A few days ago, I happened upon an article on jackthreads.com called “Preppy Brands: The 14 Preppiest Brands Available Today.”
Some of the brands featured (Tommy Hilfiger, Vineyard Vines) are a pale simulacrum of prep with a ghastly record of outsourcing production. Others, like Brooks Brothers, Patagonia, Ralph Lauren and Sperry, are iconic American companies who have lost their way.
But almost all have been seduced by the siren song of cheap labor in foreign locales, trafficking in an American ideal while shifting manufacturing overseas.
Let’s begin with a simple premise. Prep is a fundamentally American aesthetic. Although it synthesizes items and influences from a variety of cultures (Shetland sweaters; English Brogues, madras cloth), it is one of the few defineably American modes of dress.
Given that, it’s only fitting most of the items in a prep’s wardrobe be made in the United States (the only exception being those pieces produced in their native context). Third world manufacturing undermines authenticity.
Let’s also acknowledge another reality: smaller is preppier. Large, multinational conglomerates are not preppy. That small resort shop committed to stocking local and regional brands is.
So, based upon those assumptions, let’s consider an alternate list of the most authentically preppy brands going. I ranked them as best I could, although the process felt a bit arbitrary. Feel free add your thoughts in the comments section.
14. Bob Goodman & Co. (Est. 1992). The repp tie is a prep staple. For my money, New Jersey-based Bob Goodman makes the finest version on the market today.
13. Hamilton Shirts (est. 1883). Hamilton is the oldest continuously operating business in Houston and (to my knowledge) the oldest bespoke shirtmaker in the United States. With those bonafides, Hamilton is the definitive place for men’s custom shirting.
12. Alicia Bell (Est. 2007?). I’ve never seen Alicia Bell’s offerings in the flesh. But the pictures I’ve seen suggest a brand committed to classic pieces, both for resort wear and for dressy informal occasions. Her custom shirt dresses are a paean to timeless good taste.
11. Bills Khakis (est. 1990). Consider some of what I’ve purchased from Bills over the years: seersucker trousers, a pair of classic khakis, green twill trousers, poplin critter trousers and brown Donegal tweed trousers. Classic, one and all.
10. Jolie & Elizabeth (Est. 2010). Every prep woman should own at least one Jolie & Elizabeth seersucker dress. Given the prep’s affinity for seersucker, it’s only natural that a company specializing in the fabric would make our list. Of note: Jolie & Elizabeth’s collaboration with Haspel has produced the shirt dress, sine qua non.
9. Kiel James Patrick (Est. 2007). Never mind the ad hominem attacks on the founder’s prep bonafides, Kiel James Patrick does a better job of selling the prep lifestyle–along with authentic, American made goods–than just about any other company out there.
8. Palm Beach Sandals (Est. 1960). Not the Jack Rogers sandals, a pale and inferior imitation. Palm Beach Sandals, made in the U.S., are the real McCoy. A summer/resort classic, their connection to Jackie Kennedy more than justifies their place on our list.
7. L.L. Bean (Est. 1912). I know, I know. Bean is one of the leading examples of outsourcing writ large, a once venerable company sundered by a craven pursuit of profits over people. But consider this. If Bean’s only two products were the Bean Boot and the Boat and Tote (both still made in Maine), it still would have earned a place on our list.
6. Rancourt (Est. 1967). Where G.H. Bass and Sperry have both faltered, shifting much of their production overseas, Rancourt has rushed into the breech with a full range of classic shoes (penny loafers, boat shoes and camp moccasins) all made in Maine.
5. Mercer and Sons (Est. 1982). There are some gentlemen who consider Mercer the button down’s platonic ideal–with a collar roll superior even to the iconic Brooks Brothers version.
4. F.H. Wadsworth (Est. 2014). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you consider yourself a devotee of the prep look, you must have one of these belts in your collection. They are nothing less than a prep membership card.
3. Eliza B/Leather Man Ltd (Est. 1967). A tandem of brands under the same ownership (and website) offering motif belts, sandals and other manner of accessories, for both men and women. While we were saddened to see the custom flats disappear from Eliza B’s website, we can take solace in knowing the company’s commitment to classic products endures.
2. Just Madras/Sailor-Sailor (Est. 2007). A paean to endless summer, more essential and more authentically prep than today’s Lily Pulitzer. Just Madras/Sailor-Sailor would have topped our list, if not for a slightly too heavy-handed reliance on synthetic fabrics.
1. High Cotton (Est. 2010). The high priest of the southern prep look. Offering a wide range of products (ties, belts, suspenders, cummerbunds, shirts and pocket squares) in all the correct fabrics. Although it’s no longer in High Cotton’s product line, I consider their North Carolina pique polo the finest such shirt I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning.
Honorable Mentions: Brooks Brothers (if only for the ties); The New England Shirt Company; Gitman (both the regular and the vintage lines); Lauren James; Criquet Shirts (with High Cotton no longer selling its polo shirts, Criquet is the place to get the classic, American made, pique polo); Haspel (for its American made seersucker trousers); Taylor Stitch, the Vermont Flannel Company, Wassookeag Moccasins; Alden Shoes; Allen Edmonds. J. Press.