The Full Circle of Preppy

Actor Theo James on Nantucket GQ 684x1024 The Full Circle of Preppy

As with much of life, the modern aesthetic we refer to as “preppy” bears only a thin resemblance to the historical roots upon which it rests.  Often, the substance of a philosophy or belief is obscured over time as the surface decoration which was initially its outgrowth comes to define the entire idea.  The same can be said of preppy fashion.

It’s not too dramatic to state that the preppy fashion meme of today is but a shallow construct masquerading as some sort of cultural touch point.  The problem of course, is that preppy fashion has almost nothing to do with the culture it references, certainly not when it comes to actual, you know, culture.  However, as we move into the Spring of 2014, it would appear that designers are finally beginning to see the limits of the hyper-preppy overkill that has saturated the menswear space for several years.

The eye-burning excess of colors, patterns, crests, layers, skulls-emblazoned-on-everything, big plaid with little plaid with repp stripes, and velvet slippers to the office, finally seems to have exhausted even the most ardent of trend spotters.

So now, at long last, we can move onto the next phase in the ongoing preppy style circle of life.  As evidenced above in this relatively realistic GQ-styled take on preppy, a shift toward real life appears to be in motion.  Actor Theo James’ outfit, shot appropriately on Nantucket island, is thoroughly believable and wearable. Thank goodness.

The Influence of Real Life

Actual preppy style (that is, the preppy style of dress) evolved from life in New England preparatory schools, which by and large expressed conservative protestant values and social stratification.  Collectively, these influences created an environment which produced the uniform we know now as the preppy look.

Today, when someone is called (or calls themselves) “preppy,” it usually means that he dresses in a neo-traditional fashion, typically predicated on conveying a classically sporty lifestyle (crew, rugby, sailing, 1950s football, etc.).  Often, but not always, it is simply costume; no sense of history or understanding of the preppy culture.  That’s too bad, because actually, it’s a pretty interesting history.

Take Ivy Picture The Full Circle of PreppyMore so than other styles, preppy – East Coast, Ivy League, WASPy, call it what you will – has a real history behind it that clearly informs the fashion.

Perhaps that is why the style and implied lifestyle behind it, endures generation after generation.  While you can look polished and successful in a nice suit and carrying an expensive bag, you can convey many more social, cultural and status cues looking as though you just hopped off your Hinkley yacht after spending a week at the Cape house.

While for the most part it started at New England prep schools and ivy walled colleges, the roots of preppy style can also be traced to a focus on social achievement, uniformity of style, propriety, proper decorum and class distinction. Conformity of dress at school resulted in the basic uniform of coat, tie, button down shirt, grey flannels or chinos and loafers or lace ups. Codes, traditions and sports also helped to nurture a bond and familiarity among budding preps and instilled in them a feeling of belonging.

A culture of thrift and purpose also pervaded the Ivy League world.  Clothing was worn until it frayed, upon which it was patched and sewn.  Garments were handed down and cherished, signs of age and wear denoted a certain authenticity and personality that only time conveys.  Preppy style looks so good because it looks so worn and beat-up, lived in, and loved over time.  This focus on These

This environment helped create a culture of exclusivity that had real influence.  To say you prepped at Phillips Exeter (a feeder school for Harvard) or Hotchkiss (a feeder school for Yale) could win you access to the right social circle or get you into really great parties.  And once in the working world, to say you were a Yale man could mean getting the right job, joining the right club or vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.

From Exclusive to Popular Culture

As preps sought to instill that sense of tradition and lifestyle in their own children, they looked, of course, to their own preppy past. To the oak paneled lecture halls of Exeter, the squash courts of Deerfield and the rowdy but stylish nights at Choate Rosemary Hall. So, their offspring were trucked off to the old alma mater and the cycle began again.

