We take a look at the modern-day take on the 1980s yuppie.
By Mary Stringham.
Is Donald Trump the Ronald Reagan of the 21st century? Some may think so. Since the beginning of his campaign Trump has been compared to the former republican president. Sure, they both came from the entertainment industry and yes, they do have similar macroeconomic policies. It might track then that the 80s “yuppie” so synonymous with the Reagan-era has come back into vogue today. However, the style has returned with a subversive twist that may make it more antagonistic to, rather than reflective of, the Trump presidency.
The yuppie, slang for young urban professional, is a term that was coined in the 1980s during a time of economic prosperity. Referencing the upwardly-mobile white collar worker with a disposable income, this generation of lawyers and financiers wanted to enjoy all that money could buy. Expensive clothes, flashy cars, fancy meals. You name it, they bought it, and made sure to show it off.
Both the term and the style have become inseparable from notions of American opulence. The 1980s were the golden-age for the well-off WASP as the preppy-aesthetic with ivy league roots made its mark. The era also saw its fair share of power-suits and pinstripes to boot. Designers like Ralph Lauren, a former Brooks Brothers employee and founder of Polo, rose to prominence at the time and helped shape the quintessential American style we know today.
A recent Women’s Wear Daily piece by Misty White Sidell mentioned a shift back to this classic aesthetic when it noted that the yuppie has again “begun hitting the collective consciousness.” The style has been popping up in streetwear looks and appearing on the runways at recent fashion weeks. Brands like Prada, Gucci, and Off-White all took part in this “new buttoned-up extravagance” at their most recent Fall/Winter shows. I guess it’s official then – the prep is back.
It’s important to note that this revival is not just filled with outfits that Brad and Laura would wear to “lunch” at the country club. As mentioned by Sidell, these looks have been adopted and transformed by Brooklynites and Silicon Valley tech moguls. As these 21st century yuppies craft their outfits with ironic qualities, the new combinations disrupt their Americana roots. Instead of a preppy fit being worn by an off-duty 80s power attorney, you see a modern interpretation donned by a freelance creative at a Bushwick coffee shop. Instead of leather-oxfords with khakis, perhaps the new-wave yuppie is wearing a platform-loafer paired with neon tube-socks and Bermuda shorts (queue Ivy League alumni turning in their graves).
Another revolutionary aspect of the 2020 yuppie? It’s less, well, white. An article by Rachel Tashjian for Garage mentioned that the style holds roots in “unquestioned privilege, racism and even fascism.” She uses the alt-right’s adoption of the Fred Perry polo as a prime example. We can see, however, that in some ways today’s revival is working to rattle those associations. Just look at brands like Rowing Blazers known for their youthful, self-aware and ironic take on the style. Or Noah, heralded by GQ as a leader in this revival, working to create classic menswear for everyone. A 2018 Garage photoshoot even highlights how Calvin Klein, Sies Marjan and Proenza Schouler are subverting the quintessential American aesthetic to create a more varied take on these basics, one that is filled with racially diverse models and streetwear elements. As shoulder pads and collegiate-inspired sweaters are appropriated and worn in disruptive ways by a new generation, their classist symbolism may slowly begin to fade.
Perhaps the redefined yuppie is a reaction to trends like athleisure that have dominated the scene for years. Or it’s possible that these young-professionals with non-traditional jobs are searching for a more polished look, one reminiscent of an office experience they’ll never have. On the other hand, it could be because brands are so focused on heritage that they’re looking back to classic American archetypes. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a big middle-finger to the president in charge who rose to prominence as an 80’s business tycoon under the Reagan administration. Maybe this new generation has taken a look built by the white elite and has decidedly transformed it into fashion for the masses.