The long life of 'The Secret History,' and why prep style is here to stay : It's Been a Minute Donna Tartt's The Secret History turned 30 this year. Since the book's release, the novel has sold millions of copies and become a classic - the blueprint for a cluster of aesthetic and literary works under the label "dark academia." Host Brittany Luse and culture writer Alice Vincent examine the novel's long shelf life and why it's still relevent to young people today. Then she sits down with author Olivie Blake, who shares how authors are bringing new perspectives to the genre.

Then, Brittany is joined by Avery Trufelman, host of the podcast Articles of Interest. In her latest season, Trufelman explores the classic look of ivy style, and its journey from the hallowed halls of academic institutions to retail stores near you.

You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at

Dark academia's deadly allure and the timeless appeal of prep style

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You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE FROM NPR. I'm Brittany Luse. And a warning to listeners - this segment contains mentions of sex.

Today we're going to talk about one of my favorite books from back when I was in my early 20s - "The Secret History." "The Secret History" is a moody novel by Donna Tartt about a close-knit group of six students studying classical Greek at an exclusive liberal arts college in New England. The friends are bound not only by a love for ancient history, but by seduction, betrayal and murder. Obviously, I ate it up.

"The Secret History" turned 30 this year, and let me tell you, it was a hot book when it first dropped. It sold out its first run like that. And "The Secret History" is still hot today. The book has sold millions of copies, and it's still making waves in the zeitgeist. But there's also been a recent trend that's giving the novel a little extra juice. That trend is called dark academia. Dark academia is incredibly popular in book communities on social media. On TikTok, the dark academia hashtag has over 3 billion views. And YouTube is filled with dark academia vlogs.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Today is going to be a very fun day because we are doing an entire day of dark academia-themed things.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I love the dark academia aesthetic. I love the outfits, the vibe, the art, the books, the joy for learning and for the new...

LUSE: This trend started gaining traction around the start of the pandemic, when, for many young folks, being stuck at home and taking online classes made university life a fantasy. And it really is a whole cluster of things. It's a look, an aesthetic and a literary subgenre all wrapped up in one. You've probably seen it. Think Wednesday Addams from the recent Netflix show.


JENNA ORTEGA: (As Wednesday Addams) Secret Societies, hidden libraries, a homicidal monster. What other surprises are in store?

LUSE: Or "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" or the 2013 movie "Kill Your Darlings." It's knives hidden under tweed blazers, midnight meetings at dusty libraries, blood on sweater vests. It's all about intrigue, brooding and, well, darkness involving a school setting. Our producer, Liam, he likes to boil it down to this phrase of hot academics murdering each other.

ALICE VINCENT: Well done to Liam. He's definitely got it right. Should have just got him to say that, but yeah, hot academic smut. It's sex and longing and fulfills something as light and fluffy as the teen movie. But everyone's wearing a lot more boating blazers.

LUSE: That's culture writer Alice Vincent. She says "The Secret History" was really the blueprint for dark academia. Hot academics murdering each other is kind of its whole deal. Today on the show, what's behind the long shelf life of "The Secret History," how new authors are pushing the subgenre further and why prep clothes might be waiting for us all in the end.

Can you tell me a bit about why its long cultural life is so unique?

VINCENT: "The Secret History" is not only a book, but it's a book that's never been televised. It's never been turned into a film despite a lot of desire for that. And furthermore, it's never not been a kind of cultural hit. So it's 30 years since it came out. So it's three decades, which means three decades of teenagers as well. You know, I'd say kind of between 17 to 22 is probably peak "Secret History" age.

LUSE: Yeah.

VINCENT: And yet, whether you're that age now or you're that age in the early '90s, when it came out, it retains that allure. And it's never been seen as a bit embarrassing or it hasn't been cancelled, to use a common parlance. But not only has it not been cancelled, but it's grown in fascination.

LUSE: It's interesting. Like, the book came out in the early '90s. And the events of the novel are set in the '80s.


LUSE: How has the book somehow not felt dated? Like, how has it kept from feeling dated despite that?

