Still True To Prep: An Interview With Lisa Birnbach

Still True To Prep: An Interview With Lisa Birnbach
      Country Club Prep recently caught up with Lisa Birnbach, whose 1980 bestseller "The Official Preppy Handbook" turns 35 this fall. It's also hard to believe it's already been five years since her sequel "True Prep." We asked her about where we are on the preppy timeline at this point, and encouraged her caustic wit about the less-than-gracious elements of contemporary society. 

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CCP: Now that the dust has settled, what was the primary reaction to "True Prep"?

LB: The biggest reaction was "What took you so long?" And my answer was always, "I didn't know you wanted this!" 

CCP: Where are we at this point in the evolution of prep? 

LB: At this point preppy has become a default style of dressing, both studied and careless. Some are like new converts, and you're always a little more zealous when you've just discovered something and really like it. But put that next to someone who's been wearing frayed oxford hand-me-downs all their life, and it's not fair to say you're not entitled to the same respect. It's sort of irrelevant to me. 
In 1980, on the book tour, I really did have to explain to people outside the South and East what preppy was. In 2010 I'm not sure anyone asked me that question. Everybody has one polo shirt, boat shoes, webbed belt or Jack Rogers sandals. The sartorial jargon has spread, and is now international, and everywhere from Asia to South America you see a Barbour jacket over a buttondown and loafers. 
In becoming more global it's alsobecome more inclusive. So it's great to be able to talk about preppy and also talk about gay marriage and religion and politics in a way that's wide open. 

CCP: And yet at the same time, with all the big European fast-fashion chains, there are so many choices, and preppy is a distinctly American choice. 

LB: It is, and I'm proud of it. And here at Country Club Prep I see that there's a lot of irreverent winking, while still reveling in it, and that's great. 

A glance inside True Prep

CCP: You have three kids who are college-aged. How preppy are they? 

LB: To varying degrees. My oldest son is 25 and a performer and needed a suit for a recent audition. I took him to Brooks Brothers and it was like he came home to roost. 

CCP: you've been critical of what we could call Kardashian culture. How has the general tone of America gotten better or worse in the five years since "True Prep"?

LB: The TMZ/reality show culture had been upon us when I wrote the book, but little did I know that it could become even more crude. The way to feel old and irrelevant in this culture is to tell the truth about how you feel about it, and I think it's just the coarsest, most vulgar thing ever. 
Today on Facebook, in the right column that carries news you don't really need, there was something about how a celebrity's spouse had released a nude photo, and I just thought, "Why does everyone have to be naked all the time?" And if you're not enough of an exhibitionist, your spouse will make you into one. 

CCP: What do you make of this whole social media thing? 

LB: When my publisher made me open a Twitter account, I did it kicking and screaming. And now I'm a total Twitter addict. But the idea that we are practically watching a Kardashian pee on a stick the moment after having sexual intercourse to see whether she's pregnant, and then follow that pregnancy from plane trip to plane trip as her mammoth bosom gets even more mammoth and her decolletange grows ever lower and more heaving — we watch this circus on the news and it's just awful. 

CCP: Much has changed and yet some things just straight-up aren't prep and never will be. I'm thinking of tattoos, for example. 

LB: Here comes fuddy-duddy Lisa again. Yeah, I hate 'em, along with plastic surgery, which certainly isn't prep. They both seem to start their fans on a spiral of doing it more and more. You rarely see just one tattoo, but a whole arm or leg. I take the subway a lot and I feel like I'm the only person without one. Tattoos don't even look rebellious; they kind of look like you're a follower. At least with piercings you can take the thing out.

CCP: Any other pet peeves? 

LB: I'll admit I have a lot. I see people not being courteous everywhere. People talking on the phone and making the cashier wait, when there's a line behind them — it's just rude!  But I guess the biggest fear, when it comes to electornic devices, is that young people don't know how to have a conversation anymore. 

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1 comment

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    Pizzzazzz: September 24, 2018

    I TOTALLY agree! 1 thousand percent!!!

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