Six Years Ago — Protestant Deformation: Neurotic WASPs, 1990

Christopher Sharp presents this swan song of ’80s prepdom from the January 1990 issue of M Magazine, a post that originally ran on Ivy Style in July of 2009. 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


42 Comments on "Six Years Ago — Protestant Deformation: Neurotic WASPs, 1990"

  1. That is a really cool cover. The photos inside are interesting to see. Hope you had a nice weekend. I really enjoy your blog.

  2. I still have old copies of M Magazine. Good times.
    Great post.

  3. Old School | July 27, 2009 at 1:00 pm |

    Would be interesting in hearing what would have changed, had this article been written today.

  4. Fun article. It’s tempting to characterize it as yet another 1980s recycling of _The Official Preppy Handbook_ (assuming anything published in January 1990 must have been written in the 1980s), but there’s probably more to it than that.

  5. The decline and fall of American civilization is first marked by when M Magazine went out of business. Sometimes I go in my closet, pull out my hidden stash of M Magazine issues, and try to remember what it was like before everything ended.

  6. Beresford and anyone else who has back issues of M, send me an email and let’s see if we can get relevant stuff scanned and presented. Obviously people really dig the stuff.

    My editor at the LA Times Magazine had worked at M in the ’80s, and was surprised not only that I knew the magazine, but that I revered him for having worked there.

  7. Love the tennis hats on those two in the second scan. I’ll have to unearth mine before I go down to Vero in August.

  8. Richard M | July 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm |

    Beresford is so right in locating the decline of Western Civilization.

  9. Christian | July 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm |

    Actually, I think it happened long before.

  10. Beresford | July 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm |

    Pre M Magazine demise:

    Wearing the right suit the right way
    “Power Ties”
    Suits with braces
    Classic cars
    Vintage Wristwatches and Fountain Pens
    “European Travel & Leisure”
    Renaissance of Art Deco architecture and furnishings
    Merchant & Ivory Movies
    Attractive and Classy Women, a la “Looking Good” & “Looking Good Too”
    PBS period series such as Poirot/Sherlock Holmes/Campion

    Post M Magazine demise:

    “Casual Dress” in the Workplace
    Political Correctness
    The Macarena
    Hip Hop
    Baggy Pants
    Beavis & Butthead

  11. Christian | July 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm |

    A delightfully pithy and perspicacious summary of the ’80s versus the ’90s.

    Would you like to do a Then vs. Now, 1959 vs. 2009?

    I did one such sidebar to accompany an article on street racing I did circa 1999 when “The Fast and the Furious” came out. It was a comparison between F&F and “American Grafitti,” and how much things had changed since ’62:

    Kissing vs. screwing
    Cruising vs. racing
    Fist fight vs. semi-automatic assault rifle
    Trying to buy liquor vs. trying to hijack a truck
    Going off to college vs. going off to jail


  12. Hilarious article. It could have been written yesterday because the folks described in the article don’t really change; WASPs are the antithesis of trendy. Chip and Muffy are still wearing the same faded chinos and sitting on the same thread-bare heirloom furniture that they wore/sat on in 1990. God bless their trust-funded souls, may they never yield to the masses!

  13. The article is supposed to be funny, but it is an offensive anti-white screed. Can you imagine anyone writing, much less publishing, an article that took a similarly disparaging tone about blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, Moslems, or any other designated minority group? Imagine the condemnation and lawsuits that would follow an article like “The Criminal Baby Daddy” or “The Unassimilating Wetback” or the like.

    Humor is one thing; denigration is another. I see almost none of the former and a huge amount of the latter in this article. (But some of the clothes are great.)

  14. While I’m a big fan of Ivy Style for being such a splendid source of information on the subject, it is some of the comments (or, rather, attitudes?) that, at times, make me cringe. Beserford & Christian: sorry, but what you are writing above seems to be nostalgic, sepia-tinted idealization of the past, without much foundation in reality… or sense. All that babble about attractive women, going off to college vs. going off to jail, kissing vs screwing… And Merchant & Ivory?? You can’t be serious! How about throwing in segregation, TB & Cold War? Hippies, perhaps (since we’re talking all the way pre-90’s)?

    Sorry, perhaps I misunderstand something. I enjoy the style, but personally I wouldn’t swap 2009 for any past era to live in. (Now the future is another thing…) Nothing wrong with a dose sentimentality now and again, but it gets a bit problematic when you get carried away & build your vision of the past on some quaint movies, and not, well, history. Nostalgia is for Nazis. And it’s got nothing to do with clothes.

