In the old days — as in 1980, when “The Official Preppy Handbook,” co-authored by Lisa Birnbach, was published — preppies were still an old-guard northeast phenomenon. They were easy to spot in their popped Lacoste shirts, pink-and-green ribbon belts and well-worn Sperry Top-Siders (never accompanied by socks). The “OPH” was a revolution, offering an insider’s account to the shadowy rituals of WASP establishment.
But in the last 30 years, globalization has spared no corner of the earth, least of all preppy culture.
Birnbach returns to the topic in a new book, “True Prep,” and does a tongue-in-cheek review on how it has fared.
Even as some things never change — having an ambivalent attitude toward money (really, must we speak about it?), believing a stiff drink (preferably gin) can solve anything and wearing Brooks Brothers — many other things have. Today prep culture is more an attitude than ancestry, and it’s as diverse as ever, says Birnbach. It has even spread to — gasp! — the West Coast.
“What’s scary about the Bay Area is that people who are Natalie Put-Together during the week are suddenly wearing bike helmets on the weekend,” Birnbach says, and then lowers her voice with disapproval, “and Tevas.”
Sports sandals, you see, are not preppy.
Despite the ban, Birnbach insists the heart of preppiness is both a look that allows jaunty sportswear (think tennis whites) as well as a way of thinking.
“It’s very American and it is a can-do, positive attitude,” Birnbach says. “Preps also love a party.”