Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What is Really Worn: More Preparatory School Myths

As Massachusetts is a hotbed of excellent schools, I thought I would continue my series of reality-based blogging.  I excluded the co-ed schools, because the fetishistic mythology in the blogosphere seems to wax delusional about boys-only academies in particular.  Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren imagery is happily absorbed and regurgitated as factual in the same way the Barbour catalog scenery is assumed to be real and on-going if one just knew the right person and could just get the right invitation to join.  Again, it's mostly nonsense.  Private schools very often make horrible decisions like everyone else.

Criteria for my research:

1. Had to be a private boys-only school

2. Had to have a daily jacket and tie requirement

3. Had to be in Massachusetts

...just in case anybody thought that this kind of stuff is real.

What is overwhelmingly the most popular style of shoe for young lads at the best Massachusetts boys-only schools?

I'm not joking. Boat shoes are a distant second, but suede bucks, loafers, or more English style lace-up shoes are rare.  I'm not saying that this is bad either, I'm pointing it out to dispel some of the  misunderstandings.  I was recently told via email that I was wrong because the information I was conveying was not corroborated by 1980's "preppy" movies and did not have specific mention in The Official Preppy Handbook, an eye-rolling chuckle that is now decades old but still referenced piously as manifesto  by young perverts.  I own a copy of several birding handbooks, but I don't dress like the birds in the descriptions... same for my mushroom handbook.


  1. Damn well said Sir...required reading for Mr. R. over at 101...

  2. YWP, this is a brilliant, spot-on analysis. Thanks.

  3. The real preppies dress themselves. The models dressed as preppies are styled by fashion editors, merchandisers and photographers. Reality vs. marketing.

  4. I went to an all-male prep school in the Mid-atlantic (recently), and I can assure you that I saw few, if any, of the shoes you show. Boat shoes and bucks were predominant. Moreover, if students ever had noticeable stains on any of their clothing, they would hear about it, publicly, to their chagrin.

  5. and for clarification, our dress code was blue blazer, tie (school crest optional), slacks, non-white socks at least above the ankle.

  6. I went to an all-girls school, Hubby went to an all-boys. I can't imagine any of the young men getting away with not wearing socks. And, the jackets didn't feature giant crests (Thanks for trying, Brooks Brothers). I'm not surprised that Merrells are the popular shoes - if kids can get somewhat close to a hiking boat or athletic shoe while in uniform, they'll do it. It's easier when playing pick-up game of lacrosse on the lawn. :)

  7. This year for Halloween I'm going as the Honda Civic from my owner's manual.

  8. Was it all manufactured, or was it a dramatization of real events, I wonder? I've heard that corduroy jeans were popular in some schools with denim bans at one time, because the dress code then did not account for them. I know when I was a boy I always enjoyed the thought of squeezing through loopholes... Not wearing socks because a dress code failed to mention them would have been very tempting.

  9. Guiseppe... that was funny.

    I think somewhere, deep down in all of us here, we are posers in our clothing. otherwise we wouldn't talk or write about it so much. I myself am Okay with that.

  10. *MLS and Anon: Thank you both.

    *JoeMiddle: Well said. I would like to expand your thesis to all people who are capable of dressing themselves.

    *DB: I'm guessing that you are not a young guy at a Massachusetts boy's school? The Merrells' popularity began as an easy-to-put-on shoe for young boys who arrived to school in snow boots, and became to leave-at-school favorites. The older boys (12-18) wear bucks, loafers, and boat shoes.

    *JMW: I'm guessing that the assumption that all schools clad their students in crests is purely Hollywood.

    *Giuseppe: Ha!

    *JCC: I knew a guy in highschool who dyed/cut his hair in all kinds of ways that were against the school requirements where he went. As a compromise, he was allowed to wear a conservative brown/black Reganesque wig.

    *Brohammas: In many ways that is absolutely true. What I always dislike though is when the pseudo-intangible becomes zealously and fanatically salivated over.

  11. Being a westerner, graduate of public schools (K thru college), I was unfamiliar with "prep schools". While we were visiting a college in western Massachusetts and we drove up to Deerfield. The school is not boys only, so it's not in your survey, but it was fascinating anyway. Their dress code apparently required jacket and tie. But not, evidently, long pants or shoes, because the kids were wearing boxer shorts and flip flops with their jackets and ties.

  12. But isn't this inevitable? The fact that there's even a market for "prep" to begin with -- it all comes from "outside."

    As another (and extremely different) example, take bikers -- I don't mean with pedals. The culture has long lost legitimate roots stemming from the end of WWII. A largely apocryphal "expose" by Life of the Hollister rally, with a posed photo, combined with some timely hollywood magic and suddenly we're overrun. By the time HST wrote "Hell's Angels" the give-and-take between straight culture and the (original) 1% was creating a derivative reality. Come the late 1990's and you've got yuppies-come-rubbies (rich urban bikers) fetishizing a lifestyle they would never enter -- can't or won't, doesn't matter. Meanwhile, the real and remaining 1% deride them for their lack of accuracy and integrity, while championing their own -- even though the larger culture had as much to do with their "style" as they did.