Kennedy Short Khakis The Full Circle of PreppyWithout question, it was an exclusive, self-impressed, and privileged world that gave birth to preppy style and the culture that underpinned it.  But, as with so many other attempts to create a homogenous bubble of exclusivity, the prep school aesthetic eventually moved beyond its original sphere of influence.

People want what they do not have or what seems more attractive than what they do. So, when the Preppy Handbook hit the shelves in 1980, its editor Lisa Birchach (herself a Brown grad) overnight became the arbiter of all things pink and green. People didn’t care that it was intended to be both a send-up of the “true” prep culture as well as a tongue and cheek education for those looking to emulate the life. They saw a way of living that was far more exciting, cultured, sporty and stylish than their own – and they wanted it.

For the first time, preppy culture had been distilled into a portable and easy to understand resource.  It was, and remains, the de facto guidebook to being preppy.  And, while she issued a follow-up, “True Prep” in 2010, the original remains unquestionably dominant in influence.

The privileged and windswept lifestyle that had taken generations of Blue Bloods to develop and refine was now a commodity to be bought and imitated. In that moment, the life of prep was effectively democratized. That is because once the Preppy Handbook came out, kids across the world latched onto the single most attractive and achievable aspect of the actual preppy’s life: its look – the rumpled and ironic blending of dress and casual clothes.

Ralph Lauren Preppy The Full Circle of PreppyIn the intervening years, preppy style has been interpreted, parsed, watered down and ginned up to such a degree that for many it has been commoditized beyond recognition.

In response, sites like Christian Chensvold’s Ivy Style launched as a sort of counterbalance, reminding people that this preppy fashion thing actually had a rich and important story behind it.  Yes, anyone can dress preppy, but “being” preppy is actually something altogether different.

When we first broached this subject years ago, one OTC reader pointed out that what some only know of as iconic Ralph Lauren branding, the mixing of dress and functional clothing, did not actually start out as a fashion movement.  His comment was in itself an expression of true preppy-ness:

“You don’t wear foul weather gear over your blazer because you’re a blue-blooded American demonstrating your accessibility without appearing tacky; you do it because you’re a wise-mouthed elitist who smugly tells your Latin professor, technically speaking, you haven’t broken any rules so there’s nothing he can do about it. And of course it’s sailing gear, because your father does own a yacht…”

The original audience for this rebellious “foul weather gear over the blazer” look was other preppies and their families. Yet, as this type of hybrid style came into its own, it seeped out into regular society. Eventually spreading to Madison Avenue, it was popularized by style influencers like the aforementioned Ralph Lauren.  Over time, the prep boom of the 1980s waned due to its extreme and vibrant interpretation of the preppy culture – the same issue facing the trend today.  At its apogee there was an almost cartoonish quality to the movement.  Sound familiar?

Finding Preppy’s Roots

What we see moving into the American preppy space now is an interest in a more reality-based look; muted colors and less overt branding and styling, singular pops of color rather than a cacophony that overwhelms.  Less “look at me, I’m preppy!” and more “oh, this old thing was my dad’s when he was in school.”

Hopefully, all this will translate into a more careworn, comfortable and vintage preppy personality; approachable and less precious than in the last few years.  Many of the style’s adherents are now looking for a little substance behind the flash, the story behind the fashion, and a more accurate read on the overall Ivy League look.

How wonderful would it be for the renewed focus on menswear quality, detail, provenance, and longevity to extend to the history and culture behind that most American of fashions?  Let’s make understanding the roots of American preppy as stylish as dressing in American preppy.

 

James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

Jame Prosek Bonneville Trout James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek first gained notoriety back in 1996, when, as 19 year-old student at Yale University, he published Trout: An Illustrated History. Prosek’s ability to bring vibrancy and life to his watercolors, and his obsession with contextual and anatomical accuracy, won him quick comparisons to famed naturalist John James Audubon.  These accolades were no lighthearted atta-boys; Prosek was rightly identified as a truly gifted artist whose deeply felt connection with nature was both genuine and finely-tuned.