VINCENT: I think part of that is to do with the setting itself. So Hampton College is this sort of very elite, very small, almost mysterious and deeply aspirational liberal arts college in Vermont. But also, as a result, it means it's sort of out of time. There are people there who are dressing like it's still the 1940s. We're never specifically told in the text, but you don't have to be researching very far to work out that it was probably set in the early '80s to the mid-'80s. There's not loads of references to things that would be particularly potent then. I don't even think there's any references to anything like MTV.

LUSE: Right.

VINCENT: If you read other books that are set very much in that era, then you'll hear about things like body stockings or legwarmers or these pop cultural tropes that will immediately place something in an era. Instead, Hampton College exists in an era entirely of its own, which means that it never dates. So I think that's been one of its saving graces. If "The Secret History" were to be written now, I think it'd be a lot harder because people would have iPhones and the internet and...

LUSE: Right. Right. Right. Right.

VINCENT: ...TikTok and social media. And therefore, in 30 years' time, that would seem incredibly dated.

LUSE: You posit that "The Secret History" serves as a kind of fantasy for various reasons, a nostalgia for something that doesn't exist. And, you know, I think the characters in the book are living that way as well, like, dressing anachronistically for the '80s, studying the classics. They're chasing something that has already gone away. What is the fantasy of "The Secret History"?

VINCENT: I think it's about youth, and it's being part of the in-crowd. And I think that's why we keep reading about it. You know, Richard - who's our narrator - in many ways, is a sort of - playing with his identity the whole time. He tries very, very hard to bury the fact that he's from a kind of slightly dry, cultureless town in California. He goes and buys the right clothes from thrift stores and tries to dress up. He tries to become someone else, which is something that I - is quite a natural and normal thing to do when you're leaving home and going and being an adolescent and a young adult. The book is actually hugely about class. And it's about the kind of different stratifications of society and where you can fit in and where you want to be. And the cool crowd has been a popular culture trope, whether that's in "The Breakfast Club" or whether that's in "Heathers."

LUSE: Right.

VINCENT: What "Secret History" shows us is inside that friendship group, you don't really want to be part of that at all, as much as it shows you that you would almost die to be part of it.

LUSE: Yeah, literally - almost die to be part of it.

VINCENT: (Laughter) And furthermore, I think the current generation - you know, if you want to call them Gen Z - who are particularly fascinated by it, have had such an unusual late adolescence because of the lockdown and because of COVID. So I don't think it's any coincidence that the fascination with "Secret History" collided along with lockdown, when a lot of people who would normally be at college or in higher education suddenly had to speak over screens, looking at each other in their contemporary home environment. And so therefore, the notion of any kind of college is quite aspirational, let alone a sort of Hogwartsian (ph), timeless, very beautiful buildings. I mean, the description of Hampden is bucolic.

LUSE: As you mention, so much of the book is about class or the performance of class. This sort of performance is especially potent within academia.


LUSE: How did Tartt write about class in a way that speaks to the young people of today's world?

VINCENT: Can one better themselves? Can you get yourself out of poverty? Can you get into the upper echelons of society? And to what extent are you succeeding once you've got there? And does it make you happy? And that narrative applies as much to "Secret History" as it does quite a few grand narratives that we see in literature and pop culture and beyond. And I think that's because we can have advances in technology, and we can have changes in political structure. But it seems like one of the real interesting points of society that just refuses to shift.

LUSE: Some people feel like "The Secret History" has an inherent critique of the whiteness and elitism, the class obsession and secretiveness of the academy. And others look to it as a portrait of all of those things. I'm wondering what you think about that.

VINCENT: I don't see the satire in it. I don't see the puncturing. For me, it's not like an Evelyn Waugh novel where you can see all of the takedowns happening. I actually see it as quite an aspirational, wide-eyed, uncritical portrait of a structure and an elitism that shouldn't really be idolized. And that for me is one of the most juvenile parts of the book - that it does uphold these tropes and these people and these class systems that we should be challenging, in my opinion. But there are lots of people who read it as a satire.

LUSE: That's interesting. I think because my positioning is so different from the author's, from the characters' and also just from the setting, I think I felt pity for everybody involved in the book.

VINCENT: Oh, yeah.

