Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Preppy Look a brief history

One of the most enduring styles in modern American dress is the preppy style. The term preppy derives from the expensive pre-college preparatory or prep schools that upper-middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant children on the United States's East Coast sometimes attend. Novelist Erich Segal, author of the best-seller Love Story (1970), is credited with introducing the word preppy into common usage. Segal defined a preppy as someone who "dresses perfectly without trying to … [and] appears to do everything well without trying to." Standard items of clothing for an authentic 1960s-era male preppy included blue blazers, button-down shirts, striped ties, khaki pants, cotton Izod polo shirts with turned-up collars, tasseled loafers, crew neck sweaters worn over neat turtlenecks, and the casual sweater slung over the shoulders with the sleeve ends cuffed over one another. Many of these styles had their origins in the 1950s.

Over time children from less privileged backgrounds began to emulate the preppy look. Preppy fashions boomed in the 1980s following the publication of Lisa Birnbach's Official Preppy Handbook (1980), which was written to poke fun at the rich lives of privileged East Coast college students but ended up glamorizing the culture. The book included advice on how to live the preppy lifestyle, from notes on etiquette to slang phrases to what kind of pets to buy.

Along with many other 1980s fashion excesses, the preppy trend faded, though many elements of it, such as khaki pants and button-down shirts, have never gone out of style. The preppy look enjoyed a revival of sorts in the 1990s when designers like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs, and Luella Bartley began to incorporate aspects of preppy style into their clothes.

Source: "Preppy Look." Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 5: Modern World Part II: 1946-2003. Detroit: UXL, 2004. 862-863.

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  1. Excellent article! Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  2. The true origin of this fashion style actually originated in England in the 1930's as part of the English preparatory movement which was part of Europes youth movements as a whole which, strangly enough, coincided with the rise of the Hitler youth in Germany.


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