Preppy (also spelled Preppie) or Prep (all abbreviations of the word preparatory) is a subculture in the United States that is associated with 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. Characteristics of preps in the past, include a particular subcultural speech, vocabulary, dress, mannerisms and etiquette, reflective of an upper-class upbringing.
This section is under construction
In 1980, Lisa Birnbach published The Official Preppy Handbook, which described many aspects of upper-middle-class WASP life in a tongue-in-cheek tone. It outlines the life of a Preppy, including the fashion, colleges, activities, etc. of such a person to an audience that typically would not have been exposed to such an exclusive class of people.
Although the book was meant to be humorous, many Preps today take it extremely seriously, while acknowledging some of the information is dated.
The Preppy visual aesthetic draws a lot of cues from the upper classes of society that would often eventually find themselves attending some sort of Ivy League school like Harvard, Princeton or Yale.
There are two generally accepted variants of the Preppy aesthetic. One is New England Prep or East Coast Prep, which has a lot of nautical elements like anchors, compasses, ships, lighthouses, and whales. Hydrangeas are also associated with New England Prep as they are common on Nantucket. The colors used are found in nature - olive green, navy blue, beige, tan, and dark red.
The other is Southern Prep, which includes elements like palm trees, elephants, monkeys, and zebras. Lilly Pulitzer is a good example of these types of patterns. The colors are much brighter and more saturated: hot pink, kelly green, lime green, bright yellow, turquoise, and orange. Contrasting colors are often paired together: pink with green or blue, orange with green or blue, red with blue or green, and yellow with blue or turquoise. Purple and shades of purple like lavender are not commonly used. Southern Prep is more casual than New England Prep and bare arms and legs are more common.
Members of sororities and fraternities often come from middle class and upper class families who follow the Preppy aesthetic. While members of sororities and fraternities are expected to be on their best behavior at all times, the darker side of Greek Life (hazing, drugs, alcoholism and hard partying, rape, and racism) makes people wary of Preps.
During the spring and summer, the "Chads" and "Beckys" who visit Nantucket are subjects of mockery for their basic drink orders, boring sense of fashion, and inexperience driving on sand. Chads and Beckys are also associated with the phrase "My father is a lawyer."
Related Aesthetics within Prep
Related To East Coast or New England Prep
Named after the Ivy League colleges, this is influenced be the clothing worn by college students beginning in the 1940s to about the 1960s.
The “grown up” extension of Ivy, it is more noticeably Vintage than Preppy. Bright colors are usually only used for a single accent piece, such as socks. Suits are tweed, Prince of Wales check (usually gray), or navy pinstripe. Blazers can be double breasted or single breasted. Elbow patches on tweed jackets are common. Recognizable due to the pairing of loafers with a two or three piece suit.
Neo Prep or Nouveau Prep, or Sprezzatura (Italy)
Adds sneakers, jeans (sometimes cuffed at the ankles), and baseball caps to outfits that include blazers. Argyle is a common pattern for socks. Facial hair such as beards and mustaches are worn by men.
The Tommy Hilfiger designs from the 2000s, and most of the outfits worn by Kiel James and Sarah Patrick are really Neo Prep.
Related To Southern Prep
Heavily influenced by the book and movie Gone with the Wind, the Southern Belle aesthetic values tradition, family, politeness, and femininity. It is controversial due to the historical association with slavery, and modern associations with racism and the Confederacy. Plantation Weddings are common for Southern couples.
Although the Preppy aesthetic is not inherently political, the aesthetic was formed by people who had similar socioeconomic background, heritage and political leanings. Traditionally, Preps were associated with WASP culture (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), but there is no requirement of race or religion to follow the aesthetic. The most famous Preppy family, the Kennedys, are Catholic.
The WASP background has led many Preps to have an idealized idea of American history, glossing over and even ignoring significant events and the way in which they affected the lives of Native Americans, Black Americans, LGBTQIA+ people, and disabled people.
An example of this is how the Republican Party is often referred to by Republicans as "The Party of Lincoln." While it is true that President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the Republican Party of the time had an ideology which was more closely aligned with the Democratic Party of today.
The Preps of the 1980s were overwhelmingly supporters of President Ronald Reagan. To this day, Preps who were not even born when Reagan was president associate him with the Prep aesthetic, ignoring his denial of the AIDs Crisis in the 1980s, a choice which killed thousands of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Other preps are far more liberal, active in the Black Lives Matter movement, and fight for women's and LGBTQ+ rights. In younger Preps, this liberalism is a backlash against the actions of Donald Trump and the modern Republican party.
Many members of mainstream society are uncomfortable with Southern Preps because they believe these people uphold outdated and dangerous ideals, due to the American South's association with slavery, antisemitism, racism, and homophobia. The practice of Plantation Weddings and the culture of the Southern Belle, influenced by movies like Gone with the Wind all play into this. The actual degree to which a person who follows the prep aesthetic upholds these ideals (if at all) varies from person to person.
The brand Brooks Brothers became tainted in June 2020 when Mark McCloskey was photographed wearing a Brooks Brothers polo while threatening Black Lives Matter demonstrators alongside his wife Patricia.
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, 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 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.
Though traditional interest in Preppy style fell in the 1990s, some of the newer outfitters such as Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Vineyard Vines, Gant, and Elizabeth McKay are 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 Preppy aesthetic fell out of popularity when the Financial Crisis of 2007–2008 made signifiers of wealth unpopular.
Those who follow the Preppy aesthetic pride themselves on how timeless it is. In reality, the Preppy aesthetic goes in and out of fashion. Previously strict followers of the Prep aesthetic such as cousins Audrey Kelleher, Charles McBryde, and Jenna Sweeney, have moved towards a more Bohemian aesthetic.
