The last couple of years have seen preppy style codes slowly inundate the streetwear market. From the likes of Palace, Supreme and Stüssy, who’ve each introduced colligate signatures into their seasonal rotation, to the late Virgil Abloh, who often built his collections at Louis Vuitton around the varsity jacket. Not to mention the likes Aimé Leon Dore, Noah and Tyler, The Creator’s Golf Wang, each carving out their own distinct takes on the preppy look.
A collective itching to swap out graphic tees in our wardrobe for cardies, polos and well-cut tailoring fits into a cultural shift amongst streetwear fans. Whether it's the earliest adoptees of streetwear getting older and yearning for smarter pieces, or a sign that after years of ubiquity, hoodies and tees have reached saturation point. Either way, people are looking for a change.
“The preppy look is one of those things that will never truly go out of style,” explains the founder of Street Night Live, a fit-obsessed newsletter. “For many, preppy style is something that works both on the street and at work – making investing in those garments more worth it and in turn, allowing them to look more refined.” It's also tied to status. “Ivy League means money, and while many of us don’t have that type of money, we can have a taste of what that feels like by dressing in a similar vibe,” adds Street Night Live.
While Ivy League dressing is inextricably linked with upper class, white American ideals – serving as a “visual tool to silently communicate that you belong to certain tax bracket,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, New York-based writer and editor – brands adopting the preppy look are subverting the aesthetic. But it's not just brands that are fresh to preppy style who are playing with what the aesthetic can look like.
If you want to go back to the source, look no further than J. Press. Founded in 1902 by Latvian-born Jacobi Press on Yale University's campus, J. Press is one of the originators of preppy style. After launching in Yale, J. Press soon opened stores on the Harvard and Princeton campuses and quickly became a go-to retailer across the colleges. Self-described as the “tailor of choice” for Ivy League men, looking sharp and of a certain stature has long rung true to the brand’s ethos.
A shift can be seen in J. Press, too, who are re-contextualising the elitist look “by stepping outside what we might traditionally expect” from the brand, explains Street Night Live. By diversifying their campaigns and collaborating with brands outside of their field, “they’re bridging the gap between a style that was once exclusive to a wider community of consumers.” That change includes our collection with the brand, which includes twists on J. Press classics: sweaters, cardigans and hats.
J. Press has recently begun the celebrations for its 120 years in business, beginning with the reopening of its store on Elm Street, where the brand began. Stepping inside, you’re inundated with five-pocket corduroys, Oxford button-downs, team jackets and rich Madras checks. There are also the brand’s signature crew neck Shetland sweaters in a slew of gentle hues – christened the Shaggy Dog sweater thanks to its distinct brushed wool. “Since 1946, it’s kind of been our Birkin bag,” explains Robert Squillaro, the brand's Senior Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer.
The above are all key selling points part of the brand’s Pennant Label, targeted at younger-minded audiences looking to integrate smarter pieces into their wardrobe.
“Younger shoppers want to do their research and invest carefully in pieces that are well-crafted and going to last a long time,” says Kirkpatrick. “J. Press is probably a brand they’d see come up a lot when reading about prep and has a strong reputation. Younger shoppers also love to thrift and those types of traditional legacy brands are easily found on eBay and in vintage stores.”
The brand has long sourced its fabrics from all over the world – be it Donegal wools or Harris Tweeds. “We believe it’s investment dressing,” says Squillaro, “we have kids that in their 20s coming to our store events wearing J. Press coats that were handed down from their grandfather – it's never outdated looking.”
Hence the brand’s global appeal, particularly in Japan, where J. Press became the first American brand to be licensed in the country in 1974. Here, J. Press has been part of a wider collision of western and eastern style codes, seen most recently with Nigo’s Kenzo, who has reinterpreted the Ivy League look through a Japanese lens.
At the core of J. Press’ appeal is the brand’s commitment to the style they shaped in the first place. “The overall look is something that you really have to love to appreciate,” says Squillaro. “There’s a timelessness to it.”