Women’s Day: What I Learned From Penelope Witherspoon

Today, on International Women’s Day, Ivy Style pays tribute to an iconic character from preppy cinema.  

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Back when Caroline was learning from Sloane how to navigate the intermediate to upper courses of adult life and communications, I had Penelope Witherspoon from Trading Places (1983) to teach me the ropes.

Although she overlooks certain details and ends up with a man called Todd in the end, through her example I learned that there are definite lines not to be crossed when it comes to interacting with the less fair sex. And while the film — in which former Ralph Lauren model Kristin Darnell plays Penelope — could never be made today, it remains an artifact from which much can still be applied to the current dating scene. Namely, how to deal with your beloved fiancé being jailed, fired, accused of embezzlement, and revealed as a drug dealer who wears polyester — all within the span of 48 hours. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment from anyone.

Always look stunning, especially when your fiancé has bravely defended his entire club from a dangerous, desperate thief, and you want him to agree to the date that Mumsey has set for your engagement party. All he cares about is those stupid old crop reports. Can’t he see that you are more important?

Red flag: a man should never be caught with his pants down by his own butler, particularly when your uncles are paying for the house and the service.

Should you have to bail out your fiancé in person, he should at least have the decency to not to get into a fight beforehand, and certainly not to smell. These things can be dealt with, however when he puts you through the shame of waiting in a police station while being gawked at… Well, make sure you have your travel sized Eau Sauvage and a handkerchief in your bag to throw at him on your way out.

Always have the last look, and make sure it chills the creep to the bone. Don’t forget, you wanted to have his children and breastfeed them!

You and your friends are glowing from doubles at the club, and you’re all being charmingly serenaded a capella about your recent indiscretions; life has moved on and it’s just like the old days! What right does your ex fiancé have to show up and embarrass you? Wearing madras and sneakers around Christmas? And to ask for money, no less? Todd can only handle so much. Your ex plainly didn’t get it the first time, so you’ll have to tell him again. His membership expired last month, anyway.

Kristin Darnell (née Holby) was born in Oslo, Norway, and gained notoriety as a model for Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and Chanel before being recruited by Ralph Lauren. With only two film credits on record, she recently reappeared in the documentary Very Ralph (2019). Following her high fashion editorial experiences in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Darnell describes the relief of her fresh and unstudied style in the early Ralph Lauren ads. As Penelope in “Trading Places,” her ivory dinner gown may be a bit much these days, but ruffle necks and tennis whites are forever. All us Ivy-Style girls can only aspire to looking as good as Darnell does now, or even as she did then.—  ZG BURNETT

14 Comments on "Women’s Day: What I Learned From Penelope Witherspoon"

  1. elder prep | March 8, 2021 at 6:34 pm |

    The jawline, complexion, the brows, lips, hair . . . she has it all. No matter what she wears and for whom, she’s timeless and she’s not even smiling.

  2. Elder prep

    Who cares about eyebrows?


  3. SouthsidePreppy | March 8, 2021 at 7:36 pm |

    Will aka SackSuit

    Eyebrows you ask?

    Let’s just say it politely as we can… grooming ones body hair is always sexy and a sign of refinement.

  4. Southside

    It’s a Costanza quote from Seinfeld. And, without getting too spicy, I agree, well shorn body hair is best.



  5. Thanks, ZG. Too many thoughts to share–particularly in this crazy sensitive, woke age. But elegantly and amusingly written piece!

  6. Charlottesville | March 9, 2021 at 10:25 am |

    A great post, Ms. Burnett, and Kristin Clotilde Darnell is indeed and very beautiful woman. Those RL ads from the 80s were downright gorgeous, and she played a big part in that.

  7. Kristin is Norwegian? Should’ve known. She is stunning.

    Best Regards,


  8. You are right a movie like that cannot be made today. What a pity.

  9. AtlantaPete | March 9, 2021 at 3:18 pm |

    She turns 70 this year. My how time flies.

  10. I think the 80’s was the height of attractiveness for women.

  11. The 90s were not kind to anyone as far as ‘fashion’ was concerned. Sadly, some of what became mainstream then proliferated and remains with us.

    Best Regards,


  12. I had just entered high school when those Ralph Lauren ads featuring Kristin or “Clotilde” were launched. They were enormously influential then and have aged well. As Coco Chanel said, simplicity is the key note of elegance.

    And, yes, what a shame that the excellent “Trading Places” could not be made today! I think it is one of the best comedies to come out of the’80s.

  13. elder prep | March 15, 2021 at 7:30 pm |

    A final comment on brows, the first post on this topic. Ask any woman how best to accent her most important facial feature, her eyes, and she will invariably mention her brows.

  14. She used to have a dress shop in Larchmont called Clotilde. Unfortunately, never made it there before it permanently closed.

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