What is the 80s Preppy Look? Here’s How to Dress 80s Preppy

Girl in 80s Look

With big hair, spandex ripped jeans, and leg warmers, the ’80s were big in fashion, with various looks falling into many different categories.

The preppy look was big in the eighties, as we tried to emulate the look of college-bound school kids.

This fashion trend had several main characteristics, including blazers, button-down shirts, polo shirts, and a sweater casually draped around the shoulders.

While the mass popularity of the preppy look comes and goes, this is a look that will never go out of style and becomes extremely prevalent in the spring and early summer.

Want to capture the magic of the 80’s preppy look in the year 2021? Let’s take a look at how you can emulate the put-together, sophisticated vibe of someone who is about to attend an ivy league college in the 1980s.

The History of the Preppy Look

The initial preppy style did not begin in the 1980s but started between 1910 and 1912, becoming known as the popular ivy league style by the mid-1940s.

The iconic preppy brand J. Press was heavily responsible for shaping the preppy subculture of the ’80s and today. They began developing fashions that were sold exclusively to Northeastern ivy league schools.

Eventually, both J. Press and Brooks Brothers had opened their own storefronts at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, giving their students access to their new preppy style clothing right on campus.

Those who were privileged enough to attend ivy league schools also often took part in traditional New England activities like sailing, tennis, polo, and golf.

Students on campus began to wear their new school clothing to these events. This only made sense, as these activities inspired the preppy look in the first place!

The 1980s brought a whole new popularity and availability when it came to preppy style, with dozens of companies beginning to cater to a clientele that wished to emulate this fashion trend.

How Do I Get the 80s Preppy Look?

What’s the difference between the 80s preppy look and the early to mid-20th century's original preppy style? The 80’s essentially modernized the preppy look, bringing it into mainstream fashion and media.

No longer would this look only belong to ivy league college goers - this look would be seen in urban areas, the hip hop scene, and on anyone who simply liked the style! Let’s take a look at how to emulate the 80’s preppy look today.

Slacks, Pastel Polo & Cardigan

Slacks, Pastel Polo & Cardigan

In popularity in the late ’80s and ’90s, Ralph Lauren blew up with the POLO brand, in particular, becoming a staple for preppy ivy league college kids.

At this time, the preppy look was not only popular among these soon-to-be college-goers, but along among punks, skaters, and in the rap and hip hop scenes.

To this day, Ralph Lauren remains the ultimate preppy brand, with the 1980s collections heavily featuring bone-colored slacks and pastel polos.

One particularly striking image of the ’80s features Brooke Shields in a pink polo with a yellow sweater over her shoulders and wearing high-waisted dark blue jeans, although both men and women have widely worn the preppy look.

The ultimate preppy look of Brooke Shields in this photo described this moment in 1980s fashion to a tee and not only reminds us of ivy league fashion but also of days on the golf course.

Get This Look:

Both women and men should wear a pastel polo shirt that is either tucked into jeans or a simple pair of natural colored, twill slacks.

A crewneck sweater or a cardigan in a contrasting color should be tied around the shoulders and topped with a fresh pair of white tennis shoes. 

Pastel Bermuda Shorts, Cotton Shirt, Cardigan Around the Shoulders, & Visor

 This classic 80’s preppy look is ideal for strolling around campus, heading out for a casual game of tennis, or playing golf.

If you don’t live in a world where any of these events would actually occur, it’s also the perfect outfit for an '80s or '90s themed costume party!

Pastel colors were a powerful fashion choice in the ’80s, emphasizing pink, yellow, blue, and coral. Most teen movie icons of the ’80s could be seen wearing pastels, and other young people could not wait to emulate this trend.

And of course, if you are looking for a hat that will complete your 1980s preppy look, then a sun visor will do the trick.

Get This Look:

Men and women should both opt for a pair of pastel Bermuda shorts, a short or long-sleeved light cotton shirt, and a college-style cardigan, crewneck sweater, or jacket to sling strategically around the shoulders.

Finish off your look with a white or see-through sun visor, and you’ve got this look down pat. 

Tan Trousers, Crisp White Shirt & Tweed Blazer

Tan Trousers, Crisp White Shirt & Tweed Blazer

Ralph Lauren was again responsible for this 1980s inspired look, showing campaigns with men in creamy-colored trousers, tan shoes, and navy blazers. Women were also dressed in tan trousers, as well as tucked-in white shirts and tweed blazers.

This '80s preppy throwback gives off an equestrian vibe, slightly different from the traditional ivy league look. While this look is a throwback to '80s fashion, it is also extremely versatile and seamlessly adapts to the 21st century.

Get This Look:

Both men and women should opt for a pair of smart, neutral-colored trousers, accompanied with a tan leather belt and tucked-in white linen blouse. While a tweed blazer is not necessary to get this look across, you can also opt for a navy blazer or a v-neck cable-knit sweater vest.

Women should not be afraid to incorporate men’s items into their 1980’s style preppy look, as an oversized piece such as a blazer is a great modern spin on this look.

What Else Should I Know About '80s Preppy Fashion?

Looking for more tips on how to dress in an 80’s preppy look? When it doubt, always remember the following:

  • Navy blue is always better than black
  • Men should never be afraid to wear pink
  • Opt for tortoiseshell glasses
  • Don’t be afraid to pop your collar if you’re feeling rebellious
  • Khaki is a way of life
  • You can never go wrong with a touch of madras
  • Whales and nautical flags are encouraged

    Ready to Get Started on Your '80s Preppy Look?

    It’s safe to say that the preppy style that was brought into mass popularity in the ’80s will never go out of style. The preppy style is still alive and well in 2021 and currently has its own modern spin on what we know as 1980s prep.

    Consider the above-linked pieces for a fresh and modern take on 1980s style, and don’t be afraid to mix in your own vintage 80’s pieces for a true throwback to this monumental time in fashion!

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