Gentlemen of Hampden-Sydney

I’ve listed Hampden-Sydney again this year as the most preppy college in the South.  It was founded in 1775, when George III was King of England, Virginia was a British colony and the Declaration of Independence was yet to be written.  One of only four all-male colleges remaining in the United States, Hampden-Sydney counts Patrick Henry and James Madison as two of its original Board of Trustees members.

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members at Hampden-Sydney College

Students at Hampden-Sydney take a great deal of pride in their appearance and believe in good manners.  In fact, the school has published its own etiquette guide:  To Manor Born, To Manners Bred (now in its 7th edition), which has been updated for the social media age.  That’s serious dedication!  Some gentlemen of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity above display a range of attire:  plain front khakis, blue blazers, a navy suit with a Brooks Brothers repp tie, freshly pressed pinpoint and oxford cloth button downs, bow ties, ribbon belts with motifs and a needlepoint belt.  This is all standard dress on campus, and one of the reasons Hampden-Sydney is considered a very traditional college.

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating - Football Weekend

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating Prior to a Football Game (Fall 2012)

In the February 2013 issue of Town & Country, Hampden-Sydney alumni were featured tailgating on campus prior to a football game against arch rival Randolph Macon. All of these gentlemen are sporting bow ties, and one is wearing Nantucket Reds with a pair of go-to-hell socks that would make President George Herbert Walker Bush envious.  Tailgating was spoofed in Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) in which she also listed Hampden-Sydney as the #3 preppy college in the country behind Babson (#1) and Hamilton (#2).

Off The Wagon:  The Tailgate Picnic - The Official Preppy Handbook

Off The Wagon: The Tailgate Picnic – The Official Preppy Handbook

Also in The Official Preppy Handbook, noted both for its finely drawn satire and anthropological treatment of preppiesis a section on body types with representative photos and descriptions of each.  The Good Old Boy’s biography includes attending Lawrenceville and Hampden-Sydney, and his stated attributes suggest a fun-loving, if not bawdy, demeanor.  He is holding a “genetically attached beer can,” while wearing a button down layered over a Lacoste shirt (Southern collar notably not popped), rumpled, flood level khakis and a pair of penny loafers, one of which is duct taped to keep the sole and the upper together – a practice cultivated at Lawrenceville.  He’s the one of the three I think I’d most enjoy being around.

Preppy Body Types - from The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

Body Types (Male) – The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

As an homage to Birnbach, whose publication became a national bestseller, the college’s Kaleidoscope yearbook staff responded with The Official Preppy Yearbook.

The Official Preppy Yearbook 1981

Kaleidoscope 1981 — The Official Preppy Yearbook (Hampden-Sydney College)

Birnbach visited Hamden-Sydney a few years ago to promote her most recent book, True Prep, in which she elevated the college’s sartorial place, writing,”… allow us to assure you, in no uncertain terms, that Hampden-Sydney is, without equivocation, the preppiest college in the United States.”  In fact, one enterprising student there, Samuel Thomas, recently co-founded a bow tie company called Dogwood Black (originally Southern Ties) and is now marketing his expanding product line nationally after getting requests from upscale men’s clothiers.

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie ($45.00)

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie

In addition to the classic madras bow tie shown above, Dogwood Black offers such unique items as a camo bow tie.  I think this qualifies as the Southern version of go-to-hell style, allowing  a wearer to go from duck blind to formal party without skipping a beat.  One quote on the company website functions as a philosophy about wearing one of their ties, “If you can handle being the center of attention.”

Dogwood Black:  Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black: Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black - Tie Box

Dogwood Black – Tie Box

Hampden-Sydney has become more diverse in recent years, and with that change has come a difference in fashion sensibility on campus.  The look among some students retains the preppy style but is much more updated.  The gentleman on the right (below) looks as if he might be wearing a Dogwood Black Delta Chi fraternity bow tie, but I’m not positive.  The gentleman on the left seems more aligned with Unabashedly Prep, which I’ve heard described as “new wave prep” or as “preppy with a twist.”

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Dogwood Black - Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dogwood Black – Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dr. Christopher B. Howard, Hampden-Sydney’s 24th president, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.   This gentleman was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Master of Philosophy and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics.  He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  Howard is the first African-American president in the college’s history, and he is proudly a Brooks Brothers man.

In 2010, Hampden-Sydney entered into a formal partnership with Brooks Brothers to provide a 15% corporate membership discount to students, faculty and staff of the college.  The program is titled “Dressing for Success with Brooks Brothers.”  In this YouTube video, President Howard discusses the program and the investment in college education with parents of prospective students at an event hosted in a Brooks Brothers retail store in Richmond, VA.

