As boat shoes, white bucks, nautical outfits and madras infiltrate the world of fashion, the misunderstandings about what WASPs really wear have become widespread. Even the term “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) is more fantasy than reality – more and more truly preppy people are not Protestant or even white. So from here on in, we are referring to them as preps.
Particularly irksome are the shopping guides urging people – men in particular – to buy expensive designer clothes in order to look like a WASP. The Harvard student in this New York Magazine Look Book feature, wearing head-to-toe Paul Smith, calls himself a WASP but has a lot more in common with a British dandy. Of the white bucks shopping guide by David Colman piece in today’s Times, the only pair an actual prep would buy would be the ones that cost $130, by Johnston & Murphy. (Preps have already been buying bucks at Johnston & Murphy for years, so why start paying $400 now for something from faux-preppy Steven Alan?) Most importantly, white bucks are only for special occasions like weddings or cocktail parties. Not for running errands on a Saturday afternoon.
“WASP fashion” is not fashion at all in the traditional sense. It’s based on practicality, comfort and timelessness, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are few designer labels and even fewer trends. For fashion editors and designers to suggest otherwise is specious at best.
To set the record straight, I’ve taken photographs from an undisclosed, very preppy location on the Fourth of July and made them available to you, dear readers. Consider it an update to the Preppy Handbook – the only true guide to preppy fashion.
Nantucket reds are a summer staple. The older they look, the better. Other than eveningwear or cool sporting gear, garishly new clothing is frowned upon. Flip flips are generally the shoe of choice for lazy summer afternoons.
Clothing embroidered with animals or sea creatures is always popular, like these bathing trunks embroidered with crabs. The shirt is embroidered with a club logo; the white baseball cap is also a casual standard. Why is he wearing a bathing suit on the street? Because you never know when you’ll have to jump in the pool.
Visors are a favorite for women – they keep the sun out of your eyes without messing up your hair, and they’re excellent for tennis. An LL Bean-style canvas bag and flip flops embroidered with burgees accessorize a plain cotton red dress.
Note how this woman incorporates elements of current fashion – high waisted short shorts and a gathered top – without straying from the preppy tenets: Lilly Pulitzer, long blond hair, beat-up flip flops.
Acid green and bright yellow – a classic Palm Beach-esque preppy combo for women. Southern preps in particular love bright colors, whereas their northern counterparts tend to stick to navy. Jack Rodgers sandals.
Plaid Bermuda shorts and braided leather belt. One of the biggest developments in preppy fashion since the Preppy Handbook came out is the incorporation of athletic shoes like Merrells, Tivas, Reefs, etc. into everyday casual dress. Practical shoes are essential: You never know when you’ll have to participate in some kind of athletic activity or be invited on someone’s boat.
Khaki shorts and unisex dressing. Often the only difference between men’s and women’s casual wear is a slight variation in the cut. Khaki is to preps what denim is to hipsters: an everyday staple. Note that she is not at all embarrassed to be wearing a kooky styrofoam hat. Kooky hats are one preppy way of being “wild,” especially encouraged on holidays.
Adult preps don’t stop riding bikes when they become adults, nor do they put on Lycra racing clothes to ride a bike. Bikes are simply an essential and inexpensive means of transportation. A floppy straw sun hats looks fetchingly feminine and vaguely French.
The main thing about this outfit is: There’s nothing wrong with this outfit, so why buy a new one? This has been the preppy ethos since the dawn of the time. A blue button-down and khakis is appropriate for almost every occasion. The fashion world is now co-opting the straw boater hat, but this guy was wearing it first. Note that the object attached to his belt is a rigging knife, not a cell phone.
White capris have become an essential part of the preppy female uniform. They telegraph summer and days of luxurious ease, all while being machine washable.
As you have probably noticed by now, any excuse to wear themed clothing is embraced, and red, white and blue on the Fourth of July is no exception. In fact, it is considered bad form not to wear red, white and blue on the 4th. She mixes cute gingham capris with a white blouse and blue shoes and visor. One exception to the no-obvious-designer-labels rule: Polo shirts, as seen on him in red, white and blue stripes. Of course, preps were wearing Polo before the rise of the designer label.
This is what “nautical fashion” really is. Practical shorts, brown leather docksiders, and a wide-brimmed, crushable cotton hat that wards off the sun. I believe his shirt said USMC. Most male preps would sooner die than wear multi-colored boat shoes.
The brand of sunglasses doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re polarized. Sunglasses are mainly viewed as sports equipment, not a fashion statement.
In a 4th of July parade, most of the children are dressed in red, white and blue.
Donning crazy colored wigs and sunglasses is another way that preps get “wild.”
A little girl in a dress embroidered with whales and, yes, Crocs. They’re immensely practical.
Another simple striped cotton dress and lots of 4th of July decorations on her Razor scooter.
Like their English brethren, preps are a little obsessed with dogs.
But at least you – and the dogs – can look good doing it.
Here are the real trendsetters behind straw boater hats.
The ironic fake lei is standard summer party wear. Note that he is wearing loafers with no socks, which is what you would wear if athletic shoes were too casual.
Dressing your kids in matching outfits is a long held tradition. Often preps pay more attention to children’s fashion than their own.
This group rode in the parade in a beautiful antique car draped in beautiful flags and flashed their not-so-beautiful fake hillbilly teeth while toasting to the crowd. Fake hillbilly teeth are a huge costume favorite among preps, whatever the occasion.
Most preps would rather have this vintage red convertible than any new Mercedes or BMW.
The fashionable plaid shirt in preppy form: Loose-fitting, with baggy, practical cargo shorts and beat-up flip flops.
Another boater hat, paired with Bermuda shorts.
Another ridiculous misconception is the designer version of tennis whites – the kind that includes a white cable-knit sweater and dry-clean-only shorts. Here’s what tennis whites really look like – truly effortless. And accessorized with Mardi Gras beads, just for fun.