Prep style is creeping back into our style consciousness once again, with the look being reinvented by new subcultures, Tik-Tokkers, brands, and collectives. While many aspects of the look are familiar (the loafers, the button-down Oxford shirts, the varsity jackets, and cardigans), the story and the figures that played a part in its history are lesser-known.
As part of Tommy Hilfiger's SS22 Collection release and to celebrate the dawn of 'New Prep', we called upon the hive mind of two experts in the field to talk us through the moments that have made prep what it is is today.
First up, we have Sam Trotman, who you may know as the brains behind the Instagram cultural archive account Samutaro. London-based Trotman cut his teeth as a trend forecaster before launching the platform Samutaro. Its rise to prominence has led to the account landing exclusive coverage spots at some of the world's hottest shows, including Marni, Off-White™, and Nigo's first Kenzo show as well as working with Donda Creative on exclusive content. What he doesn't know about style and culture isn't worth knowing.
Joining Trotman on this journey of prep discovery is Jason Jules. You may recognize East-Londoner Jules. He has been a staple on the menswear circuit for some time and can be spotted on many a street-style account pulling off fits in the sophisticated way only he can. The multi-talented creative who has worked as a consultant for brands, modeled, been a stylist, and had his finger on the pulse of many scenes over the years has just released his first book Black Ivy: A Revolt in Style. Black Ivy explores how black people in America subverted a dress code seen by many as the style of the elite and made it their own. The work delves into the major role that this style played in challenging the status quo and fighting for racial equality and civil rights.
"The origin of prep is definitely an elite environment of prep school, and Ivy League schools." Jules points to Ivy League Schools as the birth point of prep but notes that its elite nature meant that the look would never be where it is today without the walls being broken down by someone. The hammer to those elite walls was the jazz scene and the beat poets who adopted the look to show that they were on the same pegging as those in high society. "This pretty much started in the late '50s with jazz musicians and beat poets. And they adopted this style because they saw it as a way of stating to the rest of the world that they were equal to the highest echelon of American society. One thing that the Black movement did was give Ivy style a new political context."
What took the look beyond the US, though, was the book Take Ivy by Kensuke Ishizu. Trotman says, "That was a really interesting time in the '60s when the Japanese started traveling over to America and they were visiting the Ivy-League universities and documenting what these guys and girls were wearing." To which Jules adds, "It essentially was a document of people going to the States and capturing real-life Ivy students that simply became a guide on how to dress in this Ivy look." The look was picked up by the Japanese youth who were also devotees of magazines like Men's Club and Heibon Punch, both of which documented the look on a weekly basis. This gave rise to a group named the Miyuki Tribe who congregated on Miyuki Street, Tokyo in their new prep looks waiting to get a hold of the latest offerings from a Japanese prep brand called VAN. The brand's founder? None other than Take Ivy author Kensuke Ishizu, the Godfather of Japanese Prep. Ishizu was the first person to start a brand that challenged the status quo of the traditional prep look and had fun with it — a strong precursor for what Tommy Hilfiger would go on to do in the states in the '80s and '90s.
In the late '80s early '90s, the look was being picked up in NYC and it went beyond the Wall Street bankers. Jules says, "Oftentimes when people think about prep and Ivy League, they instantly imagine Ivy League schools, the elite, Wall Street. Actually, the reason that it survived, the reason that it's important is not because of that period of time or that culture, but because of the people who have been influenced by it. People like the Pharcyde and the hip-hop backpackers, people looking back at those guys and using them as references." You've all seen the images of the Lo-Lifes in their Polo gear who then influenced Wu-Tang and mainstream hip-hop looks. This is when Tommy Hilfiger also came into prominence; a designer who looked at the reinvention and subversion of prep rather than its elite origins for inspiration.
Trotman explains that it was this sense of fun in prep that caught the attention of some of today's streetwear and cultural household names like Nigo and Ye. "Tommy Hilfiger, obviously what he was doing in the '90s was like this really kind of new and optimistic approach to prep style. Sort of playful and ironic. But that was such a big shift, I think, in culture, in terms of making prep more diverse. You have more oversized fits, a lot of sportswear, and streetwear sort of mixed in with more classic items. Then, in the 2000s, you had people like Nigo with what he was doing with A Bathing Ape and Kanye with the classic pink polo shirt."
Now the look has taken a new turn which Jules wraps up nicely, "What's amazing about now is the fact that the preppy look is probably more important and potentially more interesting than it has been in decades. A lot of people from so many diverse spheres are actually buying into this look and kind of making it their own. And in a sense, nobody can tell you that you're doing it wrong." And that's the point, it's a look for everyone, that anyone can adopt and adapt. There are no rules, so run with it.
You can shop the new Tommy Hilfiger SS22 collection here.