True Prep Review: part 2—The Official Preppy Handbook

The first part of my True Prep review is here.  In that review, I expressed disappointment about the levels of “tokenism” under the guise of multiculturalism.  I also noted that this could be a result of the constraints of writing about a by-definition reclusive and inclusive subculture, but it wasn’t really a focused study at all—it was more of a magazine spread; a book that was not about the content but rather the products that you (an aspiring prep) could buy to become more “prep.”  The reason for a consumer to buy this volume is to acquire a basic understandings of the cultural norms and manners of the old-money set. 

An example:


logology_true prep

If you embiggen the image (click on it) you’ll also see our first example of #textpatois!

Quote:  “This is when we would write LOL, except we loathe LOL.”  Preps (or Lisa Birnbach’s impression of preps) loathe internet speak, thus referred to as #textpatois.  Send in all your favorite examples of #textpatois!

So I went to my local public library to find a copy of The Official Preppy Handbook, published over 30 years earlier and very difficult to find a copy of.  I wanted to compare my complaints with True Prep’s modern commercialism vs. the original text.  I suspected that True Prep is mostly recycled content from the original book, which, although would focus much less on minorities and “oppressed peoples,” would be a more insightful look into the subculture that ”never changes. Ever.”

The first difference between the two preppy-focused books is during the table of contents.  True Prep, the newer volume, has a heavy dose of snark in almost all headlines and opening sentences for chapers.  Chapter II in the Preppy Handbook is called “The Root of All Prep: The Years at School.”  Descriptive and succinct, it raises my ire significantly less than chapter 3 in True Prep: “That’s where my brother went: schools: pre-nursery to grade 20.”  It’s these kind of tossed-off Gawker headline rejects that caused my very preppy friend from Bethesda, MD to declare True Prep “”disgusting.”

Another interesting difference between the two books is that Preppy Handbook spends a lot more time discussing drinking, and drinking to excess as a token of social capital in the preppy world.  True Prep spends much less time discussing discreet ways to imbibe large amounts of alcohol.  Quotes!

Preppy Handbook, in the section “A preppy value system: Before Truth, the Right Fork:”

“Four: Drinking.  A preppy’s ambition is directed toward imbibition.”

True Prep, in a graphical spread comparing what preppies wear on casual friday vs. Saturday.  A man is holding a drink in one hand an a tennis raquet in the other.


“G&T.  I’m taking a break from my break.”

Preppy Handbook, in a similar graphical spread detailing what any given prep would wear for a garden occasion in the autumn of a man’s life.

“Bags under eyes from too much drinking.”

There’s even a little part in TP about beer pong etiquette, which wasn’t even invented when Preppy Handbook was published.  Aside from that, the attitude towards drinking in TP is much more guarded, and encouragement of wanton drunkenness is much more ambiguous. In Preppy Handbook, however, there’s a whole section called “deviant behavior.”  Based on this one observation alone, the handbook wins out. 

The fashion advice is largely the same, but the handbook doesn’t mention labels as a reason d’etre, so it wins on that category.  Also, the chapter about debutante balls (not covered as in-depth in TP) was absolutely fascinating and worth the price of admission on its own.  There are no Asian or black people in the photos/drawings/prep hall of fame in the earlier text, but I almost prefer that, as to keep the subculture pure.  I’d be pretty upset if I bought a lookbook of hip-hop styles and there were white people in almost every photo. 



Therefore, I recommend reading The Official Preppy Handbook if you were looking to learn more about preppy fashion and manners.  Please stay away from True Prep—it’s a flawed attempt to capitalize monetarily on a trend, and the writing suffers as a result.  Plus, in Preppy Handbook, they mention Oberlin as a school which is “out-of-the-league,” meaning very, very unpreppy.


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