Preppy Evangelist: The Lisa Birnbach Interview

Given all the preppy ’80s talk lately, we revisit this 2010 interview with Lisa Birnbach, which was done about six months before the release of True Prep. The interview was subsequently used as part of the book’s press kit. — CC

* * *

IS: How did the new book come about?

LB: It came about when I met Chip Kidd. In the back of my mind there was always the possibility that I would revisit the “Preppy Handbook.” But it’s a very self-contained manual that didn’t really require updating, particularly as we said that nothing changes.

Chip came up in Facebook as a possible new friend, and I thought, “Oh, there’s that talented designer. I wonder if he’ll accept me?” Well I got an email back from him saying, “Is this really Lisa Birnbach? I’ve always wanted to meet you.” So we had lunch last May, and in the third hour he started to tell me how much online life there is dedicated to or inspired by the “Preppy Handbook,” none of which I was aware of. Somehow we started talking about a new book together, and here we are.

IS: How would you summarize what has happened to prepdom in the last 30 years?

LB: Polar fleece. Thirty years ago, not only did I never wear synthetics, I traveled to all 50 states saying, “No unnatural fiber has ever touched my body.” Now I have children that have not known a world in which there was anything but fleece. They wear recycled water bottles all day. And I embrace this synthetic, and like it or not it’s an accepted part of our sartorial vocabulary.

But the reason for this book is that the world has changed more profoundly than we could have thought 30 years ago. The group of people calling themselves preppies, or who want to be preppies, or who like preppies, are certainly more inclusive and less exclusive. People thought I was brilliant 30 years ago because the “Preppy Handbook” kind of predicted conservative backlash. Well I don’t think I deserve credit for predicting that, but whatever gift of intuition I may have, I never could have predicted portable telephones, the Internet, the loss of privacy, and the way people interact.

IS: The ‘80s are considered a pretty preppy, clean-cut and Republican decade, especially compared to the ‘70s and ‘90s. How much of what came after the OPH do you think you influenced? A few years later Hollywood makes the movie “Making the Grade,” Ralph Lauren grows his empire — to what degree do you think you set the zeitgeist into motion?

LB: I really don’t know. That’s a great question. I’m thinking… the silence you hear is my brain trying to work.

I think it’s a very fine line between delineating a trend and creating one. This world had never been explained before, except in an oral tradition between generations of preppy families. I think that decoding something for the first time is something of an evangelical task, because in a way you’re explaining and perhaps the enthusiasm for the job sounds like a conversion process. This is why we wear Top-Siders, so buy Top-Siders!

I think the first book did take a more evangelical tone than I’m taking now, and I did dress very prepped to the max in a way that I don’t dress now, because I was trying to make a point: Are your eyes hurting because of what I’m wearing? Good!

One of the most frequent questions I was asked 30 years ago was, “Where did you find people who look like this?” And I’d say, “These are my friends and my family.” We must’ve looked like freaks to people who had never seen a hacking jacket or wide-wale corduroys with lobsters embroidered on them. But how much of that moved the country in that direction, I don’t know. Certainly items that were photographed — like the Norwegian Sweater from LL Bean — did a huge business, something unprecedented in the history of that company, and they certainly think it was because of the “Preppy Handbook.”

IS: One of the things that’s changed since 1980 is the commodification and parody of preppy — as in the Smirnoff “Tea Partay” commercial. In the OPH you’re describing a certain Northeastern upper middle class tribe or caste that was largely hidden from the general public. But in the last 30 years preppy has become so mainstream as a fashion style. Is there such a thing as authentic preppy anymore? And what is the significance of the new book’s title “True Prep”?

LB: The first book was a big giant reveal of a private tribe. There was a little bit of discomfort with the code being shared. I totally get that, but so be it. There wasn’t a lock and key on it. In every city I visited, I heard, “Oh, I had the idea to do this book.” It was a tempting Baedecker to create. And even when I was first working with Workman Publishing, they wanted to call it the “Preppy Catalogue,” and to be just about stuff and clothes. But there was no good way of explaining stuff and clothes without explaining context and worldview.

Is there a difference between someone wearing a polo shirt, khakis and a belt, and a preppy who went to St. Paul’s who’s wearing the same clothes? Sure there is, but it doesn’t fit the 21st century to keep people out. I can understand why someone from a certain restricted population might not want to share, but that’s really passé. Also, while booksellers or the Library of Congress may classify both these books as humor, I’d say they’re both nonfiction books full of information that are told in a humorous voice.

