From Ivy to New Prep: a brief history of Preppy Style


It all started in the late ‘50s, they adopted this look because they considered it a way to state the equality of people of all walks of life, not an high-end exclusive. The Black movement gave a new political context to the Ivy style.

Cardigan, Oxford shirts, varsity jackets: all influences of Prep Style

Prep style is being reinvented by brands, Tik-Tokkers, subcultures and collectives: it is coming back once again. The figures that played a part in its history are lesser-known, while the loafers, the button-down Oxford shirts, the varsity jackets, and cardigans that define the history of the look are all familiar.

We begin our journey with Sam Trotman, the man behind the Instagram cultural archive account Samutaro. Before launching the platform Samutaro, London-based Trotman began as a trend forecaster. The account landed exclusive coverage spots at the world’s hottest shows, including Nigo’s first Kenzo show, Off-White™ and Marni as well as working with Donda Creative on exclusive content, rising to prominence. If he doesn’t know something about style it’s because it isn’t worth knowing.

The second name on the list is Jason Jules. East-Londoner, staple on the menswear circuit, you may recognize him from one of the many street-style accounts where he pulls off fits in the sophisticated way only he can. He modeled, was a stylist, worked as a consultant for brands and had his finger on the pulse of many scenes over the years. This multi-talented creative has also just released his first book Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style.

Black Ivy retraces how black people made a dress code seen by many as the style of the elite  their own and how this act was instrumental in the fight for racial equality and civil rights and challenging the status quo.

The elite environment of prep school, and Ivy League schools are the birth point of prep, notes Jules, but we would not have it where it is today without the elite walls breaking down, We own the fame and chance to enjoy prep to the beat poets and the jazz scene who adopted the look to show that they were at the same level as those in high society.

It all started in the late ‘50s, they adopted this look because they considered it a way to state the equality of people of all walks of life, not an high-end exclusive. The Black movement gave a new political context to the Ivy style.

Take Ivy, the book by Kensuke Ishizu, was what took the look beyond the US. In the ‘60s Japanese began flying to America, visiting Ivy-League schools and photographing what students were wearing. It was a guide on how to dress in this Ivy style born naturally from people traveling to the States and documenting real-life students.

The Japanese youth, fans of weekly magazines devoted to prep like Heibon Punch and Men’s Club, picked up the look. The Miyuki Tribe, that roamed the area around Miyuki Street, rose from those magazines waiting in their new prep looks to get a hold of the latest offerings from a Japanese prep brand called VAN. Its founder was none other than Take Ivy author Kensuke Ishizu, the Godfather of Japanese Prep.

He was a precursor for what Tommy Hilfiger would go on to do in the states in the ’80s and ’90s, challenging the status quo and subverting the expectations of the classic prep look.

In the late ’80s early ’90s, the look was going beyond the Wall Street bankers and it was picked up in NYC. Jules says,

“Oftentimes when people think about prep and Ivy League, they instantly imagine Ivy League schools, the elite, Wall Street. Actually, the reason that it survived, the reason that it’s important is not because of that period of time or that culture, but because of the people who have been influenced by it. People like the Pharcyde and the hip-hop backpackers, people looking back at those guys and using them as references.”

Tommy Hilfiger also came into prominence at this time, a designer who overlooked the elite origins of prep and focused instead on its reinvention and subversion. Same time as the Lo-Lifes in their Polo gear who then influenced Wu-Tang and mainstream hip-hop looks.

Streetwear and cultural household names like Nigo and Ye became interested in prep thanks to this sense of fun. Tommy Hilfiger had a new kind of approach to prep in the ‘90s, funny and sardonic. But it was such a big change, critical for making prep the diverse look it is today.

More oversized fits, sportswear and streetwear combined with classic items. Later, in the 2000s, you had Nigo and what he did with A Bathing Ape and Kanye with the classic pink polo shirt.

Now the style has taken a new shape, it’s more relevant and significant and possibly more exciting than it has ever been. Many people from diverse backgrounds and situations are getting involved with this look and doing what they want with it. Bottom line is it’s a style for everybody, that anybody can adopt and adapt.

No restrictions, just have fun with it.

WORDS: Manuela Palma



Subscribe to our newsletter

© Pluriverse 2023
Registered office: Via Romaniello 21/B, Napoli (NA), Italy | N. REA: NA 823189