Where I was From

When I was eighteen, I received four copies of The Preppy Handbook for my birthday. I received another five for Christmas. Each time, the gift giver wrote on the card, "This is so you!" I didn't see the connection. Or perhaps I refused to recognize it. My parents were dismayed at the book. "It's a celebration of mediocrity and banal people," they said (mediocrity said with a short "e" as in red). 

But there was something in there that seemed so "them." Perhaps it was the boat models in the dining room. Or my stepfather's white dinner jacket that I used for my prom. He wore it on a teenage tour of all the Debutante balls on the west coast in 1960. I had to admit that my family tree was like the "joke" tree in The Preppy Handbook (although my mother's half ends up at Jamestown; those Mayflower people were late in the game). And, unfortunately, a gang of relatives were in the "Pantheon" section.

By the time I was at CalArts I was as far from "preppy" as one could get. Or so I thought. I bought black jeans and dark colored shirts. But people still said, "You're so cute and preppy." It was a lost cause. No matter how hard I tried to be cool I ended up looking like I was visiting from Connecticut in 1955.

The nice thing about getting older is not caring what others think. I finally gave in and accepted that I liked the same clothes that I wore when I was a child. I didn't need to worry about being cool and not "preppy." The issue here is that my style goes in and out of fashion every twenty years or so. I'll look quite fashionable for awhile and then super un-cool for a decade. I buy clothes in triplicate so when Sperry stops making blue sneakers I will still have new ones in a box. But let me make this clear, the pants with little whales or tennis rackets are stupid. No matter what anyone says.

My "cool-on-preppy" look in college

Me on left in madras shirt and khakis, 1968

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Director of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.