James Prosek in his Studio James Prosek: The Audubon of FishA Connective native, in many ways, he embodies the East Coast Ivy League ethos of intellectual meaningfulness.  James Prosek took a love of fly fishing, art, nature, history, and environmental awareness and created both a career and a movement that has influenced and motivated others.  His art is already included in the permanent collections of several museums.  And Prosek’s work is sought after by many a prep, complete with wall space in a suitable wood paneled, leather sofa-ed study-cum-office.

In the intervening years since his Ivy League days, Prosek has been a busy and prolific young man.

In 2003, he won a Peabody Award for his documentary on 17th-century author and angler Izzal Walton and his seminal book The Complete Angler, well-known to any fan of fishing.  In addition to the publication of several more books,  Prosek remains an accomplished artist, author, and naturalist.  He is a fellow of the Vermont Studio Center, and a visiting artist for the Yale Summer School of Art.  Prosek is also a curatorial affiliate of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale (where I spent many a grade school field trip), and a member of the board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.

Along with Patagonia co-founder, Yvon Chouinard, he also co-founded World Trout, an initiative that supports individuals and groups who protect native cold water fish and their habitats.  And, at a mere 38 years old, Prosek still has a long way to go.

 

James Prosek Brown Trout James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Atlantic Salmon James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Mid current James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Brown Trout on Line James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

Elizabethan Club of Yale James Prosek James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

 

2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

For this year’s OTC Holiday Style Guide, we look to some modern classics that are designed and built for how we live life today.  That means timeless practical design, like Rotring mechanical pencils, or a handmade heirloom that will only get better with age, like a Frank Clegg bag.  But it also means technical dress socks that keep your feet happy all day long and totally modern hunting jacket.

One of the enduring truths of real East Coast preppy style is that it’s based on the adoption of functional basics, re-imagining them for everyday life, and using them until they fall apart.  Then, you keep on using them.

Our list this year is filled with the things of life that will keep you company day in and day out, and serve you well for years to come.  Some are new to the scene and provide a modern take on something classic.  Others are classics already and have already come to define their genre.  Each in its own way is a stellar example of an investment that will last, if not a lifetime, pretty darn close.  Except for the bourbon – that won’t last.

 

 

THE HANDMADE BELT, FROM LA MATERA

La Matera Mendoza Belt2 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern ClassicsLa Matera, specializes in authentic hand-made Argentinian belts and accessories. These exceptional belts are crafted in the United States by master leather worker Frank Clegg, using 100% vegetable tanned cognac leather, hand-stitched Argentine woven fabrics, and polished solid brass fittings.

Not only are these belts a new favorite of the personally stylish, even the coolest royals seem to like their internationally unique look – Prince Harry is often seen wearing his La Matera.

In addition to the great belts, we also like their tastefully branded canvas ball caps, which have the Argentinian flag discretely stitched the side.

 

 

 

FRESH + MODERN TIES, FROM BULL + MOOSE

 

Bull+Moose Morrissey Tie 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

Bull+Moose Camo Tie 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

 

Bull+ Moose was founded by an Army veteran and political world-refuge looking to create a company that both allowed him to express his stylish side and create a vehicle for supporting important groups like Kiva.

The result is a great collection of neck and bow ties that take a modern stab at classic fabrics and designs. We love this 100% wool tartan tie, it’s a limited edition and rendered in a lovely dead stock wool that has become B+M’s unofficial pattern.  So, get yours now, because once it’s gone, its gone.  Another thing, none of their ties are going to run you more than $39.00.

Having just partnered with the veterans support group “Got Your 6,”  the B+M signature camo tie tie is also showing up all over the place, from actors and sports figures to former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. Take a close look, each aspect of the custom designed camouflage pattern on this not-too-slim silk tie is actually a slightly different weave and pattern.  It’s pretty amazing when seen in person.

