It’s always interesting to hear foreigners’ take on American culture. It’s equally interesting to hear tales about guys in other countries trying to copy American style before the Information Age. The Heavy Tweed Jacket blog has presented many scans from ’70s Japanese magazines documenting PITA style (that’s Preppy Ivy Trad Americana, for those not ITK). Despite that, according to Free & Easy, before the “Official Preppy Handbook” was translated into Japanese, there were several dark years during which the Japanese were eager to embrace preppy style, but weren’t exactly sure what the components were.
According to my translator, the above illustration shows a circa-1980 Japanese attempting to look preppy, contrasted with an actual American example of the type. The Japanese has mistakenly donned a bow tie (with polo shirt?), Baracuta jacket, tennis sweater, plaid pants and Top-Siders. The real American prep, however, is wearing a pink candy-striped oxford over a kelly green polo, khakis, duck-motif belt, and LL Bean gumshoes sans socks. It’s a kind of Japanese version of “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano,” though given their obsession with period detail, it’s hard to imagine the Japanese ever getting something wrong.
Which reminds me — perhaps because I’m listening to Count Basie as I write this — of a night at the famous Derby nightclub in Los Angeles. There was a jump blues band playing, and a Japanese guitarist I knew, who played in a well known rockabilly band back home, was invited on stage to sit in on a number. It was a standard blues progression, and when it came time for his solo, he played the solo from Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock.” As in note for note. An American, of course, might have quoted the solo, and ironically, if he was a sophisticated musician. But this guy played it straight-up. When I spoke with him about it afterwards, it was clear it would never have occurred to him to play it otherwise. — CC