The Socioeconomics of Prep


I have been removed from the academic environment for quite a few years now, but I still enjoy reading a scholarly article especially when it deals with something that I am deeply interested in. I was recently directed to a an Honors thesis by a Senior in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology for Fiber Sciences and Apparel Design entitled, “The Origin and Evolution of “Prep” and its Socioeconomic Relevance.” Naturally, I was intrigued.
Origins of PrepThe title makes the intent of the article clear, but here is an expanded explanation:

“Thus, the aim of this paper is twofold. First, I seek to clarify and substantiate the origins of prep style, its relationship with American collegiate culture and the national class structure, and its evolution as a fashion subculture.”


“Next, I strive to attain a clear understanding of the cultural and socioeconomic significance of preppy fashion at that time in history, its function as an essential arbiter of class for the American aristocracy.”

Origins of Prep 2The paper was an interesting read and one of the most comprehensive texts that I have read on the subject. However, one area that I think is overlooked in the paper is the co-opting of the preppy look by mainstream America that occurred prior to the 1980’s. The author states that,

“This gradual growth in the popularity of the preppy look was later punctuated in the 1980s with a boom of commercialization and public infatuation with this style.”

But there was a similar boom of commercialization that occurred in the 1960’s which created a generation of people from middle class origins that adopted this look which influenced later generations as well as the dress code of corporate America.

Although this co-opted look is a watered down version of what was termed “Ivy League Style” it can still be considered “Preppy.”  I only interject, because I believe that this earlier boom removed a lot of the socioeconomic status that was previously associated with this look by making it readily available to those of average means.

Origins of Prep 3Nonetheless, this is an excellent piece and I encourage everyone to read the full text (You can find it here: For those of you who are not interested in reading the dense 55 page text I will cut to the chase for you. The author concludes that,

““Preppy” continues to possess a sense of cultural capital that provides implications relating to the lifestyles, attitudes, and aspirations of individuals who choose to don this look.”

I will let the reader evaluate the validity of this conclusion for themselves. However, I applaud the author for taking on this topic and doing such a thorough job at it. A great follow-up read is Christian Chensvold’s The Rise and Fall of the Ivy League Look.

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

One Comment on "The Socioeconomics of Prep"

  1. Walter Denton says:

    Nice report on the Cornell College of Human Ecology paper. You are right that the “Ivy League” or “Prep” style was considerably democratized by the 1960’s. I was there, I dressed Ivy and I was not a member of the economic elite. Furthermore, I would contend that the style really became democratized even earlier, in the post-war period as returning veterans used the GI Bill to attend college, including Ivy League schools. In particular, the popularity of khakis really came about as returning GIs continued to wear the uniform pants they had become accustomed to during the war..

I would like to hear from you