Back to School Collegiate Cool

Reportage on the preppy look

back to school collegiate cool Emma Wong Fashion LondonTab Fashion preppy style

As we head back to class and insert ourselves into the university routine, it would only be fitting to discuss the stereotypical ‘look’ conventionally associated with university students: preppy. Talk on collegiate style may be a tired subject and who at UCL really endorses the head-to-toe preppy look anyway, but why not chew over the concept of preppy style from a fashion-analytical point of view?

Preppy fashion is ubiquitous and it is a well-trodden path; perhaps the discontinuation of both ‘fabulously British’ Jack Wills’ sister brand, Aubin and Wills, and Ralph Lauren’s younger collegiate line, Rugby, this year heralds the much anticipated decline of youthful uniform-style attire. The Abercrombie and Fitch craze was a ship that sailed a long time ago and its clichéd ‘look’ and sexually-charged imagery can hardly be called fashion. (Although, while many young Brits rebuke the brand, either considering themselves too hipster for something sooo mainstream, or in an attempt to prove that their history with the brand was merely a 14 year old fling of a long-ago past, the murmur of European tongues is audible in the vicinity of the London store where tourists still form queues, whilst Hong Kong’s recently opened store in iconic Pedder Building has been a magnet for Chinese consumers.)

But while the overtly preppy style of dressing offered on the higher end of the high street may have lost its appeal, the back-to-school look is making a comeback, providing inspiration for fashion designers of the Fashion Week variety.

Preppy fashion has always been central to the American fashion aesthetic, whether in reference to Ivy League dress codes or results on the New York catwalks. What exactly defines American fashion anyway? London is evidently the focus of avant-garde creativity and humorous quirk, Paris known for conservative classic elegance and couture collections, while Milan presents tailoring with a glamorous edge and of course, lots of sex appeal. What New York offers is understated luxury; wearable pieces of effortless sophistication which reflect the practical business minds of America’s best home-grown designers. Marc Jacobs, whimsical with a touch of schoolgirl charm, and flirty and feminine Jason Wu, demonstrate that the all-American preppy-sporty chic can go beyond Ralph Lauren and J Crew to infiltrate high fashion, albeit in a more subtle manner.

From Left-Right: Pringle of Scotland (A/W 2012), The Row, Prada (both Resort 2013), Victoria Beckham, Michael Kors (both S/S 2013)

We can draw the collegiate influences in American fashion from the Ivy League lifestyle trend; the epitome of the ideal, all-American, wealthy and well-educated WASP culture. However, East Coast Ivy League prep, pioneered by Brooks Brothers, was first picked up from the impeccable British tailoring of Savile Row and dapper Oxbridge apparel. Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger revolutionised preppy fashion to glorify collegiate life and relax the look, providing a uniform that encompassed penny loafers, button-down Oxford shirts, crew-neck sweaters, khakis, tweed blazers, duffle coats and striped ties. For modern day British prep or ‘rah’ think Jack Wills, Barbour jackets, Hunter wellies, brogues with argyle socks, Pringle of Scotland cashmere and the now relinquished Luella. Nowadays, brands such as Band of Outsiders and Lindex offer a new, refreshing modern prep: classics with a contemporary twist without stuffy pretentiousness.

David Cameron (back row) at Oxford University in the 80s

So since designers seem to be returning to the back-to-school look, employing uniform-inspired hues such as moss green, mustard yellow, navy and cherry reds to enhance their collections, gear up for a new term at university and a new calendar year by subtly adapting preppy signature staples into your everyday look.

Back-to-school style lusts: Stubbs and Wootton velvet embroidered loafers £246, and Mulberry Alexa with woven trim in berry £995

More realistic uniform-inspired accessories with an updated, quirky touch: Zara moustache slipper shoes £16.99 (sale), and Cambridge Satchel Company classic bag in metallic £75 (sale)

For the boys:
A casual alternative to the polished Oxford – classic and comfy Sperry Top-Sider suede trimmed deck shoes (in collaboration with Band of Outsiders) £91 (sale), and
The Italian brand specialising in belts manufacture their products in Parma but the founder chose an English name because of his appreciation of British style – Anderson’s preppy woven striped belt £80

And while we’re at it why not feast our eyes on some typical university-style ad campaigns:

American – Polo Ralph Lauren

American – the younger Rugby Ralph Lauren

American – Esprit

American – Tommy Hilfiger

British – Jack Wills

British – Barbour