Perhaps if they had paid a bit more attention in their prep school biology classes, one of the millions of students sporting their prized “alligator” shirts would have noticed at some point that the emblem adorning their apparel wasn’t an alligator. Maybe nobody ever really gave it a close look, blinded instead by the vast palette of pastel colors to choose from. Whatever the reason, the poor misinterpreted crocodile would have suffer this indignation while teens went crazy for alligator shirts, a mascot for the 80s generation.
This history of this iconic shirt, created by Izod in 1934, owes its design to French tennis star Rene Lacoste, whose uniquely-shaped nose, coupled with his aggressive style of play, had earned him the nickname “le crocodile.” As a result, he had an emblem of the reptile embroidered on the breast of his tennis whites and the style caught on among his affluent fans. And for the next 50 years, the style remained unchanged until a new generation embraced the style of their ancestors, if not the name.
Throughout prep schools across the country, the alligator shirt became the accepted uniform of teens, usually untucked, with collar flipped up, and worn with a pair of khaki slacks. And with this particular fashion statement, the term “preppy” was born. Eventually, the preppies even began wearing two different colored shirts at the same time, one layered over the other. Taking such bold fashion risks required a well-stocked closet, filled with as many colors as one could get their studious little hands on. And with dozens of shades to choose from, the possibilities for mixing and matching were endless.
Like any iconic fashion, the imitators quickly followed with a menagerie of other critters to set them apart. J.C. Penny introduced the Fox, Gloria Vanderbilt unleashed the Swan, and Hunter’s Run trotted out the Horse. But prep school fashion isn’t quite as inclusive as Noah’s Ark and if one wasn’t wearing the real deal, scorn and ridicule quickly followed. And while not as popular as they once were, alligator shirts still play a prominent role in prep schools around the land. Although you would think that one of their biology teachers might have pointed out the naming discrepancy by now.
Did your closet contain a few Alligator shirts back in the day. Did you have a rainbow assortment of colors, or just a select few. Share your memories with us in our comments section as we remember this classic fashion from yesteryear.