LUSE: Like, I never thought of it as aspirational. I sort of read it, and I was like, oh, my gosh, y'all are in a mess. This is not good. So the idea of it being aspirational never occurred to me. But I could see how - based upon the way that the book is written - there's not really a reflection that shows that he's had any shift in his preoccupation with, you know, these classed people that he's spent his entire college career around.

VINCENT: Right, exactly. And I think that's why for me, it struggles to be a satire. And that's why I find the TikTok fascination with it - and there are these sort of videos that lust after Henry, for instance, and...

LUSE: No, no, no.

VINCENT: Right, exactly.


VINCENT: And it's interesting that it has become this sort of point of almost fetish.

LUSE: The popularity of the book and the way that people express love for the book has kind of evolved along with technology. Now we're at this place of BookTok.


LUSE: Part of "The Secret History's" long life is that it inspired this trend of dark academia.


LUSE: There's been a spate of books in the dark academia subgenre that are responses to "The Secret History." Like...


LUSE: ...How did books like "The Secret History" become so popular, too?

VINCENT: I think the fact that it has been such a muse and such an inspiration for other authors is very telling. And part of the reason why that fiction that bounces off it has proliferated - and so quickly - is I think because of things like fanfic. So the generation that is writing those books grew up with things like Wattpad. They grew up with things like Tumblr. They grew up with that freedom and the internet to be able to just publish your book or write stories about the things that you like reading and take those stories on. But also in that publishers are really canny, and they love a trend.

So when they saw that "Secret History" was remaining popular - and, if anything, selling in huge quantities despite the amount of time elapsed since it's been publishing - they probably thought, oh, actually it's a good idea to commission some other dark academia novels because this is a trend, and it's not going anywhere, and people want more of it. So there's a market and there's the inspiration. It's likely that books are going to emerge as a result.

LUSE: Alice, this was so great. This was so, so, so great. Thank you so much for coming on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE today and talking with us about this. This was wonderful.

VINCENT: Thank you so much for having me.

LUSE: Thanks again to culture writer Alice Vincent. Coming up, Alice said "The Secret History" wasn't critical enough of the wealth and exclusivity of the academy. But our next guest wrote a book leaning into those critiques, exposing the real darkness of academia. Stick around.


LUSE: For three decades, "The Secret History" has stayed cool and a beloved read for new adults. But the popularity of dark academia on social media quickly turned other books that are like "The Secret History" into viral hits.

OLIVIE BLAKE: Dark academia wasn't a thing when I wrote "The Atlas Six." I felt the same thing that a lot of authors felt, like, that this was interesting, that there was, like, this escapist quality, having these same political questions.

LUSE: That's Olivie Blake. She self-published her book, "The Atlas Six," right as dark academia was gaining steam online. The book got swept up in a viral tide. And now Olivie has major publishing and TV deals.

BLAKE: My timing was very excellent.

LUSE: The book is about six magical academics doing research, plotting murder and getting into sexual entanglements in a secret society's library.

BLAKE: It's exactly magical grad school.

LUSE: In many ways, "The Atlas Six" is a descendant of "The Secret History," but it's also much more frank about academia's sinister side.

BLAKE: As a person of color I have a very toxic relationship with academia where, like, I want to be situated in these beautiful libraries and these prestigious universities. But I'm also sort of forced to think about how much I don't belong there or what all that wealth is built on and what decisions have been made by the people in that institution that have drastically altered my world.

LUSE: I talked to Olivie about how her dark academia novel was shaped by her experience of elite institutions and their toxic seduction.

So as an author, you picked a similar premise to "The Secret History" - like, hot academics murdering each other. For your book, "The Atlas Six," what themes or ideas in "The Secret History" were you responding to? What ethics did you want to explore or update or break apart in your own way?

BLAKE: So my understanding of dark academia is that it's a subgenre of thriller to me. So I knew I wanted to write a psychological thriller that had a magical setting. I knew I wanted it to have this very claustrophobic setting where, you know, like in the classroom, you might forget about the significance of your - the consequences of your actions and sort of, you know, rewrite their ethics. And I knew I wanted, in my book, for all the characters to be just 100% sexually fluid. It was really written for myself as sort of a thought exercise about what to do with stolen knowledge and institutional rot and also the meaning of existence. You know, very light...

