Style Over Substance: The Decline Of Preppy Values

Last week Susan Cheever, daughter of legendary WASPdom chronicler John Cheever and a celebrated author in her own right, wrote a piece for Newsweek entitled “Gin Without The Tonic.” The URL of the digital version explains the theme a little less cryptically:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/08/05/how-modern-preppies-got-the-style-but-forgot-the-values.html

The theme of Cheever’s essay — that the uber-rich of today are not grounded in the same fixed WASP values as the great American dynasties like the Vanderbilts and Astors — ties in neatly with a comment recently left by a reader:

I hope that Lands’ End continues to be the poor man’s Brooks Brothers, so that we can continue to dress like the 1%.

Cheever’s essay also conflates the “one percent” — the elusive catchphrase that rose to prominence during the On Wall Street protests and in its strictest sense means the global uber-rich, not an old but cash-poor preppy clan trying to save its summer house — with the upper middle preppy class. Prepdom has never been the domain of the top out-of-sight, as Paul Fussell called it. The nouveaux riches — who are newer and richer than ever before — clogging up the Hamptons where respectable families once summered aren’t “modern preppies”: they’re not preppies at all.

In what universe does this line possibly make any sense?:

The 1 percent behave outwardly more like the headmaster of Groton than like their own grandparents.

Cheever is more spot on when she compares the “one percent” to the great American dynasties to come out of the Industrial Revolution, a more direct comparison:

… the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, and more recently the Roosevelts all established foundations that made the world an extraordinarily better place. When John Jacob Astor IV gave up his seat on a Titanic lifeboat, he was acting out of a tradition of gallantry and service that was rare then and is even rarer now.

But the idea that Americans at the very top are “slavishly imitating” old WASPs is hard to swallow. The real people wearing whale-embroidered belts probably do care a lot about the old Protestant values than the jet-owning hedge-funders and technocrats. — CC

76 Comments on "Style Over Substance: The Decline Of Preppy Values"

  1. “…elusive catchphrase that rose to prominence during the On Wall Street protests…”

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, the origins of the term aren’t that elusive. Though perhaps you meant “elusive” in who it defines. Regardless, I think most people would recognize them as the *Occupy* Wall Street protests.

  2. girltuesday | August 14, 2012 at 7:42 am |

    Although I take Cheever’s point, I always understood Astor did not “[give] up his seat on a Titanic lifeboat.” Rather he requested to accompany his new, pregnant, and very young wife. His request was denied by Titanic’s crew.

  3. Imagine Averill Harriman playing the field with a polo mallet on his shirt.

  4. Brian Reese | August 14, 2012 at 8:07 am |

    I am constantly appalled and amused by the romanticizing of “old” money and the Ivy League that goes on on this blog and others like it. It is a delusion to think that there is some difference between the rich of yesterday and today; the wealthy have always been—and always shall be—driven by greed. The WASP lifestyle so gloriously elegized on this blog was only possible through the exploitation of the working class, the environment, and the American infrastructure. “Robber barons” was a metaphor originally used to describe men like Vanderbilt and Carnegie who exploited their workers, fostered financial and political corruption, and elevated the corporation to the dominant position it occupies today. They are the forefathers of the 1%. If one reads John Cheever’s stories such as “Goodbye, My Brother” or “The Swimmer” one might be compelled to question whether those characters are people really worth emulating (or whether Cheever himself thought so!). However, since our universities are slavishly devoted to sports and fraternity culture most of us probably lack the insight to interpret literature anyway.

    It is beyond absurd that contemporary devotees try to recreate the fashions of an imagined “golden age” with Chinese made Brooks Brothers, Polo, and L.L. Bean garments or those from Japanese-owned J. Press. We are all the vacuous pawns of advertising chasing after the illusion of belonging in a make-believe world of double standards. Hunger is real. Foreclosures are happening. Democracy is crumbling. Pollution and ecological devastation are spreading—but the break on our seersucker trousers is lovely.

  5. What Brian said.

  6. G. Bruce Boyer | August 14, 2012 at 8:32 am |

    It’s the “titans with a conscience” phrase that got me. My grandfather worked in a steel mill, and when he and his fellow laborers struck because too many of them were being injured and killed on the job, the benevolent titans sent in the local police and private goon squads on horseback with clubs for some basic behavior modification. The mill owners had fought with their consciences, and won.ms. Cheever’s view of History is rather obviously from the top down.

