I don’t watch television. With no cable in the apartment I can barely afford, I can’t even watch what I hear are severely mediocre episodes of Project Runway—the only thing I’ve considered worth wasting an hour of my life in front of a box for since Arrested Development.
But I did give CW’s Gossip Girl a try. It was what I expected: privileged, prep-school-attending, Upper East Side-dwelling, cutthroat young socialites. It’s as obnoxious as it sounds, but what turned out to be even more annoying than watching the not-nearly entertaining-enough sex lives of filthy-rich high-school students panning out in weekly half-hour episodes were the wardrobes. As with Sex & the City, I’m still trying to figure out why people are lauding the exaggerated prep-school uniforms with the tartan skirts, colorfully layered tweed coats, opaque tights and perfectly rumpled white Oxford shirts.
The show, now in its second season, only angered me more when I learned they had axed Gossip Girl’s only minority actresses: a mute, female Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, one Asian-American, the other African-American, who shadowed the show’s (white) queen-bee protagonist. Sometimes the black girl would shoot a condescending scowl at her leader’s enemies. Sometimes the Asian girl would giggle into her mobile phone. Neither ever had lines. And now they’re both gone.
Anyway: The rise in popularity of Gossip Girl has definitely paved the way for the overwhelming presence of what some are hailing as “prep-school chic” in big-box retail stores. A stroll into the local Forever 21 revealed a huge selection of cable-knit, V-neck sweaters; pleated skirts; oversized blazers; cardigans with contrast trim; and even sweater vests complete with school logos on the breast.
The show’s made a nation of kids attempt the WASPy, conservative, Upper East Side look—in short, Ralph Lauren’s suddenly cool again to 16-year-olds.
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I’ve never been opposed to the preppie thing (and neither have fashion houses such as Prada and Balenciaga), as long as you keep it under control: Wearing a pin-striped Oxford button-up? Make sure it’s clean, tailored and not too short—it should hit just below the hip. Consider investing in a shirt by a label such as Ralph Lauren; the structure will hold up, and it’s a basic staple piece for any wardrobe. Try their Blue Label Essential Striped Oxford for $85, available on RalphLauren.com. And let’s try to not pair the Oxfords with pleated skirts, unless you’re going for the overgrown-schoolgirl look. Opt for some skinny denim or cropped ankle pants and simple flats.
Along with the Oxford, the blazer is key to the look this autumn: While oversized Denise Huxtable blazers were all over the runways, the classic fitted blazer will always be around.
But really: I just want to know what the hell kind of prep school would even let its students dress like this. Maybe I’m getting too old for these TV shows. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous I didn’t get to take my lunch period on the steps of the Met.