Whales, alligators, thoroughbreds and mallards are typical images plastered all over the American preppy uniform. As a child of the 80’s, I despised preppiness. I found it uninspiring, conservative and dull. Why would wearing a Polo pony define my socio-economic status? A clever and compelling advertising campaign convinced America that one can achieve social status by wearing the “right” logo on a garment.
It wasn’t so much the the dull-as-dishwater look of preppiness that sent me over the edge but the elitist demographic that adhered strictly to its dress code. If you were affluent, named Muffy, Buffy, or Blane and vacationed in Nantucket, then it was compulsory to wear an embroidered reptile sewn onto your cotton piqué shirt.
By the end of the 1980’s, preppiness was over saturated in the marketplace, yet stores like L.L. Bean, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Dooney & Bourke perpetuated the look.
Over the decades, I came to appreciate the merits of preppy fashion. After all, it is clean cut and appropriate attire for many occasions. I prefer it to some styles on American streets, such as denim jeans hanging so low to the ground they can replace street cleaning crews, sandals exposing foot ailments and cotton tees so grungy that they might as well be cleaning rags.
I have pondered for years why preppy fashion couldn’t be spiffed up with neon colors, mismatched prints, metallic trims and big gemstones. Can’t the preppy fashion headmasters replace the mallard with sea otters, wolverines or something more subversive like fornicating flamingos? Prep needs some E-D-G-E!
Well, that day did arrive in 2008 when J. Crew hired Jenna Lyons to be their executive creative director and president. As long as I can remember, the brand was lackluster and as exciting as a bag of grass clippings. Jenna was hired to update the brand with brighter colors, better quality material and trims and compelling designs which made their garments coveted pieces. As a result of her vision and marketing expertise, J. Crew’s revenue has tripled since 2003.
I decided to take a sojourn to a J. Crew store in NJ to view up close and personal Jenna’s latest vision. For the sortie, I wore a black polo embroidered with a gigantic alligator, donned a fuchsia punk wig ala the Punk Chaos show at the Met in NYC, pearls by Carolee and heavy gold pearl earrings similar to ones worn by a Park Avenue dowager and Jamie Kreitman peacock brooch ballets.
For several seasons, neutrals and black have prevailed even for spring and summer. Please NO MORE BLACK or GREY! I can’t take it and am bored to death by all the drabness. The bright candied pinks, purples, and oranges put an instant smile on my face. I felt like I had to stroke every garment, pat it and whisper “You look good. Keep it up.”
J. Crew does a great job designing costume jewelry. The brooches and necklaces all are colorful and sparkly. These are statement pieces that don’t cost a month’s salary and can make that drab cotton black tee into something special. If the necklace could speak it would scream “Look mummy, I don’t look like I rolled out of bed anymore!”
Bravo, J. Crew for injecting newness into their products while maintaining their traditional customer base. Yet, I am not a traditional consumer and thrive on dramatic, under-the-radar fashion statements. So, can we turn preppy on its side? Could preppy become a parody, edgy, over-the-top and wow an artistic audience for ‘art’s sake?’ Yes! I found a preppy reference that made me scream with laughter!
Enter Thom Browne’s Spring 2013 women’s Ready-to-Wear collection. (The name should ring a bell. Michelle Obama wore a coat designed by him to her husband Barry’s inauguration). Inspired by gingham, plaid, mismatched prints, whales, seahorses and lobsters, this is a seismic departure from preppy’s original tempered, conservative perfectly matched palette. As insane as these looks might look to the average person, I am bursting at the seams with enthusiasm. This is what the modern preppy uniform should look like. Thank you Thom. You are my hero!
Hopefully by next summer the paparazzi will photograph Secretary of State John Kerry, Kathy Lee Gifford or Hardball’s Chris Matthews (Nantucket’s summer-set celebs) strolling down the beach in these dandy little numbers. Anything is possible with the right marketing. Or maybe I can make this happen sooner if I place a call to Lady Gaga or Kanye, pestering them to wear these gems on Labor Day. These duds will most certainly create a tidal wave of preppy enthusiasm for next summer.
Styled by Jamie Kreitman.