Feeling summer preppy

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I was thoroughly obsessed with The Official Preppy Handbook when it was published in 1980, and employed it as a full-on sartorial and lifestyle guidebook, even though in retrospect, it’s  abundantly clear that the book was intended as satire. Did anyone else all but memorize layouts like this one?

Preppy style had a huge impact on me then, and even now—especially now, maybe—I find myself returning to the classic items I read about all those years ago. This is particularly true in the summer months, when I endeavor to keep things as simple as possible when getting dressed. Some of the following items are pretty straightforward, and others are slightly tweaked, like this collarless popover—a stylish take on the standard white button-down.

Likewise, the oversized proportions of this striped tee appeal. As does the fact that it is red, white, and blue—to my mind, one of the great color combinations.

My hands-down all-time favorite chino is the Nili Lotan East Hampton pant, and while it comes in more versatile hues like black and khaki, I pretty much love the idea of a big bold yellow. Here’s a cheaper and also quite cute option (alas, not in yellow).

I’m also thinking of giving these wide leg chinos from Everlane a shot: a few of you have raved about them, and they remind me of these (much) pricier Caron Callahan pants.

This Lacoste polo dress has a very easy, wearable A-line shape.

I’d pair this very well-priced T-shirt dress with an armload of Maasai bracelets.

I’m liking the idea of a seersucker shirt, which would have the crispness of a jacket, minus the weight (meanwhile, here’s a pretty good blazer, if that’s more your speed).

These sneakers are by a brand called Bata Heritage that was founded over 100 years ago in the Czech Republic. They’re like Converse, but better, because they’re not all branded.

I very much like the way the webbed black shoulder strap modernizes this spiff straw bag from Clare V.

This classic canvas tote from Kule is made rather exciting with the addition of a a super-cool Bowie-esque lightning bolt.

This braided leather belt makes me think of French fashion editors like Emmanuelle Alt, who often wears one, and who in her own button-down-and-jeans way seems influenced by preppy style too.

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54 Thoughts on Feeling summer preppy
    SarahH
    22 May 2019
    1:29pm

    I dog-eared my copy. I was obsessed. It’s opinion on colleges were spot-on; and as a girl from Ohio, directed my thinking as I headed to Trinity in Hartford in the early 80s). I still have my BB navy double breasted blazer, and picked up new pair of Tretorns last summer… ‘memories. TY

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      liz
      23 May 2019
      9:21am

      Very and I was at Penn in the early 80s. Izod ruled there. You were either preppy or not. No in between.

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    Mae
    22 May 2019
    1:56pm

    This post reminded me that I love, love, love style manuals and always have. I reeeeally wish you and Andrea Linett would do a new one for GOACAs (and I mean age 50+, ‘cuz 50 ain’t 40).

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    Laura
    22 May 2019
    4:53pm

    My older sister had this book, and we Brit kids loved it just as much as we did its British equivalent, The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. The updated Preppie version True Prep is a lot more amusing than the quite depressing (and really poorly edited!) Sloane update titled Cooler, Faster, More Expensive. These books are all HUGE fun, though, and I remember learning a LOT from between the lines, as it were!

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    Lori
    22 May 2019
    7:15pm

    Ha, I still have my copy and still use some of the silly expressions in it. It was our bible.
    And, when cleaning out a storage bin a few months ago, I found my Bean Norwegian circa 1985! In perfect condition! My boyfriend wore it at Christmas dinner 🙂

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    Christine
    22 May 2019
    8:25pm

    Wish I could find my old copy in my Dad’s attic — apparently it’s worth a lot now! Having marched from Cape Cod to State U in the 80s in watermelon and kelly green monogrammed sweaters, I am pretty sure that I have spent the intervening decades resisting the preppy cry to action, as it always resisted my non-WASP, non-boyish self.

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      Gemmifer
      19 Jun 2019
      8:35pm

      I bought one at a library book sale because I couldn’t find the copy I bought at B. Dalton back in the day. Then I found that one, so now I have a back-up! 🙂

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    Mamavalveeta03
    23 May 2019
    2:17am

    This post is reminding me of my deep love for a pink Lacoste polo shirt that I wore all the time with my Levi’s 501s and a pair of Topsiders. I was in college and really couldn’t afford it but I begged my mom and she caved. I love all of it – especially your updated versions, Kim! Great job!

