Preppy or prep (all abbreviations of the word preparatory) refer to a subculture in the United States associated with the old private Northeastern university-preparatory schools. The terms are used to denote a person seen as characteristic of a student or alumnus of these schools. Prep has become a colloquialism in the United States and has largely replaced preppy in modern usage. Characteristics of preps in the past, include a particular subcultural speech, vocabulary, dress, mannerisms, 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 oldest universities in the Northeast, 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, a status that emphasizes higher education and high-income professional success.
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 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, 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. By the 1980s, mass marketing of brands such as Lacoste, Daniel Cremieux, Izod, and Dooney & Bourke became associated with preppy style in many areas of the US and Canada.
For professional women, preppy-influenced fashions emerged in the 1960s, a trend led by designers such as Perry Ellis and Lilly Pulitzer, and influenced by designers such as Oleg Cassini. 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. Some "cultural icons" of preppy style for professional women include Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and 20th century New York socialites Gloria Guinness, Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and C. Z. Guest, all women whose style is often referenced by designers.
Through traditional interest in preppy style has fallen in the last 25 years, some of the newer outfitters such as Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Vineyard Vines, and Elizabeth McKay are frequently perceived as having preppy styles, with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Luella Bartley adding the preppy style into their clothes in the 1990s. The usage of the term "preppy", came back into widespread use in the late 1990s through mid 2000s, but took on a much different meaning from the original term.
Examples of preppy attire include argyle sweaters, crewneck sweaters, 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), and boat shoes.
- Dictionary.com definition of 'preppy'
- Colman, David (17 June 2009). "The All-American Back From Japan". The New York Times.
- Fashion Encyclopedia article
- The true roots of preppy
- 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.
- Peterson, Amy T., and 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.
- Peter R. Eisenstadt, Laura-Eve Moss, ed. (2005). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press. p. 550. ISBN 978-0-8156-0808-0.
- MacDonell, Nancy (2007). In the Know: The Classic Guide to Being Cultured and Cool. Penguin. p. No page. ISBN 978-1-4406-1976-2.
- "The preppy look a brief history". Retrieved 25 April 2012.