Preppy Style at Home

It's a careful yet casual mixing of ingredients, of things you love and find comfortable, that really captures the essence of a preppy lifestyle.

Posted by Linda Merrill | Nov 16, 2011
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How preppy. Photo: Ralph Lauren HomeI grew up in the very “preppy” town of Duxbury, Massachusetts. We were so preppy, in fact, that we got a mention in the 1980 Official Preppy Handbook. The thing I really came away with was that being a real "preppy" was something innate. There were those born to the preppy life who were never particularly comfortable there and others who became preppy and fit right in.

The preppy lifestyle is not just about fashion (although Nantucket red chinos, Top Siders without socks, and Polo shirts with upturned collars were certainly de rigueur), it’s about a lifestyle. It has the patina of old money and country club tradition, but with a more colorful and casual exuberance. It’s definitely not about age, as much of the clothing works for generations and certainly some truly Boston Brahmin preps keep their clothes for that long! True preppy style derives more from the windblown feeling that you’ve just pulled your skiff in after a bracing morning on the water than a white dinner jacket evening at the club.

I asked Scot Meacham Wood, of SMW Design, a Southern boy currently living in San Francisco, his take on modern prep. Known for his great collection of plaid blazers, Wood is the embodiment of casual preppy chic. When asked about preppy fashion, Wood says it’s all about cut and fit. "This current 'preppy movement' is much more body conscious than the one I remember from the 80’s.  This current trend is also a bit more 'weathered,'" he said.  "The clothing has more of a sense of history.  Many people find the tattered oxford shirts and patch-covered jeans to be more of a pastiche. Luckily for me, I still have all the oxford shirts from my college years - so the tatters are legitimate." 

Wood points to menswear designer Michael Bastian as doing a great modern preppy look. "He has, in the last few years, completely re-imagined the modern preppy male.  Beautiful, classic clothing, but with a fit that is much more body aware than the baggy khakis and loose sweaters that we wore in the 80’s," he said. 

When it comes to home interiors, Wood also noted the breezy new Lily Pulitzer fabric collection for Lee Jofa, saying he is particularly taken with the great patterns, amazing colors and "sheer happiness" of the line. "It certainly represents a style that is considered to be 'classic' American", said Wood.

Mixed in with the bright exuberance of the Lily Pulitzer line is the ever-classic Ralph Lauren Home collection. Ralph Lauren is the embodiment of the self-made man to whom a classic American, casual prep style came naturally, belying his Bronx upbringing. Scott Meacham Wood, who earlier in his career worked as a stylist for Ralph Lauren Home in California, enjoys the mixing of lighter and brighter fabrics with classic leathers and linens. This mixing of materials, both old and new, imbues a sense of history. A layering of art and accessories adds to the overall historical, yet still casual, feel. 

In the wrong hands, preppy style becomes a cliché, almost a uniform. Red trousers: check; Top Siders: check; sailboats: check, check. But these things only scratch the surface. Decking your home in sailboat motifs and brown leather furniture (the interiors version of the uniform) doesn’t truly capture the breezy essence of the preppy lifestyle. In addition to Ralph Lauren and Lily Pulitzer lines mentioned above, here is a list of 5 must-have items that capture the essence of the preppy home.

  • Breezy bedding from Pine Cone Hill’s Cape Calm collection
  • The pineapple is a traditional sign of welcome. A pineapple door knocker says welcome right away!
  • The Lighthouse Denim and White striped rug by Dash and Albert Rug Company feels fresh underfoot, like a snapping sail or a classic button down shirt.
  • Pottery Barn’s Chesterfield leather sofa is all about tradition and comfort. The leather will develop a wear-worn distressed look over time, fitting right in the style.
  • Brightly lacquered Chinese Chippendale chairs. Classic design style meets pretty exuberance.

Furnishings should be sturdy and comfortable, they should hold up to lots of use and sandy feet, and should become even more comfortable over time. Nothing should be too modern, too dark or too neon. It’s a careful yet casual mixing of ingredients, of things you love and find comfortable, that really captures the essence of a preppy lifestyle. 

Linda Merrill is a Networx - - writer. Get home & garden ideas like this - - on

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