Preppy (also spelled preppie) or prep (all abbreviations of the word preparatory) is a subculture in the United States 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.
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. While some might, at first glance, mistaken it for the Brocore aesthetic, the Preppy visuals often carry a sense of refinement and arrogance as opposed to the more down-to-earth Brocore aesthetic, though there is probably more overlap between the snobby elitist Prep and the blue-collar Bro than either party would care to admit.
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. By the 1980s, mass marketing of brands such as Lacoste, Daniel Cremieux, Izod, and Dooney & Bourkebecame 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, a style that remained popular until sometime in the mid-2000s when suddenly, these sorts of status signifiers became decidedly very uncool.
Today, it seems the Preppy aesthetic has given way to VSCO and Baddie, who has more of an edge but still showcases the same sort of signifiers of wealth and opulence they used to be known for. But many of the individuals who were preps in their teenaged years eventually turned into the Karens of the world (or their male equivalents, the Kyle). Also, many Preppy individuals will eventually grow up to take high-ranking positions in the Corporate world.
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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.
- Black tie and cocktail parties
- Collecting art and antiques
- Polo, both water and on a horse
- Rowing on a boat
- Tennis and Badminton
- Vacationing in The Hamptons, Martha's Vineyards, and Cape Cod