 

 

 

THE BEST MESSENGER BAG, FROM FRANK CLEGG

Frank Clegg Messenger Bag 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

What can we say about Frank Clegg Leatherworks that has not already been said?  Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, Frank is one of America’s leading leather craftsmen and an increasingly sought-after figure for “made in America” partnerships.  Even the White House came calling when they wanted to give President Obama the perfect briefcase.

But Frank and his sons are also hitting the global beat, being highlighted in Monocle magazine (our favorite periodical, by the way) and carried in some of the world’s leading boutiques, including Hong Kong’s The Armoury.

This classic flap-over-body messenger bag has become our indispensable every day bag.  It’s roomy but accessible, incredibly durable yet exceedingly refined. Typical airport comment: “Excuse me, where did you get that messenger bag?”

 

 

FUNCTIONALLY CLASSIC WRITING INSTRUMENTS,
FROM ROTRING

 

Rotring Rapid Pro Family 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

 

Real New England preps know that much of what passes for classic and old-school style was most often co-opted from functional, real world stuff that simply worked well, was built to last, and, more often than not, was snagged from mom or dad when they weren’t looking.

That’s what makes Rotring pens and mechanical pencils so darn awesome; they are meant for architects, artists, draftsmen, and other people who actually draw stuff for a living.  They are tools.  And, they now happen to be iconic examples of an object whose appeal surpassed its original purpose.  Heavy and purposeful, they add personality, practicality, and inspiration to your daily kit.

As with many personal items, they help convey a bit of what you value though their mere presence.  That may also explain why they have a cult following among pen and design folks.

 

 

THE BROOKLYN, BY PROPER SOCKS

Proper Socks Brooklyn3 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern ClassicsSocks are big right now.  All over the place we are seeing new sock brands, subscription clubs, and clever/cheeky/classic/edgy designs popping out from under guys’ pants hems.  And this is a good thing.  Avenues for personal expression and individual style are often limited for men; a nice watch, a cool tie, or maybe a snazzy pocket square.

Socks provide some semi-public real estate to flash pattern and color that speaks to who you are.  Remember all the attention former president George H.W. Bush received when his penchant for flashy hosiery became known?

Enter Proper Socks, literally started up in a D.C. basement.  These exceedingly comfortable socks are right/left foot-specific, arch-friendly, and good to go all day long.  In fact,the young inventor modeled the support and comfort features on his favorite athletic socks.  Fun yet office-friendly designs make them a great way to keep your feet happy and your style on display.  To learn more and get the gear, visit their Kickstarter page before January 8, 2014.

 

 

THE H&B BREAST POCKET WALLET

british racing green breast pocket wallet 1 1024x1024 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

Ever guy has a wallet, but not every guy has a wallet that you can pass down to your kid.  What truly sets H&B London’s wallets apart from others we have tested is the quality of the craftsmanship and materials.  Each wallet is handmade in London by one of only three craftsman.  The leather is impeccably smooth and supple and the wallet’s refined construction provides a firm structure without feeling stiff or unyielding.  “Elegant” is the word we use to describe them.

The finish on our British Racing Green breast pocket wallet is both rich and translucent, allowing the natural pattern of the flawless hide to come through.  Founder Stephen Brister feels that a luxury product should be made from the finest materials, be rare and exclusive, and adhere to exceedingly high standards.

For example, H&B London’s leather goods are made from the most exclusive Italian leather from the hides of cattle grazed in the Alps where there are no barbed fences or mosquitoes to blemish their skin.  By definition, that’s a very small universe of leather supply.

 

 

EXCEPTIONAL BOURBON, FROM BLANTONS

 

Blantons Bourbon2 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

If you like bourbon, than you know Blantons.  In addition to the bottle itself being a small piece of art and worthy of your bar’s center stage, its contents are single barrel perfection.  The famous mid-stride “jockey” bottle stopper speaks to its Kentucky heritage and the facet cut bottle reinforces the dedication to craft that Blanton’s has honed for nearly 100 years.  Blanton’s literally created the single barrel bourbon premium market in 1984 and since then has been considered some of the finest in the world.

