We’ve all seen it. The infamous plaid shorts. For those of us who grew up in the suburbs of any major city, we all understand that these shorts are automatically linked with popped collars and polo shirts and in turn these fashion pieces are associated with certain stereotyped groups or cliques of people. These groups, normally populated by teenagers and young adults, range from your typical jocks, nerds, and preps, all the way to your more elusive categories such as goths, punks, and hipsters. Few people come to understand that specific styles of dress can be associated with each clique. To better explain the relationship between clothes and stereotypes, we’re going to take a brief look at the history of “The Prep” and the evolution of their specific fashion style which means we’ll be looking at: shirts, shorts (also known as Bermuda shorts), and sweaters (never worn and only hung around the neck).
The term prep comes from the still popular “preparatory” school system (specifically the upper class private school institution). Most of our presidents, senators, CEO’s, and other congressmen come from Prep schools and you’ll find that most of the people attending Ivy League colleges (Yale, Harvard, etc.) have some sort of Preparatory school background. You’ll find that school uniforms are prevalent in these Preparatory schools, normally found in the form of collared shirts, sweaters, sweater vests, and dress shoes, and during the summer students were allowed to wear casual shorts. Today’s Prep, though having substantial differences in style, get their fundamental fashion groundwork from these generic school uniforms.
When you see a Prep today, you will always find their collars popped with various expensive brand names plastered over their chests; however you will also find that some Preps live dangerously and wear the same type of clothing with lesser known brand names, but I’ll touch on that later on. These popped collars, pressed shirts, and brand name logos serve as symbols of status and also affirmations of their somewhat snotty attitudes.
What you should notice first about the Prep is the popped collar, something that was used at Preparatory schools as a sign of rebellion, individuality, and defiance within these school systems. Since students were forced to conform to a specific style of dress they scrambled to find ways to define themselves and express their own personalities through their clothing. The shirt itself also serves as a rebellious symbol; instead of being a solid color (as dictated by most Preparatory Schools) the shirt is striped with colors that stand out in a crowd. We see these shirts worn by Preps all over Suburbia; though hard to see, you’ll notice the small silver emblem on his upper chest. This of course is the brand name I was speaking of earlier. It is necessary for today’s Prep to wear these symbols to avoid being mixed up with nameless clothing companies.
Moving onto the lower half of the body, you’ll notice the plaid shorts during the spring and summertime. Another necessary item to stand out in a crowd and serve as a form of personal expression. These shorts also were, and are commonly worn by Preps and the upper class when they vacation to places like the Bahamas, Barbados, and Bermuda (hence the name Bermuda plaid shorts). These shorts have recently been appropriate into the modern Preps attire for every day use; though unlike polo shirts, it is not necessarily important what brand or where the shorts come from.
For those of us living in major cities, New York City for example, we know that this Suburbian Prep fashion style can be found here too. The popped collars and plaid shirts remain within the wardrobe of the city-dwelling Prep, however the plaid shorts are easily replaced with cargo shorts (reminiscent of safari fashion style which is still popular). City-dwelling preps however find it necessary to kitsch the mainstream brand names and shop at either lesser known clothing stores such as small clothing chains, or vintage shops. These Preps prefer finding someone affordable clothing which retains the qualities of the “Prep” attitude. As you can from above race has little to do with the modern day Prep. I hope that my article serves to better explain the relationships between cliques and their fashion styles.