  7. FDR, with Groton, Harvard, Columbia Law and Wall Street lawyering still addressed the needy who cried, “Brother can you spare a dime?”

  8. Brian,

    Would you please elucidate me as to why many (yourself seemingly included), villainize wealth and those who posses it? Shouldn’t it be something we aspire to? Why has hard work and success become something that the vox populi has learned to decry as the product of Satan? If it is merely the morals of the particular holders of the wealth that you distrust wouldn’t it be better for all if we encouraged those with good morals to obtain wealth, thus providing for a more ethical wealthy class? Also, would you please qualify your statement that “democracy is crumbling”?

  9. Craig Sevde | August 14, 2012 at 9:21 am |

    Good point Ryan. I would also like the statement “democracy is crumbling” clarified by Brian.

  10. Christian,

    These are the discussions that I enjoy reading the most. There is almost no topic as polarizing as a discussion on wealth and class. Especially when the participants are those who have and those who have not.

  11. Trad of Limited Means | August 14, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    Looking good thanks to Lands’ End is the best revenge.

  12. Alas, OCBD, I think most readers would rather just look at pictures. Then again that’s why tumblr was invented.

    While it may be true that the super-rich of any generation are relatively the same, it’s worth pointing out that the doctors, lawyers and university professors who have long populated the preppy class aren’t the super-rich.

    In response to Brian, I’m not sure how much this site “romanticizes” Old Money WASPdom. I think there’s a heavy dose of irony and irreverence, too. Also, Ivy Style is the only preppy site to honor both Black History Month and Hanukkah — and I point that out with an admitted touch of irreverence.

    I admire the books “Old Money” by Aldrich and “The Way of The Wasp” by Brookhiser, and believe that the WASP establishment, for all its faults, provided all of America with a sterling set of values.

    But when you paint in such sweeping strokes as “The WASP lifestyle so gloriously elegized on this blog was only possible through the exploitation of the working class….” I can only assume you read different books, such as Marx & Engels.

  13. Andrew F. B. | August 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |

    This is a most interesting topic of discussion, and one that is very elusive. For the sake of avoiding endless disagreements as to whether the rich of a different era were as nasty/good as the rich of our time, I think we at least fairly broadly agree with the statement that from a cultural and historical perspective, at least the rich of this era takes its ideals or imitations far less from the Wasp culture (and its English but also Western European influence) than ever before. That is, we’re witnessing a real break, for better or for worse.

  14. Boston Bean | August 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |

    @Andrew F. B.

    “…for better or for worse”?

    For worse, sir, most certainly for worse.

  15. Knowing what happened on the Titanic in its final hours is a challenging task, especially because so many witnesses perished, and all the survivors are all dead. Yes, it appears that Astor, like most normal men, wanted to protect his pregnant wife, and yes, he was not a passenger on the lifeboat that she was on and died as a result. However, family records show that the crewman didn’t want to let him on the lifeboat, but he insisted on helping his gravid wife. Kissing her goodbye, he got out.

    One survivor of the Titanic said that Astor shoved her and her sister onto another lifeboat, thus saving their lives. In great contrast to the false narrative presented in the socialist propaganda movie “Titanic,” many of the men on the Titanic lived—and died—by the motto, “women and children first.” In fact, many of the Titanic’s lifeboats left the ship with empty seats.

    Chivalry may be dead now, but it most certainly was not then. Adherence to its standards lead to life for some, but death to some of its practitioners.

  16. I’ve heard “Titanic” called sappy or unrealistic in its depiction of the love affair, but never “socialist propaganda.”

  17. The “socialist propaganda” is that the less well off passengers in steerage were lock below deck, didn’t happen. There weren’t enough lifeboats, there usually weren’t for large ships as they seldom sunk in peace time. Besides, the Titanic was “unsinkable”.

  18. It’s been a long, long time since the titans of industry employed goons to deal with unions. That can’t be said for unions. Who do you think finances OWS, the titans of industry?

  19. Bricktop Polford | August 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm |

    @Brian Reese. That’s one broad brush loaded with red paint you wield.

