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