Stores and Brands
- Brooks Brothers
- David Yurman
- Draper James
- J. Crew
- Jack Rogers
- Kendra Scott
- Kiel James Patrick
- L.L. Bean
- Lilly Pulitzer
- Marc Jacobs
- Murray's Toggery Shop - home of Nantucket Reds, pale red or salmon colored pants and shorts
- Palm Beach Sandal Company (often abbreviated to "Palms")
- Ralph Lauren
- Tiffany & Co.
- Vineyard Vines
- Oxford Cloth Button Down shirts
- Polo shirts
- Tory Burch tunic (women only)
- Nantucket Reds shorts or pants
- Gray or black slack pants
- Plaid skirts (women only)
- Lilly Pulitzer shift
- Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress
- Aran aka Fisherman sweaters
- Cable knit sweaters
- Aquaberry sweaters
- Trench coat
- Pea coats
- Wax jackets (usually Barbour)
- J. Crew vest
- Ballet flats (women only)
- L.L. Bean boots
- Boat shoes (usually Sperry)
- Gucci Horsebit loafers
- Hunter rain boots
- Jack Rogers sandals (women only)
- Stubbs & Wootton slippers
- White tennis shoes
- Black dress shoes
- Cartier Love bracelet
- David Yurman cable bracelet
- Hermes Clic Clac
- Kendra Scott necklace
- Pearl or diamond stud earrings, one per ear (women only)
- Signet rings and class rings (men only)
- Sunglasses (tortoiseshell pattern or aviators)
- Burberry check scarf
- Needlepoint belt
- Longchamp Le Pliage in Navy
- White, black or gray socks
- Bermuda bags (tiny handbags with a wooden frame and interchangeable covers which could be matched to outfits)
- Charm bracelets
- Return to Tiffany's bracelet
- Popped collars on polo shirts
- Romphims (rompers for men)
- Critters (crabs, lobsters, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, horses, fish, seahorses)
- Monograms are arranged with the first initial on the left, the last initial in the center and the middle initial on the right
- Large monograms, especially in curly fonts, are popular in the South. EVERYTHING is monogramed.
Food and drinks
- Ritz crackers
- Mint Julep
- Lobster rolls
- Crab cakes
- Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket (2016)
- Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
- Caddyshack (1980)
- Dead Poets Society (1989)
- Hidden Figures (2016)
- Igby Goes Down (2002)
- Knives Out (2019)
- Making the Grade (1984)
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
- The Fox Hunter (2020)
- The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
- The Philadelphia Story (1940)
- Trading Places (1983)
- So Undercover (2012)
- "Connecticut Girl" and "Boston Girl" characters by Shannon Fiedler
- Southhampton and Miami "Rich Mom Starter Packs" by Tinx
- Gossip Girl (2007-2012)
- Hart of Dixie (2011-2015)
- Royal Pains (2009-2016)
- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017 -)
- The Politician (2019-)
- Southern Charm (2013-)
- The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021-)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles
- Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor by Tad Friend
- Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler by Wade Rouse
- Twisted Family Values by V.C. Chickering
- preppy 👔 Spotify playlist by taylorlexichan
- Blonde Preppy Rich Girl In High School/College Movie Spotify playlist by Fiona Westphal
- music that preppy people listen to because they think it's hipster Spotify playlist by doge6596
- Preppy Playlist Spotify playlist by Jeroen
- Preppy Spotify playlist by Rosy Romero
- ur cute preppy girl Spotify playlist by bunganurfitria
- Preppy Spotify playlist by The Music Snob
Because many activities have been associated with the neighborhoods of New England's wealthy, these activities have become emblematic of the Preppy, Ivy League-aspiring crowds. Sports have often been used to make a college applicant look more impressive, and sports that are more obscure and traditionally associated with these classes are played because the money involved keeps out other students who would have been able to use their skills to succeed, as in basketball or soccer. Many of these non-sporting activities are associated with older "company men" who got to where they are via generational wealth and economic and social capital. Many of these were described in a now retracted Atlantic article which exposed many readers to the dramatic world of obscure sports (with more drama than the truth.) Here is another accurate one.
- Bocce ball
- Polo, both water and on a horse
- Rowing on a boat
- Black tie and cocktail parties
- Collecting art and antiques
- Debutante Balls
- Vacationing in The Hamptons, Martha's Vineyards, and Cape Cod
- The Kentucky Derby
- F. Scott Fizgerald
- Jacqueline Kennedy
- John F. Kennedy
- Lilly Pulitzer
- John F. Kennedy Jr.
- Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy
- Brooke Shields
- Jenna Lyons
- Audrey Kelleher
- Charles McBryde
- Jenna Sweeney
- Reese Witherspoon
- Sophie Schumacher
- Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
- Elena Richardson from Little Fires Everywhere (2020)
- The Ganseys from the Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater
- Grace and Robert Hanson from Grace and Frankie (2015-)
- Lemon Breeland from Hart of Dixie (2011-2015)
- Muffy Tepperman from Square Pegs (1982-1983)
- Paige Collins and Evan Lawson from Royal Pains (2009-2016)
- Spencer Hastings from Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017)
- Viviane Kensington from Legally Blonde (2001)
- Nantucket vs. Hamptons paintings
- Slim Aarons photographs
- Southern Living magazine website
- Town and Country magazine website
- The National Panhellenic Conference (American Sororities)
- Take Ivy by Shosuke Ishizu
- The Art of Southern Charm by Patricia Altschul
- The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach
- The Preppy Cookbook by Christine E. Nunn
- A Southern Belle Primer by Maryln Schwartz
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl