Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Monday, June 24, 2024

A Reader Moot Court: What is the most prep/ivy military service?

 A reader question:

Muffy,

All the stunning water photos raise a question for the community. Is the US Navy the most prep/ivy military service. And if so, why?

Thanks!

26 comments:

  1. Interesting question. Keep in mind USNavy has always been safe harbor for service women and men who want a bed in which to sleep every night. And, it is the option for recruits who want to “see the world.” Midwesterners were always disproportionately represented in its ranks, perhaps owing to their isolated childhoods. Do many prep/Ivy types hail from old Mizzou?

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  2. Given that Annapolis may be the most Ivy-esque service academy location ( although the Coasties may have an argument), and coupling it with the vision of sailors and naval officers not being the type of serviceman when crawl and roll around in the dirt, a weak case could be made for the Navy. That said, the patrician and comfortable lifestyle effused on this site should not be confused with the sacrifice and selfless service which is part of military service.

    If one was to list “ivy occupations”, I seriously doubt that military service would be near the top of anyone’s list. Patriotism and community service and community pride are Ivy foundations and they are derived from the freedoms and benefits granted to us by those that serve.

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    1. Of course the “Coasties” have an argument, and they win. Virtually anyplace in Connecticut is more prep/Ivy than anyplace in Maryland.

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  3. I think the military is not very Ivy because you’d go to an Academy rather than a university? A lot of cadets come from good schools though. It’s a huge honor to get in, the standards are incredible. Gonna say Navy because boats. Army gets horses, but guess not so many horse people here. Air Force gets airplanes I suspect…

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    1. Most officers are not academy graduates but are products of ROTC or other training programs.

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  4. Aren’t U.S. Navy Pea Coats part of the prep/ivy canon? It is my go-to Winter coat when the cold winds blow and it is time to put away the seersucker

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    1. Maybe. But, we must also remember that Jack Nicholson wore a Pea Coat in The Last Detail (1973) - hardly looking much like a Prep Icon. Great movie anyway.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37AdKfeWtQI

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    2. I was thinking more Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, but Redford makes everything he wears look good

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  5. I think military service and ivy/trad are inexorably linked by time. Ivy/trad rose to prominence in the 50s when returning WWII veterans were flooding college campuses by taking advantage of the GI Bill.

    In a modern context, is military service still linked to the Ivy/Trad/Prep lifestyle? Probably not. But I think that's deserving of a broader discussion of noblesse oblige (or lack thereof) and the current incarnation of the American upper class.

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  6. This is a disingenuous question. Prep vs Armed Services Cultures. Cats & Dogs. My daughter dated several graduates from one of the trade schools.

    Not well rounded much less well read. Had to tell one of them to remove his baseball cap entering our home. My daughter upbraided another for wearing a sweat stained tee shirt to our home. She told him that her Dad wears an ancient LaCoste when mowing the lawn.

    Probably the only exception would be my General Manager early in my career . Princeton, Lacrosse, Naval Aviator.

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  7. The thoughtful comments got me thinking about my original question. Someplace in the recess of my mind I think there was something in The Preppy Handbook (and I realize the book isn't the final arbiter of prep ethos) noting the Navy as the "preppy" military service. It would seem that may have been more relevant for another time when noblesse oblige was a part of "WASP, Prep, Ivy culture". Today it may all be a "moot" point.
    Today about 1 percent of US senators and representatives have a child in uniform.
    Today the US Navy has lowered its education requirement. High school completion is no longer required.
    Our military still remains the bulwark for our freedoms but times have change..Thinking about WASP, Prep, Ivy, noblesse oblige ethos and connections to military in the recent past.
    George Bush senior, Yale, Navy
    Joseph Kennedy Jr, Harvard, Navy
    JFK, Harvard, Navy
    John Kerry, Yale, Navy
    Douglas MacArthur, West Point, Army
    George Patton, West Point, Army

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  8. I'm not sure how everyone has confused the fact that the military is the literal definition of "the masses" (and I mean that in a good, respectful way) and that the vast majority of military personnel are, and have always been, working class, with the idea that it's "preppy." I know there are some uniform fetishists among the readers of this blog who are desperate to conflate "prep style" with wearing a uniform, but it's an unnatural attempted coupling.

