Preppy (also spelled preppie) or prep (all abbreviations of the word preparatory) is a youth subculture in the United States associated with old private Northeastern college preparatory schools. The terms are used to denote a person seen as characteristic of a student or alumnus of these schools. Characteristics of preps in the past include a particular subcultural speech, vocabulary, dress, mannerisms and etiquette, reflective of an upper-class upbringing.
The term preppy derives from the private, university-preparatory or prep schools that some American upper class and upper middle class children attend. The term preppy is commonly associated with the Ivy League and broader group of oldest universities in the Northeast as well as the prep schools which brought students to them, since traditionally a primary goal in attending a prep school was admittance into one of these institutions. Preppy fashion derives from the fashions of these old Northeastern colleges in the early to mid-twentieth century. Lisa Birnbach's 1980 book Official Preppy Handbook, which was written to poke fun at the rich lives of privileged Ivy League and socially elite liberal arts college students but ended up glamorizing the culture, portrays the preppy social group as well-educated, well-connected, and although exclusive, courteous to other social groups without fostering serious relationships with them. Being well-educated and well-connected is associated with an upper-class socioeconomic status that emphasizes higher education and high-income professional success.
For men, preppy fashion has its roots in the Ivy League style of dress, which started around 1912 and became more established in the late 1950s. J. Press represented the quintessential Ivy League style, stemming from the collegiate traditions of Ivy League schools. In the mid-twentieth century J. Press and Brooks Brothers both had stores on Ivy League school campuses, including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Preppy fashion emerged in the late 1970s with cues from the original Ivy League style. Some typical preppy styles also reflect traditional upper-class leisure activities, once associated with the wealthy English who once had a strong political and social position in the Northeast and New England, such as polo, sailing, hunting, fencing, crew rowing, lacrosse, golf, tennis, rugby, squash and swimming. This association with old English inspired outdoor activities can be seen in preppy fashion, through stripes and colors, equestrian clothing, plaid shirts, field jackets, and nautical-themed accessories.
Thus, the sportswear, casual lifestyle apparel and outdoor gear offered by L. L. Bean in the Northeast, and Eddie Bauer in the Pacific Northwest, forms another important component of preppy style. Both outfitters, along with Vermont-based Orvis, were featured in The Official Preppy Handbook. The mostly tongue-in-cheek guide published in 1980 described L. L. Bean as "nothing less than Prep mecca." Their catalog was said to be "the biggest seller of the rugged New England Prep look."
For women, preppy-influenced fashions emerged in the 1960s, a trend led by designers such as Perry Ellis and Lilly Pulitzer, influenced by designers such as Oleg Cassini, and popularized by female students at the Seven Sisters Colleges, sister institutions to the Ivy League. These classic ensembles of the 1960s and 1970s include tailored skirt suits, low heels, wrap dresses, shift dresses, silk or cotton blouses, and jewelry with a refined style. Such clothing often includes elements drawn from typical preppy style, such as nautical stripes, pastel colours, or equestrian details.
The Official Preppy Handbook points to daughters "borrowing the clothes her mother wore in Prep school. Before long, they share a charge account at The Talbots." The handbook also stated that "Behind the red door on every Talbots catalog cover is the best selection of women's Prep fashions anywhere." And that "the clothes here are a rare combination of Preppy, tasteful, and sophisticated."
Though traditional interest in preppy style fell in the 1990s,[according to whom?] some of the newer outfitters such as Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Vineyard Vines, Gant, and Elizabeth McKay are perceived[by whom?] as having preppy styles, with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Luella Bartley adding the preppy style into their clothes in the 1990s.
Examples of preppy attire include a navy blazer, repp stripe ties, argyle sweaters, crewneck sweaters, school sweaters or sweatshirts, grosgrain or woven leather belts, chinos, madras, Nantucket Reds, button down Oxford cloth shirts, pearl necklaces and earrings, gold bangle or large chain bracelets, penny loafers, polo shirts (often with a popped collar), Madras plaid Bermuda shorts, and boat shoes.
- Colman, David (17 June 2009). "The All-American Back From Japan". The New York Times.
- "Preppy Look". Fashion Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
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- Elements of Fashion and Apparel Design. New Age Publishers. p. 25. ISBN 81-224-1371-4.
Ivy League: A popular look for men in the fifties that originated on such campuses as Harvard, Priceton [sic] and Yale; a forerunner to the preppie look; a style characterized by button down collar shirts and pants with a small buckle in the back.
- Birnbach, Lisa (ed.) (1980). The Official Preppy Handbook. Workman Publishing. pp. 151, 154. ISBN 9780894801402
- Peterson, Amy T. & Ann T. Kellogg (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing Through American History 1900 to the Present: 1900–1949. ABC-CLIO. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-313-04334-5.
- Eisenstadt, Peter R.; Moss, Laura-Eve, eds. (2005). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press. p. 550. ISBN 978-0-8156-0808-0.
- Birnbach, Lisa (ed.) (1980). The Official Preppy Handbook. Workman Publishing. pp. 128, 154-155. ISBN 9780894801402
- Camille (2 December 2010). "The Preppy Look: A Brief History". CamilleReads.com. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
- Olian, JoAnne (5 September 2002). Everyday fashions of the fifties as pictured in Sears catalogs. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-42219-0.