Tribal Factions: The WASP vs. The Trad

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 2010 issue of Esquire weighed 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 interchangeable.

What’s probably not interchangeable would be splicing this layout into the current issue. — CC

33 Comments on "Tribal Factions: The WASP vs. The Trad"

  1. Maybe I’ve been wrong about all this all along, but I couldn’t disagree more with their characterization of “wasp.” True preps still love J. Press. They still avoid flashiness, and they still value worn-in and old over shiny and new as a status symbol; discreetness is still a major part of the true prep’s attitude and lifestyle. It seems to me that their “wasp” character is more of a combination of new money New York and European jet set.

  2. David – I couldn’t agree more and because of your comments, I’m going to re-watch British Style Genius.

  3. Esquire of today, as compared to the heydays of Arnold Gingrich, George Frazier, et. al., is a piece of crap.

  4. Someone needs to forward a copy of “The Official Preppy Handbook” to the editors of Esquire. It’s closer to the truth and a hell of a lot wittier to boot (or loafer,as the case may be).

  5. Personally, I don’t give a hang about whether a particular look is Trad, Ivy, Preppy, or WASP–as long as it looks good, I’m all for it.

    Which is why I eschew patch anything and GTH pants.

  6. The pictures tell it all. Trad is pre-Vatican II Catholic and WASP is, well, WASP (and technically an offshoot of Trad). Most people on the streets might not recognize the difference but it’s pretty huge. (First guy above could be an Anglican country club type and second guy is Notre Dame all the way.)

    Arnold Gingrich Esquire was 100% Trad. Esquire now? Raunchy, flashy and crude. Anti-Trad.

  7. Trad to the Core | February 15, 2010 at 8:13 am |

    It seems to me that the WASP/Trad distinction is not to be dismissed lightly. As a social scientist I am more than aware that a broad umbrella-type category subsuming WASP and Trad would not reflect reality: The fact that are are some ovelaps between the two does not mean that the two categories are identical. Originally, WASP was a category based on class (social group), whereas Trad was based on class (quality).
    There are many items of WASP apparel (like go-to-hell trousers) that a Trad would not be caught dead wearing, as he would find them ostentatious, if not juvenile. Similarly, some items of Trad apparel would seem too staid to many WASPS. Trads find WASPS to be superficial. WASPS consider Trads to be fuddy-duddies.

  8. Buckley wasn’t, by definition, a WASP; he fails on 1/3 of the definition.

  9. Trad to the Core: What are the historical documents pertaining to “Trad based on class (quallity)”?

    I was unaware that “Trad” was a group of people identified by social scientists.

  10. That second guy looks really mad that they put him in Dockers and Prada loafers.

  11. Mr. “Trad” above looks not unlike Giuseppe from AAW.

    He’s probably upending tables because they made him wear new clothes which cost a helluva lot more (and probably aren’t any better looking) than the thrift store finds he usually dons.

    And I’m also surprised they posed Mr. “WASP” with a vintage 10 speed. God forbid a “true” WASP would get his hands dirty with anything–for some odd reason, WASP 101 comes to mind…

  12. This article was not written by authorities on the
    subject to begin with.
    “Your collar looks like it could use some
    popping?” no doubt said by many in the
    ridiculous world of hip hop prep mix and matching,
    and so ignorant are the authors of this article
    they think the observations of wannabe “preps”
    are observations of what modern day WASP is.
    That’s how bad it is now. The “wannabe” crowd
    have taken it upon themselves to claim
    they are what WASP and or TRAD means today.
    Upperclass celebration of America within
    America is loooooong gone, as far as being
    the base of our culture. With it goes the
    knowledge of what WASP/TRAD really was.
    Or is.

  13. Michael_Mattis | February 15, 2010 at 9:01 pm |

    I know a lot if white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants who are not only not trad, but would associate Tradsville with Squaresville.

  14. I love the categorizations, which are basically made up by “trendspotters”, as heard from czyx who were told what to say by “trendsetters”, and which the insecure adopt because it’s scary to think for yourself. And in this case by people who probably think black jeans, Chucks, and t-shirts are a good look, and a blazer means you’re “all dressed up”

    Reminds me too much of the comments at “The Sartorialist” website: “love that, is it trendy now?”

  15. Ralph Kinney Bennet had trouble posting a comment and asked me to do it. Voila:

    Jinx’s points, and Christian’s, too (re the “silliness” of WASP vs. Trad) are well taken. Good traditional dressing has a life of its own, — quite secure, quite comfortable with itself and heedless of labels.

    There is a certain attitude toward dress and comportment that endures. It is centered on a certain aesthetic quality (the original class that makes further expressions of it “classical”) and an intuition that good manners and civility are their own reward.

    This attitude does not need to be celebrated. It just is. In dress particularly it transcends mere “fashion” because it is rooted in long-learned truths about durability, practicality, functionality and the apt and happy form that flows from it.

    The result is clothing that imparts to the wearer an extraordinary feeling of well-being and assurance. Attach to it whatever label you wish, the sartorial expression of this attitude is always recognized as something apart, even by those who don’t quite understand what they are seeing. But for those who grasp the thing, a certain well-worn tweed, a rep bow or pair of loafers might as well be a secret handshake.

