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March 07, 2008

Ralph's Rugger

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards ---

There currently are ten stores, one of which opened last year a couple of miles down the road from where I live. Others are in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Greenwich, New Canaan, D.C., Chicago, Boston, New York and Dallas.

I wonder how many will be open two years from now; it's a retail concept that strikes me as pretty risky.

What stores? Ralph Lauren's new Rugby stores and associated clothing line for college age and twentysomething guys and gals who are into Preppy. Let's look:


Rugby store exterior

Rugby store interior

Rugby shirt
Note the large crest and number.

Other Rugby duds

The pictures above don't show it well, but a fair amount of the decorations applied to the garments evoke Harvard and Yale clubs -- Skull and Bones, in particular.

What I wonder is, just how many 18-29ers outside the Northeast know anything about Skull and Bones, Hasty Pudding, Porcellian and their ilk. I suppose somebody in Lauren's empire committed market research, but still ...

Somehow I suspect Rugby is a pet Lauren project, driven more by hope and gut feeling than blocking and tackling marketing. And I'll be the first to admit that the gut often beats out the focus group.

I've been a Preppy-ish dresser much of my adult life, and think some of the garments are kinda spiffy -- if it weren't for those goofy tacked-on numbers, crests and other visual junk that almost every item seems to be plastered with. I'm supposing that Lauren, who is only two weeks and a couple of days older than me, is nostalgic for Preppy togs too. And maybe the fact that neither he nor I were Ivy League undergrads has something to do with it: call it a kind of false-nostalgia.

And as for those tacked-on things? Perhaps the market researchers insisted on those as being something that West Coast college kids who can't name more than three Ivy schools might consider cool enough to cement a sale.



posted by Donald at March 7, 2008


Being in the targeted age group, I don't think this will sell in the Midwest.

Although, I am in college. Maybe wearing expensive, preppy clothes out of college signals to women that you are well-educated and have a good job.

But in college, wearing such clothes screams, "My family is rich and I'm an asshole."

Posted by: thehova on March 7, 2008 11:40 PM

Could be a regional thing like you said. Though my impression was that the real upper crust wears similar clothes without the visual junk, as you so memorably put it. ;) (I love that phrase.)

Note that most of the places you've listed are in the Northeast or places that might resemble it (Chicago, SF). So I'm sure that Ralph knows what he's doing. I mean, come on; Greenwich is shorthand for 'rich people's town', and New Canaan is much the same.

Posted by: SFG on March 8, 2008 6:46 AM

I get down on my knees every day and thank God I was not born a preppy. Upper class Southerners caught this disease a long time ago and no cure is in sight. I'm sure this line of clothing will sell briskly in Charlottesville, VA.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on March 8, 2008 10:24 AM

Rugby looks like a knock-off of Abercrombie and Fitch. I think that Abercrombie (and now Rugby) has filled an interesting cultural niche with their clothes that seem styled to look like the clothes that would fill the closets of rich kids who attended boarding schools and elite colleges at mid-century. Abercrombie and Rugby make this "look" available to kids attending community colleges whose parents work in factories.

Perhaps with the expansion of college opportunities to a broader segment of the population, the accoutrements of privilege that once accompanied a college/boarding school education have become a matter of cultural nostalgia. It brings to mind what was worn in movies like Chariots of Fire; the movie version of A "Separate Peace," etc.

What is interesting about these Abercrombie and Rugby stores is that, in addition to the clothes they sell, they also provide an education about how to wear the clothes. For example, Abercrombie had their quarterly catalog that doubled as a guidebook to the lifestyle that was supposed to come with the clothes. If you peruse the Rugby website, you will see advice and instructions on how to wear the Rugby clothes with suitable panache. (See this page, where staff members advise customers on how they wear Rugby clothes; one virile-looking chap says he adds a "pop of color" to an outfit with a madras tie, a bit of advice that sounds odd coming from a presumably heterosexual male.)

Perhaps with the increased availability of college educations to everyone, there is still a longing for the trappings of exclusivity, for the image of carefree privilege that linger from days when college was only for a few.

What the stores seem to urge is a kind of fake spontaneity and debonairness in their customer's dress. It is as if the stores were adopting the manner of the character Phineas in "A Separate Peace," when he uses a necktie as a belt. These stores are mass-marketing a fake upper-crust casualness and carefree sartorial elegance to kids of the strip-mall and fast-food generation.

Posted by: James on March 8, 2008 10:43 AM

These things could go on that "Stuff White People Like" blog.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 8, 2008 11:02 AM

Any chance he's targeting the Blue's Clues set?

Posted by: Whisky Prajer on March 8, 2008 11:13 AM

"I've been a Preppy-ish dresser much of my adult life, and think some of the garments are kinda spiffy --" For these garments, I think you need a stronger term than "Preppy-ish" (though I admit the capital "p" helps a little). How about "terminally prepoidal"? Or "in the third stage of preppyism (the fourth stage being death)"? Just trying to be helpful.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 8, 2008 4:02 PM

Abercrombie and Rugby make this "look" available to kids attending community colleges whose parents work in factories.