IS: Which leads me to this: In discussion of the OPH on blogs and message boards, people seem to fall into two camps. Perhaps because they work in fields like finance and probably didn’t do too well in their humanities courses, they’re not very sensitive to textual nuance. So they either take the book literally — which in a sense it can be taken, if it’s accurate — or they dismissively say it’s a “satire,” as if therefore the book does not portray something real. But there is certainly a middle ground, for in order for something to even qualify as satire it has to be scathingly accurate. What was your intention with the OPH tone-wise?

LB: The intention going in was a loving irreverence, and I don’t think it could have worked another way. If it had been too straight it would have been obnoxious, and if it had been too irreverent it would have been sophomoric.

I should say it was a big struggle to come up with that knowing, breezy voice, but that was not as hard 30 years ago as a young person as it was to figure out, “OK, if this is the only secret guidebook to be written about this world, what goes in and what goes out?” That was more of a thicket to work through than the tone of voice. “Lovingly irreverent” says to me we’re in it, but we have a foot out of it. Growing up in Manhattan made that possible for me. I think having a sense of humor is essential for getting through this. People have written subsequent handbooks, or online homages, and you can’t hit the tone too hard. If it’s too “do this, don’t do that,” there’s no fun in it. And if it’s that faux-lockjaw tone of voice that a lot of people write in for TV and movies — you know, the stuck-up rich person — that’s not who we are. That gets tiresome very quickly.

IS: How did “The Official Preppy Handbook” come about?

LB: People may not believe this, though it’s not that incredible, but I wrote the book when I was 21. I didn’t write all of it, but I lead it, produced it, found the models and the clothes, and worked with the illustrator. Then I was the face of the book, and stayed in a sort of arrested development talking about it on a media tour, and then college lecture tour — I think I was on tour for three years. It was endless, and kind of tiring after a while. But after those few years, I didn’t go back and read this book — why would I? I was doing new things. I only started to read it this year, and I cannot get over it. It’s intimidating: That authority that I wielded at 21 I don’t even wield now. When I tell my kids I’m their authority figure they do spit-takes in my face.

IS: Was the book your idea, or was it in development with the publisher and you were hired for it?

LB: Yes, it was in development at Workman, and they had approached a succession of mostly humor writers. When I was asked to do it, I was a staff writer at The Village Voice, where I’d wear a black Lacoste to show I was private school but still “downtown.”

When I met with Workman, they gave me two days to make my decision, and it required me to quit a job I really liked. If I said no, Workman was going to abandon their plans, because they had something like 30 turn-downs from writers who felt there wasn’t a whole book in it.

But like all of us — including you and all these bloggers I’ve discovered — if you care about prepdom, you have a kind of passionate proprietary feeling like, “No one knows it like I know it, or no one knows about this arcane business of collars and cuffs and monograms,” so I did it. But I was in agony for those 48 hours. I thought, “When this book doesn’t sell, I’m going to be sorry I don’t have a job at The Village Voice anymore.”

IS: One of the conundrums in the discussion of legit versus ersatz prep — or those who are born to it and those who are converted — is the notion of authenticity, especially as it pertains to style. On the one hand if the guy born to it says, “This is the way I grew up dressing,” he can claim a kind of legitimacy, but it certainly shows a terrible lack of independence and imagination to dress the same as everyone around him. This sort of makes the newcomer who’s genuinely drawn to this traditional American style look a little better in comparison. What are your thoughts on this?

LB: This is a really great point. The lack of imagination is a true signature of a preppy. It’s really important to have no imagination. That’s why we still summer in the places we’ve always summered, and why we dress the same way. You’ve got it. There’s a kind of laziness. Lack of imagination is one of the things we’re best at.

But secondly, authenticity is communicated in a lot of ways, such as an attitude of disregard. Someone who’s wearing a pristine, pressed, tucked-in and spotless shirt — that’s one version. And the one with the ketchup stain is the other version. And the one with the ketchup stain and the frayed collar — now we’re talking. Someone with a genuinely aged thing, whether it’s a button-down shirt, khaki pants or taped-together loafers, that’s one way to go. The less stylish, the better. The South, however, is in some ways the preppiest part of the country. And Southerners do wear their clothes more carefully.

IS: Historically, preppy style and the institutions that created it have been WASP, and yet you, the best-selling author of the OPH; Ralph Lauren, the biggest marketer of preppy style; and most of the Ivy League haberdashers, are Jewish. What perspective has this given you?

