The Reluctant WASP: George Will On William Zinsser


In his column yesterday for the Washington Post, George Will discusses William Zinsser and the craft of writing, making a passing reference to J. Press and the formality still observed by old-school WASPs such as Zinsser:

Tooting his own trumpet is not the style of this self-effacing and decorous WASP, who never leaves his Manhattan apartment or boards a plane or train without a jacket (J. Press, of course) and tie.

Zinsser not only dresses properly before leaving the house, he’s also had himself immortalized in oil, as in the 2006 portrait by Thomas S. Buechner above, which is a lot more dignified (though not quite as social or fun) than chronicling your quotidian happenings in grainy iPhone photos on Facebook.

WASPiness, however, was always something Zinsser had trouble coming to terms with. His website includes the following excerpt from his essay “A Reluctant WASP” for Town & Country:

I was born into the Northeastern WASP establishment and have never quite stopped pretending that I wasn’t. My boyhood was spent in a big house on the north shore of Long Island that overlooked the water and had its own tennis court. But I always wanted to get beyond that narrow world. In the summer of 1936, when I was 13, my parents took my older sisters on a Grand Tour of Europe, leaving me with my grandmother. To keep me company they advertised for a ‘tutor.’

A suitable-sounding candidate was found—Harvard junior, all-around athlete, an editor of the Crimson—and was invited for Sunday dinner to be looked over. His name was Cleveland Amory. The name signified that he was a Boston Brahmin. Many years later it would become a familiar presence on the best-seller lists for his droll social histories like The Proper Bostonians.

My father explained to Amory that he would mainly be expected to play golf and tennis and go sailing with me—the usual WASP sports. His biggest problem, my father was sorry to say, would be to wrest me away from my obsessive interest in baseball. The tutor smiled the smile of a young man who has found the perfect summer job.

When summer arrived, my new friend tried at first to adhere to the conditions of his employment. But our hearts were elsewhere. Amory, it turned out, was a crazed Boston Red Sox fan, and our schedule began to tilt. We would put our golf clubs in the family Buick, head for the Piping Rock Club, and somehow wind up at Yankee Stadium.

With their mutual interest in writing, baseball, and J. Press, Will and Zinsser are certainly two of a kind. Dare we say the right kind? — CC

21 Comments on "The Reluctant WASP: George Will On William Zinsser"

  1. Class acts, but doubtful that they have ever peed in the shower. Good post Christian and they are indeed the right kind.

  2. He’s a jazz pianist like our frater CC.

  3. The painting says it all.

  4. P.S. Love the painting details. Buttonhole visible and role of the BD collar. Distinguished.

  5. Herringbone Tweed | March 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm |

    Betcha he doesn’t wear Gucci loafers.

  6. There’s the unruly roll for which the older Brooks OCBDs were known. HTJ’s recent reflection is worthy of a look. The older Troy Guild OCBDs were equally untidy.

  7. @
    So glad that we don’t have to worry about that unruly roll anymore. It was clearly due to uneven shrinkage.

  8. I believe that the collar role looks uneven, due to wearing a four in hand, rather than a half windsor. Never cared for the later of the two, nor the full windsor.

  9. This brings back memories. I went to school with Mr. Zinsser’s children and now look forward to visiting his website.

  10. @Herringbone Tweed, you wouldn’t know a WASP if it stung you in the ass.

  11. Herringbone Tweed | March 16, 2013 at 10:03 am |


    Sir, I am, in fact, a New England WASP of indsiputable credentails and I can assure you that I would have been soundly thrashed by my father if I had dared to even contemplate wearing such shoes.

  12. Herringbone Tweed | March 16, 2013 at 10:04 am |

    Sorry for the orthographical infelicity.

    indsiputable credentails = indisputable credentials

  13. Anyone who uses “orthographical infelicity” for “typo” needs to write a piece for the site! What’s on your mind? Did your father ever actually thrash you for something you wore, or threatened to wear?

  14. Herringbone Tweed | March 16, 2013 at 11:05 am |


    Thanks for the invitation, but I’m afraid that my poor typing would result in even more egregious errata.

    As far as thrashing goes, I was wise enough never to provide him with the opportunity

  15. HT,

    I wear Gucci loafers and I also have “indisputable credentials”

    Mayflower descendent (check)
    Leaders in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (check)
    Family founded Dartmouth (check)
    Family founded several cities in New England (check)
    I could go on and on, but my point is this… Just because you and daddy didn’t like bit loafers, doesn’t mean those that do lack taste and pedigree.

  16. Half Windsor | March 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm |


    The have no place in a traditional gentleman’s wardrobe not because HT and his father didn’t like them, but because they are an Italian combination of a woman’s shoe and a bedroom slipper.

  17. A.E.W. Mason | March 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

    @HT and Mr.

    Okay, we get it. You guys planned this, right? It’s a joke. Two guys arguing on an Ivy League Website about who’s more WASPY. I think you two gentlement are trying to remind us all that merely participating in such a forum diminishes our WASPOSITY quotient.

    But I can get into the spirit of the thing. I say, let’s let Muffy Aldrich, OBE, decide. Did you see her post wherein she pictured the letters from her friend who mocks her blog. Now, see, that chap’s a real WASP in spirit and in deed; well, probably. And, we now know Mrs. Aldrich has a sense of humor about this stuff, and herself, to boot. So, she should decide: Who is more WASPY, HT, or Mr.?

  18. You all make me wish I was a WASP!

  19. @A.E.W Mason,

    Muffy wears bit loafers… But then again she’s Prep… 😉

  20. A.E.W. Mason | March 17, 2013 at 10:39 am |


    Very astute observation, and one which would suggest she has a conflict of interest in judging the matter. On the other hand, one could argue Half Windor’s point to the effect that there is no conflict because she’s a woman and could still be objective as to whether or not it is WASPY for a male to wear bit loafers.

    Well, I’ll leave to you gentlemen. After all, we have bigger problems. Our host just revealed that Brooks Brothers has committed suicide.

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