    That said, the M magazine does look pretty cool, in a campy way, see if I can get hold of a few copies…

    most respectfully,


    P.S. As to the whole WASP “institution” in this day and age, a passage in a book I was reading yesterday springs to mind:
    “We’re all in the melting-pot. I resist the process of melting so have a very lively time of it. I know if I let myself melt I should get mixed up with all sorts of people I would sooner be dead than mixed into. But that’s the only sense in which I’m conservative. It’s myself I want to conserve. I wouldn’t lift a finger to conserve any “conservative” institution; I think they ought to be liquidated, without any exception at all.” Wyndham Lewis

  15. Oh, and Henry, equating WASPs with whites is like equating blacks with Flavor Flav. Who’s offensive here?

  16. A4:

    Thanks for taking the time to speak your mind, as well as for the compliment on the site. I must disagree, however, that this blog engages in a “nostalgic, sepia-toned idealization of the past” or that it is “sentimental.”

    The site’s starting point is the heyday of the Ivy League Look. Since that time, there have been sweeping changes to American society. We often point these out, and I hope with a sense of humor and irony. At the same time, this is a style blog with an appreciation and enthusiasm for the styles, and lifestyles, of the era it chronicles.

    I’ve often found that whenever someone accuses another of nostaligia, he always argues “what about racism, sexism, etc.?” as if the accused nostalgic, in pointing out things admirable about the past, is suggesting we go back to the way everything was. You go on to say that you wouldn’t want to live in any other era but the present.

    Guess what? Neither would I. But that doesn’t stop me from looking critically at fundamental changes since the heyday and making note of them here. Your comment suggests a kind of relativism in which it’s not fair to directly compare the present with the past (except to show our social and medical advancement), which is precisely a part of the problem today.

    Finally, any argument that uses Nazis as a rhetorical device is not a very strong one.



  17. Christian,
    Thanks for replying. I think that perhaps I did not express myself all too clearly: in no way do I see your site as being overtly nostalgic or sepia-tinted. I understand it to be primarily about a specific clothing style, carefully placed in a historical historical context & illustrated by some excellent examples.
    What I was referring to were a couple of earlier comments to this particular article. These, I guess, set me off.. I am not suggesting that the present and the past cannot be compared fairly; they can and should be. But then the comparisons, if they are intended as an argument, should hold ground, and some of the ones I was responding to (such as the “going to college vs, going to jail”, or “cruising vs racing” ) do not, at least in my view, do so.
    Or else they are just rhetorical devices (precisely like the nazi quip, which, of course, wasn’t really intended to be anything but), and that is fine by me. After all, as you say, humour and irony are some of the much appreciated qualities of this site. But I sensed that, in this case, you and Beresford were drawing some implicit conclusion – one that I felt compelled to object to. Perhaps I was mistaken.
    As much as I myself, admittedly, would be partial to summer pavilions, 1st class railway dining experiences or “attractive and classy women”, I do not feel that all that (along with the rest of the supposedly “good-ones” mentioned in the earlier comments) is somehow exclusive to the past. And nostalgia is a tricky one – it’s comforting and well-intended, but being carried away by it – especially if it becomes illusory – can sometimes lead to no good (this, perhaps, helps to somewhat justify the earlier nazi bit). I’m sure you would agree. I prefer to remain on guard. And so vive la resistance – preferably fitted out with some sensible, well-tailored clothing.

    all my best,

  18. Christian | July 30, 2009 at 8:48 pm |

    Thanks again for the thoughtful response, A4. I took Beresford’s comment as a satirical, not literal, comparison of the ’80s vs. the ’90s, as the quotes from my car story were also intended. You would certainly agree that the world of young people and cars depicted in “American Grafitti” and “The Fast and the Furious” are wildly different, if only because the cars are faster.

    Let’s face it, we live in fast times.

  19. A4,

    America was founded by WASPs (broad sense, not country club sense). The vast majority of the Americans who fought and died in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were either WASPs or closely-related people. Even as the percentage of WASPs lowered as immigration altered the ethnic makeup of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the WASP ideals and values were the ones that the immigrants assimilated to. “Melting pot” is a bit of a misnomer: it’s not so much that everyone blended together as that they willingly abandoned their old identities for a new one: American. The American identity has always been (until very recently, of course) based on WASP values: conscience, civic-mindedness, industry, success, use, and anti-sensuality (at least according to Richard Brookhiser in his book “The Way of the WASP: How It Made America, and How It Can Save It, So to Speak”).

