This Wofford College student (c. 1966), an entertainment editor for the campus Old Gold and Black newspaper, exemplifies the way most of his classmates dressed at a time when the country was drifting away from anything that resembled tradition. He is wearing a 3-button tweed, herringbone pattern sport coat over a pressed button down shirt and paisley print tie. The sport coat appears to be a natural shoulder model. The student is holding a copy of the Old Gold and Black and has a lit cigarette resting between his fingers.
One of the leading candidates for “Nattiest Dresser of the 20th Century” might well be Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. He graduated from Phillips Exeter, perhaps the most elite prep school in America. He was also an alumnus of Harvard, serving on the faculty there before going to work for the Kennedy administration in 1961. Designated as Special Assistant to the President, he functioned as a roving intellectual in the White House, advising Kennedy on a number of matters, particularly Latin American affairs. Schlesinger was rarely seen without his trademark bow tie and P3 tortoiseshell glasses.
My alma mater, Wofford College, was a bastion of natural fibers long before The Official Preppy Handbook was published. Fraternity men there had worn heathery, crew neck shetland wool sweaters with their cotton button downs and khakis for generations. They also had a tradition of wearing blue blazers and ties to football games, though the days of the freshman beanie were long gone. This photograph of Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers with their dates, most of whom attended nearby Converse College (often referred to as “The Convent” because of its strict visitation rules), appeared in the 1988 Bohemian yearbook. This moment in the stands during a game captures the look of that era.
I was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity (Nu Chapter). This is the fraternity composite from the spring of 1985. A large framed and matted version of this print was hung on a wall in the Pike house.
During rush, my fraternity brothers at Wofford did not behave like Doug Neidermeyer and Greg Marmalard of Omega at Faber College.
But the Pikes did behave a lot like the Deltas when throwing a toga party. Yes, we actually had those, and we did gator!
College Fashionista recently posted this image of a current Wofford student wearing Nantucket Reds, a motif belt (ribbon with South Carolina palmetto and crescent over webbed cotton backing), a white button down with Vineyard Vines bow tie – also with palmetto and crescent – and a pair of Sperry Topsiders.
Is Wofford still preppy? You bet your plaid cotton boxer shorts! However, the school is much more diverse today, which is a great thing, and the student body is about 1/3 larger than when I was there. Total enrollment is just over 1,600, and 40% of them belong to a fraternity or sorority.
America’s Best Kept College Secrets has this to say about the school: “Like Furman and Wake Forest, Wofford attracts a healthy, happy, preppy, active, sporty student body that intends to take up a career as a doctor, lawyer, or corporate chief. The students are good looking and friendly, and the campus has the feel of a college in which poise and good looks prevail.”
In the 80s, although we did wear jeans and sweatshirts to class from time to time, khakis and button downs or Lacoste shirts were more the norm. Blue blazers and ties were added for campus events, interviews and, as already mentioned, football games. Even students who did not pledge a fraternity wore the uniform. Note the college seal buttons on the student’s blazer to the left (see detail shot).
Founded in 1854, Wofford has long been known for academic excellence and was the first college in South Carolina to receive a charter with Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Some recent accolades for my alma mater (as listed on the college website):
- U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 edition of “America’s Best Colleges” ranked Wofford 65th among national liberal arts colleges, and 27th among 40 national liberal arts colleges as “Great Schools, Great Prices.” Wofford also included in the 2014 “Up and Comers” list of 10 liberal arts colleges noted among peers for their “promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty, student life, campus, or facilities.” (September 2013)
- Forbes’ “America’s Best Colleges” lists Wofford among the top 120, the highest-rated South Carolina institution (September 2013)
- The Princeton Review’s 2014 edition of “The Best 378 Colleges” features Wofford among the best undergraduate institutions, and ranked Wofford 19th for “Best Science Lab Facilities, The college also is the only South Carolina institution listed among the 75 “best values” among the top colleges. Wofford also is noted for its “career services” in the publication. (August 2013)
- Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 cited Wofford among “Small Colleges and Universities Strong in Business” (August 2013)
- Forbes magazine ranked Wofford among the top 120 colleges and universities in the country – 119th overall and the highest-ranked South Carolina institution – in the sixth annual rankings of “America’s Top Colleges” in 2013. Wofford was ranked 20th among the Best Colleges in the South and 89th among the Best Private Colleges. (July 2013) In 2010, Forbes ranked Wofford 14th among all the nation’s colleges and universities for women desiring to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Wofford’s 170 acre tree-lined campus has been designated as an arboretum. On a sunny autumn afternoon, while the leaves are changing color, it is an especially beautiful place to be.
