The Preppy Handbook

BY AMANDA HARPER AND ELLIANA VINCENT

 

The Official Preppy Handbook, the classic satirical “prep school guide,” offers snarky insight into the upper-middle class and the old money society ways of living. First published in 1980, this clever handbook was the must-buy gift for a generation of WASPy high school and college graduates.

Topics covered in the handbook range from how to party in college to transitioning into “the Country Club Years.” While the tone was cheeky, the handbook had the unexpected effect of making upper-class style feel more within reach. The book inspired the founder of J. Crew and helped boost the growth of L.L. Bean.

The book includes an extensive questionnaire of lists of physical requirements to qualify as a Preppy. Fellas were expected to don a navy blazer, an initial ring, baggy khaki pants, and an optional smirk - no pimples insight, lest they veer into “nerd” territory. Girls were told to focus on “The Debutante Scene”, which was all about catching men’s eyes and making an entrance. With advice like “wearing of pink and green is the surest and quickest way to group identification,” there’s no doubt that this book was an insider’s guide.

The book’s editor and creator, Lisa Birnbach, deciphered the curious practices of upper-crust society during her time in prep schools and Brown University. She worked with three Preppy friends to write the book (paying them from a checkbook emblazoned with her very Preppy nickname, “Bunny”). Over the course of 224 pages, they created a timeless peek into a culture that will never really go out of style, particularly in the South.

Take their chapter, “The Politics of Monogramming.” “Preppies have known it for years: who needs LV or YSL when you can lay claim to a discreet EBW III?” It continues, “In fact, most Preppies are so proud of their monograms that they put them on virtually everything in sight.” Go ahead and slap your monogram on aprons, polo shirts (“monogram where the crocodile would be”), Kleenex box covers, hip flasks, and tennis racquet covers, they advise; just please, don’t do your dog’s collar (“ostentatious”) or china (“it will look like a hotel”).

The Official Preppy Handbook was reprinted a whopping 32 times before going out of print in 1995. Its successor, True Prep, debuted in 2010 with Preppy advice for the new millennium. If you have a copy of either on your bookshelf, it’s time to take it down and revel in the wit and knowledge from this clever little parody prep guide book.