• Poppy Grady

Little Girls Don't Wear Black - Color Me Preppy

I wasn’t allowed to wear black until I was in sixth grade, and even then my mother had to seriously compromise herself in order to let me have the plain, black acrylic sweater from the Gap that I had begged for. It was the sweater I so desperately wanted and had begged for weeks. I just wanted one black item and my heart was set on that sweater.

My mother had a rule – Little girls should not wear black. She believes it to this day and hates to see children in black. She was always dressed in classic preppy clothing. Button down shirts, khaki pants, etc. I’m not really sure where she picked up the style since she grew up very poor. Perhaps she adopted the look after marrying my father, who was a college graduate and classically preppy. She said her mother was always put together and so I guess she may also have tried to emulate that.

My father worked in retail in his early career. Then he became a shopping mall manager, so I was able to waste a lot of time in malls. My brother and I spent hours walking up and down the mall. We knew tons of employees. Even the maintenance men. I believe they called us “mall rats” in the eighties. I learned a lot about retail just by watching the mall and listening to my father. This picture of these rocker-like girls in the mall? Not me. But you already knew that.

My father had good taste and would steer us to the finer quality items. I remember him being so annoyed when designer jeans hit the market because he’d say, “Do you have any idea how cheap denim is? I’m not paying that for jeans!”

I must have had my pout down to a science because I was still the first girl on my block to sport Jordache. These! The ones with the horse. Not very preppy, either, but paired with a polo shirt, I thought I was the absolute coolest girl in school.

My dad probably worked a deal with a store manager in the mall to get them. He did that a lot. Now they’re sold in K-Mart. A shame. I guess they realized how cheap denim really is.

In any case, one way or the other, I was dressed well. And I wasn’t allowed to wear black. Why? Because preppy girls are based in navy. Navy, nude (or tan/khaki), and gray are your neutrals and colors are added to those. Of course, when you get older there is always the little black dress that you wear with a set of pearls, a black clutch handbag or shoes. But by and large, a preppy girl’s base color is navy blue. And, it goes with everything. Honestly, everything looks splendid next to navy.

I can remember when I was a girl, my mother would hand me a catalog opened to a page of girl’s polo shirts. I can’t remember if it was Land’s End or L.L. Bean or something else. But there would be a stack of neatly folded shirts, all lined up. “Pick three colors,” she would tell me. Oh. My. God. Becky. Are you kidding me?…. I poured over that page for hours. Sometimes for days. All of the beautiful pastels – how could I choose?! And then there was the navy and white – basics a girl always needs!

Every spring I was handed the catalog with the instructions, “Pick three colors.” I still feel the same excitement whenever I open a catalog to a likewise page.

I learned early on what preppy looked like, and what it didn’t. Perhaps it was mom. Perhaps it was dad. Perhaps it was hours and hours pouring over preppy catalogs. I spent considerable time in the J.C. Penny catalog, too, because my mother liked to shop there. I found this old photo from a J.C. Penney catalog that emulates my look from that time. I definitely wore Hunt Club. I probably had these very clothes because those girls look like a spitting image of me and my best friends next door.

In fact, even right now, I would like to buy those oxfords and sweaters in every color. Unless that sweater is black.

And then there was Bambergers. If you grew up in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), you may know Bambergers, a popular department store (I guess you could liken it to Macy’s today). Whenever my mother and I would go there, I’d tell her, “I’ll be in my department.” And I’d skip on over to the girl’s section, looking for the most reasonable thing I could ask her to buy me. I wish I had the statistics on how often I was successful.

Because I was never allowed to wear black, I learned quickly what were acceptable preppy colors. In case you’re not sure, I’ve put together a little guide.

Classic Preppy Colors

These are your basics. If you don't have any navy blue in your closet, you probably aren't preppy. If you want to be, then you'll need to pick some up.

Sporty Preppy Colors

The Preppy Pastels

Yellow, pink, light blue and lavender (not purple).

And sometimes:

Grass green

Periwinkle (this may look purple on your screen, but do a google on periwinkle, popular for preppy weddings)

Colors used on certain items like bags, belts or sports jackets

Brown leather

Hunter green / Moss green

Gray – especially if wool


Sometimes Colors

Fuchsia and turquoise, used in small amounts, are sometimes acceptable but only in preppy items or prints, like Lily Pulitzer.

Coral may also be included in sometimes colors, but it must be applied to a preppy item.

Never Preppy

Too much red

Head to toe denim


Dark Turquoise, but light turquoise shades are acceptable if they have an alligator, polo guy or whale on them.

Certain shades of blue

Certain shades of green

Bright yellow (unless in sporty category)

Mustard yellow

Rust orange

Bright orange unless it is paired with navy (sporty)

Peach, usually, but sometimes it works. Depends on the item.

Mint green unless done just right, but seafoam green is generally okay (which I describe as dirty mint green)

Too much black

Black paired with other colors – black is usually reserved for a little black dress or bag

And just because it’s plaid, doesn’t mean it’s preppy. That’s a whole ‘nother post I’ll put out in the fall.

In closing, you know what happened to that black acrylic sweater from the Gap? My brother accidentally set it on fire. Acrylic yarn is flammable. Or perhaps it was a message from the preppy Gods. And did I mention that I was wearing it at the time? It all worked out – he quickly jumped on top of me and patted it out. No injuries. We laughed hysterically.

Are you wondering if I own anything black? In fact, I do. A black cardigan sweater and a black anorak coat from L.L. Bean. Plus, a turtleneck and various shoes and boots. And we're about to get a Black Labrador. And mother is no longer complaining about it. :)

Want more preppy style? Check out my Pinterest boards. Loaded with preppiness!

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