Skip to main content

My account

Delivery Destination or Region

You are currently shipping to United States and your order will be billed in USD $.
trends & subculturesWednesday, May 12, 2021

Preppy style: how to wear the trend in 2021

Share

WORDS BY SUZIE BAKOS

This season’s runways were packed with preppy references, from V-neck knitted sweaters to socks with loafers. But what is preppy style and how do you create a preppy look? A driving force in championing Black creativity and culture, art critic and writer Antwaun Sargeant discusses the trend through a modern Black style lens, alongside the latest collection from preppy pioneer Polo Ralph Lauren.

 

What is preppy style?

 

Dating as far back as the early 1900s, preppy style originated in preparatory and Ivy League schools. Students took inspiration from the traditional fashions associated with campus activities, such as tennis, golf, polo and sailing, and made it their own. At the time, it was very much a male-dominated aesthetic, but once Levi’s created the first pair of jeans designed just for women in 1934, the preppy look we are now so familiar with boomed, leading to the look becoming popularly known as Ivy Style in the mid-1940s. In the 1950s, sweaters were styled over collared shirts; the 1980s saw plaid blazers, knitted turtlenecks and loafers; while the 1990s welcomed low-rise jeans and nautical-inspired stripes. 

 

And although the trend started in private preparatory schools in America, it soon became a look that was adopted by designers from all over the world. Today, collegiate sweaters, Argyle patterns and chunky loafers are at the forefront of many designer runway shows. Leading the way? Polo Ralph Lauren: the brand’s indisputable flair for Americana is present through every collection and that’s certainly the case for its spring/summer 2021 offering.

 

The history of preppy style

 

'These [looks], like much of Polo Ralph Lauren’s contemporary preppy dress, are informed by the celebrated 1965 fashion photography book, ‘Take Ivy’,’ explains art critic and writer Antwaun Sargent. ‘Teruyoshi Hayashida’s images exposed a nascent mid-century style movement of lettered sweaters, sharply tailored khakis, anoraks and blue Oxford cloth shirts that evolved out of the early 20th-century traditional uniforms of American preparatory schools.’

 

Although preppy style was first donned almost a century ago, its signatures, such as cable-knit sweaters, clean button-down shirts, slip-on loafers and striped polo shirts, are still firm favorites with followers of the trend. 

 

'Over the last century, preppy fashion has evolved to represent the contemporary moment. [Polo Ralph Lauren’s] style of relaxed cream trousers, bear-embroidered sweaters and jewel-tone plaids are an iconic mix of all-American traditions with an eclectic downtown irreverence. From the classic tweeds and knitted sweaters to the casual cotton shirts with bright color blocking and bucket hats, Polo represents a fresh, energetic style — a spirited, natural cool.’

 

The evolution of Black preppy style

 

Though the preppy aesthetic was first found amongst the Waspy culture of northeastern America, it was later adopted and reinvigorated by students in the country’s historically Black colleges and universities — the Black Ivy League. 

 

'On the campuses of [historically Black colleges and universities] Howard, Morehouse and Spelman, Black students embodied a preppy style all of their own,’ explains Sargent. ‘In their tweed blazers, double-breasted suits and boat shoes, they foregrounded a pursuit of both intellectual and physical excellence. The aesthetic affirmed Black experience and culture, a redefinition of Black identity in the 20th century.

 

'The Polo shirts, blazers, repp-stripe ties and madras [fabrics] channel the rich history of well-heeled Black intellectualism, status and success: the clean-cut Black American dream. The style evolved equally from the regimented elegance of prep school, the jerseys of collegiate sport and the streets of Black communities like New York’s Harlem and Chicago’s Bronzeville, where an urban dandyism of extravagant three-piece suits, colorful ties and leather loafers communicated a sense of race pride, fantasy and self-worth. The typical preppy palette of white, black, navy and nude made expressive with stripes, plaid, polka dots and florals were personalized with culturally important symbols, flags, mascots and lettering that stood for Black power.’

 

Polo Ralph Lauren and preppy style

 

Quintessentially preppy through and through, Polo Ralph Lauren has been synonymous with the collegiate lifestyle for decades. Beyond its signature polo shirts and chino shorts, the brand continues to rework traditional designs with modern detailing, as seen via the signature bear motif intarsia, for example. Consider it a cool update on the classic cable-knit sweatshirt. 

 

'Over the last century, preppy fashion has evolved to represent the contemporary moment. [Polo Ralph Lauren’s] style of relaxed cream trousers, bear-embroidered sweaters and jewel-tone plaids are an iconic mix of all-American traditions with an eclectic downtown irreverence. From the classic tweeds and knitted sweaters to the casual cotton shirts with bright color blocking and bucket hats, Polo represents a fresh, energetic style — a spirited, natural cool,’ says Sargent. In short, the house nods to preppy style origins while putting a modern-day twist on every design.

 

How to create a preppy look

 

Layers add a refreshing take to collegiate style this season and you can create a personalized aesthetic with a few of your favorite preppy pieces. Try Polo Ralph Lauren’s iconic Polo shirt over a striped tee and the house’s classic button-down shirt; all in a mix of bright shades for a vibrant spring overtone. Meanwhile, the brand’s knitted vests and sweatshirts are cut with a deep V-neck — a key look for spring/summer — and enlivened with contrast-color striped trims. Capture this season’s more-is-more mood by wearing blazers with chunky knits, wool tartan skirts and thick-soled loafers. 

 

Alternatively, give a nod to the trend via preppy accessories. Consider Polo Ralph Lauren’s pony motif-embroidered caps in an array of colorful hues, while pared-back sneakers are the harmonious match for branded cotton socks, which adds a subtle reference to the original varsity look.

 

Essential preppy pieces

 

Sign up and get 10% off

Sign up for early sale access, new in, promotions and more

Get updates by

By subscribing you agree with our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy. To opt out, click unsubscribe at the bottom of our emails

8690452 7565603 5899525 6264705 7955322 seotmstmp deskdev