    This cachet may be misunderstood, parodied, or even ridiculed by various and sundry “class voyeurs,” faddists and purveyors of the politics of resentment. It may be abused (there are, regretfully, many boors, trimmers and, to use an old Anglo-Saxon term – assholes – in nice natural shoulder blazers and Brooks Brothers button downs). But, in the end, this style of dress is impervious to babble and calumny. It has its own peculiar and almost sublime authority. And, yes, even its own whimsy. It has stood the test of time. It will endure. And those who know it know it.


  16. Christian, is there any way you can park Mr Bennet’s
    comments in your top drawer section for all to
    This particular explanation says it all within a few
    paragraphs.A perfect summary for so many FAQ’s.
    The last paragraph especially.

  17. I think Ralph’s post raises more questions than it answers. The barbarians laid siege to Rome decades ago. I’m one of them.

  18. I think that these two characters exist within the same world – if trads are more professorial and WASPs youthful, then I would imagine it goes something like this: WASPs go to the Ivy League; get Ivy clothes which they mix with WASP clothes; eventually become a professor at the university and become a trad because they can’t let go of tradition, mixing their WASP, Ivy, and now J. Press professor clothes all in one. It’s one life divided into stages, really. That’s how I see it anyway.


  19. “We came to Rome not to destroy, but to adapt and adopt, and to emulate. Some siege. It turned out the gates were open.”

    Brilliantly stated (and the spirit behind Ralph Lauren).

  20. I’ve got to admit that I kinda love that we’ve applied Genealogy of Morals to men’s fashion.

  21. Esquire’s WASP looks too nouveau riche, and Esquire’s Trad looks too much like an angry professor.

  22. What I think is that: Wasp & preppy cover a lot. Ivy, not as much. Trad is pretty damn specific.

  23. Thomas Hart | August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm |

    I think, to a certain extent, that many (though not all) the WASPs who still have great fortune really should be counted in the New York/jet set group. As a side note, someone really should publish a new social history of these types of people. I haven’t come across anything other than Baltzell or Birmingham from the 60’s.

  24. Johnny Reb | May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm |

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Jinx. And Christian, I don’t know if you see comments on old posts, but if you do, could you add more to the WASPdom category? It’s my favorite.

  25. All constructs of the modern ad age, these categories have little if nothing to do with each other. You could basically say that anyone who thinks about these categories anywhere – outside of a conversation attempting an anthropological study of society in the US and other English speaking countries in the 20th Century – is not part of any of them.

    No prep, Ivy or trad would waste their time with this. They are too concerned about their studies, crew practice, the next chess tournament (if prep), or their next lecture, examination, essay due (if Ivy) or the next client they need to attend to after lunch (if a trad), to worry about fitting a clothing echelon that people here seem to think has a kind of uniformity.

    If anything prep style is so far from Ivy that it should never be associated with it. Trad again, comes from a completely different philosophy, and is grounded in the real world of working men. Ivy means little to either preps or trads, as most if not many preps and trads did not spend (or waste) their time at an Ivy, and have no intention on studying or “being” Ivy, like it seems a lot of other people curiously are.

  26. Richard W. Richards | July 31, 2019 at 12:11 am |

    I’m pretty clear about the difference between Trad and Preppy.
    Not so sure that there is a style that can be labelled WASP.
    Does the label Ivy/Ivy League style mean much today?
    Is it half-way between Trad and Preppy?

  27. To complicate matters even further, most of the older people I like/admire refer to the look in question as “Joe College.” They graduated from college during either the Truman or Eisenhower presidencies. If style icons mattered at all to this crowd, the list probably included Cary Grant, Astaire, and Jimmy Stewart.

    Related: no Ivy Style post (as of yet) on latter-day Jimmy Stewart–as in the “Hawkins” (television program) era. Stewart defied early 70s (read: repugnant) style– he was sack suited and repp tied, and he traded the pinned collared shirts for button-downed oxfords.

  28. Vern Trotter | July 31, 2019 at 9:17 am |

    I was in one of NYC’s better restaurants a few nights ago: The River Cafe, underneath the Brooklyn bridge on the East river, Brooklyn side. About 50 men wore coats, house policy, but no neckties. About 10 wore coats and ties including yours truly. I wore a Vintage Brooks navy blazer, Mercer OCBD, gray slacks, Bass Weejuns, and J Press club tie with hippopotami. None of the others were Ivy or Trad. An older crowd, average about 55.

  29. whiskeydent | July 31, 2019 at 9:53 am |

    The distinctions between Ivy, trad and preppy are indistinct. I find the discussions and the various broad generalizations and stereotype about class and culture to be tedious, too.

    However, someone who currently dresses Ivy/trad/preppy is sending observers a message: I am my own man, and I choose to wear a uniquely American style that transcends your trivial fashions and fads.

  30. There is a kind of reverse snobbery or stigma in using the elitist terms “preppy,” “Ivy,” “trad” or “collegiate” at Brooks Brothers.

    Brooks Brothers is the most traditional, all-American, classic menswear retailer in the United States so it’s kind of ironic that they take this stance.

  31. Grey Flannels | August 1, 2019 at 12:24 am |

    I was surprised to read your assertion that “Brooks Brothers is the most traditional, all-American, classic menswear retailer in the United States“. I would argue that that title belongs to O’Connell’s, The Andover Shop, or J. Press.

  32. By current standards one could argue that this is a gross, racist, characterization of Caucasian Protestants. Lol. Imagine the back lash if you were to apply the the same level of cartoon generalization to any other group.

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