The prep step

If you are a child of the eighties, as I am, you might remember a hugely successful, tongue-in-cheek tome called The Preppy Handbook. On the North Shore of Long Island, where I spent much of my childhood, this book was studied as closely as the Bible. Although it was written as a parody, it served as an accurate "field guide" to the dress and lifestyle of the New England prepster. Indeed, what made The Preppy Handbook so successful in the eighties was that it is simultaneously a satire, for those in the know, and an actual handbook, for those hoping to pass as socially upwardly mobile.  

While reading the Handbook, you learn immediately that being a prepster goes well beyond attendance at a private boarding school. You learn about their cars, colleges, clothes, food, jobs, music, pets, what they read and how they decorate their houses. (FYI: Prepster cars include BMWs, Saabs, Volvos, Land Rovers, and Jeep SUVs; pets are retrievers and spaniels.) Written in 1980, this work help launch the preppy craze of that decade and gave birth to the current preppy style among which many have chosen to emulate. No socks? Classic. LL Bean Rubber Mocs? Always, even in temperate weather. Lacoste, and turned-up collars, and madras shorts? All accounted for.

The Preppy Handbook is timeless. According to Wikipedia, its musings on young urban professional culture served as an inspiration to the founder of the J. Crew clothing line, Arthur Cinader. Cinader hoped to capitalize on the success of the book through the development of a retail empire based on argyle sweaters, chinos, and oxford shirts. The book also represented a resurgence of interest in 'preppy' culture that aided the growth of retailer L.L. Bean.

I did not go to boarding school, or an elite day school, but I was able to bs my way into Hobart and William Smith Colleges (one of the exceptional schools for demonstrations of prep-dom). The lifestyle depicted in the book was as true in the late 1990's as it was when it was written. As a person who can admit to wearing topsiders to class, ordering chinos from the J Crew catalog, and going for a sail on lake Seneca, my college experience seemed modeled according to The Preppy Handbook word-for-word.

I don't consider myself a preppy anymore. I do own a few pieces relevant to that style, and it's fun to throw them on and pretend I have the sort of life where I summer in the Hamptons, drink Bloody Mary's, and play lacrosse in my downtime.

J Crew sweater; American Eagle oxford shirt; Gap pants; Gucci loafers; World Market pearl studs

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