“Subverting a Preppy Standby” & “Preppy Twists”

Hello-Hello, happy middle of the week to all of our treasured readers.

Here at the Prepatorium we like to engage in a rather quaint practice: every morning we read the paper. As in real newsprint on real paper. One of the papers we read is the Wall Street Journal, and they have had some interesting features of late talking about men’s fashion. More specifically, what some consider preppy styles.

Saturday’s paper had a nifty article on a topic near and dear to many a prep’s heart: embroidered critters or other patterns on clothing and accessories.  The article is titled “Fresh Threads” with a subhead that reads: “Men’s labels are subverting a preppy standby—the embroidered motif—to create some of this season’s cleverest clothes.” From the story:

FOR A FEW YEARS NOW, menswear designers have been tapping the well of classic prep, and this spring, labels like Thom Browne, Band of Outsiders, Shipley & Halmos and Asos are exploring its quirkiest reaches. They’ve traveled sartorially to Greenwich, Long Island or Nantucket, where tiny embroidered anchors, whales, lobsters and the like have decorated men’s shirts and shorts for generations.

Below we show two of the illustrations from the story. On the left is a Thom Browne jacket with the standard whale (unless I am missing something), on the right, quotation mark chinos from Band of Outsiders.

Carven/Thom Browne Wall Street Journal

Carven/Thom Browne Wall Street Journal

From the piece by John Ortved:

“The things about classic American preppy clothes, whether they be chinos or pants with a bunch of flags embroidered on them, is that they’re very easy with a lot of personality,” said Band of Outsiders designer Scott Sternberg, whose witty take on the embroidery tradition this season includes pants and shirts covered with fat little red and blue quotation marks.

Another illustration from the article, Castaway Clothing’s Cisco Shorts.

Mr. Porter/Wall Street Journal

Castaway Clothing/Wall Street Journal

The foaming beer mug seems relatively harmless, not especially subversive. I went to Castaway’s site to shop for research purposes, here are a few more of the images they embroider on apparel.

Castaway Clothing

Castaway Clothing

I don’t know about you, but the iconography doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The bow tie on seersucker really caught my eye.

Back to the story:

Trousers featuring a more outlandish, all-over embroidery appeared as part of post-WWII East Coast country club culture—which took the symbols of leisure-class exclusivity and multiplied them for a distinctly American notion of casual wear. The martini glasses and whales embroidered on Nantucket reds and seersucker shorts followed.

The next item has a creature we’re used to seeing on our clothing, here we show Dunhill’s Lobster Embroidered Woven Silk Tie. The difference between our whales and the Dunhill whale? I’m used to them being on cotton, not silk.

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 9.02.20 PM

Mr. Porter/Wall Street Journal

Back to the story:

Trousers featuring a more outlandish, all-over embroidery appeared as part of post-WWII East Coast country club culture—which took the symbols of leisure-class exclusivity and multiplied them for a distinctly American notion of casual wear. The martini glasses and whales embroidered on Nantucket reds and seersucker shorts followed. Now, those miniature designs are decorating everything from canvas backpacks and Vans sneakers to windbreakers.

Another illustration shows a Shipley & Halmos jacket and slacks adorned with a tiny artist at his easel.

The Wall Street Journal & Van's

The Wall Street Journal/Shipley & Halmos

I like the painter-he may not technically be ‘preppy,’ but the little artist doesn’t strike me as subversive. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a Shipley & Halmos fan for quite a while, they do an awful lot of things very well.) However, the company’s product description for a sweater seems a little harsh.

Don’t worry, you won’t see S&H embroidering alligators or dogs or palm trees all over a bright pink sweater. Instead, pull on this cotton blend crew neck with artist embroidery. More cool, less annoying.

Harrumph. There’s no need to get testy about the style.

One of the more intriguing items was this pair of Vans, I had to ask The Consort what the embroidery actually depicted. His answer: “feathers”.

The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal

The feathers aren’t all that appealing to me, but they do point out that this topic really typifies the “whatever floats one’s boat” credo.  Granted, it’s not exactly what J. Crew used to offer.

J. Crew Boys via I Blame the Patriarchy

J. Crew Boys via ‘I Blame the Patriarchy’ Blog

But then, I don’t remember seeing this motif on anything growing up, and now it’s one of my favorites.

