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American Ivy: Chapter 7
Wow, seven weeks flew by. Here it is, the ending.
So. How does it end? Well son, the story of preppy never really dies, it lives on in all of our hearts. Thank you, to those of you who came along for this incremental ride. Although truly, I’ve always wanted to write the show in a way that could be binged, and I’m so happy it’s finally all out. As ever, please tell a friend about it, if you’re so inclined! I’m just a woman alone in a closet and will take all the help I can get.
In the 80s and 90s, Japan is just on fire fashion-wise. Because so many people had had to learn how to dress themselves, Japan developed a real culture of studying fashion. There were lots of resources to learn about clothing, in magazines like Boon, which taught you how to thrift.
Ah, but if you actually wanted to do some thrifting? You needed to come to the United States. Where Americans were ignoring all of our old vintage. We didn’t have magazines like Boon. We didn’t know about the different eras of Levi’s, or high quality workwear. That was our whole thing- we were supposed to look cool because we didn’t care. So Japan swooped in. As W. David Marx puts it “Americans flocked to shiny new shopping malls, [while] Japanese buyers haunted the American heartland’s most antiquated and least profitable retailers.” And they made out like bandits.
As David Marx writes in Ametora, “the consumer rush for vintage clothing caused the largest ever transfer of garments from the United States to Japan- far beyond the postwar charity drives and military shipments or even contemporary brands’ regular orders of new clothing.” Isn’t that bonkers? Clearly there was such a high demand for vintage American garments in Japan, that the actual finite vintage supply couldn’t satiate it. It was a very natural leap for Japanese companies to just start manufacturing new garments that were vintage-style.
Japanese companies like Evisu and Kapital and, yes, Uniqlo, started to make the sorts of basics that American companies had stopped making. And Americans took notice. We started to turn to Japan for style guidance.
American fashion blogs start to become obsessed with Japanese style and Japanese companies. They discover scans of magazines like Boon, and then they start to uncover the treasure trove of old magazines like Men’s Club… and in 2008, the fashion blog A Continuous Lean published scans of the niche 1956 book Take Ivy. And it blew up. To the point where Powerhouse Books re-issued Take Ivy in English in 2010.
And it was around this time, 2010, that Lisa Birnbach published her followup to The Official Preppy Handbook. Co-written with Chip Kidd, it’s called True Prep.
And this is around the time I was in high school, moving into my freshman year of college. The aughts are my time. And all around me, I was watching people dress like this:
So the aughts was generally a bit of a preppy time. And to make matters more extreme. I myself went to prep school.
My prep school had a pretty strict dress code. No jeans, no short skirts, no exposed shoulders, no sweatpants, no shirts with writing on them… within these confines, preppy was really the path of least resistance. But in my public middle school I had fancied myself somewhat alternative. I had gotten used to wearing band t-shirts and ripped jeans. I wasn’t going to simply give it all up and become a preppy. So I resolved to take the path of most resistance.
I can’t believe I’m sharing this, but I feel like I need to give you and idea of how I dressed in high school.
I won the “best dressed girl” superlative, but I think that’s just because I was like… the most dressed? I mean look at me compared to Trevor, the best dressed boy. I am practically kicking and screaming, wearing whatever I can to not do the prep thing. (A flapper dress and a beret was pretty tame for me, only because I knew I was getting my picture taken that day.) My outfits were pretty experimental, to put it kindly. Although in hindsight I think they might have been pretty alienating.
It was only after doing all this research into prep that I like. Get it. I finally understand this whole style that I’ve spent my life avoiding. And I like it. I really really like it. I hope you do too. Because I don’t think it’s ever going away.
Look around at Thom Browne, Aimé Leon Dore, Michael Bastian’s Brooks Brothers, Brendon Babenzien’s J.Crew, or elements of Bode. They’ve all got some preppy in them. Or at least… they all have some version of Van Jacket’s version of streetwear’s version of Ralph Lauren’s version of Brook’s Brothers version of Ivy. It’s a style that is always here, and …it’s also having a moment. Look at the most recent cover of Kaleidoscope.
I think it all has to do with nostalgia. Which is what fashion is always about, isn’t it? I have more thoughts on this, which I get into in the episode. But there’s something about preppy that’s particularly sunny, sweet, legible, and naive. And I truly do mean that in the best way possible. Ivy rocks.
Thanks again for coming along on this ride with me. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever made! I’m not sure if I’ll ever attempt a serialized format again? Mostly because I don’t know if I’ll ever find another story that’s quite worth it in the same way. But it was a really fun experiment, and I appreciate your open mindedness. So thank you.
What now? I’m going to catch my breath and enjoy the holiday, and I hope you will too.
I’ll have some news next year that I’m excited to share.