East Coast Kids Tuck In Their Shirt

Last night I asked a couple friends who go to college in Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, respectively, how the east coast fashion culture differs from what we’re used to on the west coast. They said in unintended unison, "They tuck in their shirts!"

Most of us California folk who have never lived or studied in the east have a sense of shared fascination and horror at the ultra-preppiness that infects all private prep schools (and then the prestigious colleges and universities the prep-school kids attend).

While the fashion annoys me — popped collars, Polo shirts, button down shirts, khakis, Brooks Brothers blazers — I also hate the elitism / condensation that seems to come with it. I’m not sure which comes first: the clothes, then the attitude, or the attitude then the clothes. They feed on each other. It’s hard to blame the student for coming out of a prep school with a pompous attitude. Can you imagine being sent away from home at 14, living with tons of other old money rich kids who want to know what your father does for a living, having to obey insane rules about when you can interact with someone of the opposite gender, and on top of it all, comply with the intense academic pressure these schools project?

I’m biased, but I much prefer the San Francisco high school style. First, it was extremely casual by east coast prep-school standards. With a few exceptions, no button down shirts or loafers, no perfectly combed hair and suave mannerisms. Sandals, shorts, and t-shirts ruled. Second, even though 75% of my junior and senior year teachers had PhDs, we still addressed them by their first names. Finally, since it was a day school, you really got to know the families of all your friends. This gives you a deeper sense of the person and the issues at home that animate their life. At boarding school, you have nothing to go on but your friend’s performance in the high pressure environment of school.

I don’t want to seem too heavy handed — not all east coast prep school kids are fuck-ups. And surely there are good reasons to participate in an institution that has a long history and prestigious brand name. But I’m happy I’m headed to Southern California for college — I do plan on living on the east for some part of my life, but not for college.

13 comments on “East Coast Kids Tuck In Their Shirt
  • You may not want to say it, but I will: East coast prep school kids are f—ed up wack jobs.

    The incidence of drug use, alcoholism, and bizarre masturbation incidents involving vacuum cleaners is nearly 100%, at least based on the people I met.

    Of course, the same thing applies to Yalies as well.

  • Not to be a nit, but I think you meant “condescension”, rather than “condensation”.

    Then again, maybe all that fashion causes the hot air they spew to condense into a liquid… 😉

  • I think you need to evaluate an educational experience based on how well it prepares students to function in their communities. Perhaps East and West Coast societies are sufficiently different as to warrant different styles of education?

    I went to a private Grammar school for boys here in Australia, which (as is the case with most Australian Grammar schools) required wearing a uniform of trousers, shirt, tie and blazer, had restrictions on hairstyles and jewelry, and demanded that students stand when teachers entered classrooms, and that they address them as ‘Sir’ (or ‘Ma’am’).

    I didn’t find any of these standards particularly stifling (in particular, uniforms are as much about inclusion as they are about exclusion); they were useful in delineating between the classroom and the external environment, and I think helped socialise boys into the standards of behaviour of the community in which they would later have to operate.

  • I find preppies annoying, too, but since moving to Japan/traveling etc. I’ve started thinking that Americans don’t pay enough attention to the way they dress. I don’t mean that everyone needs to wear Armani, just that Americans are alarmingly casual – even slobby. Sometimes it’s nice to look nice!

  • Does Michigan count for east? Because if it does, I deny that stereotype. The only east-coast fashion I’ll wear is a button down shirt and no collar popping. I prefer shorts, t-shirts and sandals. Hell, I wore them Monday when it was below 30. Those stereotypes only work in the more populated areas near colleges though. I hate those people.

  • As a native Philadelphian, perhaps I can illuminate the subject a bit?

    First and foremost, I’m not a “prep-school” kids by any means; having gone to a public school (albeit in a suburb with some affluent areas) I seem to have been spared the horror stories of east coast prep-school life.

    However there is some truth to your claims of the overly preppy nature at times. Notice how I used the word “preppy”, b/c that’s exactly what it is. It’s not sexy or sophisticated, just… preppy.

    I’d like to consider myself fashion oriented… hell, I was accepted to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) for Advertising before settling here @ UMiami. The brands/styles deemed as “preppy” have their own place in the fashion world, but none of them are particuarly memorable. You’ll find countless others dressed in an identical manner.

    I just never found the point in spending so much money on clothes that aren’t unique at all, and that are probably based on old uniforms from boarding schools.

    That being said, I do spend lots of money on clothes… my closet has everything from Kenneth Cole and Calvin Klein to Armani Exchange, Guess, INC. and more. Sure some of the prices are just plain stupid (e.g. $80 for a cashmere long-sleeve last week…)but at least the design/pattern is something interesting, you know?

    Fashion is fickle, so develop your own sense of style and go for it. Then again, being here in Miami, it’s not like we’re ever wearing much clothes for 8 months of the year anyway…

  • Jason — I agree you should develop your own sense of style and go for it.

    Maria — People wear different clothes when traveling….but I agree Americans are more casual.

    Bryan — I see Michigan as midwest.

    Alan — I agree the formalities have its merits. Tradeoffs with everything.

  • Ben,

    this is an interestingly shortsited post for someone in the process of traveling and learning about the world.

    Having grown up in the east coast (at a “regular” school), and lived on the west coast, I find good and bad in both (as well as another 5 places I’ve lived around the world).

    To say that your sample set is indicative of all graduates of east coast prep schools seems like quite a leap of assumption. Your only experience that you can speak to is that of your own out west and perhaps the opinions of a few individuals back east that you don’t agree with. While you might be happy with your choice, bashing another’s situation/lifestyle and labeling them negatively seems akin to a stereotype, no? Is what you are used to somehow better than those folks? Maybe in some cases, probably not in all, but only as it applies to you.

    A more correct essay seems to be one that your choices best fit who you are, but I fail to see how their choices are anything but different, not good or bad. There is plenty of bad attitude and condescension in the bay area (and everywhere else) as well.

    You hobnob with and name-drop many influential people’s names in this blog. Would you prefer we look at you negatively as ‘privileged and stuck up’, or more objectively as someone driven, self-made, and grounded?

    Watch those culture-traps. What is normal and good for you doesn’t necessarily make it better, just more appropriate to you.

  • I think Ben is perfectly entitled to make a quasi-objective judgement on the “goodness or badness” of east coast preppy lifestyles, as are the rest of us. Indeed, I’m sure there are universally negative aspects of preps.

    I do feel that Ben is giving in to a time-worn stereotype. I’ve met a few very down-to-earth prep school kids (including one from Andover), and I’ve met a few arrogant prep school pricks. I myself went to an affluent suburban public school in New York state, and have many friends at east coast ivy league schools from high school and from my college-visiting days. All in all, from that limited sample size (one probably still larger than Ben’s), not many generalizations can be made. Most are genuinely themselves, comfortable with issues of identity, intelligent, creative, and un-detached. A few don’t fit this description, but that goes for any part of the country I’m sure.

    Perhaps prep schools have inherent institutional flaws, such as a lack of real family interaction and a lack of socio-economic diversity. Ben might be right about that. But to make such simple generalizations about the entire east coast, from prep schools to private universities, is a bit out of character for a regularly insightful blogger.

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