What’s a Prep? The Ultimate Guide to Preppy Style!

Preppy style is a timeless fashion trend showcasing classic and tailored clothes. It is also a lifestyle that includes personal attitude and manners. A prep is someone who embodies both the style and the lifestyle. Preppy style originated from the Ivy League schools’ campus as a dress code consisting of clothing with emblematic symbols such as the blazer, button-down shirt, and pleated skirt. The preppy style trend still exists today but evolved over time. Keep reading to discover the ultimate guide to preppy style and how to incorporate it into your wardrobe.

Origins of Preppy Style

Preppy style emerged in the early 1900s as an exclusive look for wealthy and educated individuals. The term ‘Preppy’ originated from the preparatory schools attended by children of upper-class families. Preppy fashion evolved as a rebellion against mainstream fashion during the 1960s, influenced by Ivy League fashion staples such as the button-down collars, polo shirts, cardigans, khakis, chinos, and loafers. The preppy look was made famous by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who embodied the look through her impeccable style during her time as First Lady of the United States.

The Preppy Look

The preppy look is a classic style that can be incorporated into any wardrobe. It is known for its refined and polished look with an emphasis on clean lines, traditional patterns, and classic cuts. Preppy fashion is highly versatile and can be dressed up or down, making it an excellent choice for both casual and formal occasions. Some key pieces of clothing that are emblematic of preppy style include:

  • Button-down shirts
  • Polo shirts
  • V-neck sweaters
  • Blazers
  • Cable knit sweaters
  • Khaki pants
  • Chinos
  • Boat shoes

Preppy Patterns

Preppy style is well-known for the traditional and timeless patterns that define it. These patterns include classic stripes, polka dots, tartans, houndstooth, and gingham. These patterns can be incorporated into any outfit, from a button-down shirt to a pair of pants. When pairing patterns, it’s essential to keep the colors in the same color family to create a cohesive look.

The Preppy Lifestyle

Preppy fashion isn’t just about the clothes you wear but is also a way of life. A prep embodies a refined and courteous demeanor, manners, and etiquette. The preppy lifestyle includes the following values:

  • Academic Excellence
  • Athleticism
  • Community Service
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Leadership
  • Social Grace
  • Patriotism
  • Fine Arts

Preppy Attitude and Manners

The preppy lifestyle is not just about appearances; it’s also about attitude and manners. Preps are known for their excellent sense of humor, good manners, and general warmth towards others. The preppy lifestyle values family and friends, patriotism, and tradition.

The Preppy Diet

Preppy living extends beyond fashion and manners; it is also about diet and exercise. A typical preppy diet includes healthful foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and plenty of water. Preps are also known for consuming alcoholic beverages in moderation.

How to Achieve the Preppy Look

Achieving a preppy look involves embracing classic, chic, and tailored style elements. Here are some steps to achieve a classic preppy look:

  • Invest in staple preppy wardrobe pieces: Start by investing in a couple of wardrobe staples like a classic blazer, button-down shirts, and polished loafers.
  • Add classic patterns to your wardrobe: Incorporate traditional and timeless patterns such as stripes, polka dots, tartans, and gingham.
  • Keep a tidy, polished look: Preppy fashion emphasizes a polished and clean look, so make sure your clothes fit well and are wrinkle-free.

Preppy Style for Women

For women, there are several ways to incorporate preppy style into your wardrobe. Here are some ideas for achieving the preppy look for women:

  • Pair a collared shirt with a cardigan sweater or blazer.
  • Opt for a pair of straight-leg pants, such as chinos or khakis.
  • Accessorize with a pearl necklace, hoop earrings or stud earrings, and a scarf.
  • For shoes, opt for classic pumps, ankle boots, or loafers.

Preppy Style for Men

For men, preppy style looks include classic coats, chinos, and, of course, anything in gingham or stripes. Here are some tips for achieving the preppy look for men:

  • Pair a navy blazer with a pair of khakis and brown shoes.
  • Invest in a pair of Clark’s desert boots or leather loafers.
  • Wear a classic polo shirt or a button-down find.” Someone who is fashionable may not necessarily be following the preppy trend.

    How to Wear Preppy Fashion in a Modern Way

    Preppy fashion is classic and timeless, but there are ways to add a modern twist. Here are some tips for incorporating preppy style into your wardrobe and making it more modern:

    • Upgrade classic pieces: Invest in high-quality preppy wardrobe pieces that put a modern spin on the classic style. For example, choose blazers that have unique patterns or twist hemlines.
    • Mix and match: Combine preppy-style clothing with modern clothing items such as ripped jeans or bold jewelry.
    • Incorporate bold colors: Add pops of color to your outfit with bold hues such as emerald green or hot pink.

    The Preppy Look Through the Decades

    Preppy fashion has evolved through the decades to become a timeless and classic style. Here is a look at how the preppy look has changed over the past decades:

    The 1960s

    The preppy look exploded onto the fashion scene in the 1960s as a rebellion against mainstream fashion. Preps were often seen in khakis and chinos, paired with a polo shirt or button-down shirt. Women opted for pleated skirts and sweater sets, coupled with pearl necklaces.

    The 1970s

    During the 1970s, preppy clothing became more relaxed and included flared trousers and maxi dresses. The look was still grounded in classic style, and polo shirts, khakis, and blazers were still staple wardrobe pieces for both men and women.

    The 1980s

    The preppy look was at its peak in the 1980s, with MTV-inspired preppy style gaining popularity. The decade introduced brighter colors and bolder prints, seen in prep staples such as polo shirts, oversized sunglasses, and tennis skirts.

    The 1990s

    In the 1990s, preppy fashion focused on collegiate style, and grunge fashion took center stage. Preppy fashion was not as prominent, but it remained a timeless fashion trend with pastel-colored blazers, cardigans, and loafers.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Preppy Style

    • Q: What is preppy style?
    • A: Preppy style is a classic fashion trend showcasing tailored and clean-cut clothes. It is also a lifestyle that includes personal attitude and manners.
    • Q: What are staple preppy wardrobe pieces?
    • A: Staple preppy wardrobe pieces include a classic blazer, button-down shirts, and polished loafers.
    • Q: What are preppy patterns?
    • A: Preppy patterns include classic stripes, polka dots, tartans, houndstooth, and gingham.
    • Q: What are the values of preppy lifestyle?
    • A: The preppy lifestyle includes values such as academic excellence, athleticism, community service, entrepreneurship, leadership, social grace, patriotism, and fine arts.
    • Q: How can I incorporate preppy style into my modern wardrobe?
    • A: You can upgrade classic pieces, mix and match, and incorporate bold colors to make preppy style more modern.


    • Berns, G. (2016). Prep: Preppy. The style of years past returns to fashion. Clothier Spruce Up, 4.
    • Corbett, C. (2018). 100 Years of Preppy Style. Town & Country.
    • Moulton-Levy, A. (2015). True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World. Knopf.
    • Ridley, C. (2011). The evolution of prep. Departures, 2(2), 82.
    • Steele, V. (2010). The Berg companion to fashion. Berg Publishers.

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