Getting It Wrong: Pre-Handbook Preppy In Japan

According to the February issue of Free & Easy, Japan evidently never saw the 1979 “Are You a Preppie?” poster.

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

8 Comments on "Getting It Wrong: Pre-Handbook Preppy In Japan"

  1. Thanks for the images! Even though the outfits in the illustrations are off they still look fantastic, but probably not if I saw them in real life

  2. I sort of like the Japanese version better (minus the beanie and bowtie).

  3. OMG, is that Fred Castleberry on the left…

  4. With the exception of the beanie and the bag, the guy on the left looks like an Ivy gentleman, as opposed to the frat-rat preppy trash on the right.

  5. I hate jazz.

  6. I actually think both looks are awesome (if you assume that the bow tie is paired with a spread collar dress shirt). My sister’s best friend and college roommate’s boyfriend produced the Are You a Preppy? poster out of UVA. To my sister, it was just a fun, college stunt–which is what it was.

  7. I miss the Derby.

  8. You gotta love the Japanese appreciation of this style as American traditional(ist)— with zero acknowledgment of class affiliations. When it became the everyday look of/for American college students, including middle-class G.I.‘s who had graduated from public high schools, any/all class affiliations dissipated. A good thing, because what remains is the modest, rustic, tasteful elegance of the look itself. If anything, older men who have stubbornly stuck with it likely affiliate it with a particular era: late 50s/early 60s. The Eisenhower/Marshall era. When we were (still) grownups and grownups ran the country.

    I wonder how much of this wistful nostalgia inspires the Japanese Trad appreciation of the look.

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