The Atlantic On How Jewish Clothiers Helped Invent Preppy Style


In celebration of Hanukkah, Ivy Style once again pays tribute to the pivotal role Jewish clothiers have played in helping craft preppy style. Here’s a snippet from a 2016 piece in The Atlantic:

From the beginning, American style was synonymous with WASP culture. Sportswear was the uniform of the prep school, the Ivy League, the yacht club, the golf course—institutions that had historically been closed to Jews. Conservative in both its appearance and in its staunch resistance to change, WASP style was exclusive and democratic at the same time. “To me, being a WASP has nothing to do with religion or money,” wrote the design author Susanna Salk in A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style. Instead, it signifies “an ideal combination of intellect, grace, and joie de vivre.” It wasn’t about what you wore but how you wore it; nevertheless, certain garments were easily identifiable as “preppy.”

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Image from LIFE Magazine.

18 Comments on "The Atlantic On How Jewish Clothiers Helped Invent Preppy Style"

  1. Serious question, how is Salk being she being disingenuous?

  2. Pardon the repetition in my first comment.

  3. Akla Reztles | April 6, 2016 at 1:16 am |

    Too much about Mizrahi.
    Too little about Ivy/Trad style
    (“Preppy” as hoi polloi call it).
    Nothing at all about precursors like J. Press.

  4. Wonderful article! I have been a fan of Mizrahi’s since he was a semi-unknown. He and Told Oldham had a small stint on MTV’s House of Style I believe as correspondents back in the late 1980s, early 1990s. The show didn’t compare to CNN’s Style With Elsa Klensch, which was also popular at the time, but as a teen, I certainly devoured both! Thank you for sharing!

  5. @GS

    In “The Way of the Wasp,” Richard Brookhiser makes the opposite argument, that WASPs positioned themselves as an ethnic and class tribe, rather than a ruling caste, and this failure to integrate others led to their downturn in power and social influence.

  6. @Christian I see, she seems to only mention the better aspects of being a WASP but their exclusivity led to their extinction. Well, not complete extinction.

  7. It’s sad to think about Perry Ellis after all these years.

  8. This Is a strange article.

    It’s a safe guess WASPs have mostly disappeared from the public scene. If the chroniclers of the culture in question have been even close to right, modern-day politics and business are not welcoming toward them. Dismissed as effete (in fact just soft spoken) and wishy washy (in fact just pragmatic and judicious), there’s no place for such a man in politics and industry.

    You know them when you see them. Lincoln Chafee, John Danforth, and David Souter come to mind. One sign is that the person feels disaffected and thoroughly out of place in a culture that’s become so crass, aggressive, and loud.

  9. K. Kirklane | April 7, 2016 at 2:06 am |

    Isasc Mizrahi and Preppy Style?

  10. Charlottesville | April 7, 2016 at 10:57 am |

    S.E. – Good observations on WASP temperament. I may be a white Episcopalian, but my Anglo-Saxon blood has been thoroughly mixed with Spanish, Dutch and German in a typical American cocktail since at least the 1600s. However, if being “soft spoken … disaffected and thoroughly out of place in a culture that’s become so crass, aggressive, and loud,” are the keys, I guess I qualify as a WASP after all. Now I don’t have to feel guilty for cultural appropriation when I wear my sack suits, OCBDs, repp ties and cordovan derbies with a hole in the sole. Also, I’d add the first President Bush to your list of WASPs the like of which are largely missing from contemporary politics. I would love to see someone in the news in addition to Mr. Sanders wearing a blue button down.

  11. Blarney Boy MacCarthy | April 7, 2016 at 2:28 pm |

    My, that’s quite a rosy view you have on why WASPs are no longer in power, and I dare say, quite inaccurate, though I know this is what most WASPs do wish to believe.

    Completely exclusionary — from zoning to private clubs; strong inclinations towards racism, homophobia, gender bias, and bigotry (but stated in a soft-spoken way); and a penchant for making public policy and deals within the confines of the exclusionary club with their own kind rather than through the public debate and process is why WASPs were pushed out of power starting around 1967 or so.

    Values such as industriousness, being reserved, sportsmanship, and dressing well are noted. But these don’t trump the dark side of the WASP.

  12. I’ll turn attention to the men I mentioned earlier and add a few more: John Warner, Dick Thornburgh, John Chafee. There were others. They brought civility and composure to public discourse. They were reasonable and judicious. They would, that is to say, lose any election they attempted these days.

  13. @SE

    As one of your Jewish overlords, I can assure you that secretly ruling the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    But I understand your trepidation. The prospect of a Crypto-Jew/Negro/Bolshevik like Hillary Rodham being president is just terrifying. Nearly as bad as last decade when the Crypto-Latin George Bush ruled the country with his iron fist of post-colonial anti-white repression.

  14. Khaki’s, OCBD’s, Weejun’s, Sperry’s, Rep ties, Navy Blazer’s, Tassel loafers, shetland sweaters, Barbour coats, the list goes on and on. I am failing to see the Jewish Connection.

  15. It would appear more accurate to say that Jewish clothiers did not invent Ivy or “preppy” style – Brooks Brothers did that – but that they helped popularize or spread it, first to Ivy League college towns and then more broadly. Christian’s Rise and Fall essay supports this interpretation, especially the section called “The New Guard”.

    I would also add that Ralph Lauren has heroically saved the style from extinction by keeping it relevant to contemporary fashion.

    I don’t really see what Isaac Mizrahi has to do with any of this, since Ivy or “preppy” was so established as to be a canon before he came onto the scene. I guess he’s riffed on it, or something, but that’s got nothing to do with “inventing” it. Giving him such status is sort of like saying that someone stepping off a plane at JFK has, just like Columbus, “discovered America.”

  16. Henry Contestwinner | December 14, 2020 at 5:11 pm |

    Blarney Boy mentioned several negative qualities he attributed to WASPs. I wonder if he’s ever noticed that everyone in power, all around the world, can be described with exactly the same attributes.

  17. Well, this is about the worst and least informative article on the topic I’ve seen. Not a word about Jacobi Press, David Langrock, Arthur Adler, Joseph Haspel, Sidney Winston at Chipp, Bernard Gantmacher at Gant, or any of the other Jewish haberdashers who helped birth the look. From this article, you’d think Jewish designers were only latecomers who copied (and in some cases satirized) the look rather than those who played a seminal role in creating it. Not a word about Alan Flusser, either, come to think of it.

    Terrible and rather misleading by its omissions, and clearly written by someone who knows bupkes* about the topic.

    *Bupke: an ancient Latin word meaning “nothing” which I remember from my prep school days.

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