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.
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.
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).
Also in The Official Preppy Handbook, noted both for its finely drawn satire and anthropological treatment of preppies, is 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.
As an homage to Birnbach, whose publication became a national bestseller, the college’s Kaleidoscope yearbook staff responded with The Official Preppy Yearbook.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
In 2011, I published my first list of the top preppy colleges in the South. It was limited to 10 colleges, and it was difficult to make decisions on which to include. It was an entirely subjective process. Most decisions were based on my experiences of the respective campuses considered. I also spent time talking to current students and recent graduates to get their perspective.
For this year’s list, I’ve decided to expand the number to 20. I use the term colleges, but I’m including both colleges and universities. So the range is extensive. Most of the schools listed this year are relatively small, private liberal arts institutions.
Hampden-Sydney College keeps its #1 ranking again — as the most preppy college in the South – while Washington and Lee University moves up to the #2 ranking to challenge.
The state of Virginia has the most schools listed (8), followed by North and South Carolina (4 each), Tennessee (2), Mississippi (1) and Alabama (1). Is there a bias? Probably. Am I open to suggestions and revisions? Definitely! Let me know which schools you think should make the list, or which ones should be excluded.
THE TOP 20 PREPPY COLLEGES IN THE SOUTH – 2014
1. Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, VA. (Founded 1775)
2. Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA. (Founded 1749)
3. Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, VA. (Founded 1901)
4. University of the South, Sewanee, TN. (Founded 1857)
5. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. (Founded 1819)
6. Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC. (Founded 1854)
7. Furman University, Greenville, SC. (Founded 1826)
8. College of Charleston, Charleston, SC. (Founded 1770)
9. Converse College, Spartanburg, SC. (Founded 1889)
10. Hollins University, Roanoke, VA. (Founded 1842)
11. Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA. (Founded 1842)
12. Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA. (Founded 1830)
13. Elon University, Elon, NC. (Founded 1889)
14. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. (Founded 1873)
15. University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS. (Founded 1848)
16. Davidson College, Davidson, NC. (Founded 1837)
17. Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC. (Founded 1834)
18. University of Richmond, Richmond, VA. (Founded 1830)
19. University of Alabama, Tuscalosa, AL. (Founded 1831).
20. Duke University, Durham, NC. (Founded 1838)
Of note to all bargain hunters: while not quite as satisfying as a good thrift find, you can get 70% off selected merchandise at J. Press in honor of their move to a new New York City flagship store. This is good if you live in the city, or within a reasonable drive, as items cannot be purchased online. Having left NYC last year, I regret that I can’t explore what’s available in the sale. The J. Press store was on the same block as my wife’s office. I passed by there just about every day on the way to Grand Central.
One of the most practical and usable accessories to have in the wardrobe is a grosgrain ribbon watch band. These three from J. Press are the ones that I use most often. Top to bottom: red and navy stripe, blue white and red stripe (reversible to a red,white and navy side) and a solid light blue band. The latter actually gets the most wear, as it will go with almost any clothing combination.
J. Press grosgrain watch bands retail for $18.00 to $29.00, but they currently have a 40% off sale. As much as I’d like to find these in a thrift store, it’s nearly impossible. So I wait for a good sale to buy the ones I want at a discount. Maybe it’s a lot of fuss over what will support a very cheap Timex with a visibly scratched face, but I’m just quirky that way.
For more about the place of grosgrain ribbon watch bands in preppy culture (and their recent resurgence in men’s fashion), check out Ivy Style.