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True Prep

In 1981—if you’re old enough to remember—it seemed like everywhere you looked, you noticed more and more of a certain breed of style: people dressed in Brooks Brothers and penny loafers for work, khaki shorts and polo shirts when at play. Nantucket Reds and L.L. Bean duck boots seemed to be cropping up in odd places. This was the year that Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook hit the New York Times bestseller list, and became our tongue-in-cheek guide to a culture, and especially a fashion sensibility, that we all came to recognize, even as it evolved before our eyes.

Now, Birnbach’s back on the list with True Prep, an updated guide for the preppies and prep-spotters of a new century that helps us all to stay “prep’d” in a changing world. This time she’s assisted by legendary book designer Chip Kidd, a preppy in his own right, whose whip-smart illustrations and whimsically gorgeous layout make this book such a joy to page around in. There are lists like “Unnaceptable Euphemisms for ‘Dead’” and style graphics, like one breaking down the proper attire for “Casual Friday,” that are reminiscent of the original book’s beloved illustrations. A helpful timeline catches us up on important developments in the world of Prep since then: Martha Stewart’s rise, the deaths of Brooke Astor and J.D. Salinger, and the expanding reach of Facebook. And while the preps of yesteryear were typically cut from the WASP cloth, today’s prep pool is a more diverse bunch: Birnbach cites Yo-Yo Ma, Tiger Woods, and of course Barack Obama as embodiments of the prep lineage.

Vera’s fans in particular will enjoy the references to a certain designer label which has long been beloved by preppies: a two-page spread illustration of “The True Pantheon” on page 20 features a row of marble busts of great preppy style icons, including the great “V.W.” And there’s a beautiful and inspired section of photographs of fictional preppy wedding-party characters and their stories. For “Second Weddings”—because the world of the preppy must evolve with style!—Birnbach paints a mirthful portrait of the happily fashionable bride: “Is there a baby under her fabulous ecru Vera Wang suit? No one will say for sure…” 

True prep style, of course, goes beyond merely looking good: it’s about looking RIGHT. “This is our idea of having it all: the perfect clothes for every occasion, from the car wash to Pammy’s debutante ball,” explains Birnbach. Check True Prep out, and get inspired. Maybe you’ll find yourself resting easier with the knowledge that “true prep” is a state of mind, as much as a style of dress. And that your significant other’s frayed trouser cuffs are, in social settings, absolutely acceptable.

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