Prep Culture

By Emily Grant

Like many style tribes, to be a “prep” isn’t simply classified by the clothing you wear, but rather the life you lead.  It’s a lifestyle, not a mall trend.  This culture was borne of east-prep1coast elites who attended private college preparatory schools (hence “prep”) that often fed into the Ivy League.  The uniforms worn at school, paired with the attire of your typical extra-curriculars such as polo, sailing, and equestrian pursuits all influence the wardrobes of WASPs old and new.  These factors, mixed with conservative protestant values, an emphasis on social climbing, and a strong sense of entitlement come together to form what it means to be a true prep (Off the Cuff, 2010).  

In 1980, Lisa Birnbach’s Official Preppy Handbook hit the shelves, and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of prep (Off the Cuff, 2010).  Layered polos with popped collars anyone?  Pictures of my dad from college are pure gold.  The tongue-in-cheek “handbook” was meant to be a satire of the privileged East Coast collegiates, but was seen as preppy gospel by the general public (Preppy, n.d.).  The style that had been the norm forprep2 generations of Blue Bloods was now moving into the mass market (Off the Cuff, 2010).  These were the people doing Ralph Lauren before Ralph Lifshitz had even left the Bronx.  Now, a spiky haired kid with poor manners and an Abercrombie polo might be considered a prep, but don’t be fooled!

Brands like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Gant by Michael Bastian, and L.L. Bean are absolute emporiums of all things preppy and can be a one-stop shop for someone looking to emulate the lifestyle, as the essentials of a preppy wardrobe are many.  Historically, a prep3preppy male could be found in his school blazer, a rumpled white button down topped with a repp-stripe tie, chinos, and Weejun penny loafers worn without socks (Chemsvold, 2013).  This look still exists among the true prep devotees, but can be easily translated into any wardrobe (Off the Cuff, 2010).  Why not try for a classic fit polo, club shorts secured with a needlepoint belt, and Sperry top-siders?  For the ladies, try a nautical inspired dress, your grandmother’s pearls and some Jack Rogers sandals.  Need more inspiration?  Check out the various and sundry preppy blogs that have sprung up in recent years like Ivy Style, or Unabashedly Prep.  Though this style tribe might seem inherently exclusive (because it is), it’s easy to blend in, and even you can have a taste of the prep culture. 

Work Cited

C. Chemsvold. (2013, January 7). The rise and fall of the Ivy League look. Retrieved from

 Off the Cuff. (2010, September 9). The roots of American preppy – redux. Retrieved from

 F.E. Castleberry. (2013, July 29).  Back to school giveaway.  Retrieved from

 Preppy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2013 from the Preppy Wiki:

 S. Vickers.  (2013, August 19).  Some girls have all the sun.  Retrieved from

 Vanity Fair.  (2011, September 23).  Photos: from J.F.K. to Ralph Lauren models, the hallmarks of preppy style.  Retrieved from

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