Hot Poppin' Fresh

Tiffany Y. Wu

By some strange twist of preppy fate, the brainstorming for this article took place at the WASP epicenter—a quaint, boutique-dotted road in the middle of Martha’s Vineyard. With so much research material at my fingertips, I was poised to make a brilliant and insightful commentary on Harvard’s preppy culture.

With a decisive pop of my white polo shirt (worn under a pink cable-knit, natch), I set about deconstructing the phenomenon of ribbon belts and pastels, old boy style in a modern context. I was mildly amused at the prospect of drawing social commentary from fashion trends.

Amusement soon turned to panic when it became apparent that no one at Harvard really wanted to talk to me about being preppy. Something about the popped collar seems to strike a nerve on both sides of the equation—both those who hate the look and those who love it proved equally passionate.  

This is even more apparent when looking at the response that a Georgetown Lampoon article (“Wearing Your Collar Down is for Poor People”) triggered. The humor piece begins, “When my ancestors came over to this great country 400 years ago, they had a vision for a utopia, free from minorities, liberals, poor people, homosexuals, and immigrants,” and goes on to say, “Maybe I’ll offer you a hundred bucks to flip my collar up for me.  I earned it, you middle-class fuck up. I bet you went to public school.”

The article circulated among a number of humor websites, including CollegeHumor.com. On YaleToday.com in particular, there was immediate—and huge—reaction. The posts, though varied, are alike in their vehemence.

The question is, how did a discussion of fairly minute fashion choice spawn a debate about wealth, privilege and social status?  The chat is filled with 12 pages of some very sarcastic, very angry and very funny responses, including a handful from anonymous Harvard sources. Toward the end, it regresses into a debate about Harvard vs. Yale, the relative hotness of Northern girls vs. Southern and a fair amount about “Rick James...bitch.”

One of the most interesting discoveries was that not all kids who stereotypically should have been favoring upturned collars and purple shirts actually did. One post from a Harvard student states, “Popped collars are for poser deusches [sic], I don’t care what class you’re in. Most days I’m in a hoodie and a fucking baseball cap…Also, my son will kick your son’s ass everyday, steal his lunch money, then pay him with it to do his homework. He’ll have good lineage like his daddy.” A couple posts earlier, the same person explained that British Columbia is for the proletariat; the only real place to go skiing is Vail. Even his pool-cleaner knew that.

As one person I talked to reasons, the fear of the “inherent superiority of the kids who wear the clothing” means that critiques of the look are generally launched from afar.

However, the weak attempt of Harvard to be preppy came under fire directly. One person complains that Harvard kids “aren’t preppy…they just half-ass it. Where are the Nantucket red shorts? Where are the seersucker pants?”  

When you search for Lacoste on thefacebook.com, there are only two people who list it as an interest.

Based on highly scientific anthropological data (observations of final club social life and midday Yard interactions), I think Harvard is struggling to balance the old-school traditions of boat shoes and the Cape on the one hand, and its current attempts at diversity on the other. The student body has settled at a level of neo-prep, meaning that kids who wear the polos with the collars up may or may not be WASP-y lacrosse players who belong to the Fly. It’s hard to tell—a kind of hip New York attitude mixes itself in, jeans are suddenly more apropos than khakis, aviators improve any look and girls who wear pearls may be doing it ironically.

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