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How to nail the fashion aesthetic

Preppy style
Take a closer look at preppy style.

Preppy style has been a dominant force in the fashion world for over a century. It is a timeless aesthetic that has evolved and adapted to different eras and subcultures.

From its Ivy League origins to its influence on street style, preppy fashion continues to inspire designers and fashion enthusiasts alike. Read on and we’ll travel through the history of preppy fashion, exploring its iconic pieces, key influencers and enduring appeal in recent years.

Preppy Style: Origins

Preppy Style 1950's Pearl Sweater
A high school student wears a cardigan and pearls in 1943. Photo: Esther Bubley, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, preppy fashion emerged as a status symbol among wealthy students attending prep schools and Ivy League universities. This exclusive group of individuals, often from old moneyed families, had a distinctive style of dress that reflected their privileged background. The term “preppy” is derived from the word “prep”, short for preparatory school.

At this time, preppy clothing was characterized by tailored clothing such as Brooks Brothers button-down shirts, knit sweaters, and moccasins often associated with New England. These classic pieces became essential elements of the preppy wardrobe, representing sophistication and tradition. The style was associated with conservative values ​​and the pursuit of higher education, as well as the ivy league style.

Rising in the 1950s

1940s Anne Gwynne Cardigan
Anne Gwynne wears a cardigan sweater in the 1940s. Photo: US Army, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the 1950s, the preppy style experienced a revival and expanded beyond the confines of elite educational institutions. Styles like the iconic twin sets, sweaters worn over collared shirts and plaid patterns became synonymous with the era. The preppy look was no longer limited to school kids; it permeated mainstream fashion and became a cultural phenomenon. For women, the country club look of a pleated skirt paired with a wool sweater stood out.

During this time, the introduction of rugby shirts into the preppy wardrobe added a new dimension to style. Originally designed for the sport of rugby, these shirts became popular off the pitch and were embraced by fashion enthusiasts. Plaid also gained traction as a preppy print, further cementing its association with the style. This era saw the emergence of American-inspired preppy fashion, with elements such as bowling shirts and denim making their mark.

The craze of the 1980s

80s Preppy Style Pastel Cardigan
Pastels wear a distinct take on the ’80s prep look. Photo:

The 1980s marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of preppy style. The publication of The Official Preppy Handbook in 1980 sparked a preppy craze that swept the nation. The book, intended to be humorous and ironic, inspired a new generation of fashion enthusiasts to embrace the preppy aesthetic.

During the 80s, this style underwent a transformation, shedding some of its exclusive associations and becoming more accessible to the masses. Designers such as Ralph Lauren, LL Bean and Tommy Hilfiger significantly popularized preppy fashion, making it more mainstream and commercially viable. Khakis, blazers and pullovers became ubiquitous symbols of the prep trend.

Icons like Brooke Shields and Princess Diana embraced the preppy aesthetic, wearing tartan jackets and blazers with their own unique flair.

A new twist in the 1990s

Preparing Ralph Lauren's 90s style
Minimalism is key to the ’90s preppy look. Photo: /

The 1990s brought a new twist to preppy fashion thanks to the rise of brands like Gap and J. Crew. While the 80s were all about pastels and bold prints, the 90s brought more minimalism. However, prepared staples like boat shoes, polo shirts and cable knit sweaters remained a constant presence.

Pop culture played an important role in shaping the perception of preppy looks during this decade. Britney Spears, with her schoolgirl-inspired outfits, became a preppy fashion icon of the 90s. And we have to remember the yellow checkered look of Clueless and Alicia Silverstone. TV shows like Dawson’s Creek featured good-looking characters.

Reinvented in the 2000s

Jenna Lyons Preppy Style
Former J. Crew president Jenna Lyons helped shape the aesthetic in the 2000s. Photo: Featureflash Photo Agency /

In the early 2000s, preppy style took a new direction, thanks to designers like Jenna Lyons at J.Crew. This era saw a shift towards bright colours, playful curves and a more preppy approach to fashion. Traditional aesthetics gave way to a more vibrant and eclectic interpretation of style.

Shows like Gossip girl brought the school uniform look into the limelight. As the decade progressed into the 2010s, this style faded in favor of a more indie aesthetic.

A revival today

Carrot skirt dress in modern preppy style
Prep style today can be seen in darker colors and new silhouettes. Photo: FP

In recent years, preppy fashion has made a comeback of sorts, regaining its position as a fashion staple. Fashion Week runways have featured collections that pay homage to the preppy aesthetic. The new era of preppy fashion embraces individuality and personal style while still paying attention to the traditional elements of preppy fashion.

