Preppiness is not only synonymous with classiness but also a lifestyle. For over 7 decades, we have seen how preppy style has evolved to be more than just a passing trend.
Preppy style is one of the oldest and most recognizable fashion trends throughout history. Every season the preppy look evolves and survives the test of time. The classic knit sweater/ oxford shirt/khaki trousers combo is timeless. Of course, this look has been reinventing itself, but the spirit remains the same.
The appearance of this unique and classic style dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. Originally, it was reserved for students at Ivy League Universities and private high schools in the United States, but over the years it, became a widespread favorite. The style incorporated elements inspired by sports like tennis, rowing, and polo. It denoted belonging to a world of elegance, education, and elitism. Button-down shirts, knit sweaters, and loafers became a sort of uniform for this select group of individuals. Years later, women adopted the preppy style, making some minor changes–instead of the classic khaki pants, they would wear long skirts and pair them with knit sweaters and white blouses. In the 1930s, with the launch of “Lady Levi’s”– the first jeans for women–the preppy look changed completely. Jeans replaced skirts because they were more versatile. Then, in the fifties, there was a fascination with sportswear: elements from games like rugby and lacrosse, nautical styles, and plaid prints. The classic preppy look got infused with energy and color. This decade cemented the unique style we know today.
It wasn’t until the ’80s that the preppy look went from a niche style to global sensation. This radical change is attributed to the publication of the book The Official Preppy Handbook by Jonathan Roberts and Lisa Birnbach, originally intended as a satire of the elite and their style of dressing. It served, however, as a manual, and popularized the preppy “uniform.” This style went from being a philosophy of the rich to a trend that spread not only to American high schools but ones all over the world. In the ‘90s, we saw how the basic elements of the preppy look were reinvented with new silhouettes: high-waisted denim pants and Argyle print vests over white shirts. Even the grunge movement of the time adopted different elements of this style, such as plaid shirts tied at the waist and leather loafers.
The world of fashion has seen different designers keep this style relevant and modern over time. First and foremost, there are American designers Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, both of whom have built an empire around preppiness. Alongside these greats are other brands such as Lacoste, Rowing Blazers, Gant, and Brooks Brothers, who have helped define preppy style. Each of these brands’ collections comes from the same universe but is interpreted in different ways that transform classic elements such as polo shirts, university jackets, knit sweaters, Oxfords, plaid jackets, pleated skirts, and chinos.
People with all different kinds of personalities love the preppy aesthetic, thus cementing this style as one of the most important in fashion. How could we forget the iconic looks that made Princess Diana a fashion legend or Brooke Shields one in the 90s? Even pop princess Britney Spears catapulted to fame with a modern and more sensual reinterpretation of the classic preppy style. And different film and television characters–who are today style icons—represented this aesthetic as well, from the popular Cher Horowitz (Clueless) and the innocent Sandy Olsson (Grease) to Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl) and Spencer Hastings (Pretty Little Liars). Each of these women gave this style her own personal twist, proving that there is actually a lot of variety.
We are currently seeing a rebirth of the preppy style. In March, we saw a version of it from a range of different designers. Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini updated the preppy look with pleated skirts that mix different prints and oversized varsity jackets. We saw brands like Lacoste modernize this style in line with the Gen-Z aesthetic: looser, more comfortable garments. Simone Rocha, Prada, Ferragamo, and Celine created their own versions of the college uniform.
Season after season we have seen preppy style adapt to the needs of consumers and designers’ visions. Today, it is not only one of the strongest trends for Fall 21, but it has also become synonymous with luxury. It’s still the defining style of #OldMoney aesthetics on social networks. Prep is philosophy and a lifestyle that will never disappear; it will only continue to get transformed to meet changes in society.