Preppy People, Meet The Hot Topic People

If the names L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Chris Craft, or Benetton bring back some bad memories, you aren’t alone. I spent the better part of my middle school days lost in the midst of the “preppy era” where pink and green were the “IN” colors of the day. I spent hours staring into the Benetton store window admiring all the bright colors and dreaming of owning one of those sweaters.

preppy example

Yes I'm embarrased to admit I scanned this from my very own copy of the Official Preppy Handbook. Not only did I own it, but I colored it in according to the directions which means I actually read it. Why did we think this was a good look?

I have a theory on how the preppy thing started.

A rich fashion-designer-type is sitting around his posh home sipping a brandy when his poodle throws up some crushed florescent crayons on an imported corduroy rug and inspires the Spring collection. We have Rover to thank for looking ridiculous for years.

Signs of Preppiness…

Bear with me on the real awkward photos of me that follow. I’m sure it was just bad lighting and Photoshop didn’t exist yet. Be gentle.

Corduroy Pants

If your florescent green wide corduroy pants caused the cones in your classmate’s retina to scream and shut down in color overload, your popularity was practically guaranteed to increase tenfold.

Animal logos

The Izod alligator was the badge of coolness. Higher than the alligator on the fashion evolutionary scale was the horse, and the smell of the guys’ Polo cologne filled the hallways thanks to Ralph Lauren.

Calvin Klein, Jordache & Gloria Vanderbilt jeans

(This is not me…it’s Brooke Shields in case you were confused.)
Who doesn’t remember the famous line?

If you didn’t have to lie flat, struggle, tug and then finish with hopping around to squeeze in them, your jeans weren’t tight enough. OK now I feel guilty for complaining about my daughter’s skater jeans and see I’m getting payback.

Recently my mother arrived at my house with a surprise. My old pair of Jordache jeans that I had painstakingly sewed up the inseam to make them tighter. *Deep sigh* A treasure that my not-impressed-with-the-vintage-jeans daughter tossed off to the side. How dare she! They sit patiently on my dresser in the hopes that one day I can fit more than my arm in there and re-live the magic.

The add-a-bead necklace

fake add a bead necklace

I dare you to question their authenticity.

Remember that necklace? Each bead was 18K gold, so even the tiny little beads were like $18. I remember walking to the jewelry store in the strip mall beside my neighborhood and laying a pile of change on the counter hoping I had enough to cover the tax so I could add one more tiny bead. By the time I got home, it already had a dent in it. That’s how you knew they were real.

While the rich kids paraded around with 3 strands filled to the clasp with the large mm beads, there I was with my 3-5 measly 3mm and 5mm beads that were so small you needed a microscope to see them.

That’s when you mistakenly fall into the fake add-a-bead necklace trap. Look! I have 23 large beads. Yes they are turning green but just look at ’em!

preppy outfit

Who needs good hair when you have what is really important...the real add-a-beads (the shorter smaller necklace) and the fake ones and my only preppy shirt. I would have worn this every day if I could have. Thank goodness for slow laundry turnover.

My parents were sensible and didn’t frivolously spend money on fads. In order to cease my begging for name brand clothes, I got about $20 a week allowance that I had to use for my activities and all my clothes, and I learned to stretch my dollars by digging through the racks at TJ Maxx in hopes of finding something name brand even if half a pocket was missing.

The real thing out of reach price-wise, preppy status was looking unattainable. Then it happened. The day I found one green Polo shirt hidden deep within the racks. I practically screamed in delight and ignored the tiny hole under the sleeve! It became my prized possession. Making the most of it, I wore it twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays – as well as in every photograph for the next two years. Just because it was long sleeve didn’t stop me from wearing in in 78 degree humidity. Something about wearing that horse made you feel like you were sitting high in the saddle, and it was always a great day.

Bermuda Bags

bermuda bag

These are still popular and even cuter today. Photo credit to where you can buy them. Now I want one!

My favorite fashion accessory and a must-have was the bermuda bag. The covers were exchangeable so you could match whatever you were wearing. This lead to another popular trend that caused an issue for me…


Everything could be propelled to an even cooler status if they were embroidered with your initials. This was a problem. I don’t have a middle name. Really. My mother explained the reason behind this was because she went by her middle name, but was constantly called her first name. To avoid such confusion, she didn’t give people any choice but to call me Melinda. Thank goodness I wasn’t the product of celebrities and stuck with Zuzu.

This was an issue when having a sweater embroidered since 2 initials throws the monogram off balance. After learning that lesson with a sweater, I opted to ditch the initials on my purse cover.

The Baseball Shirt

the baseball tee

The baseball t-shirt. Always look fashionable while tangled in a phone cord.

Penny Loafers, Duck Shoes, Leather Moccasins and Sperry Topsiders

It’s hard to tell in the picture, but I’m wearing penny loafers. You never know when a penny is going to come in handy, and you conveniently have 2! That’s practically 1/4 of a gumball.

penny loafers preppy look

Under my only cable cardigan? Oh there's that green shirt again. Again it's all about distracting from the bad hair.