Castaway Clothing

Castaway Clothing


Next, a story that did raise eyebrows, it comes via the good folks at Art Info, and is titled Head to Toe: Preppy Twists for Men. Below, the graphic illustration accompanying the story. Ahem.



From Nicholas Remsen’s story:

Preppy is as preppy does. But Nantucket reds, Wayfarers and seersuckers are a little played out, their sartorial wellspring pumped dry by endless GQ spreads and street-style shots of show-mongers in cuffed chinos and topsiders.

It seems Mr. Ortved and Mr. Remsen are of similar minds on the issue of ‘preppy’ being “overdone.” (In reality it’s never ‘over’ or ‘underdone’ for most of us, it’s just a constant. No need to think about it, grab something from the closet and go. End of story.)

One of the items featured in the Art Info piece is Thom Browne’s Whale Intarsia Sweater. Yes, the very same Mr. Browne mentioned above, he is frequently excoriated discussed in this space.



It’s darling, cute as can be, yet it makes me think Silly Season has come early, for that is a $1760 whale on cashmere.

Back to the story:

However, prep still has room for originality, thanks to designers like Thom Browne, with his hipster take on all things WASP, and Tomas Maier’s artful Italian classicism at Bottega Veneta. Here, our picks for skirting the country-club dress code — perfect for downtown-meets-uptown reunions with your Ivy buddies and springtime weekends in the country…

The cashmere whale isn’t the strangest product in the story, one can at least say, “Whales…preps…okay…”. Such mental meandering is impossible with this item: the Balmain Distressed Leather Biker Pants.



“Springtime weekends in the country”….? Hello? It really seems time to quote Nancy Reagan and “Just say no.”


Filed under preppy

4 responses to ““Subverting a Preppy Standby” & “Preppy Twists”

  1. I LOVE those quotation marks. There should be ampersands too:).

  2. What’s getting “old” is all these designers incorporating the preppy look into their lines simply to make money. They don’t come from the prep background nor do they seem to grasp the lifestyle. I can’t imagine spending over $1,000 on a cashmere sweater just because it had a whale on it. I suppose next we’ll be seeing suede patches on sweaters and Harris tweed blazers. These were originally used to patch holes on the elbows of well tailored garments passed down from father to son to patch the wear on blazers and holes made in hand-knit sweaters, a sign of New England practicality, on clothing deemed too good to be relegated to the cedar chest to be saved for camping or given to the servants’ children. J.Crew is showing embroidered skinny legged jeans and pants this season: they are marvelous. They have also picked up Palm Beach favorite son, Percy Steinhart, actually of Cuban heritage, to produce charming pink linen embroidered “slippers” embroidered with palm trees in festive greens with flowers, I believe for a very low price compared to the regular price of the Stubbs & Wootton slipper normally carried in his boutiques
    which start around $400. You can have a pair of the JCrew version for about $295.
    They are made in Spain in a small town in the La Mancha province entirely by hand. The province was made famous by the writing of Don Quixote; should that name ring a bell. Many a woman has gone in search of this factory in the Capitol of La Mancha, Albacete, hoping to find an outlet store but like the Don fighting his windmills; they have never located the factory as if it does not exist. It certainly does, and it’s location has always been kept secret. Percy does insist however were it to be located: an outlet would not be on the premises. Their famous after Easter sale in Palm Beach in the original store has lovers of the needlepoint and velvet embroidered slippers queing up starting at 5am. By the time the shop opens, at the Annual Sale, the line snakes around the block and out into Worth Avenue from the small Via it is located in. S & W does not accept phone orders. Most customers leave carrying several large shopping bags full of cartons of shoes. (And then upon arriving home, they are admonished by their husbands; even though the prices are 1/2 off and samples sometimes only $50! I wish my husband could understand what collector items these slippers are! Stubbs & Wootton has made red silk slippers for all the Popes! Besides, Where elses can one purchase a handmade shoe for $200 or less, I ask you? Seriously, I don’t attend the Sale anymore. 20+ pairs are enough. Or so I’ve been told by a certain husband I shall not name).

  3. Some of this is a lot of fun……but those Balmain pants a total no in my book! None of the men in this household would ever wear them……love the lobster tie.
    Enjoy your day!

  4. I love the seersucker lobster tie! My son has started sporting a little more prep now that he is in college. I’m going to send this to him to see if he’d dare to wear it {fingers crossed, his birthday is coming up}!

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