The preppy look, first popularised in the 50s, is back, with staples such as varsity jackets and loafers in vogue again this autumn.
The trend can be seen on the catwalk – at shows from the likes of Celine and Coach – and on celebrities such as Zendaya, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber.
On our screens, the new Netflix high school movie Do Revenge has been compared to the preppy classic Clueless, thanks to its use of pastel checks and loafers. And the look has even been seen in the unlikely environs of the Ikea locker room: Chinese teenagers are using the blue lockers at the Shanghai store as a backdrop for selfies, thanks to the Meigaofeng – or “American high school” – preppy trend. On TikTok, meanwhile, the hashtag “preppyaesthetic” is now boasting 1.5bn views.
Preppy is having an effect on what consumers buy. Tartan is currently spiking on Depop, with searches increasing by 2,771% over the last month, while searches for loafers were up 86%. Matchesfashion.com also reports good sales for loafers, with designs by Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Valentino and the Row all popular.
The 2022 version of preppy is less perky than nostalgic references such as Clueless, the 00s Gossip Girl series or Carlton Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Instead, it has a relaxed feel. Tom Barker, style writer at streetwear site Highsnobiety, puts this down to the classic pieces being mixed with streetwear styling. He nominates Aimé Leon Dore as a key brand, and rapper Tyler, the Creator as the current style reference. “If you look at the clothes, they’re not that different to what you might find in Brooks Brothers,but it’s the context of it being a streetwear label that gives it a different edge.”
Depop says that, for women, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber are the references – with Bieber’s use of white socks with loafers an influential styling detail. “For the colder months, I would style loafers with a contrasting white cotton sock, and for the evening they look great paired with a sheer black sock,” says Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at Matchesfashion.com.
Preppy style dates back to the early 20th century when the Ivy Look – named in honour of America’s Ivy League universities – took hold. By the 50s, loafers, argyle sweaters and Oxford shirts were an established aesthetic in the US, one that signposted the educated elite, while Varsity jackets were worn by college athletes.
These were then adopted by different communities including African American middle classes and Britain’s Mods in the 60s, and parodied in the 80s by The Official Preppy Handbook. In 2022, the associations with the elite remain on TikTok, where preppy is associated with the Old Money aesthetic.
GH Bass is an original preppy brand. It invented the penny loafer – also known as the Weejun – in 1936. Sales of loafers have increased with the current preppy trend, says the brand’s European marketing manager Cyril Crentsil. He adds that the interest in the shoes is down to sneakers fatigue. “The sneaker has dominated the culture and commercial conversations for so long. There’s a real desire for other types of silhouettes.”
This tallies with wider reasons why preppy has made a comeback – it’s a smarter, more grown-up look, which contrasts with the hoodies and baggy shapes that are now familiar – and possibly played out – in streetwear. “Brands are trying to find their footing doing something different,” says Barker. “It’s a niche between streetwear and luxury, a more mature streetwear type of look.”
Wiggins agrees that this is partly why loafers are now popular. “We have seen our customers return to the office after the summer slightly smarter. The loafer is perfect footwear to pair with day dresses and tailoring.”
And, of course, they have longevity beyond the season – as their popularity demonstrates. “There’s so many different types of people [wearing the loafers],” says Crentsil. “I do wonder whether – if you got every type of customer in a room – they would have much in common. But that speaks to the beauty of it.”