Friday, April 2, 2010

Classic Preppy Chic and Miss Betty

Why "classic" preppy? Well....I think there are a lot of preppy types or styles, and classic implies a sense of ease and effortlessness as well as simplicity and elegance. There's another type of effortless preppy....."gender-neutral preppy," which is effortless to the extreme.   That style is just very unfortunate all the way around.  These ladies need a hairdo, a little lipstick and at least a small choker of pearls!  There's also "cute preppy," which may be more thematic and always involves a lot of pink and green as well as mandatory monogramming. This is a very sweet and feminine approach which we all like to one degree or another!  You can easily work "cute preppy"  into a "classic preppy"  style, but be careful.  It can go wrong before you know it.  Taken to the extreme with an overabundance of effort, "cute preppy" can become contrived and not classic at all.   If it goes even farther than that, this type of preppy can morph into the dreaded "prissy preppy" where absolutely everything is waaaaaay overdone and nothing is natural/genuine about it.  It's a rare condition, to be sure, but I am convinced there needs to be a twelve step program of recovery for those who find themselves running amok....

"Take a deep breath and back away from the monogramming machine, Bootsy!"

Seriously....I have seen women who have so over-monogrammed/decked out their little boys that I have worried about the child's safety among his peers on the playground. It's like pinning a "kick-me" sign on his back! .....Is there a solution or compromise? Of course there is! A Lacoste or Ralph Lauren polo shirt and a pair of khakis. Preppy. Simple.  Safe.

 "Classic preppy" implies a sense of ease and nonchalance about one's life in general.  You are just that way, your parents most likely were, and your grandparents, too.   You appreciate quality and you realize that clothes and accessories are (or should be) a long term investment, so you look for good design, great fabric and excellent detailing/finishing. Although she may be a "cute preppy" in more casual daytime attire, a "classic preppy" woman tends towards very simple lines and colors in her dressier clothes. In the cooler months you tend to see a lot of navy, black, camel, gray and red (for a pop of color) on the "classic preppy."

A classic preppy can (and will!) wear something she bought more than 20 years ago, and you won't know the difference!  Take some time to research the fashion of the past 80 years.  It's fascinating!  Many of the styles we so enjoy today were staples even then.  Look at the timeless pieces by designers like Chanel, which have been reproduced by a variety of designers in all price ranges....all of these are favorites of the classic preppy.

The illustration at the top of the page is from  The Vintage Shopping Guide.  This link will take you to a page where you can read a marvelous article about a woman named Claire Watson and her work in the fashion industry.  Vintage is often a treasure trove in classic design, cut, and construction, and the page links you to the best vintage shops in the best vintage city...New York. (And speaking of timeless....Just look at what Lilly Pulitzer is doing with its "Originals" line...Brilliant!!)  If you are interested in reading more about classic women and their style, also check out Annette Tapert's book, The Power of Style.

February 28, 1958 (Rehearsal Dinner)

I learned about timeless elegance and classic style from my mother, who some people referred to as Miss Betty.  She believed in buying things of good design that were well made, but not buying too much, for she believed simplicity was the key to elegance.  (She also taught me the fine art of seasonal sales!) Miss Betty preferred dresses to skirts and blouses, and rarely would she wear pants....but she always looked put together in whatever she chose, no matter what it was.  She lived her life the same how she decorated her house, entertained at dinner parties, etc.  I pray that I have inherited/learned at least a little bit of that from her.  As I grow older, I certainly hear myself sounding like her, a common trait with mothers and daughters. When I speak to my daughters, it is often in Miss Betty's "voice."  Things that are completely unacceptable are vulgar or common and there is no room for discussion on any of those matters.  If something is not quite so bad, but definitely not something that Miss Betty would have approved of, it is simply "T-Tacky" (pronounced "tee-tacky").  I try to be on the lookout for the T-Tacky things in life.  I certainly want to avoid them......The good things were always "divine" or "chic" or "elegant."   That's what I am aiming for, although I am sure I miss it by a mile much of the time.

Here is a true Miss Betty Story, to close with.....Honest to goodness true!

Miss Betty had a stroke in the fall of 2008. Upon hearing the news, I threw some clothes in a bag, got to the train station in Charlottesville and took the overnight train down to her in South Carolina....the quickest, most direct way.  When I arrived, she was having a hard time speaking and moving, and the nurses and doctor were not able to understand her very well.  I was at her side for weeks but, unfortunately, all I was able to throw into my bag as I rushed out the door were jeans, a couple of tops and one other pair of "decent" pants, so my clothing choices were limited.  As the second week of my stay began, I remember sitting in the chair in her hospital room, wearing my jeans, which I had washed and dried the night before, and one of the shirts.  The doctor and nurse were also in the room, trying to talk to Miss Betty.  They raised her head up to see if that would help, and when they did she looked over at me.  In a voice rather loud and actually quite clear, she said,

"I have seen those same three outfits on you for the past week and you are starting to embarrass me. Please take my charge card and go to Talbot's to get something decent to wear!" 

At that point the doctor and nurse were looking at the floor, trying not to die laughing.  Normally I would have been mortified, but I was so happy to hear her speak, and absolutely thrilled to see that the old "Miss Betty" was back!"

Now here's something to consider.... I wonder what Miss Betty would think of a blog called The Classic Preppy?  :)  I hope she wouldn't use the "T" word!!!

Ocean Forest, 1940

At dinner on board the Queen Elizabeth, 1952

 At her sister's wedding, 1961....not long after my brother was born.

 Boarding yet another plane, ca. 1971

Have a great weekend! 

Cheers....  The Classic Preppy


  1. Love this post, but I'm very concerned about myself...I'm definitely in the "prissy preppy" zone!

  2. What a beautiful post! Miss Betty sounds like an amazing and classy woman! I can't wait to hear more Miss Betty stories. I love the old photographs! I have all of my mom's old photographs too, I should really look into digitizing them to share as well.
    XOXO- Vy

  3. Hello! Found you through The Preppy Islander.

    You and I began blogging about the same time. Are you having a good time with it? I adore it! Pop over and say hi. We seem to have quit a bit in common.

  4. I have done blogs before, but mostly for historic preservation efforts that I am a part of. This one is very different...but so much fun! Looking forward to reading your blog!!

  5. Oh, and Miss Janice.....You are nowhere near the prissy preppy zone! You are a top drawer "cute preppy" in my opinion....and you have inspired me! Getting ready to do a post which talks about just that!! Thank you!

  6. I'm with you Classic Prep all the way!! I love the name of your blog! :) I think Miss Betty would too.

  7. What a lovely story about Miss Betty, thanks for sharing and I am looking forward to reading more about her! We must look to these chic and stylish ladies for inspiration!
    Stumbled upon your blog and how lucky for me-I just love it!
    Have a wonderful weekend!