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    y.k.
    21 May 2019
    9:00am

    YES! same here. it didn’t register as satire in my 11th grade brain. growing up in Locust Valley, i took it very, very seriously.

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    JB
    21 May 2019
    7:48am

    That book was my bible ….

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    Deb
    21 May 2019
    8:47am

    I gasped when I saw that illustration – I was OBSESSED with The Preppy Handbook. I had to check my bookcase to make sure I still had it. It’s probably the one thing that has made each move since I went to college, over 12 moves probably. Thank you for the memories!

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    Mindy
    21 May 2019
    9:03am

    I love the idea of t-shirt dresses and I love seeing them out and about, but I just can’t wear them. 1. Three-baby pooch that I haven’t been seriously inclined to do anything about (the youngest is 9) and 2. VPL and I don’t do thongs. I like my Jockey modern seamfree panties. Otherwise, I am one cool 47 year old mama.

    Oh, and I really like the striped tee and seersucker shirt!

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    Sara
    21 May 2019
    9:54am

    One of the awesome, classic GOACA posts that keep me coming back!!!

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    Mrs. Z
    21 May 2019
    10:38am

    I had a friend who was attending Vassar at the time it came out. He wrote in my copy to add some more terms to the list of euphemisms for drunken vomiting. Apparently, there’s no end to lists like these! Style-wise, it was definitely iconic. Road tripped to Maine to shop the LL Bean store, back when the quality was outstanding. I still have my sailboat belt!

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    Rebecca
    21 May 2019
    10:18pm

    I still kind of want to be the boy version of the handbook. But the girl?!? Sheesh. Even her poor knees look slightly geriatric.

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      Rae
      22 May 2019
      7:43pm

      That’s part of the appeal of preppy dressing for me too Rebecca – the put-together borrowed from the boys look. I do love a good shirt dress and sailor-style mini skirt but I filched my brothers worn-in oxfords and polo shirts all the time in HS and wore them with ripped jeans and Tritorns –and I still dress this way!

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    Liz
    23 May 2019
    9:39am

    There was a metal head girl in junior high named Geneva Houlihan who used to sit with her friends on the lawn of a church taunting my friends and me by yelling “prep!” over and over again, like it was the worst thing you could be.

    Also, I seriously chose my college based solely on Lisa Birnbach’s College Book.

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      Viajera
      23 May 2019
      12:19pm

      Geneva Houlihan is maybe the best name ever. It is too bad you-all didn’t get along.

      If I had been there, I would have been in a third group without enough of a look at that age for anyone to get upset. Actually I was just reminded of a painful incident. Hmm. I had a great childhood but we were not awash in extra dough. Somehow I got hold of a pair of … I think, Chemin de Fer? jeans, and I wore them too often and it got noticed. It is sad that things like that matter when you’re young. And when we get older too, but less? Now I think it is better to have been on the wrong side of that bc you learn more. Although, maybe everyone learns that eventually? Or maybe not. I wonder.

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        Liz
        23 May 2019
        4:19pm

        I know – the only reason I named her is because it really is too great not to. It’s so perfect for a Jr. high bully, too. The funny thing is, my friends and I weren’t even preps. We were alternative girls with partly shaved heads who listened to The Smiths. I guess to the metal heads we were all the same.

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    D.Morgendorffer
    21 May 2019
    10:56am

    My mother was working on her doctorate in the 80s so that illustration caused warm, fuzzy feelings for me. Thank you! It being a doctorate in English, my mother definitely knew it was satire and pointed that out to me. Yet, at the same time, she and I both loved the aesthetic. By the 90s when she was ABD, I was head-to-toe LL Bean and all the LL Bean stuff from then is still in surprisingly good shape.

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    Viajera
    21 May 2019
    10:59am

    Just so I understand, do people here still like that look for women? (Men’s clothes seem to have changed less, to me.) I am curious.