LUSE: Chill stuff.

BLAKE: ...Casual, upbeat thoughts. Yeah. And so I think that when I was sort of approaching this idea of impossible ethics, I kind of wanted to hide the medicine, you know? That, like, I wanted to show that there were flaws. The actual plot is the relationship between the characters. So I could balance that, like, pulpy thriller quality with the sense that all is not right with the world that we're in. I think - so what I definitely, purposefully, took from "The Secret History" was that, like - the deliciousness of the existential melting that all the characters go through when you can see them sort of fraying at the edges. And so I wanted that same sense of coming gradually unglued, that, like, each character is being defeated by their own psyche a little bit more over time. So that's definitely something that I was purposely mimicking.

LUSE: You know, I want to go back to something you were saying earlier. You had mentioned feeling like you didn't belong in, like, the world of academia or just - at least in that environment. I know you have a master's in urban planning, and you mentioned going to law school.

BLAKE: Yeah, I have half a law degree.

LUSE: (Laughter) What - you were there. You were there.

BLAKE: (Laughter).

LUSE: How did your experience in those institutions influence how you approached writing those settings as an author of color?

BLAKE: I think what's really interesting about being an author of color is just - you know, just the way that identity has been commodified in recent times. That diversity is, like, an asset, that it's something you can have and own, is very strange because I don't...

LUSE: I'm pausing on that for a second. Keep going (laughter).

BLAKE: I - as a creator in these times, it's weird. I think that a lot of people are talking about how, like, oh, diversity is, like, a decision that publishing is making, and that other, like, you know, white men are being stepped on to prioritize diverse narratives, which, like, is a sentence I cannot say with a straight face. But that - like, that commodification of identity comes at the same time that content is so disposable. So it makes me feel like I could be replaced by some other - you know, some other very talented biracial Filipino author, like, at any moment...

LUSE: Oh, my gosh.

BLAKE: ...That - like, that our work is just equal value, you know, no matter what. Like, we're just sort of a revolving door. I grew up in a predominantly white community, so it would be very easy for me to forget that I'm not white. But, like, other people never let you. You know, identity was something that was put on me. Being othered is something that I could very easily forget about, except other people never would. And I was always sort of - like I said, I'm biracial Filipina. But I - you know, people would look at me and just sort of assume some monolith of Asian.

LUSE: Oh, gosh.

BLAKE: Yeah, which is cool.

LUSE: That's so flattening. Yeah.

BLAKE: Yeah, yeah. It's - I feel like I have a very complicated relationship with the idea of identity. And when I say the characters of "The Atlas Six" are sexually fluid, it's also because, like, I understand the need and, significantly, the freedom to identify as a various, you know, sexual or gender identity. But I also, from my experience, really value the ability to not have to identify and to just sort of be and let my sexuality be the least interesting thing about me, and everything else comes first. And that was how I built my characters. So I guess that, you know, my way of building this is to remove the things that could be easily pointed to about me not entirely from consideration but from being the priority.

LUSE: You know, we're talking about, like, your critiques of these institutions. But there is an allure to them or a sexiness or, like...


LUSE: ...A pulpiness to them that you draw on in your book. How do you hold both, like, an attraction to and revulsion to academia at the same time?

BLAKE: It's like a toxic relationship with your ex, for sure. They're just always going to be there. You're always going to have feelings for them. You know they're not right for you.


BLAKE: Yeah, and - I mean, because truthfully, I loved and was very good at academia. And I think that if there had been any opportunity or if I had felt that there was opportunity, I would have just continued in academia forever. Like, there's just something very satisfying about a world where you can pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake. There's something so delicious about that. Like, academia also has hierarchy built into it. So...

LUSE: Right, right, right.

BLAKE: The competition aspect - yeah. It's like, someone will always win, and someone will always fail. And so there's just this, like - there's this constant tension and danger built in. And, like...

LUSE: Right.

