The term preppy is short for the word preparatory—the pricey prep schools that only wealthy families could afford to send their children to before college.
No matter the decade, there has always been a preppy look.
Working hand in hand with popped collars everywhere, the 80s preppy look said I’m smart, I’ve got money, and I’m determined to be successful, whether it was true or not.
80s Preppy Look - Men
Alex Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s character on the show Family Ties, is the perfect example of a 80s preppy look. He was smart, college-bound, and on the up-and-up. The preppy look for men in the 80s was all about dressing like you were off to an Ivy League school.
They hung out with other preps, and never with the wrong crowd. Prep and punk rarely mingled, and people in punk and metal cliques wouldn’t be caught dead in prep clothes, and vice-versa—no neon colors or ripped, acid-washed jeans here.
Blazers worn over a shirt and tie with pleated khaki pants were typical, and loafers or bright white sneakers were the footwear of choice. For a more casual look, it had to be a polo shirt with a popped collar and either khaki pants or shorts with loafers, tennis shoes or sandals.
A sweater tied around the shoulders would complete the look. Turtlenecks and rugby shirts were also very popular in the 80s for the preppy crowd. Another favorite was an argyle sweater or vest over a button-down dress shirt.
The preppy look for women consisted of some of the same items as the men. Argyle sweaters, vests, and socks were in. Button-down shirts, as well as popped-collar polo shirts were popular; including the sweater around the shoulders.
Bermuda shorts and pleated skirts were fashionable choices for bottoms, and often worn with knee-high socks. Pleated khaki dress pants, of course, were just as popular with the women as they were with the men.
Jewelry and makeup was minimal compared to the wild Madonna look. Pearls were necessary for any decent preppy outfit, especially when paired with a black dress.
As for the shoes, women also wore loafers, as well as white tennis shoes and Keds sneakers. The classic pump was still a popular choice for dressier outfits, but in muted colors. Great minds think alike, so the preppy women hung out with other preppy women, not the Madonna girls.
No preppy wardrobe would be complete without garments from the best preppy stores. Gap was one of the biggest ones, as well as LL Bean-and they both still cater mostly to the preppy crowd. Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Laura Ashley-the label responsible for those floral dresses-and Brooks Brothers were standard in preppy closets everywhere.
Looking expensive and important, 80s preppy styles were favorites of people who wanted to wear something nice. They were the types that played chess, tennis, and golf, maybe even went sailing-while avoiding the unsavory that played loud rock and roll and went roller-skating.
Overachievers knew that dressing the part could help get them into the best schools, get them respected...and that there was nothing wrong with wanting to look nice.
Preppy was very popular in the 80s, they also had a book called The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach, how cool is that!