The official reasoning behind the release of “True Prep,’’ the sequel to 1980’s “The Preppy Handbook,’’ may be to update the preppies of the world about fashion (J. Crew didn’t exist in 1980), technology (no texting during dinner, Muffy), and plastic surgery (in a word, don’t). But chat with Lisa Birnbach, author of the original and the sequel, and a secondary motive emerges.
Birnbach appears to be on a quiet, tasteful mission to restore the good name of preppies everywhere.
“Think about every John Hughes film,’’ she says. “In every movie he demonized the rich kid and made that rich jerk the so-called preppy.’’
In Molly Ringwald’s Hughes-created cinematic universe, tormenters were always those with the entitled sneer and the upturned collars (we’re looking at you, pre-bloat James Spader). Except, of course, when Ringwald put on the pink and green to play prep in “The Breakfast Club.’’ In the 30 years since “The Preppy Handbook’’ pulled on a pair of madras slacks and climbed to the top of The New York Times Bestseller list, Birnbach says that the definition of preppy has come to mean “rich jerk.’’ By 1990, it was the insult that Mario Lopez regularly slung at Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the hallways of Bayside High on “Saved by the Bell.’’
But with “True Prep,’’ Birnbach, with assistance from designer and writer Chip Kidd, makes the case that these cash-flaunting individuals are not preppies, no matter how much Ralph Lauren they may have in their closets.