The Preppy Manifesto

Preppy.  It’s a word that many of us use to describe our personality, style, and overall exterior character with the purpose of differentiating ourselves. People have dedicated their time – and even lives – to defining, explaining, and curating this word that can be found in books, magazines, and even the occasional television show.

While there may be a shared idea or concept of what the word “preppy” is (or should I say what it looks like), I’m not quite sure we all agree – or even know – what preppy means.  So I pose the following questions – “What does preppy mean?  Is preppy an exterior persona or is it a combination of exterior and interior qualities?”

Cambridge Dictionary defines the word as, “A young person from a rich family who goes to an expensiveschool and who wears expensive, tidy clothes.”  We’ll be using this definition later…just hold onto it for now.

I’ve always used the term “preppy” to describe myself because I felt it represented not only my choice in style, but also the morals I believed in. To me being “preppy was an interior characteristic that was influenced by heritage, tradition, and a commitment to putting yourself second – if not third or fourth.

In terms of heritage, I saw preppy as being a trait that reflected a deep respect for family history, a sense of pride in one’s roots, and the belief that “new” didn’t always necessitate “better.”  On another level, I saw preppy as representing the traditions, ideas, and mementos of generations past that have been preserved, honored, and carried down because of the stories they inherently carry.  Most important of all, I saw preppy being representative of charity, compassion, and the belief that we should always lend a helping hand to those in need without the contingency of repayment.

In short, I saw preppy as being respectful – respectful for the past; respectful for what we have today; and respectful to those around us.  While I am far from embodying all of these ideals, it was the definition that came to mind whenever I thought of the word.

But what about when we see the word on platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest, or Instagram.  Do we see those characteristics of heritage, tradition, and modesty?  I doubt it.  We see girls who sit floating in a sea of monograms and (most often) fake pearls.  We see guys casually posing in front of “their” expensive cars (or shall I say parents’ cars). We see a lifestyle that’s focused on affluence, privilege, and the goal of accumulating more things than the next person. To put in simple terms, we see consumerism at its best.

And what about all that other stuff?  The prerequisite of a second home on The Cape or in Southampton? The belief that money should be something that has been passed down from generation to generation instead of the result of a hard work ethnic? Or the closet stuffed with shirts, shoes, and accessories that nearly blind us with their bright colors?  Is that what preppy is?

It would be incorrect to say that some of these things do not play a role in defining the word preppy, however, their weight isn’t nearly as impactful as some lead on to believe. To put it in simple terms, they’re one in a million meaningless attributes.

Am I guilty of playing into this superficial concept of the word “preppy?”  Of course – who isn’t?  I’ve certainly done my fair share of things in the past 20 or so years that can be deemed as being obnoxious, but many of these instances were out of youthful ignorance.  After all, while we may not publicly admit it, we all want to “fit in” in some capacity…

So what’s my point? Labels, money, or stuff do not make someone preppy.  Are there certain brands that deliver higher quality goods than others?  Of course.  But is it right to say someone cannot be considered “preppy” simply because they are living within their means?  Or perhaps they are a college student bearing all responsibility for the cost of their entire education.  Is it valid to say they are “not preppy” because they’re buying from more affordable retailers in order to pay for more important things like schooling, housing…or even food…

Which brings up another point. What defines quality? If you guessed price tag, you’re wrong. Quality is in manufacturing. Need an example? Two OCBDs are made in the same factory with the same materials and the same specifics. The only difference? One has the tag “Ralph Lauren” and the other “Lands’ End.” Is one better than the other? Probably not…

And so what does that mean for us? Well, it means that companies (and I’m lookin’ at you Kate Spade) have hijacked this word preppy by cultivating the idea that quality equals a high price tag and a high price tag equals preppy. But that – my friends – is fiction. What equates to preppy? Quote. Not a bunch of dollar signs…

While there will always be brands that are more reputable than others in terms of quality, it is foolish – and even ignorant – to believe that preppy is “A young person from a rich family who goes to an expensive school and who wears expensive, tidy clothes.”

And so what do I think of when someone mentions the word preppy? Unfortunately, it’s not the definition I posed at the beginning – it’s Cambridge’s. To be blunt, I believe it’s a word that has been commandeered to translate into a commercialized heap of things with morals, tradition, and character suffocating – if not already dead – at the bottom of said pile.

It’s not that I don’t value the word or hold it in high regard – I certainly did at one point in time – but that term has been cropped, altered, and photoshopped resulting in a picture that is difficult to recognize or even begin to relate to.

And so what am I? I don’t know, but it’s certainly not preppy – at least by today’s definition.   Based on how it’s interpreted by the masses, I don’t fit the mold – nor do I want to. I don’t vacation in Palm Beach. My grandparents’ were foreigners from Europe. And my style? It’s a mix of everything these days.

If there’s one thing you should take from this long-winded post – or rant – it’s this: preppy is (or shall I say was) a lot more than what is on the outside. Whatever labels you may – or may not – wear remember that it’s ok to not fit the mold. We’re all entitled to be, live, and dress how we want to, but high-end labels, fast cars, and big homes don’t make someone better than the next. We should be remembered for who we are – not what we have. After all, staying true to yourself is probably the best style one can ever have.

I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this post, but the question posed above has come across my screen far too often to let it go un-addressed. And so I say my piece with the reminder that my definition is opinion based. Some will agree. Some will vehemently disagree. But I think it’s safe to say that the word “preppy” isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be.

-Dean