  20. “RED paint”! 😉

  21. Orgastic future | August 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm |

    The author started off the article with “Go on, act like Gatsby this summer. But real aristocrats had a code.” I find that pleasantly ironic in lieu of the above discussion involving whether we should wax poetic a seemingly defunct way of life. Gatsby spent his whole life trying to impress that “sort” of crowd only to find out what Nick pointed out to him in the end. “There a rotten crowd,” and he was already “worth the whole damn bunch put together.” The WASP’s of nostalgia weren’t exactly forward thinking progressives. And their ideals went exactly dipped in societal inclusiveness……thus I think it’s better for everyone that what lingers is their style of dress rather than their outdated beliefs.

  22. ” The WASP’s of nostalgia weren’t exactly forward thinking progressives.” I’ve never actually met a forward thinking “progressive”, they tend to be state-ist. I laugh at the thought that “rich” people aren’t forward looking.

  23. Most of the people I know who were born into “comfortable” WASP families share a few traits: seriousness, discretion, privacy, a certain reserve, tastes in religion and clothing and art that tend toward the traditional, thrift, and a robustly but not preachy puritanical outlook. And a stubbornly Calvinist view of the world as ever vulnerable to excessses of all kinds. Suspicious of just about anything that would inspire one to avoid hard work. Puritans. Prudish. And I’m not being pejorative.

    The tales of profligate drinking and embrace of leisure (and leisurewear)–I’ve long suspected this amounts to little more than myth. Ditto for a noblesse oblige-inspired progressivism. Maybe I’ve been hanging out with the wrong rich folk.

    The particular version of WASP somberness I’ve witnessed is refreshing. Most humor, including irony, is lost on them. As is the adventurous in music, art, or literature. Happily staid. “Silly” is the word they reserve for much of the culture, a harsh and lasting indictment of silly people who engage in the many forms of silliness.

    If they’re into clothes at all, they bought them once, and, throughout the decades had them repaired.

    These are not the values of a particular class. Rather, a particular sort that can and has taken up residence in every class. John Danforth comes to mind. John Chafee. Serious men. Sober men.

    “Great men, great nations, are neither boasters nor buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life.”–Emerson

  24. Danforth and Chafee, both Ivy leaguers, moderate Republican pols and third or forth generation money.

  25. I believe the biggest, or at least most noticeable, difference between the old and new “preppy values” lies with the children of the ultra-rich. In the past, both societal and personal pressures enforced at least an outward appearance of humility, if not an internal sense of modesty. Not all acted this way, mind you, but I think it would be a fair generalization to make. Today, however, there is an expectation that youth and money should be lavished by displays of grotesque ostentation. It doesn’t matter if you are nouveau riche or blue blooded, the world has become so small that damn near anything is available to you. Thus, while a bowling alley in the home was comparatively ludicrous at the turn of the century, today it’s downright tame. Tonight I read about how the teenage Brant brothers moped about for “not getting to attend the Met Ball (there had been ‘complications’ with the invitations, Peter said), at which they had planned to arrive in a gold-plated Rolls-Royce accompanied by a baby panther wearing a diamond necklace.”

  26. Christopher Caldwell’s evisceration of Susan Cheever’s memoirs is one of my favorite book reviews.

    http://observer.com/1999/01/drink-without-the-dregs-no-hangover-for-susan-cheever/

  27. Craig Sevde | August 15, 2012 at 5:51 am |

    Here’s my take. They were educated, they traveled, they were curious, inventive, opportunist Yes) but they had style. And in my opinion if you don’t believe in capitalism and free enterprise than you really don’t understand the heritage of the article.
    As for vicious and mean spirited I don’t think so. Shrewd yes.
    I think more than anything they tried to carry on values and spread values. Look at Andrew Carnegie. I’m not sure but I think most of us spent time going up with a public library built with his funds.

  28. Roy R. Platt | August 15, 2012 at 7:10 am |

    Having enough lifeboats still didn’t save 1012 souls in “Empress Of Ireland or 1198 souls in “Lusitania”.

  29. Both sank within twenty minutes of catastrophe in very cold waters. Lifeboats are like airbags and seat belts, no guarantees, just an increased chance of survival. Thanks for mentioning the ‘Empress of Ireland”, had never heard of it, good reading.

