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The Official Preppy Handbook

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It is the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to wear khaki. Looking, acting, and ultimately being Prep is not restricted to an elite minority lucky enough to attend prestigious private schools, just because an ancestor or two happened to arrive here on the Mayflower. You don't even have to be registered Republican. In a true democracy everyone can be upper class and live in Connecticut. It's only fair. The Official Preppy Handbook will help you get there.

224 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1980

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Lisa Birnbach

28 books34 followers

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5 stars
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553 (31%)
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309 (17%)
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73 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 162 reviews
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,014 followers
December 9, 2014
I read this in eighth grade with the complete understanding that it was satire and nevertheless I adopted it as biblical word -- and not a moment too soon, as the following year I headed into four years at a preparatory, co-ed Catholic high school that did away with uniforms and instead implemented a very picky dress code, the subtext of which was to look as rich as possible, while also achieving a winning sense of casual confidence.

Which put me right on the front lines of the Great Midwestern Preppy Wars (1981-85), in which people died (or felt like they were going to) over things like Moonlight Madness sales at Harold's, gorgeous cotton v-neck tennis sweaters, argyle socks, Lacoste vs. Ralph Lauren, Duck Head khakis, starched boat collars, pearls (in ninth grade, ladies!), boat shoes (nowhere near salt water), Weejuns, Ray-Ban vs. Vuarnet, etc. If I said I hated this phase of my life, you should call me a liar.

The real takeaway from this book about true preppiness -- the point most people missed -- was this: Preppiness is thriftiness. The best preppy stuff is a little dinged-up, dented, frayed. It's not about neat and clean. It's about well-used and still handsome, solid, pretty. All those movies in which the preppy is the fastidious bad guy with the cable-knit sweater loosely knotted around his neck just got the whole feel of it WRONG. Preppiness is still your surest safeguard against TRENDINESS and fashion-victimhood.

Go back and look at this book -- look at all the work that went into it, from the words, to the illustrations, to the way it is organized. If only our clever Tumblrs and BuzzFeed slideshows had this level of dedication.
108 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2008
I don't know when I first got my hands on this book, though I can't remember life without it. This handbook was my crack during those all-too-awkward pre-teen years. To this day I'm sure my overwhelming knowledge of East Coast boarding schools circa 1984 is disconcerting for those to whom it is somehow revealed, but you give an unbelievably gifted and imaginative ten-year-old girl copies of The Catcher and the Rye, A Separate Peace, and the Preppy Handbook and dare her not to dream.

I'm proud of my past of wearing coulottes, headbands, argyle socks and Topsiders. I loved my knickers and wish I still had a pair. This book encouraged me to imagine a life away from my own, where liquor cabinets were posh, boys were named Chip and Trip, furniture had heritage, and dogs were part of the family.

And it's not like this came from nowhere. Hell, my childhood nickname was Kiki and I took tennis lessons. I still own an LL Bean fisherman's sweater and could probably find a pair of Weejuns, albeit badly worn, if pressed. I think half my socks are argyle. I was raised by laissez-faire parents who enjoyed a monogram as much as the next guy. I still own multiple boat and totes! So you see, these dreams weren't born in a vaccuum. I just took them to the next level.

I'm all for originality and whatnot, but I am a natural born preppy. I've tried to hide it for years, but I am happiest when wearing a Polo and swishing a drink. Why fight it? Pink and green belong together. And I'm going to re-read The Official Preppy Handbook this weekend.
Profile Image for Virginia.
289 reviews46 followers
October 15, 2007
Totally useful for those who either live in New England, or ever want to visit there.

Or just want a good giggle.

