The New Preppy

As a proud product of a well known all girl’s boarding school I am well versed in all things preppy.  But it was not an aesthetic I was born into or naturally adapted. I will never forget my mother’s horror when on drop off day at Miss Porter’s School I refused to wear anything but a Ben & Jerry’s tie die shirt and denim cutoffs. I thought “this place can’t still be all ‘Jackie O’- this will be fine”.  Well, there I was in a sea of pearls and pink, mouth agape looking like a sloppy mess and feeling the urgent need to find my room so I could put on a polo shirt.  I quickly became fluent in prep-  J.Crew, cable knit, Lilly, seersucker, Nantucket reds, hair ribbons, tennis whites and monograms all became de riguer over the years. My style has evolved and changed since then many times over, but suddenly with fall approaching I’ve been feeling the pull of my preppy roots calling me back to turtleneck sweaters and Burberry trenchcoats.  And I’m not alone.


The plaid-covered bible of prep “The Official Preppy Handbook” (a tattered copy of which I was passed down by my “old girl” while at Porter’s-naturally) is back this September with a new edition! This weekend, while very preppily reading about it in Vanity Fair while sipping some white wine on my parent’s porch next to my UBER-preppy Southern husband, I was reminded of the slightly dysfunctional, dusty charm of prep.m I feel like in one way or another i’ll be back in all it’s glory this year.  Not in the flashy 90’s “new money” way with huge Nantucket McMansions and 5 carat diamond studs, but on the old school terms. True preppy is not synonymous with wealth, but actually rather with being somewhat frugal, something that is especially in style lately.  Like driving cars for years and years, wearing staple favorites until threadbare, accessorizing with hand me down family pieces, living in classic older homes and not dressing in anything super trendy but rather classic items that will stay in style for years.

The new ad campaign for Tommy Hilfiger “Meet the Hilfigers” is a slightly comedic example of how the preppy aesthetic is back- camel coats, plaid, corduroy and cashmere and slight eccentricity. It’s very Royal Tenenbaums.

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Another great prppy ad campaign was that for Tory Burch shot in her own super preppy apartment by photographer Tina Barney. All those rich velvets, use of the same print on EVERYTHING, animal prints,  antiques and classic details all reign supreme in prep interiors:

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tory burch kitchen elle magazine

I had a great, long preppy interiors post but WordPress has decided to make my life hell this morning with weird formatting and I have a meeting to go to so it’ll have to wait until later!!! Preppy Part 2 comin’ at ya.


  1. I can’t wait to check out the new edition…I always got a kick out of that book, especially after living in Greenwich for a year and getting quite the prep-education.

  2. As a product of private school education myself I remember the original Preppy Handbook fondly. My friends and I were known to use the term “CBC” (Couldn’t be cuter!) on a regular basis.

  3. Gawd. 35K/year for a freaking year of school at Mizz Porter’s? What a prime example of East Coast obnoxious. Thank God for the remaining and down to Earth regions in this country.

  4. I love the preppy look…though I have been toning it down as I have gotten older. I grew up in the south and though different than New England prep, still preppy in it’s own rite. The Hilfiger ads have been cracking me up, but I want so many things from the collection. And can I just say even though I am married and love my husband to death…helloooo Noah :)

  5. I love the preppy handbook! Its so fun to page through, and I totally agree with you about the true preppy roots. This totally brings me back to my days at Rollins, with a well explained style similar to Miss. Porters. I think because of all of the things you listed above, the prep style with always be a classic to fall back on!

  6. I have the preppy handbook! I even have a preppy handbook calendar! Sure is a trip down memory lane, but I do still adore some of those styles!

  7. God love you for this post!
    I still cling to my very tattered copy of ToPH. Thank you for reminding blogland that the two are most definitely NOT synonymous.

  8. I had to search far and wide to find my first copy of the old Preppy Handbook and I treasure it immensely – growing up Southern Preppy is a little different from New England but now I mix the two. I cannot wait to grab the new one – thanks for a post reminding me!!

