Everything you need to know about the preppy aesthetic

The Preppy aesthetic, typically characterized by pleated skirts and polo shirts, has been popular recently because of several trends on TikTok and Instagram.

This aesthetic isn’t just a cheap copy of old money but rather a direct result of it.

History of preppy style

‘Preppy’ originates from the expression ‘Preparatory school’ and was first used in the 1950s in America. The upper middle-and upper-class children attended these university-preparatory schools.

The preppy aesthetic was reborn in 1980 as Lisa Birnbach published a book called ‘Official Preppy Handbook’ to make fun of privileged children of rich families in Ivy League universities. Though meant as a joke, this book about exclusive social groups and a conservative style of clothing inspired many people to live by the described rules and wear this style. 

Preppy lifestyle aesthetic

The preppy aesthetic is no spin-off of the old money aesthetic. The children of upper-class families are usually visiting these preparatory schools to meet like-minded people to share their interests with. Typically, these are Ivy League universities. The most well-known ones are Harvard and Yale

Inside these universities, there are many traditions such as sororities and fraternities. Being part of a group like that forms a strong bond with the other members. You can meet people with similar interests and backgrounds in such an exclusive group.

The WASP aesthetic describes preppy people pretty well. This White Anglo-Saxon protestant aesthetics describes most of the preppy people from upper-class and upper-middle-class families who wear preppy outfits.

Prep likes to live a rather exclusive life. Conservativeness and traditions also play a role in these exclusive places like Ivy League universities, fraternities, and sororities, where you will find prep. 

Yale university, USA
Source: Pixabay

Preppy mindset

Prep existed since the 1950s and was most popular in the 1980s. Some of the ideas of these generations still exist to this day. Though there are preps that are liberal, many others like the conservative mindset of the early 1980s. 

Ronald Reagan, the president from 1981 to 1989, to this day is still a role model for many preps. Despite some critical ideas he had, most people nowadays would disagree with, they still follow his principles. 

Preps are mostly capitalists as their parents made lots of money because of several industries and though they usually support the Republican Party

There may be some preps that support outdated ideas like slavery or suppression of black people and racism in general but these groups are rarely common. Since preps shared the same interests throughout many generations and are known to have some political impact, they represent their interests that aren’t about racism or absolutism.

Preppy style

The preppy style is generally associated with a rather chic and upper-class look. This might seem outdated but is an aesthetic of its own. Preppy tries to combinate something chic with sporty clothing. Therefore, the Tennis-look is very popular. If you want to find out more about that topic, feel free to check out my article about the features of preppy style.

Girl with preppy tennis-look
Source: Pinterest/sunshinelifee

Clothing for activities, associated with the English upper class, like Polo, has a unique style you can see prep wearing. Equestrian and polo clothing are mostly associated with preppy style. Lacoste might be one of the most popular brands when it comes to this style. Stripes are always a go-to option for the preppy aesthetic. 

Whilst the preppy style for men is mostly defined by certain activities, the style for women differs from that. If you want to read more about preppy style for men check out my article about it.

The preppy style for women, whilst still following some principles from the male side, is based more on beauty and elevated looks. Typical clothing pieces are Skirt suits, wrap dresses, and pleated skirts. These are based on the school uniforms of preparatory schools. Equestrian clothes and silk blouses also define a preppy style for women.

Generally, the preppy style is heavily inspired by the collegial style of Ivy League universities. This includes things like varsity jackets, and school uniforms. The style of clothing represents the American upper-class and upper-middle class and is on the conservative side. You can find some elements of preppy style in the old money style. Commonly they combine them with sports clothes to make them look youthful. If you want to read more about old money style, check out my blog post about the 27 best old money outfits as well as old money style in general.

There is not only a difference in preppy clothing of men and women but also from regions of America. These two variants are either Southern prep or East Coast prep. 

Preppy aesthetic: Southern prep

Southern prep is the aesthetic, associated with striking outfits and bright colors. Typically, this style’s patterns are consisting of palm trees or pineapples as well as elephants and many more. These patterns you can mostly find on blouses or button-down shirts as well as some polo shirts with fitting trousers and dresses and skirts

The colors of southern prep are very bright compared to East coast prep. Pink, lime green, bright red, yellow, orange, and baby blue are commonly worn. 

Preppy aesthetic: East coast prep

East coast prep is more conservative than the southern style. Its motto is sailing and nautical elements in general. The typical look is inspired by the sailors, so commonly lots of stripes can be seen as well as the colors blue and white. East coast prep is chic and more suited for the colder season in comparison to southern prep.

If you want to find out more about how to dress for the colder season, check out my article about preppy in fall.

In general, the colors and patterns are more conservative and muted. The most common colors besides white and blue are navy, olive green, and darker red as well as brown and beige

The preppy style generally likes to express wealth but not with brand logos but rather high quality and unique designs as well as some sports clothes to combine with formal clothing which separates this style from the old money aesthetic You can find this style can not only in America but you will see it in English universities as well.

Preppy activities

Preppy aesthetic: Sailing in the evening
Source: Pixabay

Just like old money activities, preppy activities are a useful tool to meet like-minded people and show off. Many of these activities are from England, where the landed gentry participated in them. These are polo or horse racing as well as lacrosse or even tennis.

Sports are pretty common in Ivy League universities and have been a trademark for them. Students at these universities either define themselves through these sports or their wealth.

Typical activities, prep likes to do are, besides the previously mentioned ones:

  • Swimming
  • Badminton
  • Sailing
  • Rowing
  • Pool
  • Golf
  • Croquet

Besides these activities, there are some non-sporty ones. These activities are for the wealthier preps and often for communities. These are some activities like watching sports games in business lounges or having cocktail parties, going shopping in expensive places, yachting, and vacationing in exclusive areas like the Hamptons

For a more in depth-guide on preppy activities, read my article here.


As you can tell from this article, prep isn’t just a copy of old money but rather a subculture that tries to break old traditions and norms. To meet in the upper-middle class and upper class, prep definitely stands out from the rather boring people. 

The preppy aesthetic imitates the university look and is a rather exclusive group that likes to stay on its own.

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