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.

 

TADPraetorianHoodie gunsgear.tumblr.com  OTC Favorite: Triple Aughts Praetorian Hoodie

Triple Aught Design, based in San Francisco, is a favorite of OTC because they make unique and functional gear that works in the real worlda nd with real wardrobes.

A perfect example of this form-follows-function approach to TAD design is the Preatorian Hoodie.  As with most of TAD’s apparel, there is a decidedly tactical and military-inspired look to this layering piece.  That said, what really shines through with this 100% merino wool hoodie is it’s clean and straightforward design, functional details, and solid construction.

TADPraetorianHoodieFancy Asher OTC Favorite: Triple Aughts Praetorian HoodieAs with other TAD products, this one received many unsolicited compliments from guys who typically commented on its style, design, and overall wear-ability.

There is something inherently functional in all of their designs that speaks to a masculine aesthetic built on practicality and use.  These are core elements of East Coast style and the preppy ethos; stuff built for work that has been appropriated for everyday use.

Some of the key elements that we like in the Praetorian Hoodie are the trim but comfortable fit, study and smooth zippers, and solid feel of the merino wool construction.  Warming or cooling as needed, the wool has a natural stretch and softness that makes it a perfect, and dressier, sweatshirt stand-in.

The hoodie’s hood is big and deep, almost a cowl-line; but nonetheless practical.  The two hand warmer pockets are well-sized and have an angled shape that creates a safe spot for keys and your phone.  The zippered chest pocket is a great design element that is unexpected in a zippered sweater.  And, even with a smartphone in there, no sagging or pulling.

As with other active life tops, the Praetorian Hoodie’s sleeves end with discreet thumb holes in the even you want to take out for a cool weather run, layer under a shell, or just keep your wrists warm.

Lastly, one feature that really makes us happy, especially with this winter’s spate of cold, windy weather, is the elongated zipper that runs well up the neck to your chin, closing out the cold and keeping you warm.  This feature also explains the wider than average hood design.

When this hoodie arrived at OTC headquarters, it went right on and has been a daily choice ever since.  Part sweater, part workout gear, part travel buddy.  The Praetorian hoodie is another win from Triple Aught Design.

S14 PraetorianHoodie Slate Iso Image OTC Favorite: Triple Aughts Praetorian Hoodie

S14 PraetorianHoodie Slate Iso Hood Image OTC Favorite: Triple Aughts Praetorian Hoodie

 

 

Trackline Belt: Casually Sharp

Trackline Belt Trackline Belt: Casually Sharp

Lately, micro-adjust belts seem to be making more and more appearances, and for the most part it’s a nice chance of pace for many men.  Too often we have to deal with a belt that lands exactly between two holes and neither is comfortable.  Either it’s too loose or too tight – usually because we have eaten too much.  For whatever reason, an ill-fitting belt can ruin your day.

Belts that adjust without holes and instead rely on an adjustable track built into the backside of the belt’ strap can be a tricky endeavor.  Even though they are really just an evolutionary step forward from  friction or box frame buckles, their inherent mechanical design dictates a buckle of a certain form and bulk.  Also, they have typically been less than stylish and less than comfortable to actually wear.

We have previously highlighted a more formal version of the adjustable belt, but until now have not found a good casual version worthy of OTC’s readers.  Kore has come up with a great option for casual wear with its Trackline belt.  The simple and low-profile 16 gauge stainless steel buckle is available in a variety of designs and you can choose between brown and black  1 3/8 inch full grain leather straps.

We are particularly partial to the Evolve buckle because of its design reference to a classic engine turned belt buckle.  With clearly marked waist measurement increments on the back of the strap, it’s easy to size and quickly attach the buckle.  The larger size of the buckles pair well with jeans and khakis, and with 40 size positions from which to choose, your belt will fit just right.

While we typically err on the side of classic and timeless, at only $69.00, adding this modern take (and function) on a classic style is something we wholly endorse.