BLAKE: It has its own rules, and it has its own, like, heroes and villains. And, I mean, it really is just - it is like escaping into another world, but it's a world that makes you feel safe if you feel like you belong. Like, if you're doing well in your program and you're celebrated in your program, it's this just complete ego stroke that you're never going to get, really, anywhere else in life. There's a whole chemistry of being in academia and especially, you know, the higher up you go in academia, where people start getting, like, sloughed away, you know? Like...

LUSE: Oh, my God. Yeah. They fall off. They peel off.

BLAKE: Yeah, yeah.

LUSE: They don't finish their Ph.D. dissertation or whatever. Yeah.

BLAKE: Right. And it feels like victory the further you get even though you're still working on behalf of an institution that is very probably allowing students to buy their way in. The job market that you're going to enter does not have space for you unless someone dies. Even if it does have space for you, like, if you're a person of color and a woman of color especially, you are going to be, like, very easily on the chopping block. Like, I remember that one of my female professors was talking to me about academia. She was warning me against it, actually. She's the one who told me to go to law school.

LUSE: Oh, God.

BLAKE: And she said if I wanted to be a tenured professor, I had to give up the idea of having children because...

LUSE: What?

BLAKE: ...Female professors that have children are assumed to be, like, unreliable.

LUSE: Like any other job.

BLAKE: Yeah. But, like...

LUSE: That's what they assume about you. Right.

BLAKE: Right, right.

LUSE: Right.

BLAKE: But men won't, of course. So - you know, and that's just something - that was something I was told at 18. Like, it was - there were just so many, like, exit doors, I think. There's just, like, so many places where you're just told, you can just leave if you can't cut it. And I think it creates this - that, like, adrenaline rush of approval, the thing you read in "The Secret History" that's just, like, that feeling of, like, yes, I want to be part of this; I want to belong to this, because once you belong to this, you feel safe. Like, with that much privilege, you should be untouchable. But some people - some of us will never be untouchable.


LUSE: Olivie, thank you so much for coming on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE today. It's so good to finally, after all these years, have an exciting conversation with a fellow "Secret History" reader.

BLAKE: I'm so happy it's me.

LUSE: Thanks again to author Olivie Blake. Book two of the Atlas trilogy, "The Atlas Paradox," is out now. Next up, a conversation about the style of dark academia and how its aspirational threads became so pervasive. Stick around.


LUSE: OK. So far, we've explored the world of dark academia as a literary phenomenon. But dark academia is also a style phenomenon. When you look at the trend on TikTok or how characters in novels like "The Secret History" are dressed, it's tweed and corduroy, trousers and blazers, all in deep, dark colors. Think preppy but with a healthy dash of tousled, sexy nerd. The whole look is this homage to elite academic fashion and a kind of challenge to it.

AVERY TRUFELMAN: Something like dark academia is a little wink.

LUSE: That's Avery Trufelman, host of "Articles Of Interest," a podcast all about what we wear.

TRUFELMAN: Culturally, we are so aware of the power of elite institutions, and we understand the ways in which they're nefarious and dark, for lack of a better word. And, I mean, the clothes themselves are so absurd. It's not anything you, like, put on for your actual life to go to the corner store and buy eggs. It has become sort of an interesting costume.

LUSE: Like cosplaying to a certain degree.

TRUFELMAN: Cosplay. I mean, I would reckon most of the people who are engaging with dark academia are not actually in any sort of academy. And the fact that the clothes don't have to be in the world means they can be a little, like, stranger and perverted and weird. And the easiest way to get weird is to start from a very friendly, approachable place, which is, like, Ivy.

LUSE: By Ivy, Avery means American Ivy, which is the origin of the style we now call preppy.

TRUFELMAN: American Ivy is button-down Oxford cloth shirts where you button the collar down, V-neck tennis sweaters, sweater vests, blue blazers with a soft shoulder, not padded out, khaki pants, loafers with no socks. It's a very androgynous, collegiate-looking style.

LUSE: Avery spent the latest season of her podcast looking into the history of American Ivy and prep style. It's a story that helps explain how dark academia came to be and what it's trying to say today.

TRUFELMAN: The more I learned about where preppy clothes actually come from, it's like the whole history of the United States. It goes into all these complicated feelings that we have about class and education and money and what we think aspirational clothes are like.

