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 Historical Marker

Join The Preppy Anti-Defamation League

Pete and Trudy Campbell - Lifetime Members of the Preppy Anti-Defamation League

Pete and Trudy Campbell – Lifetime Members of the Preppy Anti-Defamation League

Pete and Trudy Campbell invite you to consider joining or renewing your annual membership with the Preppy AntiDefamation League.   Summer is gotohell season, a time when Madras plaids in blinding primary colors, which have caused traffic accidents, and radiant Lilly Pulitzer tropical patterns are worn to the consternation of the legible-clothing-wearing general public.  Other than your trust fund, a membership in the Preppy AntiDefamation League is the best support mummy and daddy can give.

Cotton Rules: Madras is King

Now that we’re past Memorial Day, the color barrage begins.  It’s full on madras go-to-hell season, and the colors run bold.   A few months ago, I thrifted a great pair of flat front 100% cotton madras plaid Bermuda shorts from Lands’ End.  The color pattern is  red, navy, yellow and white.  I also thrifted a braided cotton belt with leather tabs (unknown maker) of very good quality.  Yesterday, I got a shirt that finishes off the quintessential look of summer – a short sleeved navy Lacoste that I bought on eBay.  These items can be worn with Sperry Topsiders (leather or canvas), Weejuns or Bean Blucher Moccasins.

Cost Breakdown

Lands’ End Madras Shorts:  $15.00

Braided Cotton Belt (Leather Tabs):  $4.99

Lacoste Shirt:  $16.00

Total of all items:  $35.99 (less than 1/2 the cost of a new Lacoste at retail).

Preppies Protect Yourselves: Join PADL Today!!


Lifetime Members of the Preppy Anti-Defamation Lague (L to R):  John J. Balderdash III, Buffy Balderdash and John J. “Skip” Balderdash IV.

Now is the time to consider joining or renewing your annual membership with PADL:  Preppy Anti-Defamation League.   Summer is go-to-hell season, a time when Nantucket Reds, madras patchwork plaid and other clothes of blinding primary colors, which have been blamed on traffic accidents,  are worn to the consternation of the legible-clothing-wearing general public.  Other than a trust fund, your PADL membership is the best support mummy and daddy can give.


Brooks Brothers Madras Shirt Bought on eBay

I’ve been gearing up for summer lately.  Some recent buys include a pair of patchwork madras shorts, a ribbon belt and a pair of Nantucket Reds.  Today a Brooks Brothers long-sleeved, patchwork plaid madras shirt arrived via US Postal Service.

This shirt was a recent eBay purchase.  Price:  $24.94 + $3.65 shipping = $28.59.  Compare that with the current Brooks Brothers retail price of $89.50 (not including shipping, although I could have gone to their Madison Avenue store).  That’s a savings of $60.91.  In addition, the brethren are only offering a short-sleeved madras shirt, and I specifically wanted long sleeves.

Nothing says summer more than the light, breathable fabric of an India madras shirt.  It is a key item for the prep wardrobe.  I like this pattern much better than the current Brooks Brothers offering.  For more about how madras clothes are made, head over to Ivy Style for Christian Chensvold’s interview with Cape Madras cofounder Brian Sisselman.


eBay Purchase: Nantucket Reds ($35.00)

Original Nantucket Reds from Murray's Toggery Shop

Original Nantucket Reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop

I won an eBay auction today for a pair of original Nantucket Reds, a summer prep staple from Murray’s Toggery Shop.   These pants of go-to-hell color are 100% cotton with a flat front and cuffs (1.25 inches).  They appear to be in excellent condition, gently worn, with no stains or tears, and are well on their way to achieving the perfect faded tone.  Price:  $35.00 + $6.00 USPS shipping – for a total of $41.00.  Murray’s asks $72.50 for a new pair.  I spoke with a sales person at the store this week to find out their shipping charges.  If the pants are ordered directly from the store, a $10.00 shipping fee applies, but they don’t provide tracking.  If they are ordered online, they ship via UPS with tracking for somewhere around $15.00 (total cost = $87.50).  So my eBay score gets the the original item at less than half the cost of buying them at retail + shipping.  I love it!  Was this a good bit more than I would pay in a thrift store? Absolutely, but you don’t find Nantucket Reds in a thrift store every day.

Nantucket Reds Won on eBay Auction

Southerners: Preppiest People on the Planet

I came across these photos on Fried Pink Tomato under a post titled “The Southern Preppy Bro.”  This is conclusive proof that Southerners are the preppiest people on the planet.  All the elements of go-to-hell style are there:  patchwork madras plaid, bold bow ties, motif belts, ribbon belts, oxford cloth button downs, fashionable hats, Lilly Pulitzer colored sun dresses, pearls and croakies.  These preps are having a lot of fun at a tailgate party.

