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Preppy Style Cycles Back Into Men’s Fashion

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Men’s polo shirts burst back onto the scene during the pandemic as remote workers’ professional yet comfortable alternative to T-shirts.

The elevated basic accounted for 12 percent of men’s sell outs for Spring/Summer ’20 compared to 10 percent in 2019, according to retail analytics firm Edited. Pastels and neutrals saw the most buzz, followed by knit versions in the fall.

And the appetite for polos continues to grow. New arrivals of men’s polo shirts in Q2 2021 are up 31 percent year-over-year, Edited reported. Neutrals continue to dominate, but retailers are seeing an uptick in styles with athleisure and ’70s-inspired design details.

The pandemic push for polos, however, was just the start of a new preppy fashion cycle in men’s wear.

“Consumers have expressed a growing interest in this story over the last year both on Google and Pinterest,” Edited stated in a new report about prep’s comeback.

While preppy fashion is part of a group of evergreen trends in constant rotation, a traditional back-to-school season on the horizon and a confluence of pop culture influences are fueling its return in 2021.

While preppy fashion is evergreen, Edited reports how a confluence of pop culture influences are fueling its return to men's wear in 2021.

HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl”

HBO Max’s Gen Z reboot of millennial teen series “Gossip Girl” has already inspired collections by Alice & Olivia and Monse. The latter even unveiled 22 looks inspired by the series and the uniforms of Constance Billard School, the fictional Upper East Side institution where much of the show’s soapy drama takes place.

Despite testing the nerves of Adidas lawyers over his use of stripes, Thom Browne, the U.S. designer known for creating modern day uniforms, has enjoyed a red carpet boom in the past year, dressing everyone from the cast members of “Schitt’s Creek” to Queen Latifa for the BET Awards. The designer also recently launched children’s wear.

Meanwhile, paparazzi images of Lady Gaga and Adam Driver filming “House of Gucci” reveals ’80s-era costuming based on preppy staples like trench coats, silk scarves and sweater vests. The film, which is set to debut in November—Gucci’s centennial year—is bound to inspire a torrent of autumnal trends and edits.

While preppy fashion is evergreen, Edited reports how a confluence of pop culture influences are fueling its return to men's wear in 2021.

Lady Gaga filming “House of Gucci”

“The focus for this fall is on a combination of athletic-inspired and preppy trends,” Edited stated.

Primary color palettes and color blocking will be key to achieving the varsity look. Isabel Marant’s colorful Fall/Winter 21-22 rugby tops and pairing of check blazers with slouchy track pants sums up the athleisure vibe. Rhude added traditional varsity letters to letterman jackets and crewneck sweaters.

While preppy fashion is evergreen, Edited reports how a confluence of pop culture influences are fueling its return to men's wear in 2021.

Isabel Marant Fall 2021

Cardigans, a preppy staple that provided comfort during the pandemic, continues to maintain momentum. Etro belted green plaid cardigans for fall, while Kolor deconstructed classic cable knits into hybrid cardigans, V-neck sweaters and blazers.

Resort shows presented strong prep influences as well, indicating that the preppy trend may carry into Spring/Summer 2022. Dior debuted double-breasted blazers with matching shorts. Moschino showcased traditional cable knits in pop colors, bombers and sporty coordinates.

“Neutral hues and pastels are a safe yet classic interpretation for the aesthetic, while bright colors appeal more to the summer season,” Edited stated. “Transition polo sweaters and outerwear styles in early spring to camp shorts and lightweight fabrics later in the season.”

While preppy fashion is evergreen, Edited reports how a confluence of pop culture influences are fueling its return to men's wear in 2021.

Casablanca Spring 2022

While tennis skirts are trending in the women’s category this summer, the court is inspiring total looks in men’s wear. Casablanca channeled retro tennis vibes in a Spring/Summer 2022 collection that included creased white trousers and pastel track suits.

“Golf and tennis will naturally continue to play a crucial role in preppy designs,” Edited stated. “Retail the classic collegiate pieces with sporty sneakers, graphics and athletic shorts next season.”

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