  30. As a Missourian, I can tell you the pronunciation changes from person to person, seems to be no consensus. Interestingly, it’s fun to watch politicians change their pronunciation of Missouri, depending on what part of state they’re in. Much like national pols get their “black” or “NASCAR” voice on, when south of the Mason Dixon, always a hoot.

    The New England accent is in retreat, much like the New South’s, immigration and media’s Midwestern accent seem to be the cause.

  31. The Ivy police will surely come after me for philosophizing about The Look in all of its soft, unpadded glory, but oh well.

    My tailor, who specializes in natural shoulder clothing but remains open to the customer’s wishes, has used the word “modest” in reference to the sack-plain front combo. I think he’d say “humble” works as well.

    “nothing imposing about it.” Exactly. Lest I incur the wrath of the “ivy isn’t a lifestyle, damn it!” types, this much is true: relative to other styles that scream and shout, natural shouldered clothing whispers. A soft baritone whisper.

    No look can be identified with Old Money because there’s no one Old Money person, family, or culture. But soft tailoring reveals an abiding modesty, and any person of any class can embody it.

    Can we easily imagine the fictional Gordon Gekko or the real-life Donald Trump or Joe Biden in a circa ’63 Norman Hilton suit? Ivy just doesn’t go with boisterous and loud and self-promoting. You need bloated pleats and high, padded shoulders to pull that off, I think.

  32. Plenty of idiots also dress like lumberjacks, but can’t swing an axe, sharpen a two-man saw, or overhaul a chainsaw’s two-stroke. In other parts of the country people dress like cowboys but have no experience on a ranch or on horseback. Most commonly though, people dress like athletes (jerseys, ball caps, running shoes) but are horribly inactive. Dressing like a cowboy does not make someone fake, just a fetishy enthusiast. But telling everybody that one is actually a cowboy (if you are not) is what makes someone a fake.

    The “romanticized” past that is often mentioned is inaccurately depicted equally by the detractors, by the way.

  33. Not sure if one must be a full blown cowboy to wear western wear, no more than one has to be a sailor to wear a Gloverall duffle or pea coat, a hunter, fisherman or motorcyclist to wear Barbour, British a soldier to wear a trench coat or military to touch khaki.

    My guess is that western wear have been a tradition out west longer than Ivy has existed or even thought of. I think most back east would be shocked how many folks in fly over country know how to ride horses. It’s all good. 😉

  34. NaturalShoulder | August 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm |

    S.E. I agree with your sentiments about the appeal of soft tailored clothing (and appropriate accessories) being modesty.

  35. The Submariner | August 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm |

    @Henry – “Women and children first” appears chivalrous, but only if you were in first class. First refers not only to the order in which one boards a lifeboat, but also the class of passenger. The women and children in second, third, etc. classes would have had to wait until after the first class men.

  36. Even on British ships where “women and children first” is a tradition, ship’s crews and male passengers have twice the survival rate as women. Not only the order of loading life boats, but the fact that lower class of accommodations tend to be at or near the water line. Fashion choices seem to be a culprit, up until recently women’s costuming wasn’t conducive to swimming and children stuck to their mothers.

    Interestingly, the”Hero” type, according to behavioral scientist, tend to be blue collar men with a wife and children. So screw it, I’m heading to the boat.

  37. Roy R. Platt | August 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

    Those who prefer Western saddles sometime prefer “Western” style clothing when riding. Those who prefer English saddles (including those who live in “Fly Over America) sometime look a bit more “Preppy-Ivy-Trad” when riding (although anyone whose elbows are flapping when they are riding looks silly).

  38. We forget how many polo players came out of fly over country ranches, as well as western actors, the first half of the last century. Also, prior to WWII almost all US Army installations had competitive polo teams, I’m sure all those hicks wore traditional costuming.

    I’ve owned quarter horses in better financial times and prefer western saddle, but I’ve ridden English and even tried polo, polo is as hard as it looks, I sucked. I’m not a big western wear fan, but there’s probably five “cowboy” shirts in the closet next to a hundred BDs and I’ve never known a time in my life I didn’t own western boots or Weejuns. I only wear the western stuff casually and never the boots and shirts together.