LUSE: Today on the show - where Ivy style comes from and how it led to iconic looks of the past and future.

Could you please define Ivy for us, and explain how it's different from prep or preppy?

TRUFELMAN: OK, so Ivy started on the campus of Princeton University. And it was started by American college students wearing sports clothes all the time. They were wearing, you know, like, a button-down collared shirt. That used to be what polo players wore so that their collars wouldn't flap in their faces. They're wearing these jackets that weren't structured out like an Italian suit. They were soft. They were baggy. So this new style of clothing that was really based around comfort and ease and sportiness - and it really spread outside of the Ivy League very rapidly after the GI Bill in 1944, when so many Americans were able...

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: ...To go to college.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: They knew that when a man gets out of the Army or Navy or Marines, he's worried most about a job, an education and a home. And that's why Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill of Rights.

TRUFELMAN: A lot more Americans started dressing like college students. And one of my favorite fun facts is this influx of new college students actually introduced a new element, which was khakis. Like, khakis are military surplus pants. And so veterans arrived on campus wearing khakis. The snobs at Princeton and Harvard were like, oh, these are great because you don't have to iron them as much. And so it's really fascinating. The look of the elite became the look of the middle class. And you really see this when you look at a picture of a young person in the '50s. If they don't want to dress like a child or like a serious adult, they're wearing a collared shirt with a sweater vest over it.

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: But preppy becomes something different when Ralph Lauren gets in the mix. He introduced this new level of it. It was, like, more tutti-frutti. It was more colorful. It was way more about the sort of aspirational lifestyle that Ralph Lauren, a college dropout from the Bronx, was, like, mimicking and imagining. But it was very much inspired by this Ivy original collegiate style.

LUSE: I'm going to pause this, but it sounds like Ivy was kind of organically created out of this, like, athletic lifestyle of many Princeton college students, whereas preppy - like, it had this larger, very intentional almost, pop culture moment around it. It feels like almost, like, a doubling down on the signaling with preppy.

TRUFELMAN: So it should be said, first of all, that Ivy was encouraged by the fashion press at the time. One expert I talked to at the Fashion Institute of Technology said, in every mid-sized city and town there was an Ivy store. It was just a bankable look that really spread out. So Ivy was a bit organic, and it was also sort of padded out by clothing companies. But preppy - you know, the interesting thing is the word itself, preppy, has been around for a really long time. But it was always used by people who actually attended...

LUSE: Went to prep school (laughter).

TRUFELMAN: ...Prep school, which is such a - I mean, speaking of dark academia, it is such a tiny, little, weird, cultural world that there's no reason anyone outside of that world would know what preppy meant or stood for. But in the 1970s, one of the biggest movies of this time came out in 1970, and it was called "Love Story."

LUSE: Oh, yeah.


RYAN O'NEAL: (As Oliver) Oh, how can you do it?

ALI MACGRAW: (As Jenny) What?

TRUFELMAN: In their courtship, one character calls the other preppy repeatedly.


O'NEAL: (As Oliver) How can you see me and still love me?

MACGRAW: (As Jenny) That's what it's about, preppy.

TRUFELMAN: It kind of reminds me of when, like, hipster was going around in the early aughts, and everyone was sort of teasing each other about it.

LUSE: Yes, yes.

TRUFELMAN: So it became this, like, lampoonable little thing. And someone who had gone to a prep school and then an Ivy League school saw this movie and was like, that's so funny. That's totally me and my friends. She was a writer for The Village Voice. Her name was Lisa Birnbach. She was a humor writer. And she created this comprehensive study of everything that she and all her friends all over the country had, like, learned from their time at the most elite circles in America. And they just gave away all the secrets of, like, what to say, what to wear, how to dress. And it was "The Preppy Handbook" (ph). It came out in 1980.

LUSE: Yeah. And Lisa wrote this book with some friends, but she actually also edited it. And, hold on, let me just read what it says on the cover.


LUSE: (Reading) The legacy of good taste, proper breeding and the right nickname. Winning with ease and losing with grace. Lacrosse, squash, crew and field hockey. The sailing scene. Flotillas, regattas, yachts and yacht clubs. The sporting life - tally ho.