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      Jo
      21 May 2019
      4:27pm

      I was in Connecticut a few weeks ago and saw a woman in khaki pants with a button down shirt and a cotton crew draped around her neck. She was probably in her 60s, but preppy is alive and well!

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        liz
        23 May 2019
        9:38am

        In Westchester County too.

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    MaryAlice
    21 May 2019
    11:02am

    I remember poring over it as well – in 1980 I was in college and it fascinated me – but more as a field guide to an exotic lifestyle that totally foreign to this California kid. I actually bought an LL Bean field jacket, which I wore to death.

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      Mouse
      22 May 2019
      5:39pm

      Yes, definitely a field guide. I grew up half Jewish half Greek in Michigan and it was like science fiction to me…..

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    Lisa
    21 May 2019
    11:16am

    Lisa Birnbach, the original editor, is on Twitter, writes a blog, and is a general all-around online good egg.

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    Jax
    21 May 2019
    11:39am

    Sorry if this posted twice, but for some reason my comment disappeared.

    The Preppy Handbook always makes me think of Take Ivy, an iconic look at 1960s Ivy League male student fashion by a Japanese photographer. The 1960s arguably being the golden era of American mens sportswear.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/fashion/25Prep.html

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    Adrien
    21 May 2019
    11:43am

    Aaaahhhh! That Kule tote! Want!

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    Kirstjen
    21 May 2019
    12:46pm

    I, too, was obsessed with that book. I was about 14 when it came out & it was my bible throughout high school. Still like a really good pair of chinos, especially in summer!

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    Anne
    21 May 2019
    1:00pm

    This book was my window into how people that did not live in the middle of farmland lived and dressed despite its satire and informed my style and catalog wish lists. My well worn copy still has a place of honor on our bookshelf. Thanks for the memories and picks!

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    maryse r
    21 May 2019
    1:28pm

    I was living in Paris going to the American School when that book came out and I was obsessed with it. I didn’t have a copy but one of my classmates did and we passed that thing around to memorize every page. I’m pretty sure I understood it to be satire, even before I understood what satire was. Besides, I couldn’t get my hands on one of those giant bonne bell lipglosses, let alone llbean boots. I would later end up attending one of the colleges listed as a top party school without ever making the connection until years later. Ha!

    I bought that red, white and blue j. crew. t-shirt. It’s great but you still might want to size down. I did, and it’s still plenty roomy.

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    Kate
    21 May 2019
    1:29pm

    Somewhat off-topic, but I wish I could find more seersucker items in solid colors. It seems like such a good fabric for summer, but I don’t always want full-on prep.

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      Anne
      23 May 2019
      12:20pm

      Those LL Bean seersucker shirts bring back images of the pink and blue seersucker fall/spring uniforms we wore in the 70’s at a girls’ boarding school in California. Great to see that these shirts actually come in both colors – a walk down memory lane, for sure!

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    Joannawnyc
    21 May 2019
    1:45pm

    I’m from Connecticut and grew up thinking that preppy style was Just Clothes and was AMAZED to discover it was A Look. My sisters and I devoured the Preppy Handbook because we couldn’t believe someone was writing about us! We also missed the satire part (the descriptions are spot on).

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    Mae
    21 May 2019
    1:48pm

    I grew up in the East, but not in a preppy environment. This style always said wannabe to me. I can’t shake the feeling.

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    EW
    21 May 2019
    2:00pm

    yes on the book obsession; in the south we also were obsessed with anything from Papagallo’s ; anything izod/Lacoste; Tretorn sneakers; peter pan collars; monogrammed everything. Plaid everything; Std winter uniform: wool Bermuda shorts with knee socks, bass weejuns, a turtleneck with a boiled wool jacket and giant chunky gold earrings
    some of these are still popular…

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      Gemmifer
      19 Jun 2019
      8:41pm

      Papagallo’s! As a grade schooler, I obsessed over having a Bermuda bag with the button-on interchangeable covers. And Weejun loafers, with the pennies in them (of course).

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      Trixie
      21 May 2019
      3:40pm

      I wish I’d kept my Austrian (boiled wool) jacket. Those coin buttons were fab.