 

 

BONOBOS PREMIUM CONE DENIM JEANS

 

Bonobos Premium Denim2 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

You probably already know that Bonobos makes great khakis.  In fact, Bonobos more or less redefined the pants business when they created a signature curved waist band that thankfully eliminated what was artfully referred to as, “khaki diaper but.”

Such ardent supporters of khakis are Bonobos’ founders that they publicly scorned the very idea of jeans as a wardrobe component.  So imagine our downright shock when the call came in that Bonobos now makes jeans.

Upon recovering, the next thought?  They must be damn good jeans – and they are.  As I type these words, I’m wearing my slim/straight premium jeans made from Cone denim, sourced at their North Carolina White Oak mill.  Cut and stitched in Los Angeles, they remain true to the Bonobos’ ethos.  These jeans are an updated classic, incredibly comfortable, and will be worn whenever possible.

 

 

 

EDDIE BAUER MICROTHERM STORM-REPEL
DOWN FIELD JACKET

 

Eddie Bauer Down Field Jacket 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

This is one of the coolest jackets we have tested.  Designed as a modern take on the classic field shooting jacket, it is incredibly lightweight and warm yet flexible, durable, and functional.

We tested this jacket nonstop for two weeks; in weather that ranged from lightly cool to full-on winter snow, and it remained a favorite through it all.  Modified as a hunting jacket with a water–repellent coating and durable Cordura reinforcements, it actually started life meant  for mountaineering.  So, either way you look at it, it’s durable, practical and functional.  Another nice characteristic of this jacket is its minimal footprint.

While it clearly references both its technical and field coat DNA, this jacket embraces a modern, urban look and fit.  Nothing extraneous or gimmicky; just a great everyday coat that goes from field to town with equal style.

 

 

HERMES CAPE COD WATCH

 

Hermes Cape Cod Watch 2013 OTC Holiday Style Guide: Modern Classics

We love watches.  However, we are not big fans of overboard vanity collections that treat great timepieces as showy commodities to be acquired for social impact.  For most of us, four or five should do it.  Maybe a few more if you actually switch up your looks with some frequency, or you’re a real-life scuba diver.

One watch we would love to add to our collection is the truly timeless Cape Cod, by Hermes.  This watch is simple in the most elegant of ways.  Clearly inspired by Hermes’ equestrian heritage, it is nonetheless suitable for the tack room or boardroom. Its strong lines and balance of hand stitched leather and stainless steel create yet another classic from the house that quite literally defines the term.  It is also available with a smartly casual double wrap strap, shown above.

 

Nantucket Brand’s Half-Zip Sweater

0054 Nantucket Brands Half Zip Sweater
The tiny but enchanting island of Nantucket has long been a magnet for lifestyle and aspirational brands.  The handsomely rugged location and windswept geography, combined with the island’s historically East Coast patrician aesthetic, make for an irresistible backdrop.

Apart from the Kennedy compound-ish positioning that often accompanies Nantucket themed marketing or product shoots, the island has a deeper and more appealing personality that we really admire: hardiness.  While there is certainly an ever growing contingent of millionaire and billionaire residents snapping up prime land for their Gatsby-worthy estates, as far as we are concerned, the time-worn functionality of everyday hard working essentials holds far more character and style.

Nantucket Brand Logo Nantucket Brands Half Zip SweaterAnd, for that reason, OTC is particularly fond of Nantucket Brand’s navy half-zip pima cotton sweater.  It is a classic layering sweater in the best of ways.  Simple and well-made, functional, pragmatically stylish, and it works with a variety of outfits in different seasons.

We’ll be the first to say to that the website’s pictures do not really do it justice, which is a shame.  However, once in hand, it quickly became a favorite and has been regularly put to use in both dressy and casual situations.  We like to pair it with jeans and a simple tee shirt or khakis and an oxford cloth button down.

