Trinity’s Preppy Culture Defined
By: Matthew Longcore ’94 Alumnus (This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2010 issue of The Tripod).
It is official: Trinity is the preppiest college in New England. This proclamation was made by none other than Lisa Birnbach, author of the 1980 tongue-in-cheek bestseller The Official Preppy Handbook and co-author (with Chip Kidd) of the recently released follow up, True Prep. In the original Preppy Handbook, Trinity was listed among the top 20 preppy colleges in America. For True Prep, however, Birnbach decided not to create such a list, instead giving Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia the honor of being “the preppiest in America.” When yours truly asked Lisa on the Facebook fan page for True Prep why Trinity was not accorded this honor, she replied: “I have to stand by my decision. I’m willing to say that Trinity is the preppiest school in New England. For a small college, Trinity alumni are EVERYWHERE.”
Birnbach later validated Trinity’s preppy status at an event held at the New Canaan Library in the preppy hamlet of Fairfield County, Connecticut. This event included a fashion show featuring clothes from the super preppy brand J. McLaughlin. When asked (again by yours truly) if she was willing to stand by her Facebook proclamation, Birnbach replied that yes, indeed, Trinity is the preppiest college in New England. She described Trinity as “a hot school that everyone wants to go to.”
Trinity’s longstanding reputation as a preppy school predates the Preppy Handbook by many years. In 1963, Gene Hawes published an article in the Saturday Review titled “The Colleges of America’s Upper Class” in which he provided statistical data about the alma maters of men listed in the Social Register. Trinity came in fifth place behind Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Pennsylvania but well ahead of much larger institutions such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth. This article was published in what is now known as “the Mad Men era” when Trinity and several of the Ivy League schools were still all-male bastions. A decade later, coeducation had swept Trinity and its peers.
By the 1970s, a fictional Trinity preppy made his silver screen debut (albeit a brief cameo appearance) in the movie Jaws. In the opening sequence of the film, the male character Cassidy (dressed in a blue oxford button down shirt and khakis) mentions that he attends Trinity. When police chief asks, “Do you live here?” (“here” being the preppy summer resort of Martha’s Vineyard) Cassidy replies, “Na, Hartford, I go to Trinity. My folks live in Greenwich.” Greenwich, as preppies know well, is very preppy indeed.
Fast forward to 1980 and by this time Trinity men and women had earned their rightful place in The Official Preppy Handbook, which describes the student body as follows: “Universally Preppier, students here embody good-looking devil-may-care-ism.” The “Fraternal Instincts” section of the Preppy Handbook also seems Trinity-inspired in its description of Greek life on preppy campuses: “There are some nationally established Preppy frats, where most of the members are from Darien and almost all went to Prep school in Massachusetts – Psi U and St. Anthony Hall fit this mold most consistently.”
The Preppy Handbook’s list of the top 20 preppy colleges in America includes over half of the 11 schools of the NESCAC (Amherst, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Trinity, and Williams) but only one member (Princeton) of the eight schools in the Ivy League, despite the public perception of the Ivies as “the preppiest” of schools. The logic behind this is explained in a section called “The Ivy League Dilemma” which states that “the pink-and-green scale tips in favor of the more homogeneous smaller schools.” Tailgate culture at preppy colleges, in which the actual game is ignored in favor of socializing over Bloodies and Whiskey Sours, is also described in the Preppy Handbook. The “Discovering Prep” section of the book highlights “some crucial points of the Prep Ethos” which include favoring “fake college football (Williams vs. Amherst)” as opposed to “real college football (Michigan vs. Ohio State).”
Trinity’s preppy reputation has endured into the 21st century. A 2007 article in The New York Times titled “Pink Shirts Welcome” describes the uber-preppy crowd at Bar Martignetti in Manhattan’s SoHo district. The article quotes the bar’s owner, Trinity alumnus Anthony Martignetti ’02, as stating, “I went to Trinity, which is the epicenter of preppy partying in the Northeast.” The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, which is published annually by The Yale Daily News, includes Trinity on its “Top Ten Preppiest Student Bodies” list along with such schools as Princeton and UVA. In June of this year, The Huffington Post published a similar list – the “Top Ten Preppy Colleges” – and once again Trinity made the cut, coming in at a respectable #3 behind #2 Princeton and…yup, you guessed it, #1 Hampden-Sydney College.
Though the Bantams lost out to Hampden-Sydney as “America’s preppiest college” in True Prep, Trinity College is actually mentioned several times in the book. Two of the fictitious preps featured in the books are described as Trinity graduates: English teacher “Mrs. Radcliffe” (page 66) and well-dressed post-grad “Anderson Flatto” (page 112). Among the many elements of Anderson’s preppy wardrobe is a CK Bradley embroidered belt which holds up his cords embroidered with whales. CK Bradley, as many Trinity preps know, is a preppy brand of clothing designed by Trinity alumna Camilla Bradley ’99, who started the line during her college years by making ribbon belts for her classmates. True Prep concludes with a timeline of preppy-related events which have taken place in the last 30 years since the publication of The Official Preppy Handbook. Trinity is mentioned twice in this chronology. The first mention is the February 21, 2010 victory of the Trinity men’s squash team which marked the team’s 12th consecutive national championship. According to True Prep, team members were “compared to preppy rock stars.” The second mention in the timeline is September 2, 2010 when the “full-time, First-year students’ meal plan begins with dinner at Trinity College.” Why exactly this particular date is mentioned, no one but the authors can know for sure.