One of the niche groups in America Through Time at the start of the 1980s was the preppies. The 1970s was a decade of disco, social experimentation, outlandish fashion and a reverence of “newness”. However, at the start of the 1980s, there was a noticeable conservative backlash that permeated society, both politically and socially. Religious fundamentalism definitely became widespread and was helped along by the emergence of nationally known TV mega preachers. Many held the belief that society needed to get back to “groundedness”, for the lack of a better word.
The preppies, in addition to religious fundamentalists, were a group that seized on this kind of new wind sweeping the psyche of the nation. The preppies were not necessarily religious, but definitely politically conservative and the second pillar allied with religious fundamentalists in a Republican ascendancy that occurred during the decade. They very often were wealthy country club Republicans, but not always, as the preppie look was copied by many among the lower middle class as well as the upper middle class. In truth however It was really the ivy league elites and “Greenwich Connecticut” lifestyle that preppies idolized and put on a pedestal.
In popular culture this lifestyle was romanticized in television shows like The Paper Chase and movies like St. Elmo’s Fire. The ideal preppie was to drive a BMW or expensive European model automobile and to dress always in a conservative manner that heavily favored old school sports jackets and cotton button down dress shirts when formally attired and Izod sports shirts or wool sweaters when more casually dressed. They would often spend their summers out in The Hamptons of Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard or other similar posh and heavily WASP locations. They still exist to this day, but sort of had their heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s and sort of declined in popularity in tandem with the decline of Republican 1980s conservatism.
One of the niche groups that emerged in America during the 1890s was the Gibson Girl. The caricature was an upper middle class or wealthier young white woman who was said to epitomize feminine beauty, grace, spirited and confident, but who delighted in her feminine nature and had no wish to challenge male patriarchy or associate with the suffragette movement. Indeed, the suffragettes were often derisively depicted as mannish domineering old maids and the antithesis of Gibson Girls.
She was often, in fact, seen to have power through her feminine beauty that surpassed any power a man might hold and could reduce even the most desirable alpha man to a drooling fool she wrapped around her finger. Unlike earlier feminine ideals, she was allowed to be athletic and active, which did not devalue her feminine appeal in any way. On the contrary, a Gibson Girl briskly cycling by was thought an enchanting sight. The ideal Gibson Girl was to be slender, but with ample busom and tush, though not vulgarly so. This figure was emphasized by a tight corset she wore around her waist. Her hair was one of her greatest attributes, and should be ample and piled on top of her head in graceful shapes and waves.
As mentioned previously, she was in no way expected to be a meek wallflower. Her playful witty banter with men was thought one of her attractive qualities. While her main focus was to be of her home and husband, she was at the same time seen as engaging frequently in promoting social causes and perhaps even attending college. It is a bit hard to determine whether the Gibson Girl existed originally or whether she was created based on a male fantasy of the ideal female. It may have been a bit of both.