The IZOD shirt. The hair got better eventually. I just felt I had to prove it.

The only thing worse than growing up in this label-conscious society was not being ridiculously wealthly during it. It didn’t really bother me that I didn’t have $1000s to spend on my school wardrobe like so many of my friends who had a closet full of the “in” clothes with the tags still on. That just made my few items I did have worth that much more to me. I appreciated what I had and looking back my parents taught me a valuable lesson about fads. Don’t get sucked into them. It’s a waste of money. This is why I love consignment stores and the thrill of the hunt.

Today’s Preppy

Out shopping for clothes for my son’s birthday, my soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old daughter mentioned “Hot Topic” people. I listened and learned how teens that wear Hollister and Aeropostale clothes are the preppy equivalent of today.

“Preppy” people apparently have no business stepping foot into Hot Topic which is reserved for the hard core music fans of the music of Lady Gaga, Falling in Reverse, Asking Alexandria, Black Veil Brides, and other bands that I couldn’t spell. She considers it “cheating” on Hot Topic to walk into Hollister. The only exception to this rule is you might have to go there to a preppy store to purchase brightly colored pants which are all the rage. Hmm…that sounds scarily familiar. They come in green and pink, too. *Flashback*

I’m told it is all about being bright and colorful or going completely opposite by wearing all black.

As we approached Hot Topic, she began salivating at the thought of what’s new in there.

“Sorry we can’t go in there,” I said.

“What?! Why not? I want to see if they have new Lady Gaga shirts.”

“Your rules. Excuse me but, YOU’RE wearing Hollister.”

She looks down and screams “Ahh!”

I didn’t really get a good feel for what is Hot Topicish and what is preppy as it all seems to be mixed together to me. Perhaps if they had the updated version of the Preppy Handbook, things would be clearer.

Were you in school during the preppy era?
Did you have this book?

the preppy handbook


  1. Kim Skiiba

    I have so many pictures of you in the green shirt or the baseball shirt. This brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood which includes you in almost everyone of them. I am so lucky to have such a talented wonderful friend!

  2. Mitchell Allen

    Erm, (that’s not throat clearing, that’s my calling you Erma…)

    Erm, I spent my allowance on Mad Magazines and Radio Shack capacitors.
    Thus, I not only was spared the preppy drama, I also was spared the angst of matching clothes.

    The story is different when disco came, but you don’t want to hear about that. Let’s just say that the surreptitious throat-clearing would have sounded like a muffled “Emo!”

    I think you look adorable in those pictures. Maybe there was something to that whole scene.
    Of course, you also look like you knew your way around a circuit board, too. Wise beyond your years…



  3. Allan Douglas

    Sorry – I got nothing to relate to here. My mom made my clothes. I was lucky because I was the oldest and the biggest so I got the new ones, my brother got the hand-me downs.

    I’ve *seen* those catalogs, but never bought anything from them. I’d make a terrible preppie, Ah is jes a ol mountain man.

    And I’m SOOO glad I’m not raising kids these days. Good luck to you!

  4. I was home-schooled, so, obviously there wasn’t any pressure to wear certain clothes. I do remember Bermuda bags and baseball tees! I loved them!
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  5. Guffaw!!! Oh, man…you’re taking me back!

    I used to pop my collar back in the day, wear my Member’s Only jacket and rock my high-top fade hair style.

    It was a shameful, shameful time.

    The only consolation is that my parents absolutely positively REFUSED to let me get a jheri curl. Oh, man – I was so pissed. The house was unlive-able because I couldn’t get my jheri curl.

    I was convinced that was the only thing standing between me, fame and babes galore.

    Now I’m just grateful my parents had some sense. Many of my friends have unfortunate photos of them dripping the jheri curls all over the place that seem to come to light at the most inopportune of times.

    Either way you rocked that green shirt. Hah!
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    • Ooo the Member’s Only jacket! How could I forget that. I need the male version of this post. I’m just dying at the jerhi curl. I remember that and had a friend that sported that look. Michael Jackson influence?

  6. I did not have that book but I am right there with you, sister! You were super-duper cute! Love that you wore that long-sleeved polo, no matter the weather, on Mondays AND Thursdays. Ha! I have no clue about teen fashion yet. With two boys, maybe I’ll never really know!
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  7. Claire Lopez

    Hilarious! Ahhhh the memories….and monograms! I graduated HS in 1976. I had all this stuff! lol Remember the Nik Nik shirts?

  8. I don’t remember the Bermuda bags, maybe they didn’t make it to the thumb of Michigan until like, 2 years after the 80’s ended. What was a MUST have were Esprit bags, and the more you had in more colors the better. Oh, how I pined for an Esprit bag. I wanted one bad!

