In 1980, the Official Preppy Handbook became a nationwide sensation, a short reference guide on how to successfully navigate the preppy life. Written originally as a satirical piece, the handbook was adopted by many as a genuine guide. The cover promised essays on “the virtues of pink & green” and “clubs at the big three,” and proclaimed, “Look, Muffy, a book for us.”Many students at Princeton, however, rejected the connotation that the book gave them and other Ivy Leaguers. These detractors became known as the anti-preppies — Michael S. Katz ’81 and Margaret M. Steinbugler ’83, who sold buttons mocking the movement, and Reed M. Benet ’84 and Howard Stark ’84 who made T-shirts suggesting a heavier-handed approach.
(From the Jan. 26, 1981, issue of PAW)
No fuzzy alligators adorn the shirts of Michael S. Katz ’81. No rumpled khakis, striped belts, or taped docksiders either. Instead he and Margaret M. Steinbugler ’83 have turned their anti-prep feelings into a money-making symbol and may have launched a national movement.
Last fall they began selling buttons depicting that perennially smiling alligator with a red slash through its hide. So far they’ve sold 2,000 at $1 each and have orders for thousands more. Katz says he was motivated by “the hype prepdom has gotten since the publication of the Official Preppie Handbook,” in which Princeton is listed as a bastion of the style.Though Katz can sound like a crusader — “It’s more than a simple joke. We’re fighting against a whole attitude: elitism, sexism, superficiality” — he has the makings of a businessman. He and Steinbugler have formed a corporation, Button Man, because “it’s a lot easier to sell if you represent a company than if you’re just a couple of students.” It also helps with mail orders and distribution, and there is a legal aspect too. That little green alligator comes from a long line of Lacostes, and Katz notes: “People have warned me that I might get sued and this way they’d have to sue the corporation.”
The alligator is taking it on the snout from another campus pair, freshmen Reed M. Benet and Howard Stark. They’re created a T-shirt, which also made its debut this fall, depicting the reptile under a mushroom cloud and the slogan, “Nuke the Preppies.” They’ve sold about 200 at $5 apiece. A December issue of New York Magazine carried an item on Princeton’s anti-prep movement, giving it a boost. Soon People, Playboy, Seventeen, and Glamour will feature these products, but there’s not much chance they’ll succeed in stamping out the preppiness — some of the buttons have been showing up on oxford cloth shirts and tweed jackets.