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Now in its third century of operation, Hampden-Sydney has a beautiful campus, an excellent academic reputation, a long tradition and a very loyal alumni base, many of whom contribute substantially to the institution every year.  Its past is distinguished, and its future looks secure.

Hampden-Sydney-College

Hampden-Sydney-College

Hampden-Sydney Historical Marker

Are You A Preppie?

Remember the poster Are You A Preppie?  It was printed in 1979 by University of Virginia undergrad Tom Shadyac, who went on to film school at UCLA and later directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Evan Almighty.  The poster was wildly popular when it came out.  I have to wonder whether it might have inspired Lisa Birnbach’s more in-depth anthropological treatment in The Official Preppy Handbook, which appeared one year later.

The layout of the Birnbach’s prep personae is very similar to Shadyac’s sartorial diagram.  Birnbach also recognized The University of Virginia as one of the preppiest campuses in America.

Prep Persona

Prep Persona (The College Years) From The Official Preppy Handbook

Elements of the preppy look never seem to change that much and have been appropriated by corporate culture as something of a uniform – khakis and button down shirts are now the norm instead of suits and ties.  Nathaniel Elliot Worthington’s “flood level pants” have been a hot trend in men’s fashion for the last few years.   The look was generated by prep school students who outgrew their khakis, but continued to wear them anyway.  By the time those students arrived at colleges, floods had become a form of preppy rebellion and can be seen all over the pages of T. Hayashida’s 1965 book Take Ivy, a cult classic for devotees of men’s fashion, including Ralph Lauren.  It was  recently republished by powerHouse Books in Brooklyn, causing a hipster run on thrift stores in search of preppy items to wear around Williamsburg.  Hipsters love irony; and what could be more ironic than a hipster wearing a Brooks Brothers button down while spray painting “Yuppie Go Home” on a luxury loft building wall?

In the shot below, Hayashida has captured a group of Dartmouth College students, who have stopped to watch an intramural softball game.  Everyone is wearing floods, and the student second from left has gaffing tape on one of his penny loafers.  Yes, preppies actually do this!

Flood Wearing Dartmouth College Students (Photo Credit:  Take Ivy)

I taped one of my loafers the same way when I was in college because I didn’t want to pay for repairs once a sole had detached from the leather upper.  It was a way of being frugal and playful at the same time.  Not long ago, I saw a new pair of very expensive Tommy Hilfiger loafers – one of which had a grosgrain band stiched across the top as a reference to the practice of taping.  Amazing!

Penny Loafers With Gaffing Tape Reference  (Photo Credit:  True Prep)

Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe in Class (1983)

In the decade following publication of The Official Preppy Handbook, Hollywood produced a string of movies with a preppy theme.  Class, starring Andrew McCarthy (Jonathan)  and Rob Lowe (Skip), was one of the first.  It isn’t the best of those (which would be either Dead Poets’ Society or Metropolitan), but it is passable entertainment.  What the movie does especially well is to portray the clothes and mannerisms of preppies from that era.  The basic look hasn’t changed.  You’ll see lots of khakis, button downs layered on top of Lacoste shirts, crew neck sweaters and Sperry Topsiders.  The entire film is available in segments on YouTube.

New Preppy: Mainstream American and International

With designers like Tommy Hilfiger updating the preppy look for a younger mass market, as in Feast Interruptus with its Vampire Weekend soundtrack, it is no longer the exclusive domain that it once was.  You need not have attended an elite prep school to qualify as a preppy.  Assimilating the right look and attitudes –  conservative clothes, good manners, good sportsmanship, fun loving and carefree disposition and  appreciation of traditions – might be enough.  Lisa Birnbach makes this point in True Prep, her update of The Official Preppy Handbook published last year.  In fact, preppy has become mainstream in America and is now an international trend.  “Whereas once upon a time it seemed unlikely that Europeans would be attracted to our aesthetic,” writes Birnbach, “now they’ve adapted it and made it their own.”  A German college student/model in the video below looks right at home in his Nantucket reds, button down, bow tie, blue blazer and Clark’s Desert Boots.

In a new book from Rizzoli, Preppy:  Cultivating Ivy Style, Jeffrey Banks and Doria De La Chapelle, take off on the mainstream aspect of this way of dressing:  “Intrinsically American preppy has progressed, reflecting, in its way, the social and educational progress our country has achieved.  What started out as an exclusive, white-Protestant, male, clubby way of dressing for the Elite Few has morphed into an inclusive, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, pan-gender, meritocratic way of dressing for the Elite New.  Aspirational preppy is the American dream, and it speaks eloquently for us all over the globe.”  Nobody does aspirational preppy better than Ralph Lauren.

Keep in mind that preppy clothes can be very expensive at retail.  The purpose of my blog is to show you how to find the clothes you’re looking for in excellent condition at bargain prices.  Why pay retail when you don’t have to do so?