LB: This is something a lot of people want to talk about, and I’ve always thought, since I was a wee preppy, that being an outsider-insider was probably to my advantage for seeing this world for what it is. I think if you were a full insider who lived a restricted life, you wouldn’t understand what it meant in the context of the real world. Furthermore, I always like to tell people that I’m happy to be a Jewish woman, and I don’t feel like in any way I’ve compromised myself because I was raised in a different tradition. I’m going to get very serious for a second, but Jewish people didn’t have an official homeland through most of history, so we’ve always had to assimilate. So I’m probably a good assimilator.

IS: So you’re conscious of being an outsider?

LB: Oh, absolutely. And I’m a brunette. But when I did the first book, they didn’t need to ask if I was Jewish, and I never felt I was the wrong person to write it. But because the expectations and stakes were so low in 1980, I had no designs on becoming a spokesperson for a way of life, or a look, or a socio-economic category. But a lot of preppies are Jewish, and I really feel that with “True Prep” we’ve become very democratic. There are sections on gay, black and Muslim preppies, and an open invitation, if not to join all preppies, to at least join me if you want.

IS: The “Preppy Handbook” includes a section on values such as grace, discipline and civic mindedness, that are among the best things bequeathed to America by the WASP establishment. But what place do these values hold in what in many ways feels like a gaudy and valueless age?

LB: This is probably the leitmotif of the whole book. This is a huge part of what “True Prep” is about, and why there is such keen interest in it five months before there’s even a book to read: Because it’s very hard to lead a nice, respectable, polite life. Everything in our culture heralds a public, naughty, aggressive life. And I’m just another person trying to find her own way through it, and little moments of civility and deliciousness in a world that’s gone terribly awry, vulgar and gross. Oh, here’s one: FCUK — French Connection UK. Thanks for nothing. Who needs that? It’s all so crass. Paris Hilton and little arm-candy dogs and big, fake boobs and reality TV.

IS: It’s not a preppy era.

LB: Exactly, so it’s not about our changing, it’s about this crazy world that we are trying to navigate with poise and understatement. That’s the point, and I’ll be happy to make it on the book tour this fall, and somehow help try to restore some good manners to this country.

IS: Sounds like this book is evangelical after all, just in a different way.

LB: Well, it is. I am a giver. But now the embargo begins: You’re the last person I’m talking to.

65 Comments on "Preppy Evangelist: The Lisa Birnbach Interview"

  1. This interview is what Ms. Birnbach is striving to write – nice, respectable and polite. Can’t wait for the book. Thank you for the interview – the other bloggers will be green with envy.

  2. Kelly green, I’m sure.

  3. I think it’s great that Birnbach has come out and acknowledged that the OPH was written with “loving irreverance” rather than pure literalism or pure satire.

    Hopefully the literalists (Unabashedly Prep, I mean you) get the message.

  4. I am in agreement with infusing society with more civility. Though, prep has always and will always stand for one thing–a prepatory school education.

  5. EffortlesslyTrad (FT) | April 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm |

    First off, Christian, really nice get right before she goes into a media blackout.

    Second, that was an outstanding interview. If someone had never read TOPH, they could read this and know exactly how to approach it.

    I was in a suburban high school in Kansas City when I discovered TOPH. The preppy look was all the rage, I was looking for a look, it worked for me. It was only when I left KC and went to a preppy college (one mentioned in TOPH and was immortalized by a basketball ref, who working a game between us and our arch rival, quipped that it was like watching LL Bean yell at J. Crew) that I began to understand the book on a less literal level. There is, to my mind anyway, a huge difference between one who wears prep as a look and one who wears prep because the really don’t know anything else. It’s close to the Prep/WASP dichotomy that Tad Friend alludes to in “Cheerful Money”.

    As much as I liked the first book, I’m on the fence about the second.

  6. Evangelical indeed….more doctrine of equality nonsense.
    That’s her message. More civility and manners in
    society? You accomplish THAT with exclusion and
    inequality, by rejecting the sub- cultures and behaviors
    that came upon America thanks to the counter culture
    rebellion. There is no denying that she is attempting
    to teach how to imitate WASP culture which was/is
    the foundation of all things Prep and trying to reshape
    it as if its something that can be true to itself in
    an asinine multicutural society.
    The “Prep” STYLE came from Upper Class America.
    BUT- pre counter culture you will find traditional
    dress in American History where no matter what
    class status you were in. A paperboy circa 1910,
    in his tweed cap and matching outfit, bowtie,
    was the norm. He wasn’t upperclass.
    HE – was part of a common culture. Common
    Culture. Where personal appearence and grooming
    where important no matter what level of income.
    The motivation of the heart is where the real level
    of critique lies. Those born into a heritage and
    have an identity through it do not need a handbook.
    Point is there WAS a time when America across
    the board had style ,civility and manners as
    social code.
    WHAT RUINED IT- ……RUINED IT… this idiotic
    rebellion with the doc of equality in the first place!
    Prepdom was/is exclusionary especially the fading
    world of the American WASP, do not care how many
    left leaning self loathing WASPS want to say otherwise.

