When thinking about the word “prep” a number of things can come to mind. Nice clothes, country clubs memberships. yachts, ski vacations, madris and seersucker, ivy league schools, etc. But it’s so much more than that! Take it from me, someone who has fooled hundreds of my pupils into thinking I’m
pretty preppy by taking shortcuts, pretending I have good taste, and acting exclusive. Can one act exclusive? I guess it’s just a nice way of saying that instead of acting like I hated everyone, I just acted like I was above them. Was I snotty? Yes. Am I still? Don’t answer that.
Here to relieve you of all your questions about preppy-ism, I have “The Official Preppy Handbook” as a guide. I obtained the 1980 edition, so maybe some things have changed since then, but I’m pretty sure being preppy is all about tradition. So this is as vintage as I could get. I’m almost certain there’s an earlier version that Ralph Lauren keeps in the back of his closet and prays to every night.
Let’s start with The Rights of Birthright: The Family. Everything starts here. For most of us it never actually starts because our families are poor and retarded. None of our parents went to great schools, and their parents went to even worse schools. Something interesting about preppy families is that everyone has their official familial title. For example, I would be Aunt Lily if my brother had a child. Or if we were talking about my mom’s sister’s child, I would refer to her as Cousin Buffy (I don’t have a cousin Buffy. That would be ultra-creep). My mom always did this. She would call people Cousin so-and-so, or Uncle this-and-that. Can’t you just call them by their name? Speaking of names, if you want to guarantee that your child is a preppy, name them a name that you would only call a pet. Biffy, Kitty, Teeny, Duke, Muffy, Barbie, Bitsy, Bunny, Corky, Rocky, Chip, Kip, Trip, Skip. Basically, any name that shouldn’t be a name.
Of Mahogany and Macrame. If You had the following items in your house growing up, you were probably raised to be a preppy: Upholstered pieces covered with flowered chintz, many small and worn oriental rugs, prints of dogs, ducks, horses, boats or birds, antiques bought at an auction, museum documented eighteenth century wallpaper, lots of old table lamps, mahogany and brass, pastel sketches of the children, portraits of ancestors, fireplace equipment, ship models and nautical memorabilia, Georgian paneling, dishes of beach glass.
If you had any of these items, your family was the opposite of preppy: vinyl protectors, wall-to-wall rugs, abstract art, Louis-the-anything furniture, flocked wallpaper, indirect, spot or track lighting, chrome and glass, macrame, Hummel figurines, dirt, Masonite paneling, dishes of candy. I’m so sorry if this was your life. I’m crying a single tear for you as I type.
If you want to make your house preppy and you don’t have the money or good taste, just remember that nothing should look like you tried hard, yet everything should flow. Always go with a beach or cottage theme (those are safest and easiest) or Shabby Chic. Throw some Town & Country magazines around and call it a day. You’re welcome.
Keepers of the Flame: Status Quo Institutions. If your parents didn’t force you into any sport or activity, count your blessings. Being lazy is the best, am I right?! But for prep standards, it’s the mark of the devil. Preppy activities include: piano lessons (or any classical instrument), ballet, horse riding, French lessons, tennis (think country club sports), golf, sailing, etc. Summer camp can also be considered a preppy activity. I went to an all-girls camp, which basically means that it wasn’t any fun. I joined swim team (semi-preppy?) and sang in choir. I had people fooled into thinking I liked doing things.
Regulating the Cash Flow: Well-to-Do’s and Don’ts.
1. Your money is handled by a trustee until you reach your twenties. That always seems like an appropriate age to give your children all of their money. The age where they make even worse decisions than when they were in high school. It’s imperative that you make your trustee think that you’re a capable human being. Agree to everything he says and make sure he pays if he takes you out to lunch so he knows that you can handle your money well. These are all tricks of the trade, my friends.
2. Give to charities that will list your name as a sponsor.
3. Spend money on important things, but use thrift for insignificant items. It’s a fine balance.
4. Be slightly careless with your money. “Forget how much cash you have with you, for instance–it helps give the impression that you don’t think too much about money.”
5. Never carry cash. “Borrow or charge.” Borrow? Wouldn’t borrowing make you seem super poor? I wouldn’t suggest borrowing. Being in debt of others is uncomfortable, and frankly, gross.
6. Never replace anything until you’ve exhausted all possibility of repair, restoration, or rehabilitation.
7. Pick up small tabs. People will remember your generosity, but not the amount. Allow them to pick up the lavish dinners and what not.
8. Don’t say wealthy. Say rich.
A Preppy Value System: