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Old School Prep

Images + Post By: | October 28, 201059 Comments

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In classic preppy style, Chip (Kidd) and Lisa (Birnbach)’s book True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World is fashionably late to the party that has been bringing classy back.  This past month they have been on victory romp around the country’s Brooks Brothers stores to cross promote those polished, pomp, clean lines that have been surging for a while now and have only been underscored by the Great Recession’s pressure on us to button up. Much, much more after the jump…

True Prep is just as obnoxious as you would think any “how-to,” ethnographic hybrid book would be and yet it has given us pause here at Blogue—not only because of the book’s opening sequence.  The preface, “Wake up, Muffy, we’re back,” begins with a painful reminder that the boom and bust 80’s are looking real familiar these days.   And of course, this book is simply infuriating because no matter how tongue and cheek you want to be, there really isn’t anywhere to go with ‘your first hire: the cleaning lady’ tips: “You love that she is reliable, and you convince yourself that you could never wield a Swiffer the way Theresa does.  You’re also helping the economy…of Ecuador.  Get over your embarrassment, because within ten years you may be adding to your staff.”

But the real problem with True Prep is its lack of perspective– lets reach farther back than the insipid, 80’s Western Massachusetts for our style inspiration.  We are all forgetting the mother country where all of this sassy, classy, colonialist roots look originates– the QE II’s Commonwealth realm: Britain.

If it’s a college sweater, camel hair sport coat, tweed slacks, jodhpurs or any equestrian inspired apparel, nicely tailored… well anything… or the master of ceremonies Oxford shoe- it can all be traced back to wee Britain.

But of course, the charm of being American is not caring about the past.  Yet for the sake of keeping our fashion minds fit, lets do a bit of style excavation.

Now, the Oxford, that’s of Oxford University fame, is particularly ubiquitous these days from Upper East-side after-work drinks to Willy B flea market Sundays.  That’s the leather shoe with enclosed lacing with the two pierced flaps of leather for the laces stitched together at the bottom- for those with bastardized tastes.

Interestingly, this footwear made its first appearance in 17th century in  Scotland and Ireland but made its bed with the scholarly robed set at Oxford and Cambridge.  Often associated with foppery- or the original, metrosexual look – the Oxford didn’t make an appearance in the states until the early 19th.

Fitting snuggly around the feet of the truly silver spoon-fed, original prep school set of Eton, the Oxford shoes ended up having *popular* success States-side in the late 1930s.   Due in part to the flat shoes requirement of the popular jitter bug, Sears catalogues were selling them by the bushel for only $2.85 a pair.

And as casual clothing became more diversified it demanded two-tone shoes to go with- hence the variations on the Oxford all the way through to the saddle shoe Oxford.

Ralph Lauren and (concurrently, on the less styled end) J.Crew helped make the preppy look a bit more fashion forward, in the process entrenching the American prep archetype.  They helped bring across the pond that Princess Diana, Chelsea of London, “Sloane Rangers” in pearls, pony-tails and collars folded over crewneck sweaters finishing school chic. And now we have the tailored, pastel Oxford shirt and skinny leg khaki wearing ironic meeting the “I’m serious in this” pink polo shirt and Barbour quilted jacket set.

In the end the hollowed trinity of tweed, sensible shoes and cheapness of American prep really started with the colonies.  So when your polishing those Oxfords– drink a gin-and-tonic and think of the Queen, dear.

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