Classic preppy pieces like blazers, sleeveless tops, boat shoes and cable knit sweaters continue to be wardrobe staples. The enduring appeal of preppy style lies in its versatility and timelessness. It can be dressed up for formal occasions or dressed up for a casual weekend look. The key to incorporating this style into your personal aesthetic is to choose pieces that resonate with your style and combine them with modern and unexpected elements.

Preppy Clothing Essentials

When it comes to building a ready-to-wear wardrobe, there are a few key pieces that should be on your radar. These classic items form the foundation of preppy style and can be mixed and matched to create a variety of stylish outfits. Let’s explore some of the essential essentials for preparation:

1. The Navy Blazer: A timeless classic

The navy blazer is a staple that exudes sophistication and versatility. They can be worn with a sharp button-down shirt and skirt for a formal occasion or paired with jeans and a t-shirt for a more casual look. This versatile piece is a must in any preppy wardrobe.

2. Polo shirts: Sporty and stylish

Polo shirts are synonymous with this style. They strike the perfect balance between casual and refined, making them suitable for a variety of occasions. Choose classic colors like white, navy and pastel, and pair them with chinos or shorts for a cool summer look.

3. Boat Shoes: Nautical Charm

Boat shoes are an essential prep shoe. They are comfortable and versatile and exude a nautical charm that perfectly complements the timeless aesthetic. Pair them with shorts, chinos, or even summer dresses for a relaxed yet polished look.

4. Button-down shirts: fresh and classic

Button-down shirts are a cornerstone of preppy fashion. They offer a clean and polished look that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. Choose classic patterns like stripes or sequins, and pair them with jeans, a tennis skirt or khaki pants for a timeless preppy outfit.

5. Cable knit sweaters: comfortable and stylish

Cable knit sweaters are another staple of this style. They offer a cozy and elegant look that is perfect for the cold seasons. Layer them over button-down shirts or wear them on their own with jeans or skirts for a classic preppy ensemble.

6. Trench coat: Timeless elegance

A trench coat is a versatile outerwear that adds a touch of timeless elegance to any outfit. It’s a perfect way to transition from spring to fall and can be worn over both casual and formal outfits. Choose a neutral color palette like beige or blue for a classic preppy look.

7. Khaki pants: classic and versatile

Khaki pants are a wardrobe staple that offers classic style for both casual and dressy occasions. Pair them with a button-down shirt and blazer for a polished preppy look, or wear them with a polo shirt and boat shoes for a more casual vibe.

8. V-neck sweater: The sophisticated layer

A v-neck sweater is a sophisticated layering piece that adds a touch of edginess to any outfit. It can be worn over a button-down shirt for a classic look or layered under a blazer for a more formal ensemble. Choose neutral colors like blue, gray or camel for a timeless appeal.

9. Oxford shirt: Timeless elegance

Oxford shirts are a wardrobe essential that offers timeless elegance. They are versatile pieces that can be worn with a blazer or dressed down with jeans or shorts. Choose classic colors like white, blue or pink for a traditional preppy look.

10. Pleated skirt: Look chic

A pleated is synonymous with the preppy aesthetic. They offer a timeless and elegant look that is perfect for different seasons. Combine them with an elegant blouse for an ideal look.

Last words

Office work preparation style
A blazer and a sweater is ideal for an office environment. Photo:

Preppy style is a fashion phenomenon that has stood the test of time. From its Ivy League origins to its influence on street style, preppy fashion continues to inspire and fascinate. With its classic pieces, timeless elegance and adaptability, this aesthetic remains a staple in many wardrobes.

So whether you’re channeling the sophistication of Ralph Lauren or embracing the individuality of modern preppy fashion from brands like Thom Browne, there’s a preppy look for everyone. Embrace the style, make it your own and let the world see your fashion statement.

Frequently asked questions

What is preppy style?

Preppy style refers to a fashion aesthetic that originated from the clothing worn by students at prep schools and Ivy League universities in the early 20th century. Clean lines, tailored silhouettes and a mix of classic and sporty elements characterize it.

What are the main elements of preppy style?

Preppy style staples include long-sleeve shirts, button-down Oxford shirts, cable knit sweaters, blazers, chinos, A-line skirts, loafers, and accessories like pearl necklaces, headbands, and ties. The color palette usually consists of blues, whites, pastels and classic patterns like stripes, pleats and clay.

How can I incorporate preppy style into my wardrobe?

To incorporate preppy style into your wardrobe, you can start by investing in classic pieces such as long-sleeved shirts, button-down shirts, chinos, blazers and boat shoes. Choose clean and tailored silhouettes and choose colors and patterns that are characteristic of the preppy style. Additionally, accessorize with accessories like headbands, pearl necklaces and classic watches to complete the look.



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