TRUFELMAN: It should also be said that in the 1970s, there's this renewed interest in business. Like, the money market mutual fund was created in 1972. Everyone was like, oh, I can play the market.

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: Anyone can be wealthy. There's this new sort of aspirational concept of social mobility in the air.

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: And now you can buy this book telling you how to look rich and act rich and talk rich.

LUSE: To go with the money that you're going to win in the stock market.

TRUFELMAN: Exactly. And it sold, like, millions and millions of copies. And it created this massive momentum.

LUSE: Right. And that momentum basically is what continues to drive preppy Ivy forward into the '80s and '90s and so on. You know, it seems like every interpretation of Ivy twists its meaning, like Black Ivy, for instance, which is Ivy as interpreted by Black people. Could you speak to me a little bit about what kind of drives these different cycles? Like, how did each of these iterations of American Ivy change what Ivy is?

TRUFELMAN: You know, it's so interesting 'cause the history is completely cyclical. With Black Ivy, it happens during Ivy's heyday after the GI Bill, when more Americans than ever are going to college. This really starts at, like, Morehouse and Howard and, you know...

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: ...Very quickly spreads out into student activism in this amazing way. This incredible author, Jason Jules, wrote this whole book about it called "Black Ivy." And he shows these pictures of, like, college students going to campaign in the South, registering people to vote and pairing, like, an Oxford cloth button-down with overalls. You know, they're, like, bridging both worlds.

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: They're being accessible to farmers while being like, I'm working for my degree. I'm a college student. And then the thing that really started making my head spin was he was like, look at pictures of everyone marching at Selma. They're all dressed Ivy.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing, inaudible).

TRUFELMAN: I was like, oh, my God, they - it's - but at some point, you're like, is everything Ivy? What's not Ivy? But it's really true. And, like, Miles Davis and a lot of jazz music - John Coltrane....

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: ...Were wearing these preppy clothes and making them look incredibly cool and sort of taking them out of their college context...

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: ...And really expanding them. You know, what Jason Jules says is a lot of these - a lot of the people who wore Black Ivy were accused of wanting to look white or, like, pandering to the white gaze. And he said they knew what they were doing. It was the same way that John Coltrane would, like, take an Erik Satie song. Like, it's about taking it and making it new and making it different.

And this is the exact same thing that happens in the '90s, when kids in Brooklyn start wearing Ralph Lauren and mixing it with, like, jeans they got at JCPenney and different kinds of sneakers, and they expanded it. They made it so much more than it ever could have been as this, like, narrow band of very elite clothes. It's, like, this incredible, incredible, never-ending story.

LUSE: You know, I'm glad you call it a never-ending story. Like, it seems like there's a resurgence in Ivy style, even though, in a way, I guess it never really goes away. But we're seeing something very specific happening right now on runways and also on TikTok with dark academia. What's behind Ivy's current popularity? And talk a little bit about how dark academia fits into that.

TRUFELMAN: My theory is that Ivy is caught in a nostalgia feedback loop, you know? Every era has grown up with some version of it. I was talking to the critic - the fashion critic Teri Agins near the end of the series.

LUSE: I love her. I love her.

TRUFELMAN: She's amazing.

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: And what she said is clothes are literal nostalgia in that you are recycling the past but making it better than it was, taking these old clothes and reissuing them as stretchy and soft...

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: ...In modern materials for modern life so we can pretend that the past was better. Andre 3000 grew up in the '80s boom.

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: And so, you know, when he grew up, he started wearing preppy clothes to reference his youth. And that became our youth.

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: So I feel like now it's time to go back to the aughts. So that's the easiest examples. Like, fashion is a cycle. And this one has just been sort of caught up in the cycle for a really long time.

LUSE: Yeah. But on one hand, it seems like now is a really peculiar time for an aesthetic that so means school - not just any school, but like, prep school, money.


LUSE: Like, just wealth.


LUSE: Ivy is this look that communicates so much about control and class.


LUSE: How does that make sense as a trend in 2022? And who's currently adapting the style to mean something different?

