Preppy style is a classic American style that emphasizes classic, tailored clothing as well as a clean, put-together aesthetic. If your personal style leans towards preppy, your wardrobe likely includes staples like polo shirts, cable knit sweaters, wool blazers, and penny loafers. Beyond just the clothing, preppy style extends to an overall attitude and lifestyle prioritizing academic excellence, involvement in activities, and a certain level of decorum.
Though preppy style has its roots among elite Northeast colleges and universities, today it has expanded far beyond those origins while still retaining its signature polished and proper look. Read on to learn more about embracing your preppy side through your personal style choices.
What Defines Preppy Style
Some key elements that define preppy style include:
- Traditional silhouettes – Preppy fashion favors classic silhouettes and tailoring over trendy or oversized shapes. Blazers, button-down shirts, and chino pants are wardrobe staples.
- Timeless fabrics – Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and cashmere are favored in preppy clothing over synthetics. Plaid, tweed, cable knit, and oxford cotton are classic preppy fabrics.
- Conservative colors – While preppy fashion isn’t all navy and khaki, the color palette tends to be classic and conservative. Neutrals, pastels, and rich hues without loud prints or patterns make up most preppy wardrobes.
- Proper footwear – Leather oxfords and loafers, boat shoes, Jack Rogers sandals, and Hunter rainboots are preppy go-tos. Flashy athletic sneakers are generally avoided.
- Refinement and polish – From pressed collars to tidy haircuts to clean shaving, preppies aim for a pulled-together look from head to toe. Lots of attention is paid to fine details.
- Active lifestyle – Preppy style originated on Northeast college campuses among students participating in sports, clubs, and other activities. The lifestyle aspect remains integral today.
- Brand loyalty – Certain brands like Brooks Brothers, Barbour, and Sperry Top-Sider are eternally associated with preppy style due to their heritage and ancestor brand status.
Key Wardrobe Pieces
Building a preppy wardrobe means including certain classic pieces associated with the look. Some preppy fashion must-haves include:
- Button-down or polo shirts
- Cable knit sweaters
- Oxford cloth button-downs
- Rugby shirts
- Blazers and sport coats
- Cardigans and sweater vests
- Khakis or chino pants
- Pleated skirts and skorts
- Shorts in classic cuts and colors
- Boat shoes and loafers
- Oxfords or brogues
- Rain boots
- Tennis shoes or sneakers in white or pastels
- Patterned ties and bow ties
- Leather belts with classic buckles
- Pearl or preppy motif jewelry
- Tote bags and backpacks
Style Inspiration from Fashion Icons
Certain public figures exemplify preppy style and can provide inspiration:
- Kate Middleton – The Duchess of Cambridge epitomizes modern British prep and favors striped shirts, tailored coats, and skirt suits in her royal wardrobe.
- Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl – Blair’s headbands, pearls, blazers, and plaid skirts made her the quintessential preppy TV character.
- Caroline Kennedy – Her young adulthood looks channeling Jackie O captured American preppy style in the 1960s.
- Martha Stewart – From tailored blazers to pearls to equestrian clothing, Martha Stewart radiates understated preppy class.
- JFK Jr. – The Kennedy son brought a youthful spin to East Coast prep in the 1990s with his windbreakers, polos, and perfectly tousled hair.
Prepping Up Your Look
Some tips for integrating more preppy style into your wardrobe include:
- Start with foundational pieces like oxford button-downs, chinos, blazers, loafers, and ballet flats. Build outfits from there.
- Look for pieces in heritage patterns like argyle, houndstooth, and nautical stripes.
- Add school insignia pieces like crested sweaters, belts, or ties to nod to preppy collegiate roots.
- Mix textures like tweed with corduroy or leather with cashmere for added dimension.
- Choose wool instead of synthetic blends for pants and blazers when possible.
- Opt for a cleanly parted or side-swept hairstyle or neat ponytail.
- Skip loud makeup and accessories. Stay subtle and polished.
- Look for vintage or inheritance pieces. Preppy styles last for generations.
Common Preppy Brands
Some brands commonly associated with preppy style include:
- Brooks Brothers: Favored for button-downs, ties, blazers, and suits. Brooks Brothers is a pillar of East Coast American prep.
- Lilly Pulitzer: Known for colorful printed shift dresses and resort wear.
- Vineyard Vines: Offering a modern, youthful take on prep with polos, shorts, swimwear and more.
- J. Crew: Prep staples like chinos, sweater vests, barn jackets and Oxford shirts.
- Ralph Lauren/Polo Ralph Lauren: Iconic for cable knits and Oxford cloth shirts as well as rugged Ivy League-inspired looks.
- Lacoste: The famous crocodile logo adorns polos, shoes, and beyond.
- Sperry Top-Sider: Boat shoes are a preppy footwear must-have.
- Hunter: Durable British-made Wellington rain boots.
- Barbour: Waxed cotton jackets have been wardrobe prep essentials for generations.
Adding Your Own Twist
The great thing about preppy style is it provides a classic foundation you can build upon and personalize. Some ways to make preppy style feel fresh and modern include:
- Incorporate on-trend cropped, wide-leg, or distressed denim.
- Layer with edgier leather, moto, or bomber jackets.
- Accessorize with unexpected jewelry like hoops or stacked rings.
- Play with untucked and partially unbuttoned shirts.
- Mix in band or music T-shirts.
- Go for menswear-inspired pieces like waistcoats.
- Choose shoes with funky colors or prints.
The preppy look also easily transitions through seasons. Swap out cotton button-downs for cashmere turtlenecks in winter and add colorful chino shorts in summer. Ultimately the preppy style ethos is about curating timeless, quality pieces and then combining them in a polished, effortless manner. Stay true to that spirit while making the look your own.
Frequently Asked Questions
What colors match best for preppy outfit combinations?
Stick to a conservative, neutral color palette of blues, greens, browns, tans, whites, blacks, and greys when prepping up your look. Accent with pastels when you want to incorporate color.
Does preppy style work for casual office environments?
Absolutely – just opt for pieces like chinos, dark-wash jeans, polos, OCBDs, and sweaters or sweater vests to give off a casual preppy vibe at work. Finish with leather loafers or oxfords.
Can you do preppy style on a budget?
Yes, focus on basics like button-downs from stores like Uniqlo and chinos from places like Gap. Check thrift and consignment stores for hidden gems too. The details matter most, so invest in shoes and outerwear when possible.
How do men achieve the preppy look?
Chinos, OCBDs, quarter-zip sweaters, ties, blazers, loafers, and aviators make up a quintessential men’s preppy uniform. Aim for a clean, put-together mix of classic pieces.
Is preppy style still in fashion?
Preppy style never truly goes out of fashion because it focuses on classic silhouettes and traditional fabrics. Today, designers are modernizing preppy style though, making key pieces feel fresh again. The preppy aesthetic continues to evolve generation after generation.
In summary, preppy fashion emphasizes traditional shapes, natural fabrics, conservative colors, proper footwear, and an overall refined polish. wardrobe staples include blazers, button-downs, chinos, loafers, and pearls. Seek inspiration from prep style icons like Kate Middleton and JFK Jr. when curating your own look. Feel free to take preppy style in new directions too by mixing in contemporary pieces. Preppiness is truly a timeless approach to style you can make work for any occasion.