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        Caroline
        21 May 2019
        5:14pm

        I found white one in a vintage store and love it. My kids are mystified..

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          D.Morgendorffer
          21 May 2019
          5:26pm

          I had forgotten about Tretorns(mine were pink, the swoopy things, that is), Austrian boiled wool my mother and grandmother had (I can see the coins!) Thank you for reminding me. Ohhh…

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    SLR
    21 May 2019
    3:22pm

    I love those Everlane wide-leg chinos but these, like their twins at Madewell, are so high-waisted that on me they are absolutely ridiculous. If anyone else out there also can’t do the sky high waist, FYI Old Navy has the same cut in a medium waist, and they are excellent.

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    Sharona
    21 May 2019
    4:17pm

    I thought I’d been the only one who didn’t recognize the satire. Glad it wasn’t just me.

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      Viajera
      22 May 2019
      10:54am

      I don’t remember what I thought of the book at the time, or even whether I read it. The trend definitely went through Orange County though.

      In fairness to ourselves, we should remember, 80s fashion in general was a horror show. It’s not like there was this other trend that one could choose, in which one could *not* look heinous. Punk may have been interesting at least – but I am not sure it looked good (or meant to). I wonder how many people became punkers out of sheer boredom. Not a few, I’m guessing.

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    Caroline
    21 May 2019
    5:30pm

    I love madewell wide leg pants. super flattering. Promise!
    I want those chinos as well.
    I was not at all preppy, however where I grew up in suburban n.y. I just thought that was how everybody dressed! I swear.
    When I moved to NYC for college in the 80’s it was so liberating I felt I had gone to heaven. I went straight to canal jeans to ditch the preppy.
    As every suburban kid did probably!
    Now that enough time has passed it’s how much I like it again 🙂

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    Jax
    21 May 2019
    6:24pm

    Armie Hammer’s character in Call Me By Your Name seems quintessential 80s prep — casual and unpretentiously pretentious. 🙂
    Well, the actor and his voice seem like the epitome of prep. Privileged background and family, but not full-on WASP.

    For some reason, I find it difficult to get a grasp on female prep style, but I was very entertained by the British 80s equivalent — the Sloane ranger, which seemed a bit more arch and interesting than the American variety.

    Speaking of Call Me By Your Name, on a tangent — I greatly admire Amira Caesar’s easygoing but classic/low-key style in that movie.

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    Gablesgirl
    21 May 2019
    6:49pm

    Adored the Preppie handbook–it prepared for four years of sorority girl pink and greens. Now I’m a suck for the seersucker!

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    tara
    21 May 2019
    8:29pm

    same with the obsession and totally missing the satire! living in Fairfield County at the time, we definitely read it like a manual!

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    Katherine
    21 May 2019
    9:38pm

    Yes, I loved it! I didn’t actually own the Preppy Handbook myself, but tried my best to learn it well whenever I got ahold of a copy.

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    Mimi
    22 May 2019
    11:08am

    I remember giggling over the book when it came out in 1980. Fifteen years earlier, when my sister was an undergrad at Brown, just looking around the campus gave me a prep tutorial. I went off to college with a trunk full of Villager outfits Remember Villager? Here’s a great New Yorker piece about Villager and the preppy aesthetic.
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/villager-and-me
    Thanks to the adaptive genius of Ralph Lauren and infusions from J. Crew in its good years preppy style has always been an important element of my wardrobe. The only prep outfit I shy away from is khaki pants with an oxford cloth shirt because it makes me feel like a waiter at Michael’s.

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    Stakra
    22 May 2019
    8:35am

    Wow, that book really took me back in time(in a great way :). And then to further aid my developing and awkward sense of self, came how to dress like a Valley Girl… ah the eighties were awesome!

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    rachel in berkeley
    23 May 2019
    12:55pm

    Like so many others of a certain ago, that book was a sartorial foundational document which explains why, when the LL Bean catalog arrived a week ago I found myself lingering over pictures of cotton cable knit sweaters and madras (!!!) shorts. Old habits die hard.

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About

Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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