Prep is back in full swing, just in time for the semester.
It’s a weeknight on campus, and you spot a group of fellow students stepping out of the glowing, warm light of the library and into the chilly October air. As they laugh amongst themselves, you notice they’re sporting sweater vests and tennis skirts, crewnecks and chinos. These aren’t Ivy Leaguers from the 1950s — prep is alive and well in 2021.
The return to in-person classes has made this fall semester especially invigorating and refreshing. And it seems as though late-night library study sessions, campus coffee shop meet-ups, and the general ~academia~ of it all have led many Gen-Z students to make a cyclical trend return to a classic, preppy style of clothing.
Sweater vests, button-down shirts, pullover crewnecks, pleated skirts, mules, and blazers are some of the highlight pieces of the trend that have been circulating in the market, modernized with edgier accessories. These crisp, understated pieces appear to be in direct juxtaposition to the “hypebeast” streetwear looks that were most popular amongst our generation in the late 2010s.
Originally an aesthetic reserved for the prep school and Ivy League kids of America, the prep resurgence has trickled down to the most accessible of price ranges for the fall season. A piece from Vox notes that “Prep has always been inherently conservative, though plenty of young, progressive people of color and queer folks are embracing its 2021 iteration online.” You no longer have to come from old money to rock the elitist collegiate look, and this inclusivity is key to the widespread resurgence of the style.
As a senior at Fordham University who missed out on a precious fall semester last year, I have been leaning into a subdued version of this look, simply due to the fact that the Rose Hill campus is filled with ivy-covered buildings from the 1800s and lecture halls that look like castles. This setting makes it a little too easy to romanticize the walk to your 10 a.m. lecture, music blasting in your headphones and leaves crunching under your feet — and sporting sweater vests, flare pants, and collared shirts adds a whole new level of feeling like the main character.
Perhaps we can attribute this modernized prep trend to TikTok’s long-time obsession with the dark academia aesthetic. It’s equally likely that we’ve been inspired by the Upper East Side uniform-chic we saw sported in the Gossip Girl reboot that released this past summer, or even influencers and artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Emma Chamberlain sporting argyle vests and matching skirt sets. Either way, this classy and collegiate vibe has cemented itself as a staple in Gen Z’s wardrobe, and is back in full swing.