    The “TRUE” Prep?? Just another glorification
    of “wannabe”.

    Now let’s welcome in an entirely new america of
    WASP imitators and superficial application thereof.
    You know folks the New World Order comes
    about not from an all out assualt from a foreign
    power one day who will seize this land by
    force. It comes from the idiotic blind sheep who
    follow the doc of equality in all walks of their life
    until you become so brainwashed, then one
    day your OWN gov’t does a 180 on you and
    uses your own military to enslave you…..
    all because you believed in…..Equality….
    Prepdom for the 21 century…a democratic approach….
    Yeah, then the sheep need a handbook for such a goal.

  7. Wow, I’ll bet SOMEBODY’s a lot of fun at parties…

  8. G. Bruce Boyer | April 30, 2010 at 9:54 am |

    An informative interview, and important because the OPH has indeed been influential. I was particularly interested in the question of tone in the book, and the thoughtful, though somewhat guarded answer. On the matter of authenticity vrs ersatz prep, Birnbach wants to explain the preppy signature as laziness and a lack of imagination. I trust her tone here is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because the ideas of both tradition and, more importantly, insecurity should not be overlooked as motivating forces for any style. Particularly the prep school one.

  9. Interesting points, Bruce.

  10. nice interview, c.c. i can’t wait to read this book. i just love lisa birnbach’s writing.

  11. Fashion or style have always been about drawing lines between classes, professions or other social hierarchies.

    Since ‘preppie’ style is now available to everyone, Birnbach is telling us that its the social graces, manners or comportment which now make the difference

    Unfortunately a ‘Polite Society’ can not be enforced with a pair of Nantucket Reds

    It seems few people recognize that we are now fighting a 4th Generation (Class) War

  12. Old School | April 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm |

    “Polar fleece”? Pleased to say that I don’t even know what that is.

    “Lack of imagination”? It makes sense to discover the limited range of clothing that suits one, and then simply make choices among those few options.

  13. Christian
    Thank you for such a refreshing interview, I for one will skip this book.
    Keep up the great work

    Always Bumby

  14. I can’t wait for the book, but I hate the cover. It looks cheap and like it’s trying too hard.

  15. HRH The Duke of Windsor | May 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm |

    Fantastic interview Christian. Well done!

  16. Dear NSK,

    I’ve never taken TOPH 100% literally. For what it’s worth, I was already aware of Birnbach’s tongue-in-cheek tone before this interview; it’s a bit obvious 😉

    Christian…good interview and an intriguing look into Lisa’s mindset going into True Prep.

  17. Jinx, I think you hit the nail right on the head. Your comment is very insightful and intelligent. Thank you for sharing.

  18. My Pleasure.

  19. Once again, Jinx takes the discussion to a higher level. Thanks for the incisive comments.

    In the interview, CC wrote:
    “The “Preppy Handbook” includes a section on values such as grace, discipline and civic mindedness, that are among the best things bequeathed to America by the WASP establishment.”

    I think that’s the nicest line I’ve ever read on this site.

    It’s what GHW Bush was trying to say when he exhorted us to be a “kinder, gentler nation.” Despite his many faults, “Poppy” understood that America was heading away from “grace, discipline and civic mindedness,” and that it was the wrong direction.

    Sadly, we are heading even further away from where we once were and ought to be. As Jinx observed, only the complete repudiation of the Baby Boomer’s rejection of our heritage–our excellent, accomplished, magnificent heritage–can hope to bring us back from the ruinous path we’re on.

  20. As I remember well the publication, promotion and impact of “The Preppy Handbook” all those years ago I am feeling rather aged right now. In recent years I have returned to essentially a “Preppy” style of dressing. One cannot do better than the tried and true classics. Having long ago lost my personal copy of
    TPH I will make the effort to replace it and am looking forward to the upcoming sequel. Thank you for a delightful interview.

