. While classic brands such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have maintained their original styles, they have also modernized their brands. For example, Tommy Hilfiger created a new form of the old duck boot by adding five-inch heels to the boot bringing it the level of runway shoes. The brand’s Fall 2010 campaign portrayed a multi-ethnic, fictional, fun, and extremely preppy family displaying the new essence prep style brings to the world.

Brands incorporate elements of preppy style and elements of simple elegance into edgy, glamorous pieces. For instance, Balenciaga has designed double-breasted boyfriend blazers that have a hard edge with their sharp padded shoulders and overly emphasized details that effectively combine rocker glam with preppy chic. Rugby has also branded a style influenced by the prep trend. However, Rugby has veered away from the classics and towards a younger, hipper, more modern interpretation. Band of Outsiders has incorporated the Ivy-League, preppy, men’s style into an amazing, stylish, sophisticated brand for women.

The Ivy-League style that John F. Kennedy made global began to slowly disappear and was almost completely gone by 1968. As Ivy League schools began to accept a more diverse student body, the tweed jackets, khakis, and sports coats began to die out and much of the preppy style was replaced with the counter-culture, hippie movement of long hair, beads, bell-bottoms, loose clothing, and nonconformance that opposed the classic conservative roots of prep. However, the preppy style never completely disappeared and is at present springing up in new, unconventional ways that allow the classic, simple style to live on. — ELIZABETH MELLGARD

18 Comments on "Preppy Forever? Choate On Prep"

  1. Oof. Once upon a time, preps may have learned to write English with style and grace, as well. How ’bout bringing _that_ fashion back, kids?

  2. @kagi

    Keep in mind that this was written by a high school kid.
    A child, essentially.

  3. As I understand it, 1967-68 was the watershed: until 1967, undergrads dressed like adults; from 1968, they dressed like slobs. This applied across the board, and not just to Ivy League schools.

    Or so I hear. I was too young at the time to pay attention or notice.

    Thanks, Cultural Revolution! What will you destroy next?

  4. @Kagi I’m an English teacher, and while I see construction issues, I’m afraid I consider this very well written indeed given the age of the author. I think, perhaps, you are far too removed from a classroom to judge this objectively.

    I found this to be a very thorough piece despite its brevity. Good show, Ms. Mellgard. You have earned an A.

  5. It wouldn’t hurt if Ivy Style became more multiethnic. I’m a winter and it’s still difficult to find garments in the right tone and intensity of color. I have the best luck with nontraditional brands like Gitman Vintage and Band of Outsiders, but needless to say, the cuts are all wrong. There’s only so much navy and charcoal I can put up with!

  6. Henry & Kagi have it right: the price of grammar has dropped with the price of life. Years after high school I can still recognize a dangling preposition and an abundance of linking verbs along with many other ways in which we are dumbing down in an effort to raise failures up.

  7. Trust me, in the real world, Thomas, dangling prepositions are the least of our worries. I also do not quite see what the issue is with an abundance of linking verbs for a high school newspaper. Prep or not. If this was a major metro daily, perhaps you would have a point.

    If you, Kagi, and Henry believe those of us in the teaching profession have lost our way, I encourage you to put on the instructor’s cap and join us in the classroom.

  8. @Kionon

    Don’t worry about them. They’re just conservative nattering nabobs of negativity. Afraid of their own shadows.

  9. just passing by | January 14, 2012 at 7:21 am |

    For $47,000 a year, I think one should apply a higher standard regarding the quality of an education. Especially when that tuition is for a HIGH SCHOOL.

  10. In Australia, the youth are embracing Ivy League with gusto. Surf wear shops sell hats and waistcoats, both of which are back in fashion. Button down collars have been common but now they are everywhere. Kids are even polishing their shoes. Perhaps, just perhaps, a golden era is up[on us. The kids are raiding my closets for my older clothes.

    Anyone out here have a tattersall style waistcoat which will fit 42/44 inch chest? Wool red strips on yellow or tweed preferred. There is absolutely nothing in Australia lest I have one made but the weather here is too for a wool/tweed one. I want it for overseas trips. 🙂

  11. For a student, she still writes better than Richard at WASP 101.

  12. Hold on, Michael. You and your idiotic ilk are in for a bumpy ride over the next thirty or so years and I couldn’t be happier.

  13. Have you seen a US political map by county? US sovereign debt? Student loan debt? I would suggest people of every ilk are in for a ruff ride for more than thirty years, your living in the new norm and it will get only worse. Let it burn.

  14. Not totally on topic, but I knew someone who credited Choate with saving his son from a serious drug habit he apparently had acquired in suburban public school–rather the reverse of what some stereotypes might’ve suggested.

  15. Choate Rosemary Hall Alumnus | June 7, 2020 at 10:55 pm |

    Former Choate student, class of 2016 here.
    @Kionon, I have many friends who serve on The News. You need to relax. The quality of education is excellent, there’s just a lot every student has on their plate and frankly catching a dangling modifier for a relatively fluff piece, is not a high priority. Its also just as easily a slip on the part of the editor. You learn the basics and work out the kinks in HS, college is where you really hone your skills.
    For those not in the know Deerfield Day, and the spirit week that leads up to it, is all about mocking Deerfield. Deerfield has a reputation for being the most uptight, white, and privileged of all the prep schools. Dressing like Deerfield is finding the most stereotypically ‘preppy’ clothing items and wearing them all at once. It’s all about mockery. Preppy dress at Choate when I was there was much more subdued. Of course you have your rich preppy yobs, who adorn themselves with Vineyard Vines, Sperry’s, and Polo, you also have students who prefer ivy style with loose button downs and straight-fit chinos. Barbour’s and Bean Boots, however, were ubiquitous. Most of all, you had a bunch of students trying to go the whole day without tucking in their shirts and break the dress code rules as much as possible.
    Also sure preppy style is getting more egalitarian, but at least at Choate it really isn’t. There is very much a price tag for participating in dress like Deerfield Day, and its not something that’s cheap. There is an important conversation that many schools should have as their application pool becomes more economically diverse, but their uniforms and events still carry with them a high price tag.

  16. Tommy Hilfiger was considered a classic brand in 2012? By teenagers, anyway. Still, I was almost half way through college when the Tommy Hilfiger brand started. Makes me feel old.

  17. whiskeydent | June 8, 2020 at 4:07 pm |

    As one of the few Texans who visits here, I’d like to know what Beto O’Leary (O’Rourke) and Berkely Breathes (Breathed) are talking about.

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