 

Evolve Buckle with Brown Strap Trackline Belt: Casually Sharp

 

OTC Lauded by Refinery 29, Real Men Real Style

431C2357 OTC Lauded by Refinery 29, Real Men Real StyleWe here at OTC are honored and humbled by the fact that two top style websites, Refinery 29 and Real Men Real Style, recently selected Off the Cuff as one of the best style blogs out there.

Both of these websites are serious fashion and lifestyle authorities in their own rights, so being chosen by either as a leading site is pretty darn great.

Refinery 29, a certified style powerhouse and serious influencer, named OTC one of the “Seven Men’s Bloggers Ruling the DMV Style Scene.”  They wrote, “If you’re a fan of classic design, check out OTC, which covers everything from workout gear to suits and briefcases.  Author Chris Hogan curates a healthy mix of general news and D.C.-based fashion info, so all of your bases are covered.”

The hugely popular Real Men Real Style named OTC a Top Ten Style Blog for 2014.  Their review was incredibly thoughtful, noting that our “posts are always detailed and lengthy, and you can count on their writers to dive deep into whatever subjects they handle,” and that “their attention to detail and their exacting standards for men’s attire keep them in this year’s Top Ten.”

Our thanks go out to both websites for their votes of continued confidence and extremely kind words.  We also thank our thousands of readers around the globe – about 40 countries last time we checked.  Without all of you, the world would be a little less dandy.

OTC already has eight years under its belt, and we look forward to the next eight. Cheers.

 

Paul Evans Grant 4 Paul Evans Shoes: American Energy & Italian QualityWe realized there was something special about Paul Evans oxfords the moment we put them on.  OTC tests products in a somewhat unique way, taking longer to assess a brand than most other blogs or websites.  We make the products we review part of our daily lives.

That means we wear the clothes, carry the bags, write with the pens, and use the gadgets.  We also walk miles in the shoes and boots and throw stuff in the wash whenever we can.  In many cases, we continue to use and carry the items you read about here – testament to our long-standing goal of recommending products and brands we ourselves actually use long after the review is posted.  We strive to provide our readers with a comprehensive assessment of the products and brands we recommend.

2014 02 04 17.00.52 Paul Evans Shoes: American Energy & Italian QualityTo that end, slipping on those Paul Evans Grant oxfords was a departure from the many other shoes we have tried out.

Paul Evans’ Grant is built on a European last that among other things, provides a distinctive and noticeable arch support.  It’s an immediate sensation that signals to the wearer that he is experiencing something different.  Good different.

It holds the foot at a stronger angle and provides greater heel stability.  It prompts the wearer to assume a more formal stance and mature posture.  Not at all uncomfortable, simply different and, in a way, compellingly confident.

Combined with outstanding Italian construction, and beautifully soft calfskin uppers burnished to a soft glow, these shoes are, in a word, exceptional.  Fully leather lined and Blake stitched, they are light, flexible, and sturdy.  These shoes are also simply beautiful to look at; lean and elegant but also firmly masculine and substantial.  Even paired with trim jeans and an odd sport coat, they make you look great.

The Grant is a dress shoe in the best of ways, meaning that its balance of elegance and construction create something that both attracts attention but defies explanation.  We constantly had people comment on and compliment these shoes, often without calling out a particular feature.  Typically, it was something to the effect of, “oh my gosh – what shoes are those? They’re gorgeous.”

What truly impressed us was the fact that the substance lives up to the style.  For the price, this degree of refined style and exceptional construction is simply not found in other dress shoes.  In addition, as a small company, the Paul Evens team is personally committed to maintaining the quality of their products in a way that larger companies cannot.  They are shoes guys obsessed with making world class footwear at a fair price and building a loyal following that appreciates those values.

OTC thinks they are off to a great start.  Oh, the suede loafers and chukkas look killer too.

Paul Evans Grant 1 Paul Evans Shoes: American Energy & Italian Quality

Paul Evans Grant 5 Paul Evans Shoes: American Energy & Italian Quality

Paul Evans Grant 2 Paul Evans Shoes: American Energy & Italian Quality