  9. I think I was a forced preppy. I had quite a bit of the designer/preppy clothes thanks to my mom. I was far from what you would have called preppy, til maybe my junior/senior year in high school.

    Given a choice and had it been around I would have been another Hot Topic Teen. Though there were places like Marry Go Round [ showing my age] I was more into that scene. I even remember when parachute pants were in. Well, they actually were never “in” at my high school. My school was more like 90210.

  10. Awesome! Brook Shields rocks!

  11. I love this post. It makes me recall good old days.

  12. I didn’t really care much about fashion when I was young though all of my friends were crazy about what to wear and all that stuff. To think about it, I still don’t care. Though I like dressing all business-like now, love my suites.
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  13. Unfortunately, I still wear Sperry’s. They are an awful shoe and I can’t wait until this pair dies so I can become a real person.

    The preppy days were vicious…I remember Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirts with fruit logos on them. I used to be so cool….
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  14. This has been really cool to read, its so interesting to read what preppy was years ago and to think about what it means now. I have to admit I was never the kind of person to keep up with the fads – I think my parents were really pleased about that!!!
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  15. Thanks for this wonderful retrospective post! I loved those bermuda bags so much! I think I need to find it at my parents house, if it’s really cute today!
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  16. I didn’t receive my first Izod shirt until college 😛
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  17. This was entertaining thank you. I’ve done this with myself in my head before but you’ve inspired me to go back and look over my fashion history and see where I went well as well as where I really went wrong. Thanks.

  18. Corduroy pants, haha! Looking back on some trends is just hilarious. What were people thinking. Its amazing how trends work.
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  19. Found this post interesting! I’ll be pinning this on pinterest today!

  20. Maryden25 says:

    Hello Melinda!
    Thanks for sharing some little thoughts and photos from the past. It made me smile, considering that I do wore jeans and shorts like you.
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  21. You just can’t resist fashion in your everyday life. And this preppy look seems to be interesting. Thank you for sharing ideas about this preppy look. I’m looking forward for more look you got to share.
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  22. Heidi19 says:

    Preppy style is real cool and stylish. And even nowadays, this style is used by some. And even by celebrities like Zooey Deschanel.
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  23. Karyn18 says:

    How I wish I had that Preppy Handbook. That looks interesting. People nowadays, just can’t get off to fashion. Well no doubt, even Gaga’s out-of-the-planet fashion has always been on track.
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  24. nice pictures and videos thanks for sharing this.
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  25. VERY funny! I still have my add-a-bead necklace–isn’t today’s ridiculously expensive translation, like, Pandora? The Bermuda bags really took me back!
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  26. HI,

    I forgot about Esprit bags. I remember hoping one would show up at TJMaxx but never lucked out.

    Thanks for share with me!!
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  27. Vineyard Vines is the official brand of the Kentucky Derby this year, and I have to say they have really outdone themselves. I have truly fallen in love with VV this year, and I think that they have great items for men! The seersucker suit is just perfect – I love, love, love it. But, if your man doesn’t want to dive headfirst into preppy waters, start off with seersucker pants, a blazer, or a seersucker bowtie/tie! My brother has a trillion seersucker ties and bowties and they’re great!
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  28. This is also from a kid’s site but come on…it has seersucker stripes and pink and green checks!
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  29. The real thing out of reach price-wise, preppy status was looking unattainable. Then it happened. The day I found one green Polo shirt hidden deep within the racks. I practically screamed in delight and ignored the tiny hole under the sleeve! It became my prized possession. Making the most of it, I wore it twice a week – Mondays and Thursdays – as well as in every photograph for the next two years. Just because it was long sleeve didn’t stop me from wearing in in 78 degree humidity. Something about wearing that horse made you feel like you were sitting high in the saddle, and it was always a great day.
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  30. Is there a difference between someone wearing a polo shirt, khakis and a belt, and a preppy who went to St. Paul’s who’s wearing the same clothes? Sure there is, but it doesn’t fit the 21st century to keep people out. I can understand why someone from a certain restricted population might not want to share, but that’s really passé. Also, while booksellers or the Library of Congress may classify both these books as humor, I’d say they’re both nonfiction books full of information that are told in a humorous voice.
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  31. I know you’re really excited to let your hair grow when you leave home, because your dad hates long hair and never allows it to cover your ears. You look forward to having cascading tresses, just like George Harrison. If you have to, you’ll stay on campus during holidays just so your dad won’t make you cut it. Here’s the thing. The preppy era — with short hair — is arriving. You just don’t know it yet because you live in Eagleville, Missouri where “prep” refers to the process of warming a Guernsey’s udders before morning milking. Because you’ll become a preppy, don’t spend any more money on bell bottoms and polyester print shirts, Ronnie. You’ll just throw them away when you discover overpriced Lacoste shirts. You’ll spend a lot of money just to have that little green alligator on your chest. And that denim jacket with the Woodstock patch on it? Unless you’re the bassist for The Grateful Dead, get rid of it.
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