Nobody's parents work in factories anymore. "Factories" is one of those buzzwords from pre-'60s Marxism that just won't die.

Perhaps with the expansion of college opportunities to a broader segment of the population, the accoutrements of privilege that once accompanied a college/boarding school education have become a matter of cultural nostalgia.

Nah, it's just another phase of a fashion cycle. The nature of fashion will make change without any discernible cause. Most of these are just post-hoc storytelling.

In this case, over the '80s and '90s, college was also available to more people, but the return of glen plaid to youngsters' wardrobe is very recent, maybe within the last year or two.

Posted by: agnostic on March 8, 2008 5:22 PM

Rugby seems to be aimed at a somewhat older market than Abercrombie. As far as I can tell, Abercrombie's core is mainly high school and college students, not really twentysomethings.

Posted by: Peter on March 8, 2008 6:55 PM

I've got nothing against preppy clothing, it's actually reasonably good-looking, but the attempts to fake the upper class signifiers I find amusing. It's the old joke that if you have to say your product is the best, it isn't. Hey, do you see Harvard talking about their 'tradition of excellence'?

I have to say, John Harvard really knew what he was doing when he gave that divinity school a gift. He was a nobody but now his name is a byword for prestige and arrogance.

Posted by: SFG on March 8, 2008 11:06 PM

It is becoming increasingly impossible to buy items of clothing that don't have prominent badges, crests or logos printed on them. And, judging by this Rugby stuff, they only seem to be getting larger as well (both logos and clothes!).
I live in Boston and see twenty/thirty-somethings walking around with stripy Rugby shopping bags all the time. Ralph is doing brisk business as far as I can tell.

Posted by: american fez on March 9, 2008 11:29 AM

why rugby? why not lacrosse or yachting or some other preppy pursuit that americans actually might be familiar with?

Posted by: dominic on March 9, 2008 12:16 PM

Ralph Lauren has always been a wannabe. It screams a "Pseudo-British gentry' nouveauriche" at every line he has been designing/selling since the time immemorial. Look at his advertisements for perfume/bedding/paint line/Lauren For Home (paisley and black riding boots, anyone?), etc.

And still - I'd prefer his unapologetic and honest desire to look British and traditional (in Victorian sense) to the current haute-couture French trend of looking pseudo-trash. Type Cop. Copine in your search engines - that's the cheap version of what's going on everywhere.

Much worse are those college kids ($43K tuition per semester) who wear $200 deliberately stained jeans torn at the knees. Passive-aggressive and dishonest of the most repulsive kind.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 9, 2008 1:09 PM

why rugby? why not lacrosse or yachting or some other preppy pursuit that americans actually might be familiar with?

Rugby the sport is of British origin, which automatically adds upscale credibility. Although the fact that it's also a brutal contact sport is somewhat incongruous.

Posted by: Peter on March 9, 2008 8:22 PM

I stuck my head into the University Village Rugby for about 2 minutes.

I like the general tone of this typ of fashion, but this iteration just reeked of a marketing department on meth.

Posted by: vanderleun on March 9, 2008 11:09 PM

I agree, the clothes do look great it’s just the numbers that throw me off. They’d be perfect for work... but again the numbers. I also just discovered this blog and it’s fabulous and soooo regularly updated! I love that. I’m going to book mark it at work so when am feeling the bad about not having intellectual stimulation or conversation I can come here and pretend I’m talking to somebody smart.

Posted by: Kev on March 9, 2008 11:23 PM

Boy, I guess history just isn't taught in the schools anymore! James, Lauren can't "knock off" A & F, as his Polo line from back in prehistory is the template for all this stuff.

The desperate grasping for luxe brands is what defines America now. The truly rich, as has been pointed out, have moved away from any logos in the climate that has me observing a UPS driver (who could be contrued as the new "factory" worker) in uniform at Macy's purchasing a Coach bag.

Visual Junk is OK, but I prefer Paul Fussell's line from his book Class-legible clothing.

Posted by: Brutus on March 10, 2008 8:03 AM

There's a Rugby store a few blocks from me in NYC, and the main thing that's struck me about it is how unwelcoming it is. Which is weird, because (in its over-directed way) it's pretty attractive, and the clothes have their Banana Republic-type appeal. (Simple, classy, don't have to worry too much, becuase it'll all match up, etc.) But the store itself ... There's something about it that doesn't lure you in, and in fact I've seldom seen many people inside it. It isn't snobbish or tony in off-putting ways. It's just ... self-contained or something. It's such a completely realized, unto-itself place that you don't feel like joining in.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 11, 2008 11:56 AM

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