American Ivy: Chapter 6
What is style?
Chapter 6! The penultimate chapter!
I want to apologize (again) for the crooked book scans. But! This is about as good a time as any to share this list of some of the books I read for this series! Consider it a holiday gift guide?
(Although not ALL the books could be on here - for example Take Ivy and The Preppy Handbook are notably absent. But if you buy a book at this affiliated link, you support your local bookstore AND me so thank you.)
The huge thing that happens in the 1980s, is that our two storylines are starting to converge. Preppy fashion is now big in both the US and Japan.
As W. David Marx writes in his book Ametora, Preppy “remains important today as the landmark moment when Japanese culture began to experience global trends in real time.”
Preppy was IN. Everywhere.
And back in the States, no one was doing it like Ralph Lauren. He was the undisputed king of the modern preppy look. And he was showing people how to do it in the classic, carefree, thrown-on style
But even as Ralph was perfecting the preppy look, he was expanding beyond it. Into cowboys and the prairies and other kinds of Americana.
The cool thing about Ralph was- while he played with American archetypes, he mixed them all together in really fascinating ways. He’d blend the preppy with the cowboy. The Motorcycle jacket with the tweeds. He was expanding his palette in really surprising and interesting ways.
And while Ralph was mixing up classic styles. Ralph himself was being remixed.
Rappers like Raekwon took on Ralph’s clothes, and started wearing them in a totally new way.
Ralph would be a building block in streetwear. The “Lo-heads” changed the way that Ivy could look:
And so of course, when a look gets this hot, there will be more competition. And so a new rival came to meet Ralph.
Tommy Hilfiger did another version of preppy that was overtly catering to streetwear, with massive logos. By 1997, Tommy and Ralph had a neck and neck rivalry- but the chief difference between them was that, while Tommy was courting rappers and the streetwear crowd, Ralph was actively ignoring them. Even though Ralph did eventually hire Tyson Beckford, a black model, to represent his brand, nothing about the clothes themselves ever changed.
Of course, now Ralph very much acknowledges the role that Lo-heads and streetwear played in the history of the brand. Check out this spread from Ralph Lauren’s officially sanctioned history of the Polo shirt:
Although, truly, streetwear was the best, most fashionable version of what preppy became in the 90s. For most Americans, preppy in the 90s… sort of turned into this
That’s right. Business casual. This weird sartorial scourge that is sort of preppy? But also completely lacking any of the confidence or style that Ivy once had. In the 90s, business casual was spreading, and (many) Americans were increasingly frumpy-looking and forgetting how to dress.
So how on earth were Americans going to recover their sense of style? How would we get our fashion back?
We were going to turn to Japan.
That’s the next, and final chapter. Next week.
I could listen to 100 hours of this
ARG this series (and this particular season) is SO GOOD! It wasn't until maybe episode 4 or 5 that I finally connected preppy to the ubiquitous "business casual" dress code I've worked under for the last 20 years... Can't wait for the next episode except I don't want it to end!