Or both.
Profile Image for John Blumenthal.
Author 11 books98 followers
April 13, 2019
Back in the late 70s to early 80s, there were a number of books in this genre that lampooned the mores of the times. Some of them sold quite well. Fran Lebowitz's "Metropolitan Life" was probably the most memorable of the bunch, partly because it has held up over time. People still quote some of her best lines. The same cannot be said of such books as "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche," which is now hopelessly outdated as is "The Official Preppy Handbook." I read the Preppy Handbook shortly after it came out and I recall finding it quite amusing (I had been a preppy myself at one time, albeit one that did not come from a rich WASPish background), but I fear that rereading it today would be tiresome. Sure, preppies still exist but times have changed even in the hallowed halls of Exeter and Choate. Most are coed and more diverse in population, the snobbish elite no longer dominate, Bass weejuns and blue blazers with embroidered school insignias are no longer part of the uniform. Those who attended prep school fifty or more years ago might find the book a sentimental stroll down memory lane but subsequent generations might find the preppy culture... well... lame, silly, dated and irrelevant.
Profile Image for Todd Cannon.
125 reviews4 followers
November 21, 2009
What can I say. I think this book may have been meant as a joke but to some of us in the mid 80s it was a Handbook on how to dress, talk, and act. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I used to quote from it and we used it to settle arguments on what was proper and what wasn't.
Profile Image for Paula.
Author 1 book212 followers
April 10, 2010
Read minutely in high school, internalized to such an extent that, upon re-reading it, I am shocked to learn that the values I thought I picked up from trying to be a cool punk rocker (nonchalance, consistency, effortlessness) were instead absorbed from this book, along with detailed advice about what sports to take up (lacrosse, crew), and how many layers to wear on the ski slope (at least five).

Absolutely seminal - presaged the Dorling Kindersley all-sidebars-and-captions layout; influenced the style, content, and layout of Vanity Fair magazine; looks a lot like the Internet does today.

And most of this stuff is still true. Hence the forthcoming reboot by Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd.
Profile Image for Natalie.
195 reviews
July 22, 2021
You should read this book if you like: Exclusivity, private clubs, racquet sports, collecting sweaters, being rich, wishing you were rich, drinking, old leather furniture, pearls, trust funds

* * *

This was laugh-out-loud funny. Despite having been originally published FORTY-ONE years ago, The Official Preppy Handbook is as relevant as ever. It's timeless--as Prep was meant to be, apparently. Funny how things never change.

If you have any interest in, experience with, and/or judgment of "prep culture," check this out (if you can find it!)
7 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2007
I'm not really sure I would recommend this book to anyone, even though it is seriously one of the funniest things I have ever read. But I think it's so funny to me because of growing up in Preppyland, aka Highland Park. I don't know if it would have the same appeal if I grew up somewhere else. But I think Kristi and Kerri would appreciate one particular part of the book, since they knew me in college. "Prep school nurtures the skills that will enable you to slide effortlessly through college." Later, it says, "Most important, you realize how to budget your time - one-eighth of it for academics, the rest for social life."
Profile Image for Richelle.
58 reviews
June 13, 2010
This is one of my favorite books. It's a shame that it is out of print! It's the definitive commentary on 80s preppy culture. I laugh at the way the preppy lifestyle has evolved into what it is today, with A&F apparel being considered "preppy." That just wouldn't float in The Official Preppy Handbook! I subscribe to the culture and mannerisms of the old preppy definition, not the new faux one today.
Profile Image for Kendrick.
106 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2022
I fell down the rabbit hole of watching The Gilded Age, then I got it into my head I really wanted to find out more about the Oxford/Prep fashion aesthetic, and then, well, here we are. Thankfully, this book has a mix of cartoons, fashion tips, and a directory of every rich private school in the U.S. accompanied with tongue-in-cheek commentary. A gift-stocking kind of book if I've ever seen one, though its original date of publication (1980) makes some of its social views and language outdated.
Profile Image for Holly.
206 reviews18 followers
August 15, 2018
I bought this book back when it was first published; I was young and impressionable and soaked it up like a sponge. I recently picked this book up and read it again. I realized, from the perspective of 30 years later, how much this book influenced me.

