Are you ready to get preppy?

After 30 years in the doldrums, the relaxed East Coast look is back – along with a new handbook to help you wear it with elan

Susie Mesure
Sunday 11 April 2010 00:00

Can't tell your Top-Siders from your Sebagos? Unsure how high to roll your chinos? After some preppy shopping primers? Well, unfurrow your brows and raise a gin and tonic because help is at hand from a new book out this autumn that will exploit the current clamour for East Coast style.

True Prep promises to pick up where The Official Preppy Handbook left off three decades ago and provides important pointers on how to live the lifestyle behind the Ralph Lauren polo shirts and Madras plaid shorts that comprise the Ivy League set's unofficial uniform.

Like the original book, which sold 1.3 million copies, True Prep will gently mock a world in which people panic when it's the cook's night off or worry how polar fleece fits into a prepster's wardrobe.

Its publication comes as demand for preppy fashion is once again soaring – on both sides of the Atlantic. Boating shoes such as Top-Siders or Sebagos, penny loafers, brogues, blazers, pinstripes, chinos and anything made from Madras fabric are all mainstays of the preppy look.

For inspiration, women are looking to the likes of Blair Waldorf, star of the television show Gossip Girl, or Alexa Chung, the television presenter-turned-fashion icon who has made preppy styles into her trademark. The fashion house Mulberry has a waiting list for new versions of the "Alexa" satchel, that prep-school staple it designed in her honour, and the department store Selfridges has said the bag is its current best-seller.

The fashion press is excited about the virtual arrival of J Crew, a treasure trove of preppy fashions as favoured by Michelle Obama. From next month, aspiring British prepsters will be able to buy the cashmere cardigans and chinos it is famed for from the luxury-shopping website Net-a-Porter.

And Banana Republic, another US chain popular for its East Coast-inspired styles, has just opened its second store in central London and is on the hunt for more sites.

Men, meanwhile, are channelling bands such as Vampire Weekend, the American indie band that made a virtue out of their Ivy League background by dressing in such preppy staples as deck shoes and button-down shirts. The foursome from New York, which saw their second album Contra top the US charts, are headlining several festivals this summer, including Latitude.

Robert Johnson, associate editor of the fashion magazine GQ, said: "Preppy is back. Every season, particularly summer, there is always a nod to classic Americana but preppy is a big trend this year." He partly attributed its popularity to the fact that people are "bored" with denim.

"They are wearing chinos instead in the classic preppy way with no socks and rolled slightly at the ankles with either Top-Siders or penny loafers."

True Prep, which is co-written by one of the original authors of The Official Preppy Handbook, Lisa Birnbach, will, according to the New York Times, "explain just what it means to be a Chip or a Muffy in a Barack world". Ms Birnbach has been working on the sequel, which will have a 150,000 first-print run, for some time.

As well as unveiling the new "Prep Manifesto" it will update aspiring prepsters on how to live in a new century, with sections on how to choose an avatar and the etiquette of texting at the table (and the answer is: don't!).

Alice Richardson, who blogs about preppy things at the blogspot Summer is a Verb, credited the wider Eighties revival with helping to reignite the prep-school look.

"The Eighties were all about being preppy. Plus prep has a 'quality over quantity' mentality that is a welcome shift after the past several decades of gluttony. Recycling, now, is about more than just plastic bottles. It's carrying your grandmother's linen hanky in your purse or dusting off your cashmere sweater from high school."

She predicted True Prep would be "hugely read", adding: "It's like the New Testament to The Official Preppy Handbook. "The old preppies will pass copies out like hostess gift candy and the wannabes will gobble it up like this season's Lilly Pulitzer" – which designer, the uninitiated may want to know, is yet another East Coast preppy mainstay.

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