Preppy Style Is Dead: Long Live “Neo-Prep”
Aimé Leon Dore AW20 lookbook. Photographs courtesy of Aimé Leon Dore
Every 10 years or so, someone writes about the next generation of prep, the Ivy League look. This so-called “neo-prep” style is often an evolution (or subversion) of the rigid, classic preppy way of dressing that emerged from the elite American private (“preparatory”) schools and universities in the 1950s and 1960s. Neo-prep maintains the aesthetic of that preppy style, but repurposes classic staples without the associated worldview that came along with it originally.
Whenever the world gets too crazy, people retreat back to the classics, and preppy style is a sort of safe harbour for fashion. Somehow, I’m old enough to have lived through multiple iterations of neo-prep. The last significant milestone came around 2008, when brands including Band of Outsiders and Thom Browne, and designers such as Messrs Michael Bastian, Andy Spade and Mark McNairy, reimagined silhouettes to make prep slimmer, shorter and more fun than it had ever been.
However, the neo-prep movement of today – seen at brands from Noah to Aimé Leon Dore to Rowing Blazers – is taking hold at an entirely different moment of collective consciousness. These brands aren’t just reimagining the outward aesthetics of prep; they are tearing it down to the studs to completely reform the ideas that underpin the style, stripping away the ugly trappings of the original incarnation in the process.
With so many Big Prep brands (J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, etc) filing for bankruptcy this year, one might surmise that prep is finally finished for good. Neo-prep has been bubbling up over the past few years, refracted, thanks to brands such as Beams, Camoshita and Tomorrowland, through Japan’s reinterpretation and ongoing upgrade of East Coast Ivy League style. Now, finally, it has the clear air that it needs to modernise the look – all the better to represent the diversity, inclusion and public-spiritedness of the world today.
Prep’s timelessness is appealing, but the ideals of the style have often failed to evolve from an outdated celebration of an exclusive, Wasp-y establishment. Instead of refreshing the silhouette of prep, the new generation of brands pushing the style forward are rethinking the psychographic of the trend, to be smarter, more environmentally conscious, and most importantly, more inclusive. These openminded designers have taken the good parts of prep and discarded the antiquated ideas that it has been intertwined with for decades. It’s the refreshing update that we all need and want in 2020.
“Neo-prep has been bubbling up over the past few years and finally has the clear air that it needs to modernise the style”
Preppy style has always had a subversive side to it, but neo-prep has detached the prep aesthetic from the outdated notion of the prep lifestyle. The colours, fabric, patchwork jackets, corduroy trousers, Oxford button-downs, rugby shirts and navy blazers are always going to be relevant. We probably keep coming back to these clean-cut designs because we’ve been there so many times. They’re part of our lives and memories, and nothing drives style more than nostalgia. It doesn’t hurt that there are so many classic style icons, from President JFK to Mr Paul Newman, who encapsulate prep and remain sartorially relevant no matter what is going on in the world. However, it’s high time for some new prep icons who embody all the style signatures we love, but remove the baggage. Thankfully that is exactly what is happening today.
One of the most uplifting moments of the lockdown was when I saw the Aimé Leon Dore AW20 lookbook for the first time. It’s a mix of classic sources of inspiration: workwear, prep, 1990s New York hip-hop. The collection is beautifully styled and feels completely fresh, proving that prep will always be relevant and always feature in our wardrobes in one way or another.