  9. In regard to Sally’s post, I attended a New England boarding school, and I feel honored to have been exposed to such a diverse community. While the percentage of students from more affluent backgrounds and communities may be higher than your average school district, I was classmates with people from many different countries, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. Far more so than if I stayed in my local high school in rural Connecticut. Yes, tuition is high. I wouldn’t dispute that, however so are the financial aid funds available to many applicants. Top students from all over the world are attracted to boarding schools, so it’s not just for n’er-do-wells and trust fund babies. I can’t credit my school enough for more than sufficiently preparing me for college. I would take the time to learn about what that 35 K+ has to offer before simply painting everyone with the same brush.

  10. Sally, I was a financial aid student at Miss Porter’s School — or “Farmington,” as we called it back then.

    I attended Farmington in the 70’s, and then Yale (late 70’s) and Penn for my doctoral degree (80’s/early90’s). Almost no one was dressing “preppily” at any of these schools when I was there. I do recall nearly guffawing when my Yale roommate (out of Andover) appeared wearing a green crewneck sweater with her monogram on the front; no one at MPS had ever dressed that way when I was there. If we wore Lilly Pulitzer, we mixed it with other, non-preppy clothes, and we mostly wore jeans and clogs. I myself was a devotee of the French Boot Shop, and I was serious about fashion, so I also wore Betsy Johnson and European labels when I could find them. (I will admit to a love of Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren — beyond my pocketbook then, unless my mother gave me something for Christmas and my birthday — but I quickly recognized Lauren’s “faux-WASP” pretensions and gave up on him.)

    The Preppy Handbook was considered a major joke — something to be laughed at, not taken seriously. When I met people who DID take it seriously, I was shocked. I recall being on the T in Boston shortly after I had graduated from college (this would have been about 1981) and listening to someone talking about how she had seen “Love Story” ten years earlier and had “fallen in love with the preppie myth” (I am quoting her exactly.) She was actually CARRYING the Preppy Handbook as some sort of Bible. I can’t tell you how appalled I was. It was all I could do to avoid snatching the book out of her hands and yelling, “Are you crazy? Don’t you realize that this is a joke? A parody?”

    Iam looking forward to seeing the new version, but the assiduous study of the old one that I saw makes me worry. Some people have no ear or eye for satire.

  11. Hi Erin, this is totally off topic here, but I am curious what your thoughts are on the new Restoration Hardware catalog and product line? Just got a catalog in the mail, and it’s, well…..different. I enjoy your blog, in fact yours is my favorite of all the design blogs I read-love the new format by the way!

  12. Nan, by ancients do you mean over 40?
    just purchased the original handbook at my child’s elementary school used book sale. it is so snarky, i love it. for sure a parody, not a true lifestyle–OR is it?

  13. I’m an “ancient” (waaaay over 40!). I’ve always loved the Preppy Handbook and have already pre-ordered True Prep. Fun satire, but not without merit, in some cases. Loved this post and can’t wait for part 2!

  14. Ancient=code (not very secret) for Porter’s graduate (yes, I’m one). Love your post but remember the P.H. coming out after my freshman year, and actually all the heavy-duty dyed-in-the-fairisle-wool (as in the sweaters, a key element of preppy style) preps were quite annoyed that their secret dress code had been exposed to the masses. I also remember the puzzlement my mother (another ancient) and I felt watching her grown friends embrace the styles shown in the PH (and the fashion mags that latched onto it that year). Hello ladies–this is the style for teenagers, not y’all! (yes of course there is a lifelong version of prep, but that’s not what they were wearing).

    So as sort-of preps we were amused and bemused to see non-preps try to copy the style; as somewhat outsiders (coming from a non-preppy part of the Midwest), we laughed at the East Coasters getting huffy at the masses trying to copy them.

    That said, the PH definitely had the prep lifestyle down pat, and I’ll surely have to check out the new one–as gentle satire, of course.

  15. I always love Fall and all the preppy clothes. I just bought a new Ralph shirt and am shopping for a camel coat.

  16. Living just up the hill from Miss Porter’s School, I see a lot of the students walking around town throughout the year. I have to say, the preppy aesthetic seems to be lacking these days!

  17. kelly, i was appauled by the new restoration hardware catalogue! all awful bone ang grey colors i found it depressing! every single page was more bland than the next

  18. You went to boarding school?!? I’m jealous. I’m a product of public school – L.A. Unified School District. I’m surprised I even know how to read.

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