I need to buy a new kilt for my daughter because she has now outgrown the one I bought her when she was 3 (what practical garments they are, no other item from her wardrobe at age 3 still fits her now at almost 7) and told her that she can't get her ears pierced until she is 16. I have done online searches of local training facilities that offer riding lessons in hopes that she will soon enter her horsey phase (which I have never outgrown and am really looking forward to shopping for a pony).

I own an old house (historic restoration is such a rewarding hobby) and have priced documented William Morris wallpapers and haunted the second hand furniture stores and auctions (for those items that look like they've been in the family forever). I garden. My job title is one the list of acceptable prep careers. Although my dogs were not specifically mentioned as an acceptable breed, they are rather rare, (meaning that none of the rednecks around here would ever own these dogs) esoteric and I have 3 of them, which counts as a pack.....always desirable. The car I drive is preppy and it is a preppy color.

So I have to wonder if this book had a subliminal effect that influenced me over the years,or if my own personal inclinations have always been like this and the book just clarified it? Either way I've got to say that this book might actually be a better, more reliable guide to living than the bible.
Profile Image for Apryl Anderson.
881 reviews28 followers
April 7, 2017
I can't say it better than Hank Stuever's review, and I won't begin to try. This was my DAHS Class of '84 Bible. Doubt it? The Senior photo is worth 1000 words. My treasured copy drifted from my grasp somewhere along those many moves--gone but never forgotten--and my teen daughters kindled a desire to visit those hallowed halls of preppydom.

Thank-you, Betterworldbooks.com. Whose hands once studies these pages, I wonder? Did you also discover the joys of the monthly mail order catalog? I feel like a proud fan, watching L.L.Bean, Lands' End, Talbot, and friends grow up together. As Stuever points out, the great paradox of Preppy style is Thrift. Who will join me in lifting cardigan-clad arms in tribute to these classic, quality items that are still going strong 30 years later? Hail to thee, Lisa Birnbach!
7 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2014
The author tempers her satirical tone with empathy. The book's attitude toward preppy culture is ambivalent. At times the book parodies the anxieties and foibles of preppies, yet The Handbook also seems to exalt their modesty and discretion. Although preppies may be the target of Birnach's satirical tone, she finds redeeming qualities in them which she, at least obliquely, suggests may be growing rare. At the core of the preppy aesthtetic is the idea that, in a world of rapidly diminishing resources, the worlds of the prep school and the Ivy League college, those compact, highly organized, egalitarian societies that they seem to be, could finally become the models of the way we must all learn to live.
23 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2021
In some sense, this is satire like the movie "Wall Street": satire that is so good that it represents the complete embodiment of a culture that thrives on being outrageous. It's unclear how influential this book is viewed through the current moment (given that "preppy" can be a dirty word at times), but if a new, 80s-worshipping culture springs up, this will be the manifesto.
Profile Image for Carolyn Page.
1,413 reviews29 followers
March 27, 2019
It's hilarious but it's not wrong either. A fantastic spoof of 90s prep that is also 70s to 2000s because preppy recycles and never dies. My husband picked it up and quickly became engrossed. Includes clothing suggestions, vocabulary, a diagram of the good old boys network -- in effect, everything you need to be preppy from cradle to grave.
Profile Image for Tiny Pants.
211 reviews19 followers
January 4, 2010
I originally read my dad's copy of this when I was in high school, and remembering that picked this up when I spotted it in one of my local used book stores. Considering this is from the early 1980s, it's worn pretty well. Why? Well one, because Abercrombie & Fitch got revived in the interim (though its prep cred is nothing like it used to be) and two, because prep style is somewhat eternal and unchanging. Most of what I could relate to here as a teenager was pretty much the same elements I could relate to now -- the importance of nicknames, the right schools, pink and green, and Lilly shift dresses come summer.