  39. Orthodox Trad | August 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm |

    @S.E.

    Your sentiments mirror mine exactly: understated elegance. That’s what I would call the basic appeal of Trad, i.e. Conservative İvy.
    That is most certainly not the appeal of Preppy, with its flashy colors and accesories.

  40. Orthodox Trad | August 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |

    accessories.

    Sorry, Orthograph.

  41. Style does have substance; fashion does not.

  42. Submariner,

    Check out the actual death rates among passengers by class at the Wikipedia page on the Titanic. For example, 67% of the first-class men died, while 86% of the second class women lived. Contrary to the falsehoods propagated by the terrible James Cameron movie, the upper-class men did not shove others aside so that they could get into lifeboats. What actually happened is that so many men adhered to the “women and children first” ethos of the day that many lifeboats left with empty seats, meaning men who could have been saved died needlessly.

    Your assertions are false.

    Your assertions are false.

  43. (Sorry for the double posting of the last line.)

    CC,

    I call Cameron’s “Titanic” socialist because one of its main messages is that of class warfare: the wealthy were inaccurately portrayed as cruel and selfish, while working-class Jack Dawson is shown as noble. In the movie, the wealthy men were shown pushing others aside, when in reality, they voluntarily died so that women and children might live.

    Fun fact: due to his inaccurate portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch as a coward, James Cameron issued an apology to Murdoch’s relatives. Even so, Cameron didn’t see fit to correct his error, because that might weaken his narrative that “pre-now Western civilization is bad.”

  44. Roy R. Platt | August 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm |

    “A Night To Remember” is an infinite number of times better than “Titanic”, a film that lifted entire scenes out of “A Night To Remember”.

    My uncle was a Captain in the Field Artillery, and before going to the Philippines in 1940, played polo almost every Sunday in Golden Gate Park. My uncle and the rest of the Army team never returned from the Philippines.

  45. Recent study of maritime disasters from the 1850s to the present found the Titanic to be an aberration. The authors concluded that “the rallying cry was ‘every man for himself’.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Women-and-children-1st-a-shipwreck-myth-3781995.php

  46. Maybe they were just ahead of their time, they were feminist. You would think Swedish academics would be celebrating that reverence for equality and lobby their government to make the sexist, misogynistic “women and children first” illegal. But, on the other hand they might demand quotas to even the score, for past discrimination.

  47. Richard Meyer | August 16, 2012 at 3:55 am |

    CC: I am an admirer of the Brookhiser and Aldrich tomes, and even more of Baltzell, whom, while acknowledging the many failures of the “Old school” class, recognizes the lost values and virtues that our current “meritocracy” lack so badly.

  48. Roy R. Platt
    I salute your uncle. I to have a WWII Philippines connection, my family’s best friends, Col. & Mrs. Armold, he was an Army JAG and she a nurse at Corregidor, survived the Bataan Death March, wed after the war. He retired the Air Force in the late 60s to practice law in Topeka, Ks., his home town. Like they say ‘our greatest generation”. Here’s a video of V J Day Honolulu, one can only imagine the relief and elation of these folks.

    http://vimeo.com/5645171

  49. In my younger days, I worked a number of years in a steel mill at blue collar positions. I can definitely attest to the fact that management exhibited no benevolent tendencies to the rank and file. Although it’s true that the unions tended to protect the most worthless of employees, I shudder to think the poor treatment and abuse good men would have suffered had there been no union. Wages would have been kept at less than subsistance levels without unions.

    And that is what occured during the days of the “Robber Barons” like Carnegie and Frick, before unions spoke for the little guy.

  50. In my neck of the woods, WASPs live. They’re here, surviving. And easily contrasted with other types. Among the upper middles and the rich, the contrast is a matter of style. Appearance and behavior. The antithesis is almost certainly the AmJack, armed with all the typical AmJack loudness and abrasiveness and ostentation (new Range Rovers and BMWs seem to be favorites). The God Awful AmJack business ensemble is a thing to behold. As souped up and overdone as their cars and houses–unnecessary shaping, high shoulders, and those hideous square toed (invariably cheap black calf) lace-ups. Comic. I hear the leverage buyout guys are especially vulnerable to AmJack style, but surely the venture capital dudes are giving them a run for their crisp, new money.

