Risky Business is a film with the power to suprise. It’s known these days as one of the breakout roles (alongside Cocktail & Top Gun) that catapulted a young Tom Cruise to fame, and for the iconic scene where Tom as main character Joel jumps around his house in a shirt and underwear. Going in you would expect typically mid-80s nostalgia, but the first scenes of a blearily shot train making its way through the city at night, to the dark ambience of Tangerine Dream’s score sets a very different mood. It quickly becomes clear that the film much like those of the great John Hughes takes the concerns of teenagers seriously. What follows manages to toe the line between a teen comedy and a serious minded exploration of sex, status and anxiety—justifying the comparisons with Mike Nicholls 1960s classic ‘The Graduate.’
Style wise the 1983 film is caught right in the middle of that decade’s preppy boom. Preppy existed as a sort of hyper-capitalist ‘Ivy League look’, shot through with pastel coloured sportswear and casual clothing and with less concern for tradition than status. It was the perfect uniform of the Reagan-era “Greed Is Good” America. Oxford cotton button downs and madras remained a staple but they were as likely to be paired with blue jeans as chinos, and with tones and patterns often much brighter than Ivy’s mid '60s heyday. This was played up to a cartoonish extent as the decade wore on but in the time of the film it was still relatively paired back, a refreshingly sporty twist on the Ivy uniform: more polos, sneakers and jeans perhaps, but alongside the comforting staple oxfords, shetlands and boat shoes of the earlier style.
While decades of lazily aspirational clothing from high street retailers like Abercrombie and American Eagle might have diluted the impact of preppy, Risky Business shows that it remains a worthwhile reference for classic dress and I’ve tried to distil the best of the film’s style to create a preppy look suitable for 2015.