    Equating American whites with WASPs may not always be correct ethnically or religiously, but it is correct ideologically. I’m sorry you can’t see this.

    Regardless, my original question still stands: would the article have been considered funny–even printed–if it had been titled “The Terrorist Moslem” and written accordingly?

    What I’m trying to say is this: why is it OK to denigrate white people when it’s not OK to denigrate designated minorities? Why is it OK to disparage the people who embody the values our country was founded on and is still based on?

    Which leads us to this: if we’re OK with belittling our own culture and people, do you think we’re going to last as a culture and people?

    None of this should be taken as a condemnation of this site or those who run it: they didn’t write the article, and in any case, they chose it for style, not content.

  20. Hmmm, satire whizzing right over my head like a neurotic wasp, you say? Well then, so be it.
    Fast times indeed. Now whether it has something to do with my not having watched either of the two movies…


  21. Henry,
    Even if we agree that the America was, to a large extent, “founded” by WASPs and on WASP values, the Founding Fathers or whatever have little or nothing to do with the cabal (however fictitious) that is the subject of the article. Yes, they are caricatured, but it is because, frankly, they have become something of a caricature in modern (emphasis on modern) America, haven’t they? And America today is a tad different from the country that it was 200 years ago.

    You re-phrased your question – “would the article have been considered funny–even printed–if it had been titled “The Terrorist Moslem” and written accordingly?” Well it could certainly be funny, especially if written and published somewhere in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. It’d be great. Unfortunately, there is a slim chance of that…They ill-advisedly did try that in Denmark, you might remember, with some rather sad consequences…
    But as it happens, it was written and published, I very much presume, by white Americans. (And luckily, there is also a slim chance of a crowd of enraged WASPs staging a riot, burning an effigy of the editor etc. Though how funny would that be? Didn’t Woody Allen already do something in that vein?).

    But I am digressing. One thing is to belittle one’s own culture and heritage, another thing is to cast a critical (and satirical) eye upon it. In fact, it is a very healthy thing to do for a nation. The British have a beautiful tradition of taking a complete mickey out of themselves, their royalty and their so-called heritage. And even if one of the results is, in their case, an exaggerated class-consciousness, it is still a more welcome development that having some sort of holy ur-caste that is supposedly the protector of everything which is great about America.

    Anyone proclaiming their WASPness while choosing to wear silly pants and looking as mildly-inbred as the horses they raise (by no means am I saying that you do!! just looking some of the photos above…) shouldn’t be too surprised when faced with some ridicule coming from the real world. Ideally, they shouldn’t be too offended either, if they have some sense of humour. Just ask HRH Wales, he’s used to that. But – as one commenter above said – bless their hearts.

    On a side-note – I really must apologize for all this ranting as of late. I’ve had a boring week. This article provided some entertainment.


  22. “They ill-advisedly did try that in Denmark, you might remember, with some rather sad consequences”

    Yes, they exercised their freedom of speech, and the Moslems showed their true colors: they are incapable of accepting the traditions of the foreign country they have settled in. They are unwilling to assimilate to the host country’s norms. They demonstrated that they have no place in the West.

    By the way, have you seen the cartoons? They are infinitely less provocative than, say, the infamous “Piss Christ,” and while reaction to that was intense, it did not result in any deaths–unlike the Mohammed cartoons.

    But I digress as well.

    In a normal world, your analysis of the poking fun at members of the privileged upper crust would be correct. We do not live in a normal world. At all corners, American traditions, Western culture, and the people who created it all–white people–are under attack.

    And that is what I decry.

    My apologies as well for the extremely non-sartorial digression.

  23. Speaking of non-sartorial, I enjoyed the description of the typical WASP home having a 20-year-old television set. When it ceased working last autumn, my Sony was 33.

  24. Charlottesville | July 17, 2015 at 4:34 pm |

    Thanks for resurrecting this! I really miss M Magazine. I saved an issue or 2, but wish I had kept them all. A great magazine and a great era (it was for me at any rate). There was some buzz a year or so ago about putting out a book version (Best of M, or some such), but nothing seems to have come of it.

  25. One of my biggest regrets in life was losing (to irresponsible Wacky WASP roommate) my 1978 Hitachi TV set my dad was given for opening a bank account.

    “It’s got a great picture” he used to always say. I’m sure if I reminded him of it he’d repeat that again.

    By the way, Scots-Irish may be white, Anglo-Saxon and non-Catholic, but culturally they’re not WASPS.