    Cheers. Ian

  21. While I appreciate JPS’ comment pertaining to Jinx’s, I appreciate Jinx’s comment even more.
    You said what all of us have been thinking, but denying.
    In my opinion, Birnbach is a sellout. What Abercrombie midriffs and Hollister bums haven’t achieved yet, she will. This book is the nail into the american coffin of wannabees and middle-class freedom-loving teenagers taking over the airwaves of this once archaic and traditional culture.
    Also, there is definitely no need to re-write history, and butcher it in the process.
    Prepdom would have lived a completely content and imagination-less lifestyle without the intrusion of polar fleece and preppy Muslims.
    If we thought it was bad before, wait for the release…

  22. In case anyone is interested there are a couple of (rather illegible on my monitor) sneak preview pages of this book available on Preppy Must Have:

    As for the “selling out” of Prepdom, I’d argue that fashion isn’t what makes people preppy. Attitude is. Some say you have to be born into that attitude (and/or attend a prep school to acquire it) and some people argue that it can be cultivated, but while clothes might set a person apart as a prep on first glance, it’s one’s behavior — especially manners — that makes the difference. A knuckle-dragging, willfully ignorant thug is still a knuckle-dragging, ignorant thug whether he’s wearing no-break trousers or those awful, baggy pants with waistbands around the knees..

    “Intrusion” of preppy Muslims, Baila? Too bad you can’t see my raised eyebrow…

  23. See p. 197 of TOPH for a Muslim nominated to the Prep Pantheon: Queen Noor of Jordan.

  24. What destroyed Prep was the harsh, brutal, “in your face”, depression filled 90’s. Nothing about the 90’s was fun. The movies, tv and music was awful.
    I think Prep is making a comeback now. I’m surprised at the number of people who own or used to own the book. Looking forward to the sequel and the American reprint of Take Ivy!

  25. The New Yorker’s online Book Bench section features a write up called ” PREP IS DEAD, LONG LIVE PREP ” by Meredith Blake ( Found here: )

    A quote: ‘ ….. As Jonathan Roberts, who came up with the concept for “The Official Preppy Handbook,” told the Times, “The subversive idea behind it was if you can reveal all of the secret systems and totems by which a portion of society keeps its elite status, you kind of pull the rug out from under them.” ‘

    A Fourth Generation Class War indeed

  26. Preppy-ness as a look is not bad.

    However, the ideas that some of these preppy clowns (Jinx) have are incredibly ridiculous. They reek of the futile gasps of a dying slug. Good riddance. I look forward to the day when you and your ideas are seen for the drivel and idiocy that they are. The day “prep” means nothing more than a style of dress and nothing more or less, is the day I break out champagne and celebrate. Society hasn’t broken down anymore than it has in the 30’s. It’s the same damn society that has always been here.

  27. Light???? Listen you dim lit bulb of no enlightenment.
    Save your champagne. You are going to drink a tall glass
    of INEQUALITY -every stinking day of your life and then
    some. Tough you don’t like it.
    Now just step in line with the other brainless sheep,
    it will be good riddance to you and others who desire
    a “world of EQUALITY”….AHHHHH…..sound the harps!!
    The LIGHT HAS SPOKEN!!…………
    You short circuited low wave dolt. Flip you and your
    switch. Off.

  28. Perfect financial sector | August 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm |

    Great interview Christian! You never cease to amaze me with your invigorating sense of prose and detail oriented queries. Bravo.

  29. A reader named Arden had tech glitches trying to post a comment and emailed me what she wrote. Here it is:

    I was in h.s. in the Midwest when this OPH came out. It was sort of like an ethnography – I learned that summer could be a verb, and that at tribal events, alcohol was the best accessory. I think I read it for what it was–or, at least what my understanding of what LB is explaining it as in this entertaining interview–and got that there was this other world that I would never truly be a part of (NOK, D).

    But I was OK with that, and thankfully Ralph Lifshitz’s clothing let me, and the other Midwestern prep wannabees have a small piece of the *lifestyle*…

    Humor, social commentary, satire, ethnography, whatever these books are, there is something worthwhile for the socially curious, be they insiders, wannabees, or just curious. (And anyone who has left the compound at some point w/in the past 10 years and says they haven’t heard of polar fleece is either lying or retarded.)

    Not sure if you want to pre-order the new book? I still have my copy of the original Preppy Handbook, and was curious to see if it’s out there on eBay. Oh yeah. And “on sale” w/the “buy it now” price of $225. I take it LB is glad she gave up the job at the village Voice.

  30. D.K.Milgrim-Heath | September 5, 2010 at 6:24 pm |

    Forever A Preppy That’s Really Me
    By D.K.Milgrim-Heath©2010
    Forever a preppy that’s really me-
    I’ve loved that look since my 20’s!
    I knew Lisa Birnbach really years ago-
    We traveled the same social circles this is so.
    She wasn’t married but then either was I-
    So those years traveled so quickly by!
    My actor son 6ft. 4” being quite tall-
    Looks best in the preppy look most of all!
    The only child of my 3 that looks most like me-
    That never read the art of dressing Preppy!
    Seeing clothes in his closet really he knows-
    The art of dressing Preppy by his clothes!
    Some styles are forever just never really leave-
    It’s the immortal Preppy look for all -do believe!
    Lisa- Congratulations on your newest book-
    The Preppy fashion is always that elegant look.
    All fashions return again from yesterday.
    Glad I still love the preppy look even today!

