“Preppies no longer exist,” declare Matt Walker and Marissa Walsh in their book Tipsy in Madras, A Complete Guide to ‘80s Preppy Drinking. Although a book about cocktails, the introduction of the text actually provides insights which might be most interesting to the readers of this site. The authors take one through a succinct timeline of prep culture through the 1980s, painting an arc which links Nelson Aldrich’s 1979 Atlantic article “Preppies, The Last Upper Class?” to the publication of The Official Preppy Handbook and the fervor that followed. They remind us of small gems, like George Plimpton as spokesperson for video game systems, and “rent-a-prep” services offering Lacoste-attired lawn mowers and house painters.
The introduction winds up with a particular emphasis on how the preppy was supplanted by the yuppie in the mid-’80s. “It began with titles like The I-Hate-Preppies Handbook and Save an Alligator, Shoot a Preppy… Movies like Alligator demonized the preppy mascot and every movie starring James Spader demonized the preppy himself.” So when does the extinction of the preppy occur, exactly? According to the authors: “Reagan’s election was the seed that would blossom with poisoned fruit only a few years later.” By mid-decade, the gig was up. “Confronted with yupsthetes wielding shiny Italian designer accessories and an encyclopedic knowledge of world cuisine, what could the preppy do? The choice was clear: either join in the orgy or cast oneself willfully into obscurity. Always seeking a reasonable compromise, preps did both.” Overall, the intro provides a nice insight into the culture from the early-’80s and helps to bridge the gap up to the book’s publication in 2004; the same year in which, as chance has it, Rugby Ralph Lauren was founded, and the seeds for the neo-prep revival of the mid-to-late-2000s were just beginning to take root.
Historical analysis aside, Tipsy in Madras includes a nice elucidation of cocktails, wines, and beers appropriate to people who self-identify as prep, and the book contains chapters which address each of the three alcohol categories described above. Five of the nine chapters are dedicated to cocktails appropriate to a wide variety of social events and seasons, and are organized as such. The cocktail chapters cover drinking at the club, the deb party, the tailgate, weekend brunch, and even when slumming.
What constitutes a preppy cocktail, one may ask? Here, the authors draw a clear distinction: anything widely served pre-1980 makes the cut, in addition to other qualifying characteristics, such as archaism, understatement, efficiency, and carelessness. This category includes familiar favorites such as Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Martinis, Dark’n’Stormys, Gin-and-Tonics, and of course, the brunch time staple, the Bloody Mary. The chapters on wine and beer do a nice job of highlighting sensible choices of restrained taste, with the takeaway that the preppy choice for both are the drinks which are good but understated, tasteful but not too expensive. Hence, the prep proclivity towards Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay, and Heineken or Budweiser over, say, obscure and exotic imports or anything micro-brewed. The book also offers guidance on building a classic and functional bar, including stock alcohol of choice, glassware, and bar tools. The authors do a nice job of citing plenty of books and movies featuring WASPy characters and storylines as the basis for their recommendation of, say, Beefeater over Tanqueray, on the grounds that Beefeater is humble, and Tanqueray too yuppie.
From where do these assumptions come? The authors conducted much of their research by watching a number of (mostly) 1980s movies spurred by the zeitgeist following the release of The Official Preppy Handbook. An index of said movies in the book include some obvious selections with which many may be familiar (Love Story, St. Elmo’s Fire, Making the Grade, and every film directed by Whit Stillman up to Last Days of Disco), some surprising but loosely related choices (Legally Blonde, Ordinary People), and some bizarre choices (Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part 2). Also included in the index is a playlist to drink by (lots of Motown classics, a few Cole Porter staples, and The Beach Boys, amongst others), and a summer reading list, again with some expected choices (John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire), but others which seem to miss the mark (Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life, Return of the Jedi Storybook).
Overall, if you’re searching for a guide to help you recreate an ‘80s drinking scene from one of your favorite films of the era, or if you just want to have drinks with the peace of mind that it’s what Biff and Muffy were likely drinking at the deb ball in the Four Seasons circa 1983, then perhaps Tipsy in Madras may be the book for you. — RYAN KIRK
Like this post and want more like it, more often? Help keep Ivy Style going for another decade.