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Ralph Lauren

Marcus1999

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Hey,

University student here currently writing an essay about the concept of "Preppy", as seen somewhat through the lens of Ralph Lauren. Now, RL obviously have several sub-brands and diffusion lines etc., I'm curious to hear some inputs however and the views of you lot on here - what are your thoughts on all things RL? Perhaps in regards to aspirational qualities or similar? The exact topic of the essay isn't fixed as of yet, so would be very interesting to hear any general reflections really.

Much appriciated.
Marcus
 
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dieworkwear

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One of the greats. Arguably the best ever. He saved classic American men's style for another generation. Sexier than Brooks Brothers. A business genius in that he's developed a line at every price point successfully. He makes polos with big ugly pony logos and people still want to spend thousands on a Purple Label suit. IMO the most important men's fashion figure in the post-war period.
 
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breakaway01

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Totally agree with DWW. My only comment is that virtually all clothing marketing is aspirational in some way. But the genius IMO is how RL has kept the basic language of classic American clothing (workwear and trad/CM) while making it relevant and desirable to large segments of the marketplace.
 

Phileas Fogg

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Strongly recommends the HBO documentary "Very Ralph" focuses on the man behind the brand.
And if may add to what previously said, in my mind, he not just saved American style, but in many ways redefined it, certainly outside the US.
He’s sort of like the Steve Jobs of fashion, minus the nuttiness.

He had and still has a clear vision and is obsessed with every aspect of how his clothing is branded. He basically opened the RL stores because the retail partners just didn’t get it.

For anyone who has yet to go into an RL flagship store, do yourself a favor and go.
 

ValidusLA

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He’s sort of like the Steve Jobs of fashion, minus the nuttiness.

He had and still has a clear vision and is obsessed with every aspect of how his clothing is branded. He basically opened the RL stores because the retail partners just didn’t get it.

For anyone who has yet to go into an RL flagship store, do yourself a favor and go.
The Madison Flagship is exceptional.
 

Marcus1999

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Cheers for all replies so far, very helpful. All comments/reflections on RL and/or the preppy-theme welcome.
 

Mr Tickle

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One thing I always noticed with their clothes is, the bigger the logo, the cheaper the garments. I don't know if he pioneered this but I see it everywhere now with all the "high street" fashion brands - Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Armani etc. It's like they made a conscious decision "If you want to wear our clothes but are too cheap to buy the expensive stuff, you're going to pay for it by becoming a walking billboard for us."
That's what I've always imagined the thought process was. Not sure if that's the reality of the strategy, or if RL was first to do it.
 

dieworkwear

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Cheers for all replies so far, very helpful. All comments/reflections on RL and/or the preppy-theme welcome.
Classic American clothing, as it was defined by Brooks Brothers and its cultural satellites (e.g. J. Press, The Andover Shop, and the countless no-name boutiques that sold "trad" and "prep" clothing) started to go into decline after the 1960s. In the immediate post-war years, youth and rebellion started to become increasingly dominant themes in fashion. The culture wars of the 1950s and '60s can be broadly represented by the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit on one side and the rebel rocker on the other -- one being the Establishment and the other being the new, young, and cool generation (e.g. Brando and James Dean striking a pose).

By the 1970s, this style of clothing was too closely associated with the Establishment to have any real appeal to a new generation. It was also around this time that Brooks Brothers started getting passed around to various international owners. Winthrop Holly Brooks was the last member of the Brooks family to own and lead the company. He sold it to Julius Garfinckels in 1946, and John C Wood -- who's widely recognized as the last "greats" in Brooks Brothers' history -- served as the company's CEO. When Woods left, he was interviewed by the New York Times about what he thinks is his lasting legacy. He said something to the effect of: "I made Brooks more Brooksy than before."

Garfinkels expanded Brooks Brothers and then sold it to someone in 1987. That person then sold the company to Marks & Spencer in 1988, which set off a chain of events that later led to the company's downfall. To put it shortly: Garfinkels expanded Brooks Brothers because they want to capitalize on their investment, and then Marks and Spencer put the expansion into overdrive. By greatly expanding the company's footprint, they locked the company into a network of bad real estate deals, which would prove to be a ticking time bomb. When Retail Brand Alliance bought the company in 2001, they expanded it even more. This is the summary of Brooks Brothers' downfall.

Ralph Lauren started Polo in 1968 in the backdrop of all this -- the heyday of Ivy Style, the post-war culture wars, and the counter-cultural revolution of the '70s. During this period, prep and trad increasingly became irrelevant, as they were too closely tied to the establishment.

By the 1970s, Raph Lauren was starting to get picked up by notable stores -- succeeding even in this backdrop. And in the 1980s, when men's fashion was all about Italian designers such as Armani and Versace, Ralph Lauren kept the torch alive for classic American clothing.

I became interested in clothing in the 1990s. This is well after the culture wars of the 50s and 60s, the counter-cultural revolution of the 70s, and the Marks & Spencer-led downfall of Brooks Brothers. My first introduction to classic American men's clothing was at an RL flagship. Importantly, Ralph Lauren at the time felt relevant to non-white people like me (I'm Asian, don't aspire to be a WASP, and was introduced to Ralph Lauren because I was into dancing. My friends were 'Lo Heads). Brooks Brothers always felt too stuffy to me. Even though I recognized it as a symbol of success, it wasn't something I aspired to wear. But there were other cultural influences around RL -- Tyson Beckford, dancers, rap artists, etc. Ralph Lauren was still a symbol of WASPy success, but one that felt more relevant to me.