That said, if you aren't from Connecticut, didn't go to private school, and/or are unfamiliar with the Orvis catalog, you probably won't find this book funny -- it'll just seem bizarre and tedious. However, if you answered "yes" to any of the above, you'll at bare minimum get a chuckle or two out of this (but probably more).

Re-reading this also reminded me -- yes, the early 00s Hipster Handbook is more or less a knockoff of this book, but someone needs to re-do that one, now that hipsterdom has proven itself, like prepdom, to persist throughout the entire lifestyle. The original Hipster Handbook claims hipsters disdain children, but anyone who's been to Brooklyn (or some parts of lower Manhattan) in the last five years can testify that that is not the case. I don't know that all the stuff about schools would work as well but-- no wait, jokes about Pratt vs RISD, going to state schools ironically, okay yep, those chapters would work too.

Profile Image for Caleb.
73 reviews
May 17, 2015
About a third of the way through this book, one of my children woke up in the middle of the night and climbed into our bed, covered in vomit. I found myself wondering if a preppie ever had to deal with that kind of experience - one to take care of a sick kid, two to change everyone's bedsheets in the middle of the night. Luckily I was not doing it alone.

I realized that thought this book is very funny, it had also dehumanized a group of people I already didn't particularly care for, so I decided to put it down.
30 reviews
September 17, 2007
A fun, highly readable satire that can easily be read as part guide, part prep Bible. Its pages detail the life of a prep from childhood to old age, and are very accurate in its observations and descriptions. Prep school and the College years are perhaps the most fleshed out, and the section attire--while very 80s--has not changed much and is now undergoing a Renaissance of sorts in the 21st century. This is an excellent, hilarious take on one of the most visible undercurrents of society.
Profile Image for A.C..
79 reviews12 followers
December 14, 2011
This is a book of a very specific cultural moment. I forget this sometimes then try to force chinese students to think it's funny like I do. This book will be perpetually funny to anyone that went/goes to prep school or knows old money. Hopefully, you have the distinct pleasure that I have of both being true. You would like to think that some of this stuff would change after over thirty years, but they really haven't.
Profile Image for Laura.
660 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2008
This book is as dry as a bottle of IPA in Nantucket. It really does explain the duck motif decorating obsession of my parents and the years they dressed me in knee socks and whale print turtlenecks. Ideally, read this one with The WASP Cookbook by Alexandra Wentworth. You'll never see the Head of the Charles the same way :)
1 review
June 3, 2013
This book is totally ridiculous.... talk about a one hit wonder this person Lisa Birnbach is ridiculous as well.... stay clear of wasting your money on any of her garbage.... she cant write and plagiarizes most of her work from other writers. She stole all of this material from friends of hers and basically put it down on paper.
Profile Image for Charity.
140 reviews8 followers
September 8, 2017
I thought this book would be a bit of fun, but found it depressing. It's not about preppy style or fashion, but preppy culture. On the plus side, it's tongue-in-cheek and has some witty phrasing. But it turns out that a manual for how to emulate the ruling class with anthropologist observations of privilege is just a bummer. Blech.
Profile Image for DoctorM.
836 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2010
What can I say? Yes, I did spend four years at New Haven. Yes, I like preppy style--- old-school, real Prep style, not A&F nouveau-riche. Thirty years on, I still love this book...though it has cost me so much money in clothes and accessories over the years...
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
697 reviews29.1k followers
September 25, 2018
If it's within hand's reach, someone will pick this up. With its plaid cover it also doubles as a decor prop-slash-conversation starter. Odd, really. Also, as a West Coast native, this whole duck motif thing is fascinating.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
108 reviews
March 15, 2019
Flashbacks to high school when this was the Bible for appropriate dress etc. among my peers. So bland, so funny how everyone took it so seriously!
Profile Image for Zhiren.
16 reviews
June 6, 2018
Meant to be satire, but I once treated it quite literally as a handbook.
Profile Image for Kevin.
253 reviews
January 8, 2019
I can't really judge its authenticity, but it was definitely an interesting read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 162 reviews

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