Style Icon: Elle Hargrove

Style 1

Standing in front of a work of art by her husband’s late great-aunt, local artist Betty Kent, Hargrove wears an off-the-shoulder Lucy Paris dress in a favorite preppy hue, to which she added an Elise M. belt. Charming Charlie coral necklace and Asher Riley needlepoint Elephant cuff.

Cofounder of Asher Riley Collection

Written and styled by Tracy James 

Photography by Chuck St. John


Upon hearing the word preppy, images of pink and green style combinations or cable knit sweaters tied around the shoulders may dance in your head, and you wouldn’t be so far off. Preppy, or “prep,” by definition refers to the word’s origin in the northeastern United States, indicating the style of dress worn by students attending private university preparatory schools and Ivy League universities. Quintessential preppy style men’s retailer J.Press was founded on the Yale University campus in 1902, and other on-campus stores of it and competitor Brooks Brothers followed at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Full-on preppy fashion emerged in the 1970s, combining this collegiate style with influences from traditional northeastern culture and New England leisure activities. Sailing, hunting, polo, golf, rugby, crew, horseback riding…think the Kennedys at Hyannis Port. By the 1980s, prep had become a ready-made lifestyle brand, offering turn-key opportunities for designers like Ralph Lauren, L.L. Bean, and Lilly Pulitzer. 

It’s no surprise that this covetable way of life would eventually make its way to the South, and indeed it has. A modern-day prepster, 33-year-old Mississippi native and now Birmingham resident Elle Hargrove attests that a preppy state of mind embodies her personal style. “I dress, sleep, and drink prep,” she says. And as is the case with lifestyle brands, this is possible—one can bedeck oneself in whale-emblazoned gear from Vineyard Vines, lay one’s head on striped Tommy Hilfiger sheets, and sip pink lemonade from a polka-dot Kate Spade highball. (But she also defies stereotypes: Hargrove served in the Air Force—two years of active duty and six years reserve.)

For as long as she can remember, kelly green and the nautical combination of navy and white have been Hargrove’s favorite colors. Taking inspiration from her longtime love of all things nautical, she and her husband, Virden, created their own accessories brand, Asher Riley, in 2012. Deriving its name from their youngest son’s middle name (Asher) and the daughter they hope to have one day (Riley), the handmade collection specializes in needlepoint belts, but also includes dog collars, wallets, key fobs, flasks, and ladies’ cuff bracelets. Items are ornamented with identifiably preppy logos such as anchors, monograms, and dogs, but can be custom designed as

From the Asher Riley Collection, Anchor wallet and Anchor key fob.

From the Asher Riley Collection, Anchor wallet and Anchor key fob.

well. While all products are available on the company’s website, The Pants Store in Crestline carries the needlepoint belts, and Hollywood Feed at Cahaba Village has the dog collars.

Hargrove loves ladies’ fashion—pearls, red lipstick, and all—citing blogger Sarah Vickers of Classy Girls Wear Pearls as a mentor. But Hargrove has a particular interest in men’s attire, like that of Vickers’s fashion designer fiancé, Kiel James Patrick, and his namesake clothing line. (Check out his Instagram page “KJP” for an inundation of preppy images.) She follows gentleman-targeted blogs Proper Kid Problems, “which offers great layering tips for men and how to incorporate L.L. Bean [duck] boots into one’s look,” Hargrove says, and Red Clay Soul, “which this month took readers into great detail on wearing tweeds.” She adds enthusiastically, “Extra points if your tweed has leather buttons!”

Tweed is almost certainly in husband Virden’s future, who serves not only as the entrepreneurial spirit behind Asher Riley, but as Hargrove’s preppy test model as well. He is currently working on a line of button-down Oxford cloth shirts with contrasting cuffs visible when rolled twice. “Now if I could just get my husband to add tortoise shell glasses to his repertoire,” Hargrove says.


Leave a Reply