In the summer of 1979 I traveled from my home in Louisiana to visit a girlfriend who was summering in Nantucket. She was working as someone’s nanny and sharing a home with about 20 similarly employed youths. The girlfriend thing turned out to be a disappointment, but Nantucket was something to remember.
I had learned the prep look in New Orleans, where it was known to the locals as Uptown and on campus as preppy. Up to that point the look meant little more to me than welcome relief from the “Saturday Night Fever”-inspired styles of my early high school years. My own beginner’s wardrobe was quite simple: I spent 90 percent of my time in khakis, an oxford (usually in need of laundering), and Top-Siders. Many of my friends had clothing that showed true devotion to the style, but I’m not sure I even noticed. And getting my sober ass down to Perlis to stock up on the goods was not a high priority.
The trip to Nantucket changed all that. The so-called girlfriend was working days, so I had plenty of time to look around the island, and I liked what I saw. I liked the red pants. I bought some. I liked the way everyone looked like they had just gotten off their sailboat. My friends in New Orleans were more likely to look like they had just returned from a fishing trip, which is fine, but didn’t capture my imagination in quite the same way.
Even though the signs had always been there, I needed to break away from my limited view of campus and fraternity life to understand that the look was more than I knew.
The following spring I made my way to Louisville for Kentucky Derby, where I would once again experience the style in a potent form. Only after experiencing Nantucket and Louisville did I begin to understand that there was much more to this look that I had so casually and carelessly co-opted.
I’ve never been back to Nantucket, though I wouldn’t pass up the chance to go again. I’d be very surprised if it were anything like I remember. It was quaint in a way that is hard to imagine now.
And honestly, I’m not sure I want my memories tampered with anyway. — LONGWING