Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Prep School Time Warps

L. L. Bean's 100th anniversary Fall 2012 catalogue. The cover redoes their 1966 catalogue cover (below). Image Source: Boston Herald.

Old School has gone back to school. I noticed the Hudson's Bay Co. is selling Liberty blouses and L.L. Bean's latest catalogue reads like a homage to the preppy look in 1982. Truth to tell, these stores might never have left the early 1980s (or the early 1960s, or the late 1940s, or the mid-1920s), but the current fad extends beyond their niche markets. In fact, preppy looks made a resurgence around 2007, and have popped up sporadically since then, especially in 2010.

This is the collegiate side of Mad Men, or the part of that culture set in cottage country. But the lingering recession has cramped the style. Preppies hate recessions. Now, preppy fashion has gone mainstream, perhaps reflecting a yearning for a return to the 20th century prosperity associated with the trend. In 2010, the FT reported:
Such is the preppy buzz on the blogosphere that Take Ivy, the 1965 study of the look by Japanese photographer Teruyoshi Hayashida, is being re-issued by Power House books this month. The book is part-fashion guide, part-photo essay and features shots taken at America’s prestigious Ivy League universities, presenting an anatomy of preppy style.

Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys, has his own take on preppy popularity: “It’s a nice antidote to the slutty porno-chic which is the dominant trend in our culture,” he says. “Maybe people are craving a bit of wholesome Americana to counteract the [MTV Reality show] Jersey Shore situation, and The Situation.”

“When you’re staring in to the economic abyss, you look for the familiar and traditional,” says Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook, the 1970s satiric bestseller that first defined the style, and the co-author of the upcoming True Prep, the official sequel, to be published by Knopf in October [2010], which includes updated guides to etiquette, fashion and preppy style. “It’s the equivalent of eating meatloaf,” she continues. “These clothes are ordinary, but they are signifiers of a lifestyle. They have a comforting old school clubby feel. They aren’t showy, but they say: I have an education, I’ve travelled a bit, I don’t waste my money on frivolous clothes.”
The redux has raised hackles, with some purists insisting on the difference between, "clownish Preppy and authentic Trad." And Gen Y has conflated a preppy tradition with hipsterism.
L.L. Bean catalogue, Spring 1966. Image Source: Boston Herald.

The Fall 2012 L.L. Bean catalogue reproduced its 1966 Spring catalogue cover. The 2012 catalogue also repeatedly refers the last time L.L. Bean was the height of fashion, when it was mentioned in The Official Preppy Handbook (1980). The latter was an American comedic manual of manners and fashion, shortly followed by Britain's Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982). You can see both deconstructed here.

Almost on cue, Whit Stillman produced a film after a 13-year hiatus, about American northeastern college life entitled, Damsels in Distress (2011):
Damsels is set nominally in the present, but its mood is 1950s: the girls wear cardigans and hair clips; the focus of campus life is the fraternity house with its faux Grecian columns; and nobody appears to have a laptop.
''We tried not to show that,'' says Stillman. ... All Stillman's films recall some period of the near past - his own experience on the 1969 debutante circuit in Metropolitan, Studio 54 in the '80s in The Last Days of Disco - that seems to glow with a little more glamour than the present. ''I definitely feel an attraction to other eras, but I don't want to live in them,'' he says.

''What I'd like to do is bring back the qualities of those eras - or to defend those qualities, because I think we sometimes don't give full shrift to how much of the past continues.''
Critics liked the film's "joyous anachronism." In fact, the film was based on a Stillman short story, "Under the Condor," first published in 1978, about suicide among a fictional group of Harvard undergraduates in the 1970s. You can read Stillman's actual 70s' undergraduate writings for the Harvard Crimson here.

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