Disaffected Prep

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Hiking in Madras: What, if Anything, is Crunchy Prep?

The following is a repost from a previous note I wrote on Facebook, now available on DP...

I once posted a comment on Michael Williams’ A Continuous Lean on the subject of Carhartt workwear clothing, as I’ve had my Carhartt duck jacket since prep school. While praising the jacket, I noted the company’s popularity at Bowdoin and without much thought, labeled the look: crunchy prep.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised with the vitriol I inspired when a Brooklyn Graphic Designer responded to my comment with… “’Crunchy Prep’ is about the shallowest term I’ve heard slung around this year.”

B-B-B-B-B-Brooklyn! Vanessa Abrams to my Blair Waldorf! Most Un-Prep!

A little stung at first, though over the course of the day the wound healed into a beam of pride: unwittingly I struck a nerve!

A quick Google search revealed that the apparent neologism had little traction on the web, which lead me thinking, what is Crunchy Prep? While I am no expert in the subject (my camping experience is limited to a pre-orientation trip, whereupon I noshed on GORP and annoyed my fellow campers by relishing in immature prep school stories with my friend Whit), I think there are a few specific items in the satellite of the Crunchy Prep universe.

• Carhartt #B01 Double-Front Work Dungarees
• LL Bean Boots
• NOLS trips (Probably the Road-to-Damascus conversion to Crunchy Prep:::I see the light brahs, and it is SOLAR POWERED!)
• Eco-Liberal politics
• Subaru/Volvo Station wagons
• Northface, Arc’tyrx, Patagonia (a/k/a Fratagonia, Pattagucci)
• Nalgene Bottles
• Threadbare oxford shirts/polos
• For bros: Flow (though slightly greasy – and perhaps dangerously close to ‘overflow’)

Looking back, it’s stunning how similar “crunchy” prep walks and talks like the preppiness as cataloged by Lisa Birnbach in The Official Preppy Handbook back in the ‘80s, or the 1960’s crew-cutted shots from Take Ivy. Why is this? Do crunchy preps simply carry the torch for the OPs – Original Prepsters? Or is this unique movement?

I think yes and no. Just like “Crunchy Conservativism” as articulated by Rod Dreher traces its organic, vegetable-fed roots to Edmund Burke and other Conservative touchstones, “Crunchy Prep” hugs tightly to its prep-progenitor – namely in the outdoors-as-indoors clothing aesthetic and wind-swept sprezzatura guiding its entire ethos. You might even say Crunchy Prep is the truest expression of the (early) Prep style, since the pastel-gauche-fantasia palette of Vineyard Vines seems to have hijacked the look for the moment.

Now, I’m guilty as anyone else, indulging in the overly obnoxious, Lily-Pulitzeration of the prep aesthetic…as any cursory glance into my closet will reveal (Pink AND Green D-Ring belts! Red bowties with sailboats!). But living in New York for four years has weathered my pastels a bit, and my personal style is closer to crunchy prep now – even though I’m 400 miles away from Bowdoin and no where near any hiking trails (the Highline doesn’t count!)

That said, I think the double-reinforced Carhartt pants (paired with a weathered polo for the ultimate ‘uptown/downtown’ look), along with the enviro-centric politics is really unique to crunchy prep.

Am I totally off here? Am I missing any other crunchy prep items? Or is this ridiculous over-analysis just mean I’m pining for my time under the – wait for it...! – Bowdoin pines?

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