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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

Why the preppy rep?

Author: Daniel Roberts '09

I remember back when I was a junior in high school, and I was deciding which schools to visit. I would bust out my good old reliable Princeton Review Guide, and read up on the relentless detritus contained on each school's page. There were overall ratings for a school's academics - Middlebury was a 99, so apparently we are perfect - as well as wonderfully oversimplified lists, with such clever titles as "Happiest Students" and "Colleges with a Conscience." Yet, despite all of these useful, essential attributes (of course, was of utmost importance that I know which schools "run like butter"), I found myself most interested in the book's insistence that Middlebury was simply a giant mass of "preppy kids."

Under "Students Say," one guy jokes that "Students here come from every corner of the world and every New England prep school." Pretty funny. In addition, the guide itself claims that the school "can feel like a collection of J. Crew models." Way to be objective. Here's the thing, though - I just do not see it. Expecting, or should I say dreading, this much-maligned presence of popped polo collars and woven belts with embroidered whales, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this simply was not the case.

The term "preppy," which in so many ways has become an insult today, conjures up images of Nantucket red shorts faded to pink, flip-flops even on the chilliest winter days, and a certain pretentious affect that comes from being educated at a Northeastern prep school. Yet, I have not seen too much of these on our cozy campus. Most of the kids I hang out with wear jeans and a sweater. Then, there are the varsity athletes, who - correct me if I am wrong - are mostly seen in sweatpants and a T-shirt. If you still think our campus is a vast web of Abercrombie and Brooks Brothers, I have two words for you: Frisbee team. Yeah.

Sure, it is easy to find examples of the stereotype and prove me wrong. One of my hall mates has begun wearing a necktie as a belt. Another headed off to Orange Crush wearing three Lacoste polos, in nauseating pastel selections, sporting the triple popped-collar. But let's not talk about that. My point is that outsiders need to start recognizing the real unifying quality of Midd students: intelligence, not clothing taste.

When I had made my decision to come here, the archetypal "family friend" adults would ask where I was headed, and when I told them humbly, "Middlebury College," they would routinely ask, "Oh, so you're a big skier?" No. I don't ski. The few who did not assume that skiing was the only reason a kid would go to college in Vermont would respond, "Ah, better get some nice cable knit sweaters!" Seriously. This was said to me. How about someone saying, "Oh, Middlebury College? You must be smart; that is a great school." Nope, the preppy reputation seems more important.

Perhaps it has not helped our case that the cutesy nickname "Club Midd" has eked out into the public (although, let's be honest, nobody here calls it that). For evidence, check out, which mocks "Club Midd" with the clever sample quote: "You know, when you wear J. Crew and dumb down your speech, you can REALLY pass for a Middkid!"

I have my fair share of polo shirts. I'm not spearing preppy style. What I'm saying is that it may look nice to wear your sweater with the pink polo collar peeking out from underneath, but it should no longer define our school. Besides, with Hollywood champs like Ben Affleck rocking the dirty white tee, trucker hat, and "morning after" stubble, we may soon see a much classier trend arise. We can only hope.