Preppy Culture: A Survivor's Tale

We were OK with the return of bell bottoms. Ditto the big hair, platform shoes and polyester shirts.

But for those of us whose frail sartorial and psychological sensibilities barely survived the preppy culture horrors of the late 70s and early 80s, this latest retro fad is just too much.

It was awful: Screamingly bright, kelly-green corduroys, held up by navy-blue belts adorned with images of little whales. Izod shirts — in equally offending color choices — with collars actually starched ramrod-straight up. Sperry Top-Siders or penny loafers, worn sans socks no matter the outfit, occasion or accumulated snowfall outside.

Several recent movies and television shows have vainly attempted to lampoon the excesses of the preppy look. But they've come up short, according to this reviewer, mostly because it's impossible to satirize something that in real life could not have looked more ridiculous.

And forget just dismissing these fashion transgressions as a symptom of youthful indiscretion. The most egregious offenders were the preppy parents, particularly those who arrived at the beginning of school each year in limousines, helicopters and whatever other forms of gaudy non-public transportation they could muster up.

The parents served as both comic relief and as reality check, highlighting the fact that it was always about more than the clothes. If it had been that simple, we could have just shoved it all back into the recesses of our darkest fashion memories, alongside the Members Only jackets and Jordache jeans.

No, preppy culture was a way of thinking and acting, about vigorously enforcing the seemingly incongruous attitudes of uniformity and exclusivity.

Some dressed prep to be "in," and join the ranks of so many others. Yet at the same time, those same herd-followers invariably developed a kind of unspoken snobbery against those who chose to dress in the less resplendent hues of the color spectrum.

The rest of us generally accepted the fact that we simply didn't dress very well. No one did, as anyone flipping through a high-school yearbook from that time is not so gently reminded.

The preps actually thought they looked good. And that's what made it so funny to all the rest of us — both then and now.