The soft cotton has a mid-weight sweatshirt quality to it while the unique rounded standing collar, worn up or folder down, provides a signature and somewhat vintage feature.  The self colored YKK zipper seems to disappear into the sweater and in doing so gives it a cleaner, simpler look.

The Nantucket Brand company was founded in 2005, and built on a family history with ties to Nantucket stretching back to 1945.  In addition to the website, the company has three Nantucket-based shops and product ships from either the island itself or the equally charming and historic New Bedford, Massachusetts.

0060 682x1024 Nantucket Brands Half Zip Sweater

 

IMG 6693 1 1024x682 Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand Ambassador

Preppy tie maker Bull + Moose has officially launched its flagship website, bringing to fruition a brand built on style, but designed to give back to those who need help.

Currently offering an inaugural collection of bow ties and neckties, the B+M look can be described as classic with a modern twist.  The narrow portfolio is expected to grow in both design and options.  Every B+M tie is handmade in either 100% silk or a unique seasonal fabric and is available exclusively through their website.

One of the things that makes this brand noteworthy is that ties start at only $25.00, including free shipping.  And, B+M ties, with material and construction quality at least equal to the likes of Brooks Brothers or Ralph Lauren, could go for a whole lot more.  Our particular favorite is the Jimmy Olson (see below).

The company is able to make high quality hand-made ties at such a disruptive price because they cut out the middleman. Bull + Moose is truly a small, family run operation and operates lean. Without the overhead or licensing fees of large fashion labels or wholesale companies, B+M can pass cost savings directly to customers while still being able to support to good causes – an important company goal right from the beginning.

B+M Logo Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand AmbassadorAnd to that end, the B+M approach to giving back is unique.  Instead of just giving away product in a currently popular “Buy One, Give One” model, the company prefers to support micro loans to underprivileged and urban entrepreneurs in the United States via their Kiva Lending team on www.kiva.org. Through this approach, B+M does not just give for the sake of giving; they it helps businesses support themselves by way of their own initiative.  When the micro loans are repaid, B+M intends to reinvest, help others, and keep the cycle going.  Where some companies see corporate philanthropy as a useful gimmick to help garner attention and goodwill, B+M co-founders Diego Echeverri and Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr., see a corporate cornerstone.

Bull+Moose DC Metro Square Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand AmbassadorAs way of honoring their DC home, the B+M team also came up with a great Washington,D.C., Metro-themed pocket square.  Based on the iconic Metro map first designed by Lance Wyman in 1976, B+M’s pochet is actually quite classy, and dare we say, classic.

While too often such riffs take a kitschy turn, this elegant accessory is meant to honor a historically and socially relevant design in a portably clever fashion.  We love it and, frankly, feel that any guy who is (or feels he ought to be) a DC mover and shaker, should have one of these in his jacket pocket.  Word has it that the D.C. Metro map pocket square will go on sale soon, so check the B+M website or OTC for more information.

In addition to (1) launching a new lean-by-design company and (2) dedicating part of their brand new revenue stream to entrepreneurs in need, B+M also (3) snagged champion polo player Brandon Phillips as its inaugural brand ambassador.  Phillips, apart from being appropriately photogenic, is also one of the world’s most talented polo players.  He has captured some of the sport’s most coveted trophies and won the USPA Silver Cup, the Gold Cup of the Americas, and the C.V. Whitney Cup.  Phillips has also been a finalist in the U.S. Open of Polo.

All in all, not bad for a start-up.  However, something tells us that Bull + Moose will likely be blowing out of the start-up phase in quick order.

hollywood exclusive b+m polo img 2 1024x799 Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand Ambassador

IMG 6505 1 1024x682 Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand Ambassador

IMG 6835 1024x682 Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand Ambassador

B+M Jimmy Olson Bull + Moose Launches with Polo Champion as Brand Ambassador