    A really well done natural shoulder garment–real soft tailoring–makes the wearer look, well, relaxed. As comfy and relaxed as Joey Whomever in his jeans, square toes, and designer t-shirt. Thing is, the thin canvas, small chest piece, shaping without front visible darts, and round, sloping shoulder (felt only) is hard as hell to make.

  51. AmJack style?

  52. Richard Meyer | August 17, 2012 at 3:18 am |

    MAC: AmJack= American Jackass.

  53. I do not think many people realize that some of the “blue-blooded” aristocratic people aren`t always as rich as their ancestors. In fact, I would say there are quite a lot of “poor” (in comparison) relatives of the aristoratic crowd who get to sit at the very same table as them – they are of the same blood, and they have about the same manners.

  54. What did a Supreme Court Justice once say about a certain something? You know it when you see it. The same is true of “WASPdom.”

    Money can’t but it.

    Some of the richest people I know are also the brashest, the loudest, and, for lack of a better phrase, most obnoxious. Sloppy, boisterous, and lacking in social graces one begins to learn at a young age. And openly (proudly?) obsessed with the totems of recently aquired wealth.

    Eliiot Richardon’s introduction to Gormley’s biography of Archibald Cox is revealing. He refers to Cox’s values as “WASPy.” No wonder. He was quiet, reserved, modest, suspicious of showmanship, and New England plain in his tastes (he drove a broken-down pickup truck, sported a crew cut, and favored vested sack suits). And the old fashioned work ethic.

  55. Sounds like the Koch brothers, except they are only second generation money and I have no idea where they shop. 😉

  56. ‘relative to other styles that scream and shout, natural shouldered clothing whispers. A soft baritone whisper.

    No look can be identified with Old Money because there’s no one Old Money person, family, or culture. But soft tailoring reveals an abiding modesty, and any person of any class can embody it.

    Can we easily imagine the fictional Gordon Gekko or the real-life Donald Trump or Joe Biden in a circa ‘63 Norman Hilton suit? Ivy just doesn’t go with boisterous and loud and self-promoting.’

    Superb writing from S.E.

  57. ‘Eliiot Richardon’s introduction to Gormley’s biography of Archibald Cox is revealing. He refers to Cox’s values as “WASPy.” No wonder. He was quiet, reserved, modest, suspicious of showmanship, and New England plain in his tastes (he drove a broken-down pickup truck, sported a crew cut, and favored vested sack suits). And the old fashioned work ethic.’

    I have seen plenty of people who exhibit similar traits without necessarily being W, AS and/or P.

  58. Flavors of Old Families | August 20, 2012 at 6:39 am |

    I really must second Yuca’s comments. Such values are NOT *particular* to WASPdom; they are inherent to most aging/established elite classes, regardless of ethno-cultural background–part of the natural life-cycle of an elite, if you will.

    An old family in Germany, the U.S., Mozambique, or Argentina; or similarly, a Wharton (old WASP-American), a Syphax (old African-American/mixed), a Seixas (old Sephardic Jewish-American), or a Fielding (old Native-American/mixed) share largely similar values and behaviors.

  59. @Yuca

    Your remark might have some sort of banal legitimacy, but because your IP address gives away your Englishness, and your username reveals you as a member of Talk Ivy, we have no choice but to see your remarks as rhetorical and in the service of preserving the Ivy fantasy construct as preached in the Church of Simontology. I can’t imagine that your point could be so banal as to note that different groups of people might have something in common. Reading between the lines and knowing who the speaker is in this context, I must conclude that your point is to downplay WASPdom itself.

    English Ivy fans just can’t stomach the origins of your fetishized Ivy clothes, so they must constantly downplay any reference to the WASP caste, Old Money, and prep schools and colleges, so they can feel good about themselves when they don a Brooks button-down. Hence absurd statements such as the Ivy League Look is “just clothes” and that during the heyday the mailman wore “Ivy.”

    Actually, there is an Old Money culture in America. Or there used to be. There used to be just 400 acceptable people in New York — precisely the number of people who could fit in Mrs. Astor’s ballroom. Aldrich’s “Old Money” would be a place to start, or you could quickly watch a few film adaptations of Edith Wharton’s novels.

