Maybe it’s the release of the Ralph Lauren documentary, Very Ralph, on HBO late last year, or perhaps it was the panel discussion Thomas Mason held in New York in October centered around this very subject, but the reemergence of “preppy” style is upon us.
It was on that very panel that American author Alan Flusser bestowed his fashion history upon the crowd, starting with the roots of the Ivy style/prep movement in the 1920s at Yale University. The look was a uniquely American fashion aesthetic based on WASP culture; although it was decidedly casual (as much in the mix and the attitude as the actual pieces), it suggested affluence as these were kids who could afford private education and expensive tailors.
But while prep started in the 1920s, it didn’t take hold until the ’30s (primarily on the East Coast), with a major resurgence in the 1950s. Ralph Lauren then virtually resurrected what we know as Ivy Style in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this time tweaking it to be more upper class and sexy. We had a more recent go at prep style during the #menswear movement in the early 2010s that saw our very first influencers take hold of the trend online for the coming-of-age Millennials browsing Tumblr.
Moving into today, a few emerging menswear brands like Rowing Blazers, Noah, and Aimé Leon Dore have taken the essential elements of what makes Ivy style and infused it with strains of skate, punk, hip-hop, and downtown grunge to create something far cooler, and far more inclusive, for the next generation. This go around with prep is a full-scale re-imagining of what the trend means. It’s prep for the people—all people.
“‘Preppy’ is such a divisive word,” says Michael Fisher, vice president and creative director of menswear at trend forecasting agency Fashion Snoops. “It always has been. It means many things to many people. The re-emergence we’re currently seeing is anything but the blue-blooded classics of the past 30 years. It has nothing to do with the good ole boys or the upper echelon of society. The new wave of prep is super irreverent at its core. It’s not at all about following the rules from previous generations. Instead, it’s about rewriting modern tradition and incorporating all kinds of influences into the look.”
On the same panel as Flusser, American designer Todd Snyder lamented how today’s reinterpretation of prep style is a much-needed infusion for menswear. “I think streetwear is looking a bit stale now that everyone’s wearing it,” Snyder said at the time. “I see preppy, sartorial, and tailored looks starting to come back but in a new way. I believe pants will be the new focal point but with a slightly dropped crotch, a cropped leg may be worn with white socks. It’s important to come up with new juxtapositions to disrupt the norm or else it gets very boring.”
And brands that are successful with this new look share one common quality: authenticity. This attribute is exactly why Fischer believes the prep brand of the moment, Rowing Blazers, is finding its stride among today’s consumers hungry for something different. “Rowing Blazers is hitting it out of the park simply because it’s authentic and doesn’t try too hard,” Fisher mentions. “The brand’s founder Jack Carlson is this guy who grew up around the lifestyle, and he’s not pretentious about it in the least. And he’s doing it all while building a community with some great events and even a brick-and-mortar ‘clubhouse’ that makes shopping fun again.”
And, if this new wave of prep-meets-street is a way to drum up business, then count us in!
Photos by Zach Alston, Grooming by Deepti Sadhwani