The Difference Between Ivy And Preppy

There’s much debate about the difference between Ivy and preppy, but it’s really quite simple: they occur at different points on a timeline.

For example, in 1964, when a spirited girl meets a handsome, reserved, all-American, clean-cut kind of guy who gets his clothing at Brooks Brothers, and simultaneously finds herself both attracted and repelled by him, she teasingly calls him “Ivy League.” Case in point, Barbara Eden and Peter Brown in “Ride The Wild Surf.”

And in 1970, after the fall of the Ivy League Look, when this same spirited girl meets the same all-American guy, she mockingly calls him “preppy.” Case in point, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal in “Love Story.”

So you see, the clothing is essentially the same. It’s just how women referred to the clothing — and the men who wore it. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

24 Comments on "The Difference Between Ivy And Preppy"

  1. I have mentioned on another thread that the first time I ever heard the word “preppy” was in the movie “Love Story”, when I was in college. That was a full decade before the “revival” and the mainstreaming of Ralph’s Polo line and others that followed in the 80s. Granted, some took the look to extremes, but I’ve never understood why some take so much offence at the term.

  2. Dutch Uncle | June 28, 2012 at 9:13 am |


    Today, the term usually refers to clothing supposedly aimed at adults, but more suitable for the nursery school crowd as far as regards colors and critters.

  3. I have always considered Ivy and Trad to be synonomous. It wasn’t until the early 80’s that I ever recall the term Preppy being used. If memory serves me correctly, wasn’t it when Lacoste polos and Ralph Lauren clothing became popular, that the term Preppy came about?

  4. Jim
    You’re memory is correct, at least in the Midwest. Prior to the 80s preppy boom, you could only buy those brands in ivy shops, Polo from about 1969 on. After the boom they were available in department stores.

  5. I generally think of preppy as being more flamboyant than trad/ivy. However, I understand why I am called a prep when being teased. I think I dislike the term because of the animosity attached to it both by people who are annoyed by my ocbd/khaki chino regiment which they perceive as “preppy” and the trad/ivy crowd that do not want to be remotely associated with the term. Personally, I don’t mind being described as a very boring prep.

  6. OCBD
    You sir are definitely “preppy”! Admit it! Admit your guilt! Come clean! Have you in your possession or ever worn a KELLY GREEN Vanhuesan (sp) G-9 Barracuda? Please answer sir! ……..Sir, What are your thoughts on belts? Particularly, belts with fox heads, think before you answer, sir!

    Just f-ing with you. ;-o

  7. The term prep was in use in 1916 referring to university students.

  8. Now it’s called “fratty”

  9. Ignatious Reilly | June 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |

    I’ll try again!

    The Ali McGraw character calls Oliver preppy because he’s a rich kid from a prep school. This has nothing to do with clothes.

  10. And at the time, what kind of clothes did rich kids from prep schools wear?

    Oh yeah, Ivy clothes.

    BTW, this post was tongue-in-cheek.

    Except for its validity, of course.

  11. Ali McGraw, what young man in 1970 didn’t want her? Well, and Oliver’s car.

  12. I find that ‘preppy’ has a certain connotation – one associated with a younger crowd, whereas ‘Ivy (league) Style’, for me, is more traditional; classic. In college, being called preppy was fine, although some of the comments seemed to be steeped in venom. Now that I am a wife and mother, I prefer the term Ivy to describe how I dress.

  13. JWF
    You have a very nice blog, enjoyed it and will be back.

    Interestingly, preppy got a bad name in the eighties, mostly from those that didn’t dress it the classic style. It also became the mainstream fashion tend, like alvacado kitchen appliances or shag carpet. Most lemmings went to extremes, but I’ve just always thought of what was called preppy, was just ivy casual wear. Of course we all grow up and have to go to work.

    In my life time the same clothing has been called ivy league, collegiate, traditional and preppy. Like you I’ve always proffered ivy, but over the decades most didn’t know what I was talking about.

  14. “Preppy” and “frat” were the terms we used in 1960s New Orleans. “Trad” and “Ivy” are terms I,ve learned on this blog.

  15. I never heard the word preppy until Lisa Birnbach’s book came out the ’80s. In my high school in the 1960’s you were either a greaser or a collegiate.

  16. MHJ
    That was my experience in my post above. I lived in Mississippi and Texas, it was called ivy league. In 1965, I moved to Kansas City, it was called collegiate, except for some older clothing salesmen, they still called it ivy league. All three places had greasers, there was always tension between the two groups, each seemed to look down on the other. Although, if an ivy had an interest in hot rods, motorcycles or was a successful jock, the greasers though you were cool. The reverse was, if a greaser was a successful jock, the ivys bestowed cool on him. If anyone, greaser or ivy or otherwise, was in a really good garage band they were cool.

  17. L.A. Trad | July 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm |

    Like MHJ, I never heard the term “preppy” until Lisa Birnbach’s book appeared.

    Furthermore, I never heard the term “ivy”, until I came across this blog. The term I have used since the 1960s is “ivy league” with reference to style/clothing.

  18. I’ve come to imagine the difference between preppy and ivy as connotations between the sports either side enjoys. I imagine ivy to enjoy the collegiate team sports and display more school colors. On the other hand preps enjoy the traditional country club sports such as golf and tennis.

  19. L.A. Trad
    In my post, I use “ivy” to mean Ivy league. It’s a short cut, I never heard the word “ivy” or used it, till this blog. Well, except for ground cover.

  20. Gabe
    This debate is fun, but in truth it’s like debating BBQ from different parts of the country. You can call it ivy league or the slang “preppy”, it all has the same origins.
    I think many, who stuck with the style through the main stream fashion disaster we call the late 60s and 70s, resent the main streaming ivy league in the 80s. Also, the term “preppy” was many times used as a derogatory term, usually by people mentioned earlier and those wearing polyester shirts. I like to think of “preppy” as casual ivy league, albeit taken to extreme by some in the 80s, but, exactly what items of clothing did ‘Preppies” wear that wasn’t available in most ivy league shops in the late 60s?

  21. It is a fun debate. “Betty or Veronica? Choose.”

  22. Sold analysis. Though I’d also submit that Trad is pretty solidly divorced from what people at ivy league schools actually wear, at least in the 21st century. Preppy is probably a more descriptive word.

  23. Love Story is an amazing movie. An amazingly depressing move, but an amazing movie.

  24. Preppy is the fun-loving, reckless, creative side of Ivy.

    Trad is the dull, strict, humorless opposite extreme.

    As a youngster, I was taken to a movie because my cousin’s boyfriend was in it playing hockey. Turned out to be Love Story. Few years later, my Classics Professor said that Erich Segal used to teach this class, before the Love Story movie deal.

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