TRUFELMAN: So I talked to a lot of trend forecasters who were like, it's in. Preppy is in. And the reasons that they gave were like, it's a very controlled button-up look. It looks like you're held together. It looks very confident. But none of them were like, it makes you look rich. And if you look around, like, Kim Kardashian isn't wearing this. Like, sure, old people at country clubs are still wearing this.

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: But Ivy is so legible. We know exactly what it's supposed to mean if someone's wearing what looks like a preppy little suit or a preppy little uniform. This look is just saying like, hi, I'm approachable, come talk to me, that it's been used by so many different people over such long periods of time. It's kind of a blank slate. And it's sort of whatever you want. And my pet theory is that Ivy clothes - preppy clothes have become everything the preppy institutions themselves are not, which is to say, friendly, available, relatively affordable and, like, widespread. And, I mean, if you think about the incredible power that these clothes have, that's why white supremacists were wearing polos and khakis when they were marching in Charlottesville.

LUSE: Right.

TRUFELMAN: They wanted to show that they were approachable, good...

LUSE: Upstanding, yeah.

TRUFELMAN: ...Young Republicans. Yeah. And that's how powerful it is that people can try to take that power and pervert it. But anyone can take it, you know? It doesn't - it doesn't just belong to Tucker Carlson. It belongs to anyone who deigns to take it on. You know, there's so many trends right now - Barbiecore, coastal grandma - what was it? Like, bistrocore (ph). There are, like, new ones getting coined all the time. People are, like, in, out, in, out. And when people talk about, oh, I just want classic, timeless clothes, these are a version of that. They're like a respite from trends themselves.

LUSE: Ivy is so deeply history. It's so long lived. But since it never dies, is American Ivy actually, like, the clothes of the future? Like, you posit at the beginning of the first episode of the series that, like, you know, you have a hunch that, like, in the future, this is what people are going to be wearing.

TRUFELMAN: Who's to say, right? Even while fashion moves forward and time marches on, as an industry, it tends to be mired in the past. But I also think - I mean, if you want to get a little dour with it - I do think Ivy is sort of waiting for us all on our aging bodies because it is a look - not to say, you know, there's also, like, an Eileen Fisher sort of, like...

LUSE: Oh, absolutely.

TRUFELMAN: ...Way that you can age into, like, a Meryl Streep.

LUSE: Going back to the coastal grandma, yes.

TRUFELMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LUSE: Yes.

TRUFELMAN: But, I mean, I - the thing about Ivy that I love is it's a youthful look that's appropriate for all ages. And you - it ages really well. Like, when you see, like, old Jewish guys walking around New York in their, like, dirty old Brooks Brothers jackets, like, they just look great. They just look fantastic. So that's the other thing I think is, like, I think it might be the clothes of the future for a lot of people, just as we, like, grow.

LUSE: Like, they're the clothes of the future because they're the clothes of your future.

TRUFELMAN: (Laughter) Potentially. I don't mean to...

LUSE: Yeah.

TRUFELMAN: ...Prescribe it to anyone.

LUSE: Avery, this was fantastic. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.

TRUFELMAN: Thank you so much for helping to get the word out.

LUSE: That was Avery Trufelman, host of "Articles Of Interest," a podcast about what we wear. The latest season out now is called "American Ivy."

This episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by...





LUSE: It was produced and edited by...


LUSE: It was edited by...


LUSE: Engineering support came from...



LUSE: And Ted Mebane. We had fact-checking help from...




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LUSE: All right. That's our show for today. I'm Brittany Luse. See you next week for another episode of IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

TRUFELMAN: Have you seen Tavi Gevinson's custom "Secret History" jacket?


TRUFELMAN: Look it up. Someone made her a varsity jacket.

LUSE: Oh, my God.

TRUFELMAN: It's incredible. And it's all, like, references from the book. It's fantastic.

LUSE: How did I...

TRUFELMAN: I want it.

LUSE: ...Miss - ooh, whoa. Now I'm a hater.

TRUFELMAN: (Laughter) I know.

LUSE: Good for her.

TRUFELMAN: I want it.

LUSE: Good for her.

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