Is Prep Dead? (More Importantly, How Did We Miss This?)

Hello-Hello, is everyone ready for a weekend?

We thought it was time for another True Prep update, the volume of media surrounding the book is significant, including multiple declarations that ‘prep is dead’; in at least one instance responsibility for this hypothetical occurrence is linked directly to the book.

We begin with this headline from a September NPR story:

We haven’t heard the entire NPR story, but did read what is posted online and were unable to decipher exactly how the book’s existence translated into a sign that prep was dead.  The NPR story does carry a lengthy quote from this story in The Atlantic:

As always, the Atlantic review is very well done, essentially positing that ‘prep’ has  been absorbed by a larger, international class.  From the piece by Benjamin Schwarz:

“Whereas OPH was crammed with fine-grained analysis— defining, say, the subtle distinctions between Brooks Brothers (mainstream), J. Press (old guard), and Paul Stuart (urbane)—True Prep’s analysis seems vague and flabby. Whereas OPH’s preppies belonged to a distinct and inward-looking subculture, the preppies of True Prep, defined largely by what they buy and wear, are in many ways indistinguishable from fancily educated professionals.”

The writer doesn’t fault the skill set of authors Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd, looking instead at the consumption habits of the era, particularly those of the conspicuous kind.

“Cracked heirlooms, threadbare antique rugs, sturdy L.L. Bean boots, duct-taped Blucher moccasins, and workhorse Volvo station wagons defined OPH’s aesthetic. True Prep’s preppies, armed with BlackBerrys and iPods, wear Verdura jewelry and Prada and vintage Gucci loafers, tote Goyard and Tory Burch bags, and adorn their desks with tchotchkes from Smythson (a firm whose success, Ian Jack notes in The Guardian, has been built “on selling baubles to the impressionable rich”).

It’s no secret we whined struggled with some of the brands featured in True Prep. (For Ms. Birnbach’s comments regarding the J. Crew metallic Top-siders at J. Crew, simply click here.) We have been vocal about the volume of J. Crew & Burberry products showcased in the book.  Frequent readers know the tragic truth: TP and The Consort are two boring, old-school preps.  Our style is basically no style.

However, we do take issue with this claim from a column in the Journal, the headline reads “Preppy Pitfall: All That Madras, Not Enough Effort.” It is the subhead that is irksome:

Did Lisa Birnbach’s original ‘Handbook’ drive people lazy?”

Eric Felten cites TOPH (The Official Preppy Handbook) as a factor.

“One simply mustn’t try too hard. A key principle of what Ms. Birnbach called the Preppy Value System was Effortlessness: “If life is a country club, then all functions should be free from strain.”

The notion that Ms. Birnbach is responsible for the work ethic of a generation is ludicrous.

“Unless you actually have a fat trust fund to underwrite your nonchalance, an aversion to effort is hardly a strategy for success. Which may explain some of our national woes.”

We like Ms. Birnbach; she is talented, witty and loads of fun, but while wielding significant influence, she is not quite so powerful as to be responsible for this:

“Over the last couple of decades we’ve seen the contempt for effort spread far beyond the original preppy demographic. Now it’s commonplace for middle-class kids to go to college and behave as though they are scions of the gentry—abjuring studies and indulging in the bottomless kegger that a recent book dubbed “The Five Year Party.”

Blaming These Challenging Times on any single author just doesn’t work for us.

Next on the review list, AOL’s Daily Finance offers this:

Bruce Watson’s story takes a more reasoned approach:

“…she attached a philosophical component to the look, explicitly wedding the preppy style to a hodgepodge of social values, including traditionalism, thrift, and brand loyalty. In Birnbach’s analysis, preppies buy Brooks Brothers and Orvis because these companies have been in business for over a hundred years and have proven reliability.”

As the monolithic 1980’s preppy culture has fractured into a variety of brands and styles, from Gossip Girl to hip-hop Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren to Vineyard Vines, it’s worth wondering if this explosion of prep may also signal its demise.”

Mr. Watson points to the efforts at updating the fashions offered by some of the stalwarts, like LL Bean’s Signature and Black Fleece at Brooks Brothers, a necessity if such establishments are to compete against trendier, “hipper” (ahem) offerings at retailers like J. Crew. Unfortunately the writer misses an important point in this portion of his story:
“In True Prep, however, conversation positively drips with references to the signs of wealth, as Birnbach instructs readers: “Your car wasn’t in the shop; your Mercedes was getting fixed. You didn’t wear shoes; you wore Manolos.”
The book isn’t instructing readers to converse in this fashion. To the contrary, this specific segment laments the way people speak these days, bemoaning the ostentation and name-dropping and label flashing.  Melanie Spencer’s story in the Austin Statesman illustrates this distinction with a quote from the author:
“”People are oft misbehaving and name-dropping and talking about money,” she says. “It is vulgar. It’s becoming normal. I’m here to help correct. Something as benign as ‘Sex in the City’ sort of sanctioned gross materialism. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, my shoes hurt,’ it’s, ‘My Manolos hurt.’ You are sending all kinds of messages. You can say ‘My car is in the shop.’ You don’t have to say, ‘My Jaguar is in the shop.’ It would be so refreshing for people to go back to those basics.”

