Style of the Seven Sisters

Those all-American preppy girls


If you hail from California you probably find that all people ask is, “Why did you leave?”

Why did I leave…why would I leave? Why, when East Coast winters are spent in fleece-lined bras and heat-tech underwear, complaining about the snow and the windchill that can break lips like glass? Why, when humid New York summers turn hair to cotton candy and slick skin with sweat and stain satin like a glazed doughnut does to starch paper?

Because there was something about brick stacked, ivy-lined buildings that called my name. Something about wood-paneled hatchbacks and cable knits and houndstooth, navy wallpaper and a quintessential fall. Something about the idea of attending a “liberal arts college,” classical music playing in the background while poring over literature, and a fresh pair of penny loafers…all of which I probably picked up from F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” (as opposed to, you know, the book’s more important themes).

But where my fascination in these American-collegiate aesthetics used to revolve around the men — my grandfather, the Dead Poets, F. Scott’s Princeton-inspired words — I’ve recently started appreciating what it was that the women wore. Suddenly I’ve found myself wondering how best to work slacks and blazers into my wardrobe without appearing like a boy but rather, a lady. I want to wear buttoned oxfords with high-waisted heavy denim under camel coats with socks, of all things. Pearls. Thank god fashion brought back the pearl. In a book that recently came out titled “Seven Sisters Style,” fashion historian Rebecca Tuite practically heard my plea then wrote to it.

My takeaway was that there’s four things I need to approximate the women who reigned sartorially over the northeastern college scene: denim, a men’s shirt, something khaki, flats, an unfussy skirt and a blazer. I could do that. We could do that.

“Whether they were plaid, plain, striped, flannel, cotton, brand-new, or a thrift-store find, above all else a Seven Sister’s button-down had to be men’s.” – Rebecca Tuite

“Versatility was the golden rule of the Seven Sister’s style.” – Rebecca Tuite

“…fashion critics quickly noticed how [Perry] Ellis evoked a quintessential ‘insouciant feeling–of a college woman slipping into her boyfriend’s jacket that is a size or so too big for her…’ This was precisely what the Seven Sisters women had popularized many years before.” — from the chapter “Slouch: A Seven Sisters Tradition”

“From the late 1940s, the popularity of denim increasingly became a statement on the preferred functionality of clothing for college life.” — From her chapter on “The Cult of Denim”


And as for that whole thing about acting like a lady of the Seven Sisters? Ha. Well, that’s at your discretion.

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  • AshleyOlivia

    Can we bring this back please? I’m tired of my students showing up to class in their pajamas and Northface jackets, even if I understand the impulse.

  • Chicspace/Marguerite

    Why leave California for upstate New York/Ithaca? Because 1. Ivy League (thanks but no, thanks, Stanford, because…) and 2. get the hell out of Dodge. But it was the 80s, so we got the prep (in weird colors) and the Cosby sweaters blurred with Material Girl and Woodstock. Not much I need to relive from that sartorial era, although I loved my dark green penny loafers.

  • Quinn Halman

    Wanna borrow something?

  • I was at one of the Seven Sisters colleges just last week and my mental picture of what it would be like entirely aligned with the above images, but in reality it is much different. I know that things (like clothing, duh) change, but some part of me was secretly hoping that the loafers and A-line skirts would still prevail. That’s what I wore when I visited, only to be greeted by the very Bikrenstocks I figured I had best leave behind in California.

    Don’t get me wrong, though, there was a lot of neo-preppy, and I made a joke about Sperry’s Topsiders that did NOT go over well. Oops, back to Birks for me.

  • Viva

    As one of the seven girls in my family, I could not pass this headline by… Over the years my fashion-sense has evolved (and is evolving) but its New England roots run deep: even now, lack of fuss, versatility, slouch, and denim form the basis of my closet.

  • Oana

    I just finished reading the book myself and found it to be a great history of what we call the preppy style. I found it amazing to read about how fashion was at the forefront start of female emancipation in America. Thank God for those smart and beautiful women who chose to wear clothes that made them feel comfortable and empowered rather than choosing to be pleasing to men. True Man Repellers of their times 🙂

  • Dressing well changes my whole outlook on the day. If I’m dressed to kill, I will. If I feel gross or just not about my outfit that day I tend to just be content with mediocrity.

  • That book completely reminds me of The Preppy Handbook, and the style just gives me flashbacks to the movie Mona Lisa Smile (another film about teachers making a difference). Going to a private school in Brooklyn my entire life with a uniform then suddenly being brought to a liberal arts college with NO uniform, just makes it feel like I needed one. And so the button down and penny loafers became my college uniform.

    Your Friend, Jess

    • Hahaha, the Preppy Handbook! My mom and dad said that for the entirety of their different undergraduate experiences they were surrounded by people with names like “Skip” and “Biff,” who relied solely on The Preppy Handbook. I think it was rather comedic to both of them. I imagine that that would get really stuffy and tiring….who the hell is who?!

      Nevertheless, there are some amazing staples that come out of the whole Preppy culture. Loafers and quality shirts, for sure.

      • I was about 15 when I got ahold of my parents’ copy of the Preppy Handbook and though I don’t do preppy so much anymore, I still love my Tretorn tennis shoes with a passion.

  • MargaretInArabia

    I’ve worn some version of this look for casual dress all my life. Essentially the look is a boy’s school uniform with the odd skirt or linen dress tossed in. Linen, wool and silk. Layers. Real jewelry. No monograms but your own.

    Today I wear Ferragamo loafers, white socks optional.

  • bong