  26. I think this was my first contribution to Ivy Style.

  27. And the difference is that this one was largely sharing the wisdom of others, and Chris’ future contributions would increasingly reveal his own wonderful research skills and historic analysis.

    Cheers for six years of Chief Sharp.

  28. Ward Wickers | July 17, 2015 at 6:13 pm |

    This is a wonderful post. You should republish every year. Having lived and worked in New Haven, Stamford/Darian and Westchester County, and witnessed first-hand so many who fit so well the characteristics depicted in this article, well, let’s just say it brings chuckles to the cockles of my heart. More, please.

  29. Ward Wickers | July 17, 2015 at 6:32 pm |

    I actually thought I recognized one of the two tailgating gents, but alas, upon close look, it’s just not him. That’s too bad, as there is a really good story about his almost look-a-like. And for the spell-checkers, I know, I know. It’s Darien. Where else.

  30. An apposite article as I am reading “The Wise Men” right now. A sad reminder of halcyon days. He forgot to add “Norman Mailer” to the neurosis section.

  31. Funny story about the New Canaan religious strife, the current Anglican edifice is horrifying. Upjohn must be roiling in his casket.

    I spell it Dairy-Ann

  32. Boston Bean | July 18, 2015 at 2:37 am |

    Both of those genetlemen look embarrassed by their red trousers.

  33. According to the caption on the originally published photo (which appeared on page 55 of the July 1984 issue of M (Vol 1, #10, “Civilized Sports”) the fellow on the left is Toby Tyler of Annapolis, MD and the one on the right is Jack Arnold of Baltimore, MD. They were photographed while attending the 1984 Maryland Hunt Cup in Worthington Valley. The winner that day was W.B.D. “Dixon” Stroud riding Bewley’s Hill.

    Charles “Jack” Arnold was a radiologist who died in June 2014 at age 72. The obituary I found reveals a little about his schooling (I’ll admit, I was looking for a prep/Ivy background):

    “The son of Dr. Emerson Victor Arnold, an internist, and Esther Jack Arnold, a homemaker, Charles Jack Emerson Arnold was born and raised in Delaware, Ohio, where he graduated from Willis High School in 1959.

    Dr. Arnold, who was known as Jack, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1963 from Ohio Wesleyan University and attended Ohio State University for a year before earning his medical degree in 1969 from the University of Cincinnati.

    He completed a pediatric internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1970 and his residency in radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1973.”

    I haven’t found a thing about Toby Tyler, save a brief mention in his mother-in-law’s obituary. Stands to reason, considering the last thing a true WASP wants is to make the news…

  34. I saw the sliver of that photo and recognized it immediately! Still have that copy of M. That mag was an extension of the Preppy Handbook for me in my teens.

  35. Vern Trotter | July 20, 2015 at 3:32 pm |

    The Reds on the tailgaters have NO CUFFS! A bête noir like this in every issue kept M from reaching an ascendant position in my magazine rack. Might as well have been pictured with a cloven hoof.

  36. @Glengarry Sporting Club -Thanks for the bio info. I used to run in a field house at Ohio Wesleyan University. While I was there I would take time out to look at Branch Rickey’s Mascot tie that was on the wall.

  37. Vern Trotter | July 22, 2015 at 3:11 pm |

    I lived down the road from the Maryland Hunt on Shawan Road in Cockeysville and attended the races many times. I do not recognize these two but they were likely after my time. A great event across from the then Black and Vanderbuilt estates with a jet landing strip and the great gray, Native Dancer standing there, loser only once to Dark Star.

    I believe the fellow who owns most of Under Armor now owns that land.

  38. WASPY? Yes, but most fail to mention to the strong support and influence M provided and was influenced by French and Italian style. Let us just hope no one tries to bring M back because it CANNOT be done successfully it was a time and a place publication that has turned out to be one of the best ever. Let it remain that way.

  39. This could possibly be my favorite post on here. So much resonates with me. Also, I don’t particularly find this offensive; rather, I can find the good natured humor in this piece.

  40. Left-field question: Anyone know the art director of M during this issue? It’s a lot like the wonderful work done by either Eisley or Honeycutt at SPY in the 80’s/90’s.

  41. elder prep | April 24, 2020 at 1:02 pm |

    There is definitely a strong whiff of TOPH in the feel, style, and tone of the M article. I enjoyed it immensely.

  42. elder prep | April 24, 2020 at 1:26 pm |

    An addendum if I may to my previous post. The entire M article should have been the second book by Lisa Birnbach instead of that disappointing “True Prep” publication.

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