We had to laugh aloud at this part of the story, it seems not everyone in Austin was fond of the prep aesthetic. (Gasp!)

“”Preppy fashion was the lowest point in the history of women’s attire,” says longtime Austinite, style and design writer and Austin Monthly Home editor Helen Thompson.”
Oops.  Hopefully Melanie, I Pick Pretty and other notable Austin denizens won’t tell Ms. Thompson next time we visit.
Enough of the deep thinking, we have an eye-popping Pretty in Pink & Green to share:
The Argyle Pullover is available at Elegant Baby, and there is also a version in blues if looking for something a little more sedate.
With that, we are off to enjoy the weekend, and hope you are able to do the same!


Filed under Gossip Girl, preppy, Preppy clothing & brands, Preppy Fashion, preppy lifestyle, True Prep & TOPH

20 responses to “Is Prep Dead? (More Importantly, How Did We Miss This?)

  1. Melanie Spencer

    Thank you for the mention! And don’t worry, my lips are sealed the next time you visit the ATX.


  2. I really don’t know anything about that preppy value system of effortlessness.
    My beau attended one of the most prestigous prep schools before undergraduate, graduate and b-school at Stanford. He works hard now, and has all of his life.
    My kids attended a chi-chi international prep school in Switzerland, and after the “5 year party” aka university, they are now working hard.

  3. Amy

    Have a fabulous weekend!! And what a load of crock, preppy is never dead! 🙂

  4. Blacklabs and Lilly

    I’ve read a few of the articles about TP, but don’t really have issue one way or another. I really just wanted to pop in and send wishes to you and Tilly for a wonderful weekend!!!

  5. Very interesting!
    I find it amusing that every couple of years someone tries to say that preppy is dead. Prep has so many traditional and timeless traits that never go out of style. And if preppy were ever truly dead then no one would be talking about it at all, right?! 😉

    Wishing you a great weekend!

  6. Great article! While having been raised on the Range precludes me from being a “True Prep”, I can happily say that that even mountain women know the importance of a reliable Volvo, L.L. Bean, and a good gin & tonic!

  7. Sista, every time I come here I wonder how in the world you find out so much scoop. You must read everything that hits the pipeline? You are a never ending vessel of interesting knowledge.

    Dang, I wish that argyle pullover came in my size.

  8. Pingback: Is Prep Dead? « PAWLAK

  9. LPC

    All of which begs the question, just what is “preppy.” If we shared a definition we could know when it was dead or not.

  10. Bunsy

    Hi — if you read the WSJ essay, the author actually says that the upper class is responding by being MORE industrious — getting their kids into extra tutoring, etc, and really grinding it out. Interestingly, I think it is more prep (and English, for that matter) to work like hell, and then act like you didn’t do a damn thing. This was the big attitude at Harvard when I was there.

  11. Bunsy

    Also, I think it is a bit rich for Lisa B to now bemoan the excessive materialism of TP… all that Verdura draped everywhere, all the Nantucket Vines, B2, Lilly Pulitzer tie-ins, and shop shop shop! that is stressed within — I mean, she wrote the book, didn’t she?

    So presumably she had something to do with the editorial direction of the book?

  12. Interesting, thank you for bringing a few of these articles that I hadn’t yet come across, to my attention. Good read! Have a nice weekend.

  13. This, dear Princess, is a fantastic post. I really enjoyed it. And, I have to say, me thinks that you and the Prince must write a book about old school Prep. I am serious. You really should!
    Happy weekend, lovely Princess!xoxo

  14. I am proud to call the ATX my home as of Fall 2009, and I must say, although this town is “hippier” than most, we preps still hold our ground. I think this clash of subcultures is what makes this city so wonderfully weird. Your secret is safe with me!

  15. At last a very good article in relation to the topic, continue the good work and also I hope to examine far more from you in the long run.

  16. MRM

    I may be in the minority here, but I love the pale metallic Top Siders!

  17. fingers in my ears fingers in my ears lalalalalalalalalala

    I don’t care if it drove people to be crazy, subsequently making all o’ us loonies. long live our lifestyle!

    ps- thank you for the kind words on the OKC article 🙂



  18. Your posts never cease to amaze me. The research involved, the smooth blending of quotes with your topic of the day 😉 are favorites of mine. Oh, oops – back to the topic – prep dead? Never. Please do a post and define prep for us Miss Princess! I know you can do it 😉 xoxo

  19. Curious. Considering that the number one search bring folks to my blog is for “preppy blogs”, I don’t think prep is dead. I wore Lilly and Burberry today to prove it. 🙂

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