The Official Preppy Handbook ("OPH") was, by its own terms, inclusive, "[l]ooking, acting, and ultimately being Prep is not restricted to an elite minority lucky enough to attend prestigious private schools......[y]ou don't even have to be a registered Republican. In a true democracy everyone can be upper class....[i]t's only fair." Of course, by its own terms, this is farce; not everyone can be upper class, but what the OPH did was satirically "break the code" of the "preppy" tribe. In the name of humor, certain characteristics were exaggerated (pink and green being the most obvious), but as with all good satire, it was built on kernels of truth. Further, in some cases, the OPH gave good advice - especially with respect to matters sartorial. Published in an age when Disco was still going and polyester still held sway with large swathes of the American population, the OPH gave reliable advice on classic clothing, natural fibers, appropriate shoes, ties, belts, outerwear, etc. It's easy to forget how the OPH and the preppy trend of the early 80s helped save middle-America from the fashion monstrosities of the 70s.
So thirty years later, along comes "True Prep." What a disaster. My first thoughts consist of 1) the excellence of the OPH must owe a huge debt to Jonathan Roberts, Carol McD. Wallace, Mason Wiley et al. because Lisa Birnbach could not have written a majority of the OPH and then turn out True Prep, and/or 2) Chip Kidd must have held huge sway with Lisa Birnbach and caused her to override her better judgment, and/or 3) Lisa Birnbach has grown incredibly cynical and has simply chosen to jump on the preppy resurgence and cash in while the getting's good.
Hey, it's America so, she should have a right to cash in - the problem is the book doesn't hold the charm, nor the integrity of the OPH. It's galling in its PC propaganda, vulgar in its blatant product placement, and depressing in its embrace of modern/trendy sensibilities. In short, it's crummy sequel to the OPH and reads more like a sequel to the Yuppie Handbook The Yuppie Handbook: The State-of-the Art Manual for Young Urban Professionals or Bobos in Paradise Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There where the sole criteria for "membership" are large amounts of discretionary income and a kind of vapid, trendy, PC mentality. True Prep is about Yuppies or Bobos or, as Paul Fussell called them, "Class X" (See Class: A Guide Through the American Status System)
One need only look at "The True Prep Pantheon" and look at the characters listed therein to see how far afield this book has gone. There are no explicable rules of admission other than to be an "in your face" break with the list in the OPH. Who, until reading the assertions in True Prep, would have ever thought of Yo-Yo Ma, Barack Obama, or Uma Thurman as preppy? I've read the justification - I remain unconvinced, with them as well as others.
When one looked at the men's clothing section of the OPH, one saw references to Weejuns, Brooks Brothers, and Gucci loafers. I dislike Guccis and Weejuns aren't what they were in the 80s, but still respectable choices to this day. In True Prep, one sees, in what can only be a joke or a form of cruel misdirection, fugly Hilfiger loafers which no sane man, let alone a prep, would wear along with almost equally loathsome Bass, Prada, and other atrocious forms of loafers. There's a picture of a ludicrous, multi-colored pair of Sperry Top Siders which are in such bad taste that I can only assume that Sperry paid for the photo to be placed in the book. And, speaking of product placements......J. Crew? Does any man over the age of 21 really wear J. Crew? Yet, True Prep asserts that a prep is dressed head to toe in this trendy, arriviste of a company - Uh, preps no longer wear Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Andover Shop, H. Stockton, Cable Car Clothiers, Bean, etc? Apparently, they couldn't afford the product placements so, J. Crew it is - head to ankles.......and Cole Haan loafers? Please.
As for the PC stuff - it's suffused throughout. Apparently, everyone in the world can be preppy except for Republicans (odd, since in OPH Republicanism was one of may potential indicators of preppiness - see quote at beginning of review). Aside from the cheap shots at Bush, we also have the asinine inclusion of Barack Obama's "Dreams of my Father" on the Preppy "Master Reading List" to make the author's leanings all too clear. How was it that Birnbach was able to put the OPH together without political attacks? So, open and all inclusive is True Prep (except for the aforementioned Republicans), that the authors include a one page interview with a Muslim chaplain at Brown University - I'm sure there are preppy Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus, etc., but the placement of this page, again, seems preachy, so PC, and so very out of place - just out of left field. It's as if nine years after 9-11, the authors are concerned that Muslims in Nantucket Reds might become victims of hate crimes and that the authors must "teach us" that, hey - they can be preppy too. And, they've even included a nice little condescending essay to let all the preppies out there know that adopting babies is OK, too. Thank goodness they gave us their imprimatur. Again, preachiness, smug moralizing (as if we didn't know adoption was a good thing) - not humor.
Others have commented on the disorganization of the book. It really is all over the place. A hodge podge of essays, oddly placed, with narrow margins. I was alive in the 80s - I seem to remember divorces, remarriages, rehab, face lifts, etc. existing back then too. Why the authors felt compelled to mention these issues when they weren't addressed in the OPH is beyond me especially, when they are not, per se, preppy issues and especially when their inclusion takes away from the "escapism" and humor that the OPH provided.
So, in short, this book is a profound disappointment. I'd return it, but it's not worth the shipping cost to send it back to Amazon for the refund. Do yourself a favor and get the OPH. There's more to dislike than to like in this book. It could have been so much better. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but, in this case, you can. Compare the cheesey, girlish cover of True Prep to the classic looking OPH - the same difference resides on the inside.