  31. I am a 38 year old Gen-Xer. I truly LOVED the original. I still have two copies of it, including a special hard case edition. But just as in the realm of film where sequels are often a disappointment, Lisa Birnbach’s sequel to her 1980 “Official Preppy Handbook” is a huge letdown. It is not nearly as funny or well organized as the original. It lacks sufficient illustrations and visuals. Also, the print is tiny and it crams too much into too many pages. The last straw for me–the book is politically correct prep at its worst. For one thing, it took gratuitous pot shots at President George W. Bush and obviously fawned over Obama. Additionally, Birnbach writes that President Reagan’s election was improbable. Huh? The Gipper won 40 states against Carter, and 49 states in his 1984 reelection. Indeed, the conservative Reagan era zeitgeist probably contributed mightily to sales of Birnbach’s original book. Thanks to Ms. Birnbach for ruining great feelings about one of my favorite 80s cult classics. Republican preps need not purchase this book. In sum and in preppy parlance, this book is not key.

  32. Good day to you all.

    I have just read the book. It’s super actually. I managed to obtain a copy here in England very easily via a company called Amazon, charming people who I found on my computer. Birnbach is funny, erudite and utterly urbane. I listened to a recorded pre publication interview some time ago on the wireless and she sounded charming. Our ‘preps’ here are David Cameron (Prime Minister) and Boris Johnson the Mayor of London. Cameron and Johnson were both Eton and Oxford. Whether people like it or not either side of the Atlantic, it still all matters. Quietly and in private it is how things are still done properly. The British Labour party might have outlawed hunting but as it was a socialist law (read Democrat) we all ignored it and as all police are to the right any way, it has never been enforced. So please embrace it all, WASP still matters.

  33. I received a copy at Christmas. I returned the copy before New Years. Perhaps Birnbach and Kidd lacking the other collaborators of TOPH wasted their time; worse, they wasted mine.

  34. Michael Wingert | February 23, 2011 at 4:21 am |

    Having read all the postings I am amazed at how negative people have been. These are charming and very tongue in cheek books. The values they write of have always mattered and will still matter in a hundred years time wherever you live. Good manners, dressing properly and understatement are what really matters.

  35. Avery Thompson | April 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm |

    While I had heard of the TOPH since I was a child, I had never read it until I found a dogeared copy at my local public library. I have become quite fascinated with the “Preppy Resurgence” that has manifested itself recently. I grew up dressing preppy and was instilled with the values Ms. Birnbach espouses in both the TOPH and TP by my (normal) middle-class, blue collar parents. I attended public school and obtained a quality education. I paid my way to and graduated from a private college. I now work for a Fortune 100 company. I said that to say all this. “Preppy” is more a state of mind than anything else. While I may not be the typical preppy with a pedigree and trust fund, I consider myself preppy simply because that is how I choose to live my life. By the way, and I hope this gets back to Ms. Birnbach, I scored a copy TOPH on yesterday for $18.00. Considering the price TOPH is going for on the web and at vintage bookstores these days, I would say that the price I paid is a steal. After all, frugality is one of the values Ms. Birnbach so heartily endorses! It will soon be sitting proudly on my bookshelf next to my copy of True Prep!

  36. I liked Lisa Birnbach before she started taking herself seriously.

  37. Jancis Robertson | September 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm |

    Mister Wingert – you are undoubtedly a complete tosser.

  38. Fearless Fosdick | May 19, 2012 at 10:09 am |

    Why do we pretend that TOPH wasn’t the training manual for an entire generation except for those who were lucky enough to have been born into Ivy style?

  39. Well the majority of Ivy style are middle class and weren’t born in to it, it’s been that way since the early 50s.

  40. OedipaMaas | July 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm |

    Interesting article. I had a copy of TOPH when it first came out in the early 1980s. Yay. What I didn’t expect to find on this blog was the apparently ‘elevating’ (?) commentary from the likes of Jinx and his sock puppets. If bigotry and right-wing paranoia = WASP values, thank christ they are dying out. In the meantime, Jinx, adjust your go-to-hell tinfoil hat. You look divine in it.

