POSTED ON AUGUST 22, 2007:
Be True to Your School
Or, you can sue to suit your children's tastes
Fall's retro trends can be preppy enough for a school debate and sexy enough for a modern date.
It's that awful time in a child's life. Summer is about to end and soon it will be time for school to start. The only silver lining to that grey cloud is back-to-school shopping--at least it was when for me as a kid.
I loved the chance to spend some time shopping, getting new outfits for the school year. I'd get home, unload all my stuff and then spend too much time picking out the perfect outfit for the first day of school, even though it was still weeks away.
It's unfortunate that many kids today don't get this experience. The school uniform has made a transition outside of the private school arena, with many public schools both inside and out of Tulsa County opting for the school uniform. This look varies from school to school, but typically constitutes khakis and basic shirts in two or three colors.
While I think I understand the reasoning behind this parent- and administrator-praised choice (something about preventing gangs? Keeping the students' attention on learning? Somewhere along those lines?), it still makes me long for the old days.
These are the formative years in a child's life and these kids aren't being allowed the chance to form a solid fashion foundation or come up with their own unique style. Slim pickings are squelching their creativity. Do I wear the white polo or the navy blue polo today? Light khaki or dark? How's the future of America going to dress?
From what the newest trend is forecasting, we adults will soon look like these youngsters. As we mature, we are given more options regarding what we choose to wear, but adults are still at the mercy of whatever the stores are selling.
This season, they are taking a cue from the kids and are taking it back to the schools. As summer slips away and autumn begins, it's time to pack up the shorts and swimsuits and pick up your preppy school gear.
This isn't your typical polos and khakis spread. "Preppy" has received a horrible rap sheet over the years. The word conjures up imagery of either 1980s Lacoste or the pastel looks that a Connecticut WASP might wear while playing tennis at the country club. It's also not playing into the Catholic schoolgirl fantasy, so save your thigh highs and plaid mini skirts for Halloween. No, this preppy look is less inspired by naughty school girls and popped collars and more about looking back to a 1950s New England college campus.
Actually, that description sounds just as bad. Its stuffy connotation comes from the stuffy environment in which it was bred. This uniform look was created at the private East Coast schools that young privileged men and women, who wanted to clarify their higher status, attended. While the description might not sound all that appealing today, the trends and looks themselves are a great balance between quality standard fall pieces mixed with a little bit of kitsch.
This "Harvard, Class of '52" look almost has an androgynous feel to it, so the elements of the preppy collegiate look can be approached by men and women alike. Never fear ladies--this isn't about pulling off a Diane Keaton in Annie Hall wardrobe. That gender-bending unique style can only suit a few (possibly just Diane Keaton as Annie Hall), so make sure that when you are choosing your big sweater vests and trousers that you are picking form-fitting pieces.
Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. It's the return of the sweater vest, but this time it doesn't have to look square. Well, technically the man's sweater vest hasn't really evolved, so whatever preconceived notion you have about it will probably remain the same. However, if you gentlemen are feeling especially trendy, go for a look in argyle.
The ladies have some leeway with the sweater vest. They too can take the traditional route, with a sweater vest pulled over a crisp button-down or you can sport the trendier sweater vest. Although this season's interpretation is slightly askew from the preppy theme, it still evokes the idea. This season they are made longer and left draped open. They are like a more-boring, less-sleeved version of collegiate cardigans, with a plunging v-neck and big round buttons.
If the sweater vest or kitschy cardigan just isn't doing it for you, a blazer will work as your cool layering piece. The blazer trend has been around for a few years now, so if you don't already own one, think about purchasing one; they look to have some staying power. Men can't go wrong in a blazer in a classic neutral shade: khaki, navy, or black.
For the chicks, your geek-chic look should be in saturated colors in darker tones. Navy blues, hunter greens and burgundies are going to mix well with your fall palette as well as your faux school spirit. Ladies aspiring to find that extra touch of pizzazz should look for a blazer in velvet or with gold metal buttons.
Or, if you're feeling crafty, find some decals that are school/athletically themed to add on the lapels. Preppy enough for a school debate; sexy enough for a modern date. No matter how you wear it, it must be worn well; make sure the seams of the sleeve rest correctly on your shoulders.
As for the lower half of your body, nothing says school uniform quite like a pair of khakis. Men can't go wrong in a pair of khakis, but this preppy look calls for a pair that fit closely to the body. The all-American boy of the past wore his clothes fitted and not overly bulky. Lose any modern idea of cargo pockets as well; classic is the key. For an easy day look, pair your khakis with a rugby shirt.
These primary color combinations of thickly striped shirts look more polished than a regular shirt (thanks to that collar!) and the long sleeves will protect you from that early autumn chill.
For the girls, this season's khaki concept is the wide-legged trouser. This fit should start wide at the thigh and continue all the way down to your shoe; no boot-cut look, no tapering. This trouser is flattering to the girls who literally have wide legs, but they can also look elongating to petite women and flattering to practically every body type, as long as the pant does not fit too tightly on any part of the body. To balance out the proportions, wear a top that fits close to the body. To fasten those loose-fitting pants, find a canvas belt to loosely secure the waist.
As far as patterns and detailing go, look for plaids and crests. The plaids fitting in with this season are tartan-inspired. For those not up-to-date on the various plaids, look for a plaid that is reminiscent of a kilt; the Scottish fabric is synonymous with the famous man skirt.
Be careful that it looks more like plaid at the Ivy Leagues, not plaid on the farm. Because this elitist prep look arrived to New England via old England, a crest is also a great touch to evoke this trend. Place them on jackets, as an icon to a shirt or toss a golden crest charm on to a bracelet, because you can also break out the gold charm bracelets you had from way back when.
Approach the shoe wear that comes with this trend with trepidation. Nearly every shoe fashion design house is creating oxford or oxford booties with heels. If you can't comprehend this catastrophe of a shoe, let me attempt to paint you a mental picture. It's similar to a man's loafer or golf shoe, with a rounded toe and top stitching. There is a tiny area that laces with tiny shoe laces. Because this is less attractive and more schoolmarm-like, they have tried to up the sexy factor, and therefore the purchasing appeal, by stacking this masculine shoe on top of a stiletto heel and making the colors (often two-toned) flashier. Because making them red or metallic blue makes them better? Not even close.
I honestly don't even know how to build up an outfit from these shoes. Should the rest of the look be more subdued and modern, a jeans and sweater combination? Should you just continue the throwback kitsch head-to-toe? I will leave that decision-making to whomever braves this buy, but I will suggest that you not spend grandly on these shoes. I highly doubt, or at least I sincerely hope, that these will not make another appearance after this fall.
A better choice when accessorizing these '50s throwback ensembles is to pair them with a ballet flat with gold hardware embellishment or a cap-toe. A traditional look would be to find shoes in neutral or subdued tones, but there are bold, enriched jewel-tone colors as well as plaid ballet flat options that can give you that modern spin on this old classic.
It excites me that in the process of writing this, I found an article from USA Today that says parents are beginning to fight the school systems in regards to school uniforms. Lawsuits are being filed because parents are frustrated by the costs of outfitting their children and, low and behold, because it takes away their children's constitutional right of freedom: the freedom to dress as they want.
Whether or not this debate holds any ground, it's your constitutional right to be a kid again and wear the old school preppy look this fall.
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