    But while your fatuousness is one thing, the crass ignorance is quite another. You and your fellow Simontologists insult America every time you place the silly beliefs of your own style tribe above our very culture and history.

    It’s one thing for you to point out that Steve McQueen wore sack jackets and lionize him for it, but it’s quite another to constantly downplay — if not outright deny — the entire culture of WASPs in America because you see it as a threat to your jazz hipster fantasy construct of Ivy.

  60. Para 1: You make a lot of assumptions about me, purely because I’m an English ivy wearer. You claim that I worship J Simons, yet you won’t find any posts by me, anywhere online, to that effect. You also think that I aim to ‘downplay WASPdom itself’. You’d have to qualify that one before I can really confirm or deny it.

    If ‘quiet, reserved, modest, suspicious of showmanship … plain in his tastes … the old fashioned work ethic’ are qualities associated with WASPs, particularly in the past, then good for them. Are those qualities exclusive to WASPs (or WASPs and non-WASPs aspiring to WASPdom)? No. This is my point.

    Para 2: English ivy fans are not a homogenous group. I cannot speak for others, however as an amateur historian I am well aware of the history of ivy clothing. I have no interest in rewriting history. From a scientific perspective ivy clothes are just clothes, although I have never bothered stating this. From a sociological or historical perspective then obviously these garments have history. Did ‘the mailman’ wear ivy back in the day? Some probably did, what’s wrong with that?

    para 4 and 5: I’ve insulted America? You really have read a lot into my post. I’m a member of a ‘style tribe’? News to me. I’ve made claims about Steve McQueen? Ditto. ‘Jazz hipster fantasy construct of ivy’? Again, news to me. You mention jazz on your blog more often than I do on any of the forums I frequent. I’m actually heavily into Latin music, and blues; 2 genres with little connection to ivy clothing.

    There’s no UK ivy style tribe, as there are hardly any UK ivy wearers, and those there are, are mostly getting on a bit. Maybe 50 years ago, and maybe again in the 80s, but not since then.

  61. Fair enough. My remarks are more accurately directed towards members of Talk Ivy.

    I do find it odd, though, that of all the things on which to comment on this site, you chose to call “superb writing” from a reader who denied there was such as thing as an Old Money culture in America, and why, of all things, you chose to point out something so banal as that other people besides WASPs share qualities such as thrift and a strong work ethic.

  62. I liked SE’s quote for the bits about the subtle aesthetics of ivy clothing; this subtlety is the reason I like the style so much. The ivy look can be identified with old money in that, if I see an 80 year old in kosher ivy kit, he may well be a former member of one of the ivy universities. On the other hand, this hypothetical 80 year old could also be one of the millions who got a taste for the ivy look in the 50s and 60s, without having attended an ivy establishment. (He could even be a former mailman.)

    Re. my banal comment: applying virtues to a race can imply that other races do not also have those virtues (or only have them when emulating the race in question).

  63. Yuca, when you make statements like

    “No look can be identified with Old Money because there’s no one Old Money person, family, or culture.”

    and

    “Re. my banal comment: applying virtues to a race can imply that other races do not also have those virtues (or only have them when emulating the race in question).”

    You’re engaging in nominalism: the idea that there are no objective categories, that there are no generalizations to be made, because everyone and everything is unique. This idea is demonstrably false (as Christian demonstrated). The correct approach is essentialism: the idea that things and groups have essences, even if not all members of a group share all the same properties.

    “Old Money” is a valid concept; there are people, locations, styles, and behaviors identifiable with it. Same with race and a myriad other concepts which the post-modern obfuscation of reality have blurred.

  64. I don’t believe I claimed there isn’t an Old Money culture in America, CC. Did I?

    Wherever and whenever wealth can be passed along and inherited, there will inevitably be, as you put it, an “Old Money culture.”

    What I asserted is that there is no ONE particular Old Money culture. Emphasis upon the word “one.”

    All the better characteristics of “Ivy” clothing predate the so-called “Ivy Heyday.” The roots of American soft tailoring go way, way back–to the British “Drape” suit and even beyond. Button downs and repp ties and plain front pants and even loafers were being worn by all types and kinds of people well before college shops in New Haven and elsewhere made much of the Look.

