When we read that brand we love to hate Abercrombie & Fitch have, as a result of devastating losses, decided to close their diffusion line Ruehl, we were delighted to see the demise of what they so humbly describe as “the aspirational Greenwich Village lifestyle.” Yet, no sooner had our eyes widened in childish glee, did we stumble across a party invitation for this weekend amongst our emails, suggesting that guests come in “Hamptons chic” to a party on a Manhattan rooftop. A contradiction in less time than it takes to throw on some Capris and slide into your Oxford button down? Hardly. There has always been a tension between the prep-haters and prep-lovers, between the haves, and the have-yachts. Here, we run down the history of prep and its competitors through the ages.
1890s: Abercrombie vs. the Dandies
Abercrombie & Fitch is launched, primarily as a purveyor of sporting goods and outdoor wear. These were the good old days, when men actually wore their polos to play polo rather than swanning around Jones Beach, wishing that they were swanning around in St Tropez. The style competition comes from the look of the Dandies, a look pioneered by English society ingenue Beau Brummel who is credited with creating the first modern men’s suit, to be worn with a tie. He popularized such modern wonders as bathing and brushing teeth and hair daily. We’ll take Brummel’s squeaky clean over the rugged Abercrombie & Fitch men any day — that masculine, unshaven look is probably a bit rough and dirty up close.
1960s: JFK vs. Flower Power
Arguably the heyday of the brand in its own right (before becoming popular in a more nostalgic, heritage brand way that it currently embodies), with such luminaries as JFK and Steinbeck as fans, it seems as though A&F can do no wrong. They, along with Corvettes and refrigerators, embody a golden age of American capitalism. Yet, all good things come to an end, and as the economy goes from boom to bust, A&F is forced to close, and a much looser, carefree, drug-filled fashion comes to the fore. Hippies and their penchant for weird fabrics like hemp and cheese-cloth, rebel against Vietnam and the notion of form-fitting apparel. Yet, A&F proves indestructible, and comes back with a vengeance and the new, meaningless slogan “casual luxury” in the late 1980s.
The Present Day: Kanye West vs. American Apparel Hipsters
As an ‘epic’ Hollister (an A&F subsidiary) is about to open on the same block as Flavorpill HQ, we can but be reminded of the dominating presence of the preppy look. Prep may have even been given a bit of a cool facelift, as it was hijacked by the hiphop crowd, with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams donning blazers and cravats at MTV events. Luckily, the antithesis of prep is still thriving: hipsters, who shun any clothes that look like they might have cost more than their Williamsburg organic fruit garden, wouldn’t be caught dead in as much as A&F underwear. They are, however, perfectly content to shell out a small fortune on American Apparel’s reassuringly expensive low-fi gear, and like to rock modern incarnations of prep classics, like Deck shoes and penny loafers…could hipsters be the new prepsters?
So, what does the closing of Ruehl actually mean? For every A&F closure, another Ralph Lauren cruise line, or Jack Wills ski-wear collection will be waiting in the wings to replace it. For every Beau Brummel, hippie or hipster hater, there is an army of anonymous, tan figures, identifiable only by the cable-knit sweater slung around their broad, brawny shoulders. Perhaps in this battle, there are no winners, only windbreakers.