Modern Preps Jan16


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Modern Preps

Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers are the ultimate preppy couple Sean Gale Burke (2014) ©

Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers are the ultimate preppy couple
Sean Gale Burke (2014) ©

With a taste for high status, yet understated, luxury goods, the ‘Modern Preps’ are the most affluent of US youth subcultures. In the eighth of a series exploring Gen Y and Z tribes, Andrea Graham Richeson examines whether this group’s influence and purchasing power can keep legacy brands alive.


Key facts:

Although a walk through a mall or high school may suggest otherwise, the preppy lifestyle is alive and well. Modern Preps – a youth subculture built on affluence and blue blood ideals – may not have the clout that they used to, but their purchasing power is substantial and ever-growing. The upper-middle class and upper class families that comprise the top 20% of American households hold 50% of the nation’s income and constitute 40% of consumer spending. [1] Additionally, Gen Y consumers will start to become the largest generational segment in the luxury market between 2018 and 2020. [2]

Having the purchasing power to afford luxury brands doesn’t mean that Modern Preps shop exclusively at boutiques and outfitters. In fact, studies show that demand for luxury brands in the US is relatively stagnant. [3] This is undoubtedly due to a shift towards a more understated expression of wealth among elite consumers. [4] This preference – in conjunction with the preppy set’s desire for well-made and understated products – has revitalised heritage brands, and has helped upstart US brands gain traction among the young and elite. But will popularity among preps be enough to support the long-term success of these brands?


Who are they?
It’s a late February day at a Washington area university, and the last remnants of snowfall have turned the campus into a muddy mess. Adrianna and her sorority sisters embrace the weather with glee as it has allowed them to break out their brightly coloured Hunter boots and matching gilets. As they stand in line for lunch, they scroll through Pinterest feeds, stopping to show each other their ‘must buys’ for spring break – monogrammed Jack Rogers sandals, pastel-coloured ‘norts’ and flowered-patterned Lilly Pulitzer bikinis. The big discussion is whether they should get matching bikinis. The answer? “Oh. My. God. Yasss!”

Adrianna is one of the estimated 14.8 million Gen Y affluents in the US (living in households with an annual income of at least $100,000). [5] Wealthy and well connected, her generation of well-to-do youth share many old preppy traits and values, but with some distinct differences. The Modern Prep is embraced by a range of ethnicities, and is united through shared economic backgrounds and aspirations rather than the subculture’s Protestant, boarding school roots. [6]