Go To Hell Preppy – It’s Not An Insult

The over the top style known as “go-to-hell” in the preppy world is characterized by a blend of sensible and shocking clothing – a blue blazer and white oxford cloth button down paired with Nantucket Reds or a pair of lime green pants embroidered with little yellow tennis racquets, or perhaps a nautical motif.  The look might venture into a patchwork plaid madras jacket paired with khaki pants, a neutral colored shirt and penny loafers without socks.

As a style that emerged at country clubs and areas where preppies summer, go- to-hell clothes are a form of fun loving one-up-manship, a way of stating two messages at the same time. The sensible clothing says, “I know perfectly well how to dress with good taste,” while the outrageous item says, “I can be more bold than the next guy and if you don’t like it, you can ‘go to hell.'”  But the style still has certain parameters.  Not all of the items should be loud and over the top, or the ensemble will look clownish.  I refer you to the horrible combinations @ 1:12 and 3:13 in the video above to support my claim.

There is subtlety in nonchalance, a point which the preppy redux in men’s fashion often fails to take into account.  Certain designers have gone too far in the go-to-hell direction.  They would do well to consider the wisdom of Tom Townsend’s line to Audrey Rouget at the end of the film Metropolitan:  “You look really great, and that’s what’s important.  You don’t want to overdo it.”  For example, I wouldn’t wear a motif belt with motif pants, nor would I wear a brightly colored shirt with brightly colored pants.  I would not wear a wild tie with a madras plaid jacket.  The more moderate elements of the wardrobe hold the chaos of color in check, which is part of the code for this style.

Classic Go-To-Hell- Preppy (c. 1980):  Blue Blazer with Nantucket Reds


















Not surprisingly, whenever comedians or Hollywood filmmakers want to make fun of preppies, they train their sights on the go-to-hell style.  It is an easy mark.  Nothing sets off class resentment and laughter more quickly than a “fancy pants rich kid” getting his comeuppance.  The assumption is that preppies are stereotypically mean and arrogant people, which I don’t think is true at all.  But that’s the whole point of the Alden the Pompous Preppy sketch on Letterman.

Just know that if you wear go-to-hell clothes, you will be asserting the most confident and carefree preppy style there is, but you will also be opening yourself to ridicule from certain people.  You have to really own the fun , slightly self-deprecating attitude behind the clothes and display indifference to criticism in order to pull it off.  You can’t be preppy if you don’t feel preppy.

One Pair of My Go-To-Hell Pants – Ralph Lauren Khakis of 100% Cotton                                                                   Embroidered With Lime Green Tennis Racquets. Thrift Store Purchase ($7.99)

Patchwork Plaid Madras “Go To Hell” Shorts

Warmer weather is coming.  Soon we’ll be into spring and then on to Memorial Day, which is the gateway to the summer prep wardrobe – linen, poplin, seersucker and, of course, madras.  As with traditional retailers, thrift stores begin to shift focus to the coming season(s).  Today, while shopping at Unique Thrift Store in Riverdale, NY, I found not one, but two pairs of excellent madras plaid shorts.  One pair was the much sought after patchwork variety, a true summer prep staple, known as “go to hell shorts.”  Those bold enough to wear them simply could care less what anyone else thinks.

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

These flat front, Bermuda length shorts were made by Gap (not my favorite retailer by any means and hardly preppy on many things).  However, they got it right with these shorts made of 100% cotton India madras.  The stitching is first rate, and I’m willing to bet that side by side you couldn’t tell the difference between this pair and ones  from much more expensive outlets such as J. Press, Brooks Brothers or O’Connell’s.  The asking price for mine:  $14.00.  Brooks asks about $90 to $100 for theirs.

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

Detail of Patchwork Plaid Madras Shorts

With a navy blue Lacoste or Polo shirt (or even a white button down), paired with a surcingle belt, these madras shorts will look great in summer.  It’s unusual to find madras of any kind in a thrift store.  So when you see it, snap it up.  It won’t be around long.   It’s even more rare to come across multiple madras items on one expedition, but I was lucky this time.  This second pair I found was flat front in Bermuda length with a basic plaid pattern — not patchwork — from Land’s End.  The price was $14.00 as well.  For another $9.00, I picked up a white 100% cotton oxford cloth button down from Ralph Lauren.  It was in perfect condition!

100% Cotton India Madras Shorts from Land’s End