Preppy Clothes in the 1980s

By Bethany Williams

A style associated with the upper-class in the Northeastern United states, the preppy look came to prominence in the 1980s. While it was strongly associated with Ivy League schools in the '80s, preppy dress actually references a fashion trend that started in the '50s. In the 1980s, the preppy style was favored by career-oriented power-dressers during the work week, who wanted something more relaxed for weekends and evenings. Common fashion choices included khaki pants and skirts, turtlenecks, polo shirts and pastels.

Portrait of a young man sitting on a couch with a laptop next to him
credit: ColorBlind Images/Blend Images/Getty Images
Khaki pants, a V-neck sweater and dress shoes is a classic preppy outfit for men.

Prints and Colors

Preppy clothes were often characterized by a distinctive range of patterns and colors. Stripes were especially popular for shirts, sweaters and ties, while animal insignias -- such as turtles or alligators -- were common for both men and women. In addition to light neutral colors, preppy clothes were often pastel or brightly colored. Lime green and Nantucket red, a bright green and red respectively, were popular colors for pants, jackets and sweaters. Argyle, a diamond pattern used for sweaters and sweater vests, was also a standard pattern in the preppy wardrobe.

Khakis and Jeans

Kahaki pants were worn by both men and women. Khaki skirts, both A-line and knee-length, were also popular for women. With their hone- beige color, khaki bottoms were worn for outdoor excursions as well as for dressy-casual gatherings, such as cocktail hour, by both men and women. Jeans were also worn for more casual occasions and, like khaki pants, featured pleats in the front. Jeans were ironed to produce a crease down the center of each leg.

All About Tops

Sweaters, polo shirts and turtlenecks were standards in a preppy wardrobe during the '80s. Sweaters, such as V-neck and crewneck sweaters, could be worn over turtlenecks or casually thrown over the shoulder with the arms tied around the neck. T-shirts, dress shirts and polos were commonly worn by both men and women. One of the most iconic items of the 1980s prep style is the single-breasted navy blue blazer, most frequently worn by men and occasionally by women.

Shoes and Accessories

Preppy footwear included rubber moccasin boots, loafers and deck shoes; the latter were often worn without socks. The slip-on style of the shoes was prized for its simple elegance and ease of wear. Accessories for women included a tank bracelet, a Cartier or Swiss Army watch, and a needlepoint belt, often in a bright color to contrast with the beige of khakis and often-worn pastels.