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  9. My family and I are USN, three generations. Although a diploma from the Boat School on the Severn has been half jokingly referred to as a license to be a gentleman, there is something civilizing about a military background, and many of those same values align with a New England ethos. As to being preppy, I don't see it since they did away with brown shoes.

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    1. They also align with the midwestern ethos, the southern ethos, and pretty much every other working class/middle class American "ethos," at least in theory.

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  10. The Navy and Ivy exist on closely spaced parallel line. The Coasties and the rest of the armed services are next. That said, the Ivy ethos is different from the military's.

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  11. Agree with other anonymous about the noblesse issue. Also been thinking, it’s not so much military as intelligence services, OSS and all rest, same as elsewhere if by elsewhere we mean UK.

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  12. For those of you who conflate a clothing style with military service as the mark of a person, you might do well to read Jack McLean's (Andover, Harvard) "LZ Loon: A Marine Story." I'd say the choices are very, very different and uncorrelated facets of a person's choices about what matters in life.

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  13. Here the distinction between "preppy" and "the thing before preppy" becomes essential. Preppy is the popularized, vulgarized version of the lifestyle of the now-defunct Eastern Establishment of the mid-century. While one does not associate "preppy" with the military, military service was central to the identity of the Eastern Establishment (in part because they lived through WWII, of course). In that context, I think the Navy wins out in the sense that the establishment figures in question circled in and around the Navy fractionally more than other services: FDR, JFK, GHWB, Jospeh Alsop, Kingman Brewster Jr., etc.

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  14. The Mystic Seaport Wooden Boat Show starts today!

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  15. Late to this party. Let me start by saying that the reader's question was not disingenuous as suggested in one of the comments. Instead the question prompted an otherwise lively discussion. If anything the word "prep" in the question may have suggested clothing style and perhaps IVY/WASP/Before Preppy may have been more to the point.
    There is indeed a connection between IVY (and not fashion style) and the Navy. Yale was the first university to have a Naval Course. In 1916-17 Yale students created the first Air Militia coined the "Millionaires Unit". It is credited with being the founding squadron of the Navy's Air Reserve. Among its members was Robert Lovett, Assistant Secretary of War during World War 2 and Secretary of Defense during the Korean War.

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  16. To Anonymous on 25 June 2024 @ 10:24 am. Your comment is both disingenuous and insulting to members of the Armed Forces, regardless of whether they are Academy grads or not. Not well rounded and not well read? Reallllllllllllyyyyyyyyy??????????????????????????? And what do you base that fatuous comment on? The fact that you and your daughter both had to upbraid two members of the military for their attire actually says very little because MILLIONS of Americans fail to remove their headgear when they enter buildings and I attribute that to a general coarsening of society and poor upbringing when it comes to manners. I'd be willing to bet you didn't serve and yet you feel you can disparage those who chose to do just that. Sir or Ma'am, your comment shows an inexcusable lack of grace, empathy and yes, class.

    I knew many, many people, both enlisted and officers who were exceptionally well read. GEN David Petraeus was considered a "scholar-soldier," was a Rhodes Scholar and earned an MPA and PhD. degrees from Princeton.

    I've posted here before and always do so under my real name; I do not hide behind "ANONYMOUS." I served in the military for almost 30 years and was an OCS graduate. Based on your effete commentary, I think I'd prefer the company of my "not well read or well rounded, not well read" brothers and sisters in arms than a pedantic and ill-informed 'civilian' who believes he's better than a serving member of the military because he mowed his own lawn wearing a Lacoste shirt.

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  17. Merchant Marine: USMMA, Mass Maritime, Maine Maritime, SUNY Maritime.

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  18. Norwich University is where? Vermont, right. The birthplace of ROTC. Was originally just Army, but over the last two centuries, it has "Branched" (puns are preppy) out to encompass all the armed services. So, I'd give the nod to the Army.

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