  41. Thank you OedipaMaas, Jinx and the ‘elevating’ commentary were alarming in their dissenting bigotry and general panic of the great reality …that the nouveau riche has done more than perceive and align with the refined values that their alcoholic mothers…passed down along with the families rapidly depreciating assets and lessons on quietly (Shhhh) declaring bankruptcy.

  42. Jinx is partly right and partly wrong. He’s right about multiculturalism’s threat to the country. But he’s wrong that exclusion is our answer. The answer is actually simple: We’re about inclusion, but on the condition that you embrace our values, which are the values of humanity when it’s head is on straight. You can come into our home, but there are rules and standards.

  43. What’s key is that prep style is the expression of a value system, although the style can sometimes reinforce the values. Manners come from morality and etiquette from ethics. I would much rather befriend people who don’t have the style but have the values than the other way around, although one tends to go with the other.

  44. Thank you, Jinx. You expressed what we we’re ALL thinking. You cannot be a “true prep” unless you’re a conservative.

    That being said: the two major political parties are not to be trusted (featuring the same kind of scum at the top levels).

    Being a genuine conservative these days is not popular (making our values more “prep” than ever).

    The trendy and public-school-brainwashed youth of today are the most programmed Americans in our history. They parrot knee-jerk reactionary statements in defense of their socialist and cultural-destroying dogma of multi-culturalism with a consistency that is truly shocking (and also extremely creepy).

    Those few who attacked Jinx have no idea just how preppy his world view really is – that of a free-thinking, discerning and utterly masculine man.

    True Prep was published for one reason only: to poison and destroy whats left of genuine European-American culture, and replace it with politically-correct plastic culture. We are living in the most high-tech slave-state in human history. People like her have an agenda and are relentless. She is more than a sell-out; she’s a false-prophet, a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Keep this book far away from any impressionable minds under your authority. You have most certainly been warned.

  45. What I find so ironic, but passes right over the heads of 99.9% of preppy Americans, is that so-called “assimilated” Jews have completely infiltrated, then derided, then fleeced, then mocked and then ultimately destroyed WASP culture. For example, Wall Street once stood for something other than a giant Ponzi scheme, but that was when WASPs were a little more in control and not crooks like Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Jordan Belfort, Bernie Madoff and their ilk.

    Virtually all the designers who push the preppy image, and all those who write about it and get published, are also of the same tribe. They are even infamous for changing their names to WASPish ones to further the charade. No one else finds this ironic at best, or perhaps disconcerting at worst?

    Like the previous commenter (“Niko”), I’ve also come to see Birnbach as a false-prophet and wolf in sheep’s clothing, which shouldn’t surprise us given her tribal affiliation There is a reason why preppie was derailed and transformed into something far more homoerotic, shallow, politically correct and aimless than the WASP culture it’s based upon — because the old guard was much more aware of who the true enemies of our culture were/are. Now, that same enemy is not only inside our gates, but it owns the gates, the castle, and all the surrounding land. And it writes books and how we should look and behave…

  46. After reading that, at least .1 percent of us are pretty dumbfounded, too.

  47. Wit and basic math skills aside, Christian, the truth has become quite offensive — I fully realize that. In fact, in times of universal deceit and corruption, the truth is quite revolutionary and politically correct. Unfortunate, but true. Great stuff on your site though… I commend you and your passion.

  48. hey “dumbfounded” — drop the “founded” bit.

    That’s better: just plain “dumb” suits you better. Not to mention offensive. And wrong.

  49. Jimson

    You are absolutely correct.

  50. Reactionary Trad | December 30, 2014 at 12:42 am |


    What you have written is Poppycock! Hogwash! Bunkum! Falderal! Malarkey!

    It is thanks to Jewish tailors and haberdashers that WASP style was preserved and popularized and that we’re still able to dress like civilized gentlemen.

  51. Perhaps this style is more to dumbfounded’s liking:

  52. A.E.W. Mason | December 30, 2014 at 2:49 am |

    I’d argue that Wall Street is less of a scheme (Ponzi or otherwise) today than it was when it was the exclusive domain of a select group of WASPs. Mr. Morgan and his friends exhibited little “episcopal” evenhandedness in their dealings with anyone. As for the WASPs who built the transcontinental railroad — Messrs. Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford — they were little more than crooks (although it has to be said that the deal the government offered them would have bankrupted anyone who didn’t cook the books). As for the Wall Street monopolist, E.H. Harriman, who acquired their interests in the early 20th Century, he too was a ruthless autocrat. Generally, I don’t think I’d invoke Wall Street as having ever been a repository of the virtues, and there are many, that we sometime associate with WASP culture. Finally, I think it is true that in investment banking there was a more gentlemanly code once that has largely disappeared. But that code was followed by as many of the old-line Jewish firms as WASP firms, and the code’s demise is mourned by as many elderly retired Jewish bankers as WASPs.

