Tag Archives: Orvis

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.
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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!

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