Tribal Factions: The WASP vs. The Trad

Sun 14 Feb 2010 - Filed under: 1990-present,WASPdom — Christian
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Nomenclature in Tradsville is a tricky thing, and depends largely on your point of view. Those who like hair-splitting will tell you that a short-sleeved gingham shirt is Trad but not Preppy. Likewise, bit loafers are WASPy but not Ivy.

Fair points to an extent, though it gets tedious pretty fast, and bloggers and forum posters have to use slashes — Ivy/preppy/trad — to make sure they’re covering all the bases.

The March issue of Esquire also weighs in on the taxonomy of Tradsville by differentiating between The WASP and The Trad in its fashion spread on American style tribes. This despite that, save for the double-breasted blazer, most of us would consider the clothing items that are mentioned (go-to-hell pants, rep ties, herringbone sport coats) and tastes and pursuits (John Cheever, squash) pretty interchangable.

Which is why this whole WASP vs. Trad thing is pretty silly. — CC

Misquote of the Week

Tue 1 Sep 2009 - Filed under: WASPdom — Christian
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Are clean-cut looking guys really, you know, clean? Tough to tell, according to this post-one-night-stand passage in Lauren Lipton’s chick-lit novel “Mating Rituals of the North American WASP”:

“Do you think I’ve caught hepatitis? Or worse?” She was makng herself breathless.

“That guy was so conservative, he looked like a 1962 Brooks Brothers ad.” Bex clenched her teeth and finished in a mock upper-class drawl, “no one like that could possibly be diseased.”

“That’s not true and you know it.”


Protestant Deformation: Neurotic WASPs, 1990

Sun 26 Jul 2009 - Filed under: 1990-present,Historic Texts,WASPdom — Christian
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Christopher Sharp presents this swan song of ’80s prepdom from the January 1990 issue of M Magazine. In keeping with the neurotic WASP theme, the scans were taken at a self-consciously nonchalant angle.

I’ve had this magazine for almost 20 years. The cover story certainly spoke to me: I’m white, an Anglo-Saxon, attended a Scottish Presbyterian school, and may be an undiagnosed neurotic. It’s a cheeky piece, a little precious in places, and the poison pen is welded a little more like a clumsy cudgel at times.

That said, we all can recognize a bit of ourselves or someone we know in these stereotypes and clichés. Who among us does not venerate old furniture and well worn rugs, have a propensity for drink and predilection for riotous pants?

In many ways I like the photos better then the article. There’s the three Deerfield students labeled “the larval stage,” with one looking insolent in a school t-shirt; another in the ubiquitous but perfect blue blazer, white button down and rakishly askew tie; and the third diffident in a yellow on yellow combo. All appear confident they will be Masters of the Universe one day.

But my favorite is the two tailgaters, one a bit ruddy with a wind-blown combover, sporting a candy stripe shirt and striped bow tie, the other silver-haired in a solid blue buttondown with a blue small  print tie. There is also a third gentleman barely visible in a blazer and madras pants. They all seem like the perfect gents to share a bourbon and branch with.

M Magazine‘s editor Jane Lane’s assertion that WASPs are America’s “most underrated minority when it comes to quirks and foibles” may be true. But I like to think of them as America’s most underrated minority, period. As the great WASP critic and social historian E. Digby  Baltzell said, “Never in history has a nicer group of private-school boys run the world.” — CHRISTOPHER SHARP (Continue)


Wealth of Insight: Jamie Johnson on the WASP Establishment

Tue 28 Apr 2009 - Filed under: 1990-present,WASPdom — Christian
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Like twilight through faded chintz curtains, the sun is setting on the WASP establishment. And Jamie Johnson is seated in the drawing room taking assiduous notes.

“It’s interesting to document a small group of people that are losing their influence,” says the filmmaker and columnist, “and highlight what may be appealing about their world, and also what is unattractive.”

A great-grandson of the founder of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical empire, the 29-year-old heir wrote and directed the 2003 documentary “Born Rich,” and currently chronicles the splendors and miseries of WASPdom in a blog for Vanity Fair entitled The One Percent.

Johnson, who majored in American History at New York University, recently spoke with Ivy-Style founder Christian Chensvold about the setting sun’s bittersweet glow.

* * *

IS: What was your motivation for making “Born Rich”?

JJ: I had noticed a number of people from rich families who had opportunities and a great education and everything going for them, and they didn’t do anything with their lives. In some cases they even died of drug overdose or by crashing their Ferrari in the French Riviera.

