The Grand Return of Preppy Fashion
If you were part of the unlucky majority that had to wear uniforms throughout their years at school, sincerest condolences to you. While I dreamed of a wardrobe straight out of Gilmore Girls (navy blue blazers, plaid skirts, grey sweater vests and crisp blue shirts), what I suffered through was a uniform that was a boring combination of grey and black. The absence of dainty jewellery and loafers made the uniforms all the more boring and the fact that it was perpetually 30 degrees and not perfect autumnal weather was criminal. All throughout university, I never glanced back at the preppy and academia aesthetic. I had suffered through it long enough and besides, streetwear trends and the 'art hoe' aesthetic were in full swing.
But when our lives winnowed down to working from home and wearing sweatpants all day with front-facing cameras doubling as a portal to the outside world, the preppy style began making its grand comeback.
The New Age of Academia
In 2020, Pinterest, Instagram and Tiktok were flooded with posts and videos about the dark academia aesthetic- tweed pants, satchels and hardback books were all synonymous with this trend. This digital subculture was romanticising reading classics while listening to Hozier, peppermint tea was the beverage of choice and different shades of brown dominated the colour palette.
Fast forward to 2021, the dark academia trend has slowly trickled out of fashion but our collective fascination with collegiate, preppy style shows no signs of stopping. Rather than committing to specific wardrobe staples and a strict aesthetic, this new version of relaxed prep combines tailor-cut suiting with hoodies and cross-body bags.
Taking sartorial notes from the AW/2019 and AW/2020 runway collections, millenials and Gen-Z have embraced this trend with open arms. According to , the resale site The Real Real has an uptick in searches for Ralph Lauren by 234% while Yeezy, Vetements and Supreme suffered from a decrease in searches by 25%, 24% and 6% respectively.
The Ivy Look
The subcultural history of prep can be traced back to Ivy leagues and private schools in the early 1900s and is associated with upper-class lifestyle. The preppy student goes horseback riding after a day of classes and references Foucault in casual conversation. They are aspirational due to their close proximity to wealth, status and success. In the ‘80s aesthetics of this lifestyle were adopted into mainstream fashion through brands such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and J. Crew.
The mass popularisation of the trend meant that it was fairly common to see hordes of women in grocery stores with pastel sweaters knotted around their shoulders and the humble plaid, became the pattern of choice.
While the idea of embracing anything from the ‘80s feels like a fashion faux pas, there is no denying that preppy fashion is well and truly back. In spirit of this resurgence, brands are pushing out collections and limited edition pieces to fill the gaps.
Fashion Embraces Prep
Daily Paper, an Amsterdam-based fashion and lifestyle label has jumped on this trend by releasing a capsule collection titled "From Africa To The World". The collection consists of collegiate-inspired pieces including varsity jackets and knit sweatshirts emblazoned with the image of two hands gripping a globe. The use of this singular motif throughout the garments is a shift from logomania and represents global unity and culture beyond borders. The lookbook that accompanied the collection played into the collegiate aesthetic further, by styling the hero pieces with pleated skirts, crochet beanies and slip-on sneakers.
Prior to the release of Season 4 of The Crown, made a subtle nod to preppy fashion, taking inspiration from Princess Diana herself. The standout piece from the Rowing Blazers collection was a recreation of the “black sheep sweater”-a red pullover featuring rows of white sheep with a singular black sheep in the mix.
The Small Screen Takes on Academia
The pivot to preppy fashion has no doubt been influenced by the outpour of television shows that centred academia as a thematic choice. The 2021 revival of Gossip Girl leads the pack paying homage to traditionally preppy style by referencing private school uniforms and garments typically worn by the elite members of the “old money aesthetic." Eric Daman, the costume stylist of the show goes one step further and elevates the outfits by combining restrained opulence with bold silhouettes.
Julian Calloway who plays an influencer on the show, pairs varsity jackets and oxford shirts with Balenciaga sneakers and bike shorts. Audrey Hope, screams preppy teenager and layers her shirts under oversized pullovers and cardigans, maintaining a neutral colour scheme of black and white garments with the occasional plaid and stripe. Possibly one of the strongest personalities from the show, Max Wolfe is almost always dressed to the nines and embraces gender-neutral style through his use of fabrics such as lace and silk.
The fashion label Monse also jumped on the Gossip Girl bandwagon before the TV show's official launch and credits Julian Calloway’s character as inspiration for its AW 2021 collection. Monse’s collection steered towards the preppy-meets-punk look by deconstructing and customising uniforms to fit Gen-Z sensibilities. The collection also served as a masterclass in layering embracing oversized jackets and thick knits.
Other shows such as The Chair and Sex Education adopt a more classically preppy style in comparison to Gossip Girl but will definitely have an impact on fashion for the rest of the year. Love it or hate it- preppy fashion has made its glorious return.