Academia-inspired looks have been trending in fashion and retail lately, but in the promotional products world, they never faded away.
First it was monochromatic outfits, then Y2K throwbacks, then “Barbiecore” and wide-leg pants — and all in this year alone. Only the brave can keep up with every emerging fashion trend and TikTok aesthetic shift. But when the latest fad loses its relevance mere months after ending up in everyone’s closet, what’s left behind are the classic styles that never seem to fade, one of the most iconic being academia and preppy-inspired looks.
Think Princess Di and Ivy League guys. This style first appeared in the early 1900s as a status symbol, worn by men who went to preparatory schools and elite universities. Pretty soon, preppy attire had a sporty connection as it became associated with the sports that wealthy people played in the mid-1900s, like sailing, fencing, lacrosse, tennis and golf. As more women and the average person began to adopt the style, it became increasingly popular, and American fashion brands haven’t looked back since.
Crisp button-down shirts, polo tops, relaxed khaki pants, tennis shoes, cable sweaters and all the different preppy fashion items and their variations are capsule pieces. They aren’t going anywhere, they just get reworked over and over again, says Chloe Fimlaid, a product manager at the New England-based Top 40 supplier Charles River Apparel (asi/44620).
“Preppy classic fashion is easy to style and versatile,” says Fimlaid. “It can be worn for a bigger, more formal event, or for a team, collegian or group event. A lot of companies that use our products use them for team-building because the style is so easy to have everyone match in.”
America-prep has even survived brand bankruptcies, like J. Crew’s in 2020, the rise of athleisure and the era of social media playing a huge role in deciding what’s in and what’s out. In fact, there’s even been a TikTok trend dubbed coastal grandmother, inspired by the preppy aesthetic.
The way this trend is being reimagined in the retail space and in pop culture is closely monitored by apparel brands in promo that carry products exemplifying this style.
Charles River Apparel keeps up to date on all things preppy with the help of design director Tsedenia Kiros, who pays close attention to different regional trends, says Julie Crawley, the company’s director of product development. The supplier also looks closely at WGSN and sporting events famous for attendees’ preppy looks, like the U.S. Open.
“We’re definitely tapped in on the greater fashion sense,” says Fimlaid. “We’ve been watching the U.S. Open and all of those sort of sporting events, which is a really good place to look for where the trends are going. For example, there’s less button polos out there. Everyone’s doing quarter-zip polos now, which is a fun twist.”
The Franconia pullover (5368) from Charles River Apparel (asi/44620) has a classic quarter-zip styling with quilting detail.
Other than quarter-zip polos what other trendy, yet classically consistent preppy staples has promo tapped into?
The striped rugby shirt is one of the main styles associated with preppy fashion. Designer brands like Botter are putting a twist on this classic item by playing with its proportions. In promo, a similar twist is being used. For example, Charles River’s classic rugby shirt is unisex, so it can be worn oversized or true to size.
This unisex rugby shirt (9278) from Charles River (asi/44620) is a tried-and-true classic that can be dressed up or down – or even worn on the field.
For those opposed to stripes but who still want to do this style correctly, a simple polo shirt is timeless.
A pique polo (2101) like this one from Top 40 supplier Vantage Apparel (asi/93390) is a timeless component of a preppy wardrobe.
What pairs perfectly with the rugby shirt, cable sweater and polo shirt? A classic, relaxed-fit khaki or neutral-colored pant.
These flat-front chinos (2578) from Top 40 supplier Edwards Garment (asi/51752) finish off a preppy outfit.
French company Lacoste was founded by tennis player René Lacoste in 1933 and soon became one of the most famous retail brands Americans associated with preppy fashion, known for its iconic crocodile logo. In 1980, it was even declared “the sport shirt of choice” in The Official Preppy Handbook. Supplier Driving Impressions (asi/50864) offers the brand in promo, with products that include the Lacoste unisex sport hat.
This Lacoste cap (RK5398) is available from Driving Impressions (asi/50864).
And no preppy outfit would be complete without the right accessories – particularly Vineyard Vines-inspired canvas totes.
The seaside zippered cotton tote (P1211) from Top 40 supplier Gemline (asi/56070) is an accessory ideal for the preppy aesthetic.
Preppy style dips into a multitude of lifestyles including everything from sports, leisure and comfort to business and couture. By implementing these enduring styles with an occasional twist, promo distributors and decorators can create innovative, capsule collections for end-users.
“We like keeping these traditional styles and updating them with prints that are serving of the time,” Fimlaid says. “We added animal prints, like cow prints to our pullovers, which was interesting too because people are really loving it. I think it’s nice that we’re taking our classic prep styles and updating them for the times.”