So it’s 2023, and prep style is back and trending. I can already hear what you’re thinking: “How did we get back to being preppy?” There’s the reality in apparel: what’s old very often becomes new again. A deeper look informs us that the answer lies in a bit of trend-focused psychology.
Human behavior is driven by our needs, and one of our most powerful and consistent needs is a sense of belonging. It’s no coincidence that this is exactly what we’ve been missing for the last couple years. In that light, the resurgence of the preppy trend makes perfect sense. The familiar look of prep style can make you feel part of a secret club, but the membership rules are a little different today. While it began as a style choice for elitist tribes, today’s prep popularity belongs to everyone.
The prep look you might be most familiar with originated in the late 19th century as a symbol of Ivy League status and kept on evolving, becoming even more popular in the 1950s while still a signifier of affluence and privilege. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that preppy popularity spread to the masses. Today it’s evolving once again, finding a new audience in younger generations.
“It’s cool to be a prep again, but not the way it used to be,” says Aidan Milan of the UK’s Metro. “The most interesting thing about this newfound preppy overtone is that it’s now applicable to loads of fashion niches. Simply tweaking your colour choices and footwear makes being a prep cool no matter who you are.”
Agustina Panzoni, a trend and category manager for Depop, expands on how Gen Z is bringing new life to prep style. “The preppy look has developed since its origins at Ivy League and Redbrick universities and we’ve seen a new generation continue to democratize and interpret this style as their own.”
This inclusivity means that anyone can explore what preppy looks like for them and everyone is invited to make it their own. Gone are the restrictions and rules outlined in the infamous “Official Preppy Handbook,” which we’ll discuss more next month. So, let’s start our journey through this new prep world by exploring a few of those niche trends that each take the look in their own unique direction.
You may or may not have heard of the Dark Academia trend before today, but If you’ve watched the Harry Potter movies, Dead Poets Society or the Netflix comedy Derry Girls, then you’ve already seen it in the wild.
This is a look that embraces the tweed blazer as an essential and romanticizes learning, allowing anyone to take part from anywhere. “I think that building these ‘aesthetic’ communities virtually via social media has allowed for a lot of people to meet friends and explore their interests,” says Talya Golwacz, a Masters student at Exeter who posts on TikTok as CosyAcademia.
“When it comes to incorporating Dark Academia into your wardrobe, it’s really a no-brainer,” explains Dominque Hobdy at PureWow. “Think simple, tailored pieces with lots of texture and richness…and maybe a little mystery.” With this in mind, the language of sweater vests, collared shirts and dark blazers speaks well to this trend.
It seems like athleisure is one of those trends that you just can’t get away from. When we’re talking about preppy looks, Tenniscore is the prep version of athleisure. The reference to tennis is really just convenient shorthand – think pickleball or racquetball and you’re still in the right space.
The real point is achieving a look that fits in as well off the court as it does while playing. “Classic tennis brands like Lacoste are finding ways to marry on- and off-court style,” writes Aemilia Madden of Vogue, “and mixing traditional technicalwear with aspects of modern streetwear and digital-age influence.”
In practice, this means classic tennis skirts and polos are go-to pieces for this look, and a sweater vest or a sporty canvas tote bag fit right in here too.
When we’re all still trying to figure out where we fit in our new always-casual post-pandemic world, the New Prep trend represents what “dressed up” looks like today. “It’s no secret that streetwear brands have gravitated towards preppier looks in recent years,” writes Highsnobiety’s Tom Barker. “Some of this is the brand’s designers and fans growing up, and some of it is part of a wider move towards a new form of preppy style.”
This aspect of the prep aesthetic uses elements of the familiar Ivy League look and remixes them, messing them up a little to help us fit into our new, more relaxed lifestyles. For example, start with a casual Oxford shirt, add a double-knit 1/4-zip tied loosely around the shoulders and finish the look with a classic tote. Suddenly you look like you’re just wondering “Which way to the club?”
The preppy Club House trend is going to shape a lot of what we’re going to talk about in 2023, and the good news is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all look. Whether you’re going to spend a few hours deep in the stacks of a university library, hang out by the tennis court, or dress up for an evening out, these new prep styles are tailor-made to fit your mood and your personal aesthetic. The most important thing to remember about the Club House is that everyone is welcome to be a member.
Next month we’ll dive even deeper into the origins and evolution of preppy fashion to get ready for summer in full prep style. I hope you’ll join us!