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What is this?
It’s summer. Too steamy for selvedge denim. You’ve worn all your henleys already this week.
Time to pop the collar on your polo and drape a sweater around your shoulders for when it gets chilly on the yacht later.
That’s right, we’re talking about prep.
Prep Can Be Cartoony And That’s Too Bad
When the hot months come around it can feel like your sartorial options suddenly contract. During the other three seasons you can be stylish a lot of ways – but summer feels, unfortunately, like the season of pink shorts and loud patterns.
For a lot of guys, this caricature of prep isn’t an option. It calls to mind … entitlement, IROC-Z Camaros, and 80s movie jerks.
Here’s the thing: prep has become the victim of its own success. Once upon a time, prep was the one style to rule them all – and it remains a versatile toolkit that can – and should be – practiced with subtlety.
Cast your mind back to JFK on Martha’s Vineyard as we set sail on the smooth seas of preppy style…
While JFK is held up as a style icon of prep, the reality is, his own preppiness is quite conservative compared to how the trend has evolved in the decades since. I can’t recall seeing a picture of Jack wearing pink shorts with anchors embroidered all over them.
But in summer…if we’re not going for prep – what else is there?
Do Like The Italians…
In a word, preppy summer style can be defined as “playful.” On the other side of the pond is a whole other approach to summer style and men’s fashion in general. Imagine some true-blue Ralph Lauren summer preppy guys –
Now envision James Bond in Italy. Or the lesser-known but highly influential style icon and industrialist Gianni Agnelli. What made their style timeless is the Italian philosophy of Sprezzatura – essentially, orchestrated nonchalance.
Sprezzatura is all about looking stylish while appearing like you put little thought into it.
When you think about it, this gentlemanly nonchalance is the opposite of the concentrated, ornate and colorful prep summer style.
Wear Clothes, Not a Costume
Summer prep goes bad when it’s costumey (i.e., bright pastels mixed with more bright pastels and/or loud patterns).
You can de-prep your prep with one simple tweak: neutrals.
Neutrals ground the playfulness of traditionally preppy picks. For instance, imagine a staple of summer prep: Seersucker.
The wrinkled and puckered striped fabric is more commonly found in baby blue or pink, and when paired with other bright items like colorful chinos and boat shoes, it’s hard not to look like a stereotypical character in a film set in New England.
Seersucker is an incredible fabric choice for summer – it breathes well and has a pattern and a texture that makes a simple outfit a lot more dynamic.
While this outfit is intentionally monochromatic, it still maintains its strong, intentional summer vibe because of the light colors and draping seersucker shirt.
Balance Your Brights
But don’t let this fool you into thinking we’re telling you to ditch colors in summer altogether. By balancing your brighter and lighter colors with darker colors, you’re getting both intentionality and summer-y style.
These black Tech Shorts set a foundation for the bright blue denim shirt that makes the Getup appear more dressy and put-together than a pair of colorful shorts.
Peter Manning Has Mastered Understated Prep
A great brand to try when building a wardrobe is Peter Manning. Based in New York, Peter Manning is a clothier who focuses their efforts on clothes for the not-so-tall guy. They also just make quality, long-lasting pieces, and we particularly like some of their summer essentials this year.
At least 30% of men are under 5’8” – that’s insane when you think about how some retailers don’t stock jackets under a 38 and have limited options in smaller sizes, if they carry any at all.
But if you’re a guy under 5’10” you know the real struggle of finding casual clothes – untucked shirts are too long, sleeves are too billowy, and inseams that are less than a 30 are virtually impossible to find (PMNYC goes down to a 26).
While retailers have understood that larger men, the big and tall crowd, require lengths, widths, and silhouettes that are of different proportions than the guy that can perfectly wear a medium off the rack, the same can’t be said of sizes for smaller men. And forget about it if you’re less than 5’10” AND you have some meat on your bones.
We’ve been big fans of Peter Manning for years, featuring them countless times since we first discovered them. The reason? Just like we believe great style for the average guy doesn’t have to be GQ-expensive, we also believe it should be available to guys who aren’t sized like GQ models.
Polos are the staple of prep – so much so, some guys in the 80s would wear two at the same time – but a lot of us have been negatively conditioned into avoiding them out of fear of looking like an old guy or like you’re wearing a big box retailer uniform.
But look what happens when you select a dark, long sleeve polo like this one from Peter Manning?
Suddenly, a polo – undeniably preppy – is elevated to something more edgy. It’s prep, de-prepped.
This same long sleeve, button cuff polo is featured in our video on guys who hate wearing polos:
Read all about it: 4 Tricks for Wearing Polos If They Make You Feel Like a Dork
Whatever You Do, Don’t Actually Pop Your Collar
As demonstrated, it’s possible to reach back to the roots of prep and bring it into a contemporary context. Neutrals + colors, cuffed shirts, the careful use of seersucker and the classic polo – they’re all just tools in your kit for the summer months.
That said, it never hurts to have a sweater handy. It might get chilly on the yacht.
Special thanks to Peter Manning for teaming up with us on this post! If you've been trying to find that brand that fits your body shape just right, give them a try. Primer readers giving them a try for the first time can use code ‘primer1118' for 20% off!