Beyond Button-Ups: Breaking Down the New Prep School Style

If you still envision stuffy Ralph Lauren polos and plaid school-uniform skirts when you hear the word "preppy," it's by far time to change your definition of the word. Though "prep" might have been used to describe the style of notorious early 2000s mean girls (re: Mandy Moore's character Lana in 2001's Princess Diaries), in 2019, preppy fashion has totally transformed into something far from stuffy and much closer to — dare I say it? — fun. 

This change has been a long time coming. Early signs of it emerged in the spring of 2018, when the prep-staple brand J. Crew brought back its signature Rugby shirts that had been popular in the early 1980s. 

J. Crew campaign photo featuring the 1984 rugby shirt

That same year, a piece from Garage (Vice's fashion publication) remarked that preppy fashion, a look typically associated with the white ultra-rich, was gaining popularity in the same way as the love-it or hate-it "Dad" fashion. ManRepeller's Harling Ross later commented on what preppy looked like in 2019, waxing poetic about the ways in which classic pieces like khaki pants or plaid blazers can become "vehicles for self-expression when used as a canvas for personal style."

Today's preppy is more complicated than school uniforms and starchy blazers. Ross identifies Rowing Blazers as an exemplar of modern preppy style; the brand's founder says he draws inspiration from nineteenth century British school soccer uniforms but also hip-hop culture. New York fashion label Kule (and frequent ManRepeller favorite) is another popular modern-prep pick. The brand plays with popular prep staples like striped shirts and starchy button downs, but in a way that feels fun and playful. Think kid-breaking-school-uniform-rules rather than prep school staples. The brand advertises "perfect" striped tees in several different cuts and layering like you've never seen before. 

Kule Instagram post, October 2017  

Clare V., though perhaps a little more Kate Spade than classic prep school, is another good example of the new prep fashion. The label's playful printed clutches, though spendy, make for adorable investment pieces that can add a pop of cheetah or stripes to any outfit. Further, the hand-painted initialing offered by the label are a fun, new alternative to the stuffy scrolled letters often described by the word "monogram."

Clare V. offers hand-painted monograms for online purchases

In 2018, Garage asked if prep could be reinvented in 2019 to get away from its association with the white upper class. Writer Rachel Tashjian turns to menswear brand Noah for an explanation, noting that the cult brand's varsity scarf is emblazoned with the words "HUMAN RIGHTS" rather than an Ivy League crest.

No Ivy League logos for menswear brand Noah

The 1973 collection from Kule offers similar promises of prep renaissance. Working in collaboration with prinkshop, an organization which prints t-shirts to advocate for social issues, Kule has produced a line of tees commemorating the year of the Roe v. Wade decision. Further, the cult prep collection doesn't just make reproductive justice issues fashionable — the brand donates 30% of each 1973 purchase to the National Institute of Reproductive Health. 

A photo from Kule's 1973 campaign

In the age of Donald Trump, it's important that prep fashion's rebirth has a social conscience. Luckily, the future of the prep school-inspired style finds plenty of ways, whether it's Kule's 1973 campaign or Noah's "HUMAN RIGHTS" scarf, to break out of its socially conservative mold. And in 2019, a social conscience is part of what has helped prep break away from the stuffy buttoned-up shirts and starchy slacks of days gone by. 

The popularity of new prep fashion insures that the style will be a popular look this fall. After all, this past spring saw several iterations of the new preppy fashion. The over-sized barrette trend that featured old-school hairclips outfitted in tortoiseshell or coated in white pearls riffs off of classic schoolgirl style. Similarly, the cheetah prints that have popped up in city streets across the world are practically begging to be paired with funky stripes and playful plaids. Try a cheetah print shoe or perhaps a colorful clutch the next time you want to incorporate prep fashion into your wardrobe this season.   

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5