Preppy Style : Its Origin and the clothes that fit this fashionable look

The origin and history of the preppy style and clothing items and accessories that are characteristic of this fashionable and classic look.

Preppy style, also known as Prep School Chic, is a casual fashion style that sets you apart as a young person of learning, class and wealth. If you adopt this style, you will wear casual but elegant clothes within a standard set of rules. You end up looking fresh, smart, confident and elegant, and at the same time un-bothered.

It is a great look for casual workplaces and ofcourse, for elite college campuses – the epitome of the smart casual look.

What is Preppy style ?

The basic tenet of the Preppy style is minimalism. It caters to a sleek silhouette, with practicality in mind; No ostentatious display of wealth or excess or style. No use of any of the symbols of alternative styles of clothing (gothic, grunge, punk, etc) that is usually used by youth – just some branded logos.

In the Preppy style, many of the rules are the same for men and women. Button-down shirts, blazers, shorts, wool sweaters worn over collared shirts, flat front khaki pants with cuffs, plaid elements, loafers – these are all common staples in a preppy wardrobe. Accessories like classic sunglass, latest phone, leather wallet, branded belt, leather bags are other must haves. 

Pastel and neutral colors and a little bit of bright color are preferred over black and dark colors. Khakhi and tan colors are preferred for bottom wear. 

And clothes will be neat and well pressed.

Preppy look for Men

Clothing associated with preppy look are polo shirts, button-down Oxford shirts, chinos, khaki pants, blazers, cardigans, and sweater vests.


Preppy Style

The defining elements of preppy style, are clean and tailored silhouettes, classic prints like stripes and plaids, and an emphasis on high quality materials.

What would you wear if you like preppy style ?

  • Polo shirts,
  • Button-down Oxford shirts,
  • Chinos,
  • Khaki pants,
  • Blazers,
  • Cardigans,
  • Sweater vests.
  • Skirts- shift dresses, A-line skirts, and pleated skirts
  • Accessories- boat shoes, loafers, pearls, bow ties, headbands, and leather belts.

A standard preppy style for men can be a button-down Oxford shirt, tweed jacket, and chinos with loafers on foot. Other clothing in the preppy style includes crew neck sweaters, Polo shirts, Straight leg Khakhi pants, Henley shirts or oxford shirts with sports jackets (varsity jacket), tweed blazers, or long coats; Footwear can be casual loafers or costly Box-calf shoes. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger are the preferred brands for preppy style shirts.

Jeans, trousers and chinos can be combined with a smart blazer. And if you want to go more casual, chino style shorts are nice. 

Preppy look for Women

preppy style clothes - sweaters, button up shirts, turtle neck tops

Key Elements of Preppy Fashion

For girls, the preppy look includes these rules  – Shoes are always Flat, be it loafers, brogues, or mules and even sandals. Pants are always fitting. Skirts are almost always knee length or a little higher or a little lower. Dresses are always clean cut without any fancy necklines or sleeves. Clean cut blouses, button down shirts, crew neck sweaters, cardigans and jackets are other staples.

Some preppy chic combinations – Short pleated skirts in plaid fabric (the kind that Alicia Silverstone wore in the movie Clueless), paired with crew neck sweaters with collared shirt inside; Another look is smart button-down shirts with ankle-length narrow leg chinos or khaki pants with cuffs, and loafer shoes; Yet another combination is a fitting blazer worn with shirt and straight pants.

An argyle sweater vest over a button down shirt combined with a pleated skirt is a playful preppy look.

The popular color palette of preppy style

preppy colors -earth tones, navy blue

Navy blue, white, and earthy tones

Origin of the Preppy clothing style – Ivy League Fashion

screen shots of Alicia silverstone in the movie clueless - example ofpreppy style -ivyleague

The preppy style of clothing has its origin in the Ivy League style. Ivy league refers to a subculture of upper-class youth born into old money in the Northeastern part of the United States. The Ivy league dressing style originated on the campuses of the eight famous Ivy League universities in the easter part of America –  Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Browny, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The period was the 1950s, after the world war. It was a fitting style for the privileged students who wanted a clean, classic and smart style of dressing.

The Ivy League look was first developed when menswear manufacturer ‘Brook Brothers’ introduced the sack suit in 1895, a jacket and pants combo consisting of a slightly loose single-breasted three-button dartless jacket with notched lapels, lightly padded shoulders, and straight-legged unpleated trousers. It was just the right piece of clothing that distinguished the privileged college students of these prestigious colleges from the rest. Their style gave them a more elegant and well-dressed look and the style distinguished them as a member of these elite schools and their wealthy social circles.

The Ivy League Jacket was supplemented with other clothing that developed over a period of time to become what is known as Ivy League look. Brook Brothers added Shetland sweaters, button-down Oxford, argyle socks. In 1968 Ralph Lauren founded Polo Fashions. He launched similar clothing for women in 1971. His logoed polo shirt became a staple of the Ivy League style. Ralph Lauren, J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, L L Bean and O’ Connell’s were known for their Ivy look collection. The Ivy league look projected a sleek look with narrow ties, narrow lapels, short shirt collars, and narrow hat brims.

Soon the style became popular throughout the Northeastern United States. Many small retailers of New York started producing merchandise fashioned after the Brook Brothers Template. The penny loafers and polo shirts and button-down shirts became the must-have wardrobe choices for college men.

preppy style clothing for women

The Ivy League style was adopted for the girls too. The look was termed Vassar look after the college by the same name. In the 1960s Brook Brothers launched a collection for young women of the Seven Sisters College campus. Dressy Frocks and skirts gave way to tailored skirt suits, wrap dresses, shift dresses, cotton blouses, low heels, long shorts and refined jewelry.

Ivy league-style suits were in fashion for a long time. But after some time Ivy league look lost its flavor, exactly because of the same reason why it became famous – because of its elitism. The young men and women of the 1960s favored egalitarianism (which followed that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities). The rigid Ivy look slowly gave way to a more casual Preppy look.

Notable figures who have popularized preppy fashion and served as style inspirations

Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, John F. Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The preppy look is not as strict about adhering to standards as Ivyleague fashion was and it is a lot more colorful. But Prep look is still a lot like the ivy league look on account of its ease of wear, practicality, convenience and classic elegance. Not much has changed. 

Reference: The History of Modern Fashion by Daniel James Cole and Nancy Delhi ; The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach

Some inspirations for Preppy wardrobe in this pinterest board

Related posts : Clothing Styles – Modern names; Names of fashion subcultures; Lolita clothing ; Hippie clothing; Punk style clothes; Hip hop style clothing; Streetwear style clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.