For many men who grew up in the '80s and '90s, their first introduction to American classics -- the tweed jacket, oxford button-down, Shetland sweater, polo coat, madras, etc -- was at a Ralph Lauren flagship. This is notable because all these things are things that Brooks Brothers introduced to the United States in the early 20th century through their 346 Madison Avenue store. But by the 1980s and '90s, Brooks Brothers was increasingly less relevant. Ralph Lauren took all these things -- along with the "prole" gear that defined the other half of classic Ameican style in the post-war period, such as chambray shirts, jeans, and workwear -- and introduced them to a new generation of men.

For those of us who went further in our clothing interest, we later found the "original" source for these things. So instead of an RL button-down, we gravitated towards companies that tried to replicate the mid-century Brooks Brothers version. Instead of Ralph Lauren's colorfast madras, we sought the bleeding ones from niche companies. Instead of Ralph Lauren's ready-to-wear tweeds, some went bespoke. So on and so forth.

A friend of mine in Italy works as a fitter for a bespoke tailoring company. While visiting San Francisco, he and I went out for drinks. He brought out his phone to show me a photo of him and Ralph Lauren, who he had recently met. I remember losing my mind because Raph Lauren is basically my introduction to clothing. Anyway, he and I reminisced what it felt like first walking through a Ralph Lauren flagship in the '90s. I remember him saying: "It felt like you were walking through JFK Jr.'s personal closet." The references to sport, prep, and classic American tailoring were so amazing. It was like the coolest, most refined, sporty guy you could imagine, and you were somehow walking through his wood-paneled dressing room.

That's also what an RL flagship felt like to me, and how I fell in love with so many of those classic American pieces. When I saw those same pieces at Brooks Brothers, it simply didn't have the same effect -- those were just lawyer clothes. But Ralph Lauren united the two sides of classic American clothing -- trad and workwear -- under one banner, despite them previously being at odds with each other. He also took the dominant post-war themes in men's fashion -- youth, cool, and sexiness -- and transported them onto trad clothes.

A lot of classic American clothing has been subsumed into "normcore," such as button-down shirts and flat-front chinos. But Ralph Lauren kept the flavor of that look alive for another generation. WIthout him, I don't know what would have happened to that look after the 1970s.
 

ValidusLA

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One thing I always noticed with their clothes is, the bigger the logo, the cheaper the garments. I don't know if he pioneered this but I see it everywhere now with all the "high street" fashion brands - Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Armani etc. It's like they made a conscious decision "If you want to wear our clothes but are too cheap to buy the expensive stuff, you're going to pay for it by becoming a walking billboard for us."
That's what I've always imagined the thought process was. Not sure if that's the reality of the strategy, or if RL was first to do it.
When he first started putting out "big pony" polo's back when I was in college I remember them being more expensive than the regular polos. Same material.
 

dieworkwear

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Friends of mine who are older consider RL to be ersatz. I think that's fair -- Ralph Lauren basically knew which things to copy. But the world started to move away from classic men's style in the 1970s and many of the older brands didn't keep up. If RL did put a different spin on things, I don't think many men in my generation would have picked up the look.
 

Mr Tickle

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When he first started putting out "big pony" polo's back when I was in college I remember them being more expensive than the regular polos. Same material.
Someone else told me that they thought Big Pony was the more expensive branding, too. But when I've seen them they always seem cheaper. Not that I've actually seen them for a while.

I have a Ralph Lauren outlet store very close to me, one of only two in this country, I believe.it only opened recently. I like going in there to see if there's any hidden treasure among all the cheap, heavily branded stuff. Haven't found anything I really like yet though. Over here people don't tend to dress "prep" and RL tends to be worn by the same people who wear the "Boss" branded Hugo Boss stuff , CK/ Chanel branded gear- "label junkies" is the best description for them I've heard. (Think of a slightly less extreme version of that famous " men outside pub in ridiculously tight jeans" picture).
 

Mr Tickle

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Classic American clothing, as it was defined by Brooks Brothers and its cultural satellites (e.g. J. Press, The Andover Shop, and the countless no-name boutiques that sold "trad" and "prep" clothing) started to go into decline after the 1960s. In the immediate post-war years, youth and rebellion started to become increasingly dominant themes in fashion. The culture wars of the 1950s and '60s can be broadly represented by the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit on one side and the rebel rocker on the other -- one being the Establishment and the other being the new, young, and cool generation (e.g. Brando and James Dean striking a pose).
I love your writing about history of style.
Where does mod fit into this? This was always a youth/rebellious style , but obviously very different from the rocker aesthetic. But also clearly a deliberate step away from the conservative dress standards of the day. Perhaps it was a deliberate step away from the class-focused dress code of the time, in the sense that the original mods weren't part of what would traditionally have been thought of as the suit-wearing classes. They wore them as an affectation rather than because it was expected of them. Their parents would have been more likely to have been in overalls or workwear as they went about their day-to-day. That's my take on it anyway. I guess what's always slightly confused me, is that I don't know if this then led into the very conservative, power-suit / Sloane ranger aesthetic of the 80s. It clearly led into subsequent youth culture aesthetics like ska/new romantic - those seem to me to have been very much an evolution of the 60s mod look. But was the Armani/Versace 80s look a mainstreaming of the mod look, or did it evolve in parallel, from the (perhaps less style focused) middle/upper classes that had stuck to traditional British dress codes through the 60s and 70s rather than getting involved in subculture-aligned trends and fads?
 
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clee1982

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From an oversea stand point RL was the representation of American clothing brand, the preppy stuff definitely moved overseas, even though BB and JPress had substantial presence in Japan, Asia exclude Japan probably saw more RL (though mostly just at Polo level and inside rather than dedicated store until recently).
 

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