  53. Vern Trotter | December 30, 2014 at 3:54 am |

    Those cited by dumbfounded, Milken, Boesky, Belfort, Madoff, are notable because they are mountebanks, not because they are Jews.

  54. A.E.W. Mason — Thank you for packing so much into a tight paragraph. I had meant to invoke Charles Mitchell and Jesse Livermore (both from Massachusetts) as well as Morgan (from a Boston family), and how the game was rigged and manipulated, etc., but you said it much better and with broader scope.

  55. RJG

    Thank you. And thank you again because last night I couldn’t remember Charles Mitchell’s name.

  56. A.E.W. Mason | December 30, 2014 at 1:33 pm |

    Come to think of it, speaking as an American gentile, I’d say thank God for the Jews. Their cultural contributions to this country are monumental. Music (Aaron Copland), literature (Saul Bellow), science (Einstein), . . . the list could go on forever. And, as someone pointed out, there is also the tailoring we love so well. So, thank God for Jacobi Press.

  57. A.E.W. Mason | December 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

    @Boston Bean

    Well done! We’d be a much diminished country without their contributions, as your lists aptly show.

    Happy New Year to all. And many thanks to Christian for all his many efforts all this long year.

  58. Because of modern hypersensitivity, it is very difficult to make even legitimate criticism of Jews as Jews and not get castigated for it, but that doesn’t matter here: Dumbfounded’s demonization of Jews makes it clear he is an anti-semite. Anti-semiticism is thoroughly illegitimate; what’s more, it’s an intellectual rathole from which there seems almost no escape. Having seen the “truth” that the Jews are responsible for all that ails us, the anti-semite can no longer see anything without subjecting it to the reality distortion field of anti-semitism.

    Let me join in the praise for our Jewish compatriots who have contributed so much. I will cite George & Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin for creating so much of the Great American Songbook. The latter composed the best-selling record of all time: “White Christmas.” Imagine that—a Jew writing a Christmas song!

    I will also sing the praises of one of the greatest entertainers, and one of the best-dressed men, of the 20th century: Fred Astaire, who was half Jewish.

  59. @Henry

    Not only “White Christmas”.
    Here’s a list of the Top Ten Christmas songs written by Jews:

  60. What a thread. I just stopped by to say Happy New Year. I’ll try again on Chinese New Year. Maybe the dust will have settled by then. Anyway, if you drink and drive, please try not to kill anyone other than yourself.

  61. Phil Healey | August 10, 2019 at 2:27 am |

    TOPH is still a reliable guidebook for people who want to escape from the world of hoodies, t-shirts, and jeans.

  62. Sardonic Misanthrope | November 17, 2019 at 3:35 pm |

    I am an old Jewish stockbroker. So I guess I would be a proper target of dumbfounded’s indignation. It’s actually quite comical and poignant to see how you WASPs love to deny your right to exclusivity. I, for one, love all things WASPS, even if I am not ethnically a WASP. We Jews can cling to the style without having to apologize for being who we are. I consider myself a part of WASP culture. Believe me, there is considerable overlap in style and taste. Look at Bernie. I don’t share his politics and wish he would do better job of combing his hair, but he has reasonably good taste. Bottom line, fundamentalist Christianity was the undoing of WASPS. No culture could possibly survive Jim Baker and Pat Robertson. One’s worldview cannot be build on hopeless absurdities.

  63. Sardonic Misanthrope | November 18, 2019 at 1:49 pm |


    We agree more than you realize, but with one notable distinction. Jews did not destroy your culture. You destroyed your own culture by entertaining ridiculous religious and political dogmas, which were intellectually untenable. New World Order? Are you insane? This is exactly what I’m talking about! Your culture was and is sound. It was just build on a very unstable foundation. When you air out ridiculous conspiracy theories and religious absurdities, intelligent people are inclined to throw the baby out with the bathwater. American conservatism died the moment it married itself to the religious right. Sadly, your admirable culture and work ethic was soiled by your fatuous, lowbrow bedfellows. Preppy style was damaged as well. You hurt the cause more than you realize and I honesty believe that bib overalls and a tobacco stained shirt would serve you better than a rep tie or chinos. Attitudes like yours belong at the trailer alongside discarded beer cars and cars on cement blocks.

  64. Preppy was transformed into something homoerotic? How in the world did I miss that?

Comments are closed.