15 years ago, prep was everything. Lilly Pulitzer prints were considered tasteful, the cool kids wore bright polos with huge Ralph Lauren ponies, and Kanye rocked bright v-neck sweaters and oversized rugby shirts.
But, in a matter of a few years, prep was obsolete, seemingly a relic of an elitist and obnoxious past. Perhaps prompted by the disillusionment with American conservatism following the financial crisis, fashion culture moved towards the anti-prep. Scandinavian minimalism, slim and dark silhouettes, and athleisure soon dominated runways, red carpets, and wardrobes. Kanye no longer wore polos, but designed dystopian and raw garments, the cool kids didn’t rock Abercrombie, but wore Common Projects and skinny jeans.
However, we have passed this age of minimalism and are now at a crossroads. The minimalism and austerity that used to be worshipped is gone, replaced by an increasing gravitation towards loud and fun streetwear, wider and looser cuts, and a mix and match attitude. Maybe it’s the burgeoning economy, or the desire for freedom, or just the nature of fashion itself, but it seems like anything goes. And with that, prep has seeped back into the fashion world. While the prep of the past was straight forward and worn as a uniform to mark one’s status, the prep of today is seeped in sarcasm. Rugby shirts and bright pastels are worn with a sense of irony, to demonstrate the obvious clash between the trendy teens who wear them and the traditional cultural attitudes prep once represented. Instead of ignoring prep because of its past, it is being reclaimed by the very people and attitudes it once looked down on and has turned into a style with more fun and versatility. These changes are most clearly represented in the recent collections by brands such as Noah, Palace, Supreme, and Rowing Blazers.
Noah is an upscale streetwear/skate/surf brand started by the former creative director of Supreme. Its most recent collections have almost single-handedly brought back prep into the world of streetwear. They have taken classic preppy styles and fabrics, such as tweed, seersucker, and madras, and have added an eclectic twist. Trousers are patched, horse bit loafers are made with yellow suede, rugbies are boldly vibrant, and mohair sweaters come in pink and blue plaid. And instead of being worn by old guys golfing and frat bros, it is being worn by the trend-setting youth of lower Manhattan.
Palace and Supreme
Similarly Palace and Supreme, two of the most powerful and well-known streetwear brands, have both released preppy pieces in the past year. Most notably, Palace released an entire collection with Ralph Lauren, prominently featuring the famous Ralph Bear doing a kick flip, embroidered corduroy trousers, classic tartan, and even a pair of velvet opera slippers. This collection is the zeitgeist of the prep comeback, taking traditional prep styles and mixing in a heavy dose of streetwear and irony. And, since Palace is a streetwear giant, it is mostly teenagers and young millennials wearing these prep clothes. While Supreme has been less impactful with this trend, it has recently released argyle sweaters and knit polos that look straight out of the 60s and put a fun twist on prep.
Lastly, and the most traditional of the bunch, is Rowing Blazers. This New York based brand was started by a former Olympic rower and specializes in recreating traditional rugby shirts, rowing blazers, and trousers. While the clothes are traditionally cut and use old school styles, the brands whimsical patches and logos and emphasis on old-school details sets it apart from other retailers. Its obsession with perfecting these details and capturing the spirit of rowing makes it more than just your average preppy brand. Further, their collaboration with Noah, commitment to helping intercity rowing teams, and look-books featuring racially diverse models underrepresented in most prep brands, shows how the new prep is more inclusive and younger.
Where to Begin
While you don’t have to totally revamp your wardrobe with Vineyard Vines (please don’t), adding a few preppy pieces will help you test out this trend. I suggest starting out with versatile pieces like fun button downs, interesting chinos, and maybe even a tweed blazer if you are feeling adventurous.