For anyone who spent her youth in Top-Siders, the colors pink and green can conjure up a pimply, not-so-distant age when collars were up, Ray-Bans were huge, and Jake Ryan was a hunk-god in his oxford-cloth shirt and pleated khakis. But suddenly, all the Izod shirts, espadrilles, and bluchers (from L.L. Bean, natch, with barrel-knotted laces) that were such a uniform less than twenty years ago have seismic cultural force – Wink! Michael Kors! Lord & Taylor’s full-color “Prep Rally” campaign! (Vogue’s March fashion how-to even plugged The Preppy Handbook.) Just in time for Bush II, and this Caddyshack presidency of his, the preppy look is back. But can anyone stomach actually wearing this stuff again?
For some fashion followers, the return of preppy brings a kind of regressive narcissism. “I was actually pretty cool in sixth grade!” says Abby Messitte, who grew up to be the co-director of an art gallery. “I just saw those whale belts for sale, and it made me feel really good.” She can’t wait to get her hands on headbands and Pappagallo purses and, it seems, everything pure and simple that came with them. “It was the age of innocence,” she says, sighing.
But monogramming isn’t always so comforting. “I just can’t bring myself to wear that stuff again,” declares Beth Gordon, whose suburban Jersey childhood was heavy on Fair Isle sweaters.
It was a time when all of John Hughes’s cool kids had BMWs and big nouveau-Tudor houses and the president weekended in Kennebunkport. “Until I was 18, I could only remember Reagan being president, and then, of course, we got Bush,” says Anna LeVine, a 31-year-old photographer. “Our entire adolescence was taken up with the most culturally conservative time. When I was living through it, I never thought of it as having any character.”
So maybe it’s infantilizing. But can it also be about redeeming your most mortifying metal-mouthed years? “I have more command over it now than before,” says novelist Brian Keith Jackson, who owns several pieces from Ralph Lauren’s eighties-recycled spring line, some in eggshell yellow. “Before, it was a uniform, and now I feel like it’s fun. I’m defining it. I mean, I’m gonna mix it with Phat Farm.”
Or maybe it’s just for infants. Gordon admits to buying “khakis for my kids with little web belts attached. And mini blucher moccasins. I can’t repeat it, but on them … it’s cute.”