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How Creatives of Color Are Spinning ‘Preppy’ Style with a Soulful, Unique Twist

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Fashion Me In Style

The collaboration between Ralph Lauren and historically Black institutions and universities, which debuted this March, received mixed reviews.

Some observers thought the clothing alluded to a certain nostalgia for an era when people of color were not welcomed in settings that were largely white. Others said it was vital to reframe the issue by featuring Black models with a preppy look that African Americans can equally claim. Prep schools for private colleges are where the term "preppy" originated. Prep clothing and old-money environments like social clubs and the Ivy League have a history of intentional exclusion and anti-Blackness.

It's important to revisit how Black Americans have influenced the style as its popularity among the general public soars. According to Kim Jenkins, fashion and culture educator as well as the founder of the Fashion and Race Database, clothing intended for elite groups is frequently made to portray a limit to the Black body. For instance, clothing items that are subtly (or not) created without regard for larger or more shapely posteriors. She also mentions how it was viewed as offensive when tennis legend Althea Gibson wore traditional tennis attire in the middle of the twentieth century. EleVen, a clothing and lifestyle company founded by Venus Williams, is a continuation of her illustrious career.

EleVen's all-white Wimbledon collection will soon debut, she hints. Tennis whites have a significant symbolic meaning that goes beyond their role as apparel, Jenkins reveals. Classic items of country club prep clothing continue to be essentials of the style. While skiing, playing golf, or engaging in any other affluent-related activity while on the road, Marlon and Jackie observed they were the only persons of color. The couple aimed to develop a means by which members of racial minorities might picture themselves in such settings.

"Our kids can look at those photographs and think, okay, I guess I can try polo, or tennis, or golf, and I don't have to feel that it's stuffy."

Charitable endeavors that support the brand's mission have received a lot of attention from Recreational Habits. Many of the POC-owned companies in the prep wear industry deliberately engage in corporate responsibility initiatives to promote women and underrepresented minorities. A polo clinic, which allowed people to participate in and learn the sport at the novice level, was one such initiative that they intend to extend. Customers are encouraged to donate to Girls Inc. through EleVen's PrivilegeTax initiative, a nonprofit advocacy organization with headquarters in New York that has been providing programming exclusively for girls for the longest.

Ahlilah Longmire founded Ascot Manor, a Black-owned tennis apparel and sportswear company, and she works with tennis associations and schools to find young people in need. Many universities are committed to leveling the playing field because sports like crew and lacrosse have historically been marked by an extraordinary lack of diversity.

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