I was in school at NYU and I thought it would be interesting to chronicle the lives of affluent kids in a documentary film, which had never been done before. I really didn’t know where the film would go, and I certainly didn’t expect many people to see it. But it got accepted at the Sundance Festival and had a good run on HBO.

IS: How much classic preppy style still remains in the WASP community?

JJ: You can go to any old WASPy social institutions, especially country clubs, and virtually nothing’s changed since the 1950s. Tennis whites are the same as they were, and many institutions still have dress codes on the golf course. When I was a teenager, I remember it being quite stylish to have a belt with the emblem of your country club on it. And if you were in a different part of the country, someone might compliment you on it. So there’s that sense of community that gets expressed through clothing.

I think the WASP community is often completely blind to outside influences. WASP style is incredibly unappealing at times, especially for women. It’s definitely repressed. I often wonder how they can operate without an awareness of what’s going on in the fashion world. (Continue)


Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. on Preppies

Thu 22 Jan 2009 - Filed under: 1970s,Historic Texts,Top Drawer,WASPdom — Christian
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Almost two years before “The Official Preppy Handbook” made preppy affectation accessible to all, Nelson W. Aldrich Jr. had already caught wind of the zeitgeist.

His January 1979 cover story for the Atlantic Monthly, “Preppies: The Last Upper Class?” is a seminal work of exposition on the manners and mores of the WASP establishment. It is also helpful in filling out the dark years between the fall of the Ivy League Look circa 1965, and the revival of what remained of it, combined with new styles and attitudes picked up during an intense period of social change, in November 1980 with the publication of “The Official Preppy Handbook.”

In honor of the article’s 30th anniversary, Ivy-Style herein presents this largely forgotten historic document now digitized for the Internet.

In the article, Aldrich — who authored the book “Old Money” and edited the oral history of George Plimpton Ivy-Style wrote about a while back — attempts to outline the behavioral characteristics of the prep-school set, their likes and dislikes, values and revulsions. Aldrich links the ideology of the preppy to his forbearer, the WASP, to whom the preppy owes his austerity, deference, and attitude toward money.

Aldrich devotes only a few paragraphs to preppy clothing; in his view the term “preppie” designates a group of people, not simply a style of dress. When he does mention clothes, he does so to illustrate the insularity of preppy society, in which the tiniest modifications of attire can carry great significance.

Worth noting is the passage in which Alrich argues that the distinguishing sartorial details of preppy style — presumably things like hooked vents, lapped seams and two-button cuffs, or perhaps embroidered whale belts — are relished by outsiders once they’ve figured out the secret code, but viewed as “oppressive” by the preppies expected to follow the code.

Along those lines, the famous preppy nonchalance envied by all may not come as easily as it appears. Writes Aldrich:

For the Preppie, on the other hand, gracefulness is less a gift than a standard, something to measure up to, a performance. The delight of the thing comes from the knowledge that it’s all contrived, that the effect of effortlessness requires a good deal of strain, that negligence requires attention, that indifference requires concentration, that simplicity and naturalness require affectation. The most delicious “in” joke of Preppiedom is the anxiety everyone feels about being carefree.

Aldrich’s attitude toward preppy culture is ambivalent. At times the article parodies the anxieties of preppies, yet Aldrich also seems to exalt their modesty and discretion. Although preppies may be the target of his satirical tone, he finds redeeming qualities in them which he suggests may be growing rare.

Ultimately his article is less the lampooning of a social class and more the taxonomy of an odd breed. Less than two years later, this taxonomy would reappear as a New York Times best-selling handbook.

The article is long and sometimes tedious, and so we’ve opted to present it in an excerpted format. This also presumably reduces our culpability in any copyright infringement accusation.

In addition to “Preppies,” Aldrich uses the terms Archies (from the Archie comic books) to denote the suburban middle class, and City Kids for the urban working class. — ZACHARY DELUCA & CC

* * *

“Preppies: The Last Upper Class?”
By Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr.
Atlantic Monthly, January 1979 (excerpts)

“Preppie” is a catchall epithet to take the pace of words too worn or elaborate for everyday use, words such as privileged, ruling class, aristocrat, society woman, gentleman, and the rich. Ideological struggle is too shaming to talk about these days. Lifestyle rivalry is the new engine of history. In this sort of society, Preppies pass for an upper class. (Continue)

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