    Or is that a stretch?

    What TH is doing and what we do are completely intertwined. The only thing that sets them separate is the price of admission and the existence of a sheet of paper in the headmaster's desk drawer (or now, more likely, a file on the school's website).

  13. Also, G, that was hilarious.

  14. In a recently published photo of George H. W. Bush (meeting with Mitt Romney), Bush is wearing Merrell-type slip-ons. Now, frankly, any shoe that an 87 year old man wants to wear is fine. This, however, should give a little legitimacy to Merrells being accepted into the prep canon.

  15. My parents packed me off to a boarding school for boys on the Island of Barbados in the mid-1960s. During the school days our dress was programmed from morning to bed: running clothes in the morning; starched khaki shorts, white short sleeve shirts and brown shoes during classes in he morning; cricket or football clothes in the afternoon; grey trousers, white long sleeve shirts and black shoes for dinner (Blazer were not required normally at school for dinner; it was the tropics after all.); and draw string pyjamas for bed. We were clean too, since we were required to bathe both in the morning after the morning run as well as for dinner in the evening. On the weekends we were free to dress as we wished, except when we went into Bridgetown on Saturdays or when some of us were selected randomly by the Headmaster to attend the Saint Phillip Parish Anglican Church on Sundays, when we were required on both occasions to wear the full get-up: black shoes, grey trousers, black blazer, white long sleeve shirt and school tie. Since the 1970s this form of dress has influenced the likes of Ralph Lauren as well as myself, but I can say at the time I hated it.

  16. My own private schools pretty much stuck to Keds or tennis shoes- it was actually how my peers often would compete. The wealthier you were, the more expensive tennis shoes you wore. The Merrill you show above pretty much is dead on.

    My own students wear a jacket and tie, but also wear an identical type of sneaker, color coded by year (yellow, blue, red), and compete with each other by wearing different belts.

    YWP, your truth is noted here. Also, TOPH is, of course, satire. Which too many people forget.

  17. The school our son attends requires jacket, khaki pants, white long sleeved shirt, tie and shoes of polish-able leather. Socks are a seasonal option. Many wear loafers or Sperry topsiders but I have seen a few wing-tips. The school in the southern United States in it's demeanor and long history. That might have something to do with it.

  18. *Anon 8:15: Boxers and flip-flops at Deerfield? Around campus?

    **JKG: The biker analogy is actually pretty good. At modern "Bike Rallies", fistfights and smoking are minimal because of the prevalence of orthodontists and CPA's disguised as bikers. It almost requires an additional post, but my issue is not with the exclusivity of the schools themselves or the bona fides of those who want to look a certain way. I mostly take issue with the self-seriousness of it all, and the delusional romanticized gushing over a perceived "lifestyle". I guess I get a little antsy when marketing messages become reality for some, replacing reality itself.

    *Anon 6:27: George H.W. Bush has been enjoying his retirement by switching to comfortable clothing in general. He prefers turtlenecks to ties and slip-ons to lace-ups. I always love it when older fellows partially throw in the towel on certain things clothing related.

    *Kionon: I like the shoe color coding idea. "Tipsy in Madras" is a book that captures the spirit of it all a little better.

    *RSBIII: It's impressive that they require polish-able shoes. What was not said in my post, is that the vast majority of very pricey schools have little-to-no dress code, and parents at many of these places want to keep it that way. I heard one particularly busy-bodied mother tell me that since she was "paying an arm and a leg [for tuition]" she should be able to dress her son however she chose." Dress codes have been largely relaxed in at schools, restaurants, businesses, churches, country clubs, family gatherings and dinners.

  19. Love the article. As a graduate of an all boys school I can speak to the truths you describe. It always makes me laugh when people think of all boys boarding school as a Ralph Lauren advertisement. When I was a student, and I am sure still today, students always tried to outsmart the dress code rules. The requirement to wear all leather shoes was an open door to wearing Merrell shoes. The requirement to wear sports jackets opened the door to students wearing old school tuxedo jackets. But most importantly there are only a few students who actually wake up at an all boys boarding school and try to look good. Most just roll out of bed, there are no girls to impress!!

  20. Well, of course kids at prep schools wear abominations like Merrells. The jacket and khakis are imposed on them, not chosen as part of a "look," and like most kids their age, prep school (boys, at least) are interested in skirting the rules as much as possible and exerting as little effort in their appearance as little as possible. Just like even good Porter's girls would rather jump into a wood chipper than be seen in Muffy Aldrich-approved khakis and rugbies off-grounds, instead seeking out push-up bras and miniskirts like their public-school peers. Prep school doesn't alter your DNA.

    I went to public schools, but many of my friends went to boarding schools in Connecticut. I'd classify fewer than 1/3 of them as now (at 25) dressing "preppy." The term itself is misleading. It's now no longer linked to prep schools, nor the Ivy League. Accept that the terminology is a misnomer; move on.

  21. Excellent. I went to an English Grammar school where pupils faced of the establishment (as we saw them in those days and of whom we are very much part of today), rebelling against the blazer and bags combo in 1977 with the advent of punk.


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