    True, this.

  65. Flavors of Old Families | August 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm |

    “Wherever and whenever wealth can be passed along and inherited, there will inevitably be, as you put it, an “Old Money culture.”

    What I asserted is that there is no ONE particular Old Money culture. Emphasis upon the word “one.” ”

    Ditto S.E.

    America’s Old Money is composed of a number of (often interrelated) Old Money groups. WASPs are simply one of them, albeit the most heavily represented. This is historical fact. What I believe S.E. and Yuca were getting at is that Old Money people have Old Money values because they are Old Money, not because they are White Britsh Protestants. There is an Old Money/New Money distinction in other ethnic groups that have been in the U.S. for several generations, and the Old Money of each group has more in common than their New Money counterparts.

  66. Quote: “I liked SE’s quote for the bits about the subtle aesthetics of ivy clothing; this subtlety is the reason I like the style so much.”

    OK, but you need to understand you’re looking at Ivy as an outsider in the UK, attaching all your own subjective stuff to it. What you call “subtle aesthetics” is what we call WASP understatement.

  67. Yuca, when you make statements like

    “No look can be identified with Old Money because there’s no one Old Money person, family, or culture.”

    I quoted that, I didn’t make it, and in retrospect I’m not in agreement.

    ‘The correct approach is essentialism: the idea that things and groups have essences, even if not all members of a group share all the same properties.’

    This I can agree with, because you have qualified it (‘not all members of a group share all the same properties’). I was also qualifying it, by stating that these properties are also not exclusive to the members of a group. Otherwise the implication is that WASPs are superior to other races, which I’m sure many of us do not believe to be true.

  68. What I believe S.E. and Yuca were getting at is that Old Money people have Old Money values because they are Old Money, not because they are White Britsh Protestants.

    Also, I believe the characteristics quoted are often to be found in those who are not moneyed. No money, you could say.

  69. ‘OK, but you need to understand you’re looking at Ivy as an outsider in the UK, attaching all your own subjective stuff to it. What you call “subtle aesthetics” is what we call WASP understatement.’

    I’m a bit confused; the UK’s full of WASPs. Indeed, I am one (albeit with a bit of non-WASP ancestory in the mix).

  70. A bit confused indeed.

    Read more.

  71. Yuca,

    “Otherwise the implication is that WASPs are superior to other races, which I’m sure many of us do not believe to be true.”

    Why must people always assume that “different” MUST mean “better”? Different means different.

    One could argue that WASP values, like hard work, thrift, and the like, are superior to other values, but that’s not the same as arguing that WASPs “are superior to other races.”

    Now, as a semi-WASP, I am certainly partial to “my” people; as an American, I am partial to our shared ancestors (even though most of my ancestors arrived more recently than the Revolutionary War). I identify with them, and to me they are better. Note the relativism.

    I think this is perfectly natural and normal, and is what just about everyone does (I’ll stay away from the exceptions for now).

    P.S. to Flavors of Old Families and Yuca: The term is WASP, standing (redundantly) for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (all Anglo-Saxons are, by definition, white), not “White British Protestants” [sic]. The colonists were overwhelmingly English, not generically “British” (true, there was a smattering of Scots (mainly the Scotch-Irish, who are neither Scottish nor Irish), but other Brits did not come in significant numbers until well after the founding).

  72. ‘A bit confused indeed.

    Read more.’

    My reading time gets eaten into by arguing online with people I don’t know.

  73. ‘Why must people always assume that “different” MUST mean “better”? Different means different.

    One could argue that WASP values, like hard work, thrift, and the like, are superior to other values, but that’s not the same as arguing that WASPs “are superior to other races.”’

    I do not believe different is better. I do believe ‘WASP values’ are shared by many peoples; WASPs do not have a monopoly on hard work, thrift, etc. I’m all for pride in positive achievements, history, culture, etc.

  74. Does this blog reflect the ‘WASP virtues’? In celebrating and documenting traditional ivy clothing it certainly does, but what about all the designer tat that appears so frequently? The whole designer ethos focuses on label over quality, and overpriced, disposable clothing.

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