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The True Meaning of Prep


For all the queasiness surrounding the idea of preppiness, it’s nice to know there are still a few gentlemen of style who can knock it out of the park. In this case, it’s Street Etiquette, reimagining the Ivy League’s past as a post-racial paradise of toggled sweaters and tweed. It’s befuddling to some—just look at the comments section—but for our money it’s the most important preppy document we’ve seen all year. Here’s why…

There’s always a tension in latter-day prepdom over who exactly the style belongs to. There’s the J.Press you-may-wear-this-scarf-only-if-you-went-to-Princeton crowd, who make the strongest claim, but by now the style is too popular to be theirs alone. Everyone else can either be pretenders or appropriators…and, for what it’s worth, we prefer the latter. That means instead of aping the young conservatives of 1965, we start mixing and matching eras, and coming up with something a little less expected. Rewriting history, in essence.

In this case, that means taking big American themes like race, class and privilege and shuffling them around until you like what you see. At its best, style is about being comfortable with who you are, and being comfortable as a black man in Princeton circa 1965 is one of the more impressive feats we’ve seen.

All of which is to say, true prep is what you make it. Now let’s try to make it the right thing.