Searching For The P In WASP

At some point in the 1980s, I was working in Manhattan and overheard a conversation between two fellows from another borough discussing one of my business associates, whose unlikely given name was Win, possibly short for Winston.

“Win? Who knows anybody named Win?” asked the first. The other guy noted that he had discovered this new category of humanity called “Protestants,” whose folkways, including naming conventions, apparently differed from his own and those of his companion. This information was received with good humor, but some puzzlement. “I know Cath’lics and I know Jews, but [WTF] are Protestants?” Excellent question. Let’s take a stab at answering it. This shouldn’t take long.

As most people know, 500 years ago this year Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg and began the Protestant Reformation. Although, according to Eric Metaxas, writing in The Wall Street Journal, Luther probably did not actually post his theses on that night of October 31, 1517. It may have been at any time up to a month or so later. And he may have just handed them to the sexton or someone to post, among the other humdrum writings that were regularly tacked to the church door for public notice “next to a flyer for a missing cat,” as Mr. Metaxas puts it. And he may have used paste rather than nails, which is quieter and not very dramatic. Still, the important thing to keep in mind is that up until 500 years ago, there were no Protestants, and therefore no WASPs with names like “Win.”

I told you this wouldn’t take long.

But that can’t be the whole story. For starters, Wittenberg is in Germany, isn’t it? Germany may have Saxons, but I don’t think they have Anglo-Saxons. You have to go to England to find those. So I suppose that WASPs didn’t come along at least until Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce, arguably history’s least auspicious beginning for a church. Maybe the appearance of the first WASPs dates to the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which separated the English church from Rome. Or to Henry’s excommunication by the Pope. Or possibly a decade or two later with the revised Book of Common Prayer, when Thomas Cranmer crammed an extra dollop of Reform theology into the new English liturgy. But then there was that nasty back-and-forth episode involving Queen Mary, which didn’t end so well for poor Bishop Cranmer. At least by the time of Queen Elizabeth, the first one that is, I think most Anglo-Saxons were more or less Protestant. I mean that’s why they call it the Anglican Church, right?

Okay. Let’s begin again. Glossing over a few dates here and there, at least we can agree that without Martin Luther in Germany and some messy stuff in England, at some point around 500 years ago, more or less, portions of which may admittedly have been a bit gruesome and involved some unsavory characters interspersed among the saints, we would not have Protestants in England, where Anglo-Saxons come from. There. And without Protestants in England there would be no Protestants in New England. And without Protestants in New England, there would be no WASPs. And without WASPs, there would be no hands permanently grafted to G&Ts, no shirts with collars so floppy that they have to be held down with buttons, no ties emblazoned with colorful pictures of edible waterfowl, and no wide-wale corduroys embroidered with crossed tennis rackets. And then where would we all be?

So let us now contemplate the WASP wardrobe, partially summarized as follows in “Preppies: The Last Upper Class?” by Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr. in the January 1979 issue of the Atlantic Monthly:

LL Bean boots, Top-Sider moccasins, tasseled loafers; pure wool socks, black silk socks, no socks; baggy chinos, baggy brick-red or lime or yellow or pink or Pulitzer trousers, baggy Brooks Brothers trousers, baggy boxer underpants; shirts of blue, pink, yellow, or striped Oxford, sometimes buttoned down, some made for a collar pin, usually from Brooks or J. Press or The [name of town or college] Shop; jackets of tweed, corduroy, poplin, seersucker with padless shoulders, a loose fit around the waist, and (if tweed) a muddy pattern…

Who could ask for more? So let us give thanks for the great WASP wardrobe and the WASPs who wore it. Like William F. Buckley, Jr., Jack Kennedy, Jacobi Press, Ralph Lauren and… wait a second. None of them are actually WASPs. How about Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook? No? Hmmm. Prince Charles maybe? Who could be more white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant than the Prince of Wales? I mean, have you seen him?  Unfortunately, it looks like the Windsors changed their name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1917 to something, well, a little less German. Fair enough. Not the first immigrants to change the family name to pass among the locals. There’s a good chap. Let’s not mention it again.

There must be some real WASPs somewhere. In browsing through my bottomless supply of useless ephemera, I come across an Ivy League heyday era Holiday magazine, dated December 1956. In it is an article by John Knowles about Phillips Exeter Academy, styled, “A Naturally Superior School.” This should be good. Who could be more WASPy than John “A Separate Peace” Knowles and what spot on Earth could be preppier than Exeter? And the phrase “naturally superior” just drips with WASPy privilege and condescension. I can almost see him peering at me over the top of a pair of tortoiseshell half-glasses as I nervously shift my weight from one cordovan loafer to the other and wonder if he can tell I attended a public high school. The text notes the ubiquitous “gray flannels or chino trousers with odd jackets” that is practically a uniform for the students. The pictures show tweedy teens in ties strolling through a leafy, redbrick simulacrum of Eton and Harrow. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about. And yet, alongside names like Plimpton, Trafton, Saltonstall, and John Foster Dulles appear Antonio Olivieri and Joung Won Kim.

Well, what else does my ancient Holiday have to offer? This looks promising: “South Carolina” by William Francis Guess. “Guess” sounds pretty darn WASPy, doesn’t it? And spelling out all three names is only half a shade less preppy than first name, two middle initials, last name and a Roman numeral. Mr. Guess shares with us his impressions of that lovely southern state from the grand houses of Charleston on the coast, west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and concludes that —  this must be a misprint. He appears to say that the midcentury cotton factory workers of Greenville comprise “the purest Anglo-Saxon stock in the world.” Salt of the Earth and all that, but I’m not sure that a Free Will Baptist mill hand in Appalachia is what most of us think of when someone says WASP. They may have made oxford cloth, but I doubt many of them wore repp ties and navy blazers while they were doing it. Still, I suppose, technically speaking, he’s right. After all, our WASPy old friend Mr. Knowles was born in West Virginia coal country.

So returning to clothes, if I may, to be scrupulously honest, madras and seersucker originated in India and “khaki” is an Indian word for dirt-colored; Shetland sweaters and Harris Tweed are Scottish; Weejuns came from Norway; and I don’t see how WASPS can claim Irish Poplin either. Even gin started in Holland. I’m an Episcopalian and regularly wear most of the stuff on Mr. Aldrich’s list, but my father’s first American ancestor, no doubt having gotten wind of what happened to the unfortunate Mr. Cranmer, legged it from Spain to get away from the Inquisition and wound up in New Amsterdam. Possibly, he picked up some gin in Old Amsterdam on the way, so that is at least arguably WASPy. And my Virginia mother’s antecedents came from Germany to try to scratch out a living in what was then sovereign English territory. Just like Prince Charles’ folks, now that I think about it.

It turns out that this is not as easy as I thought it would be. What does the P in WASP stand for anyway? Maybe Metaxas knows something. He writes, “Luther opened the door for the creation of thousands of new churches under dozens of denominations, Lutheran among them. In the coming centuries, this attitude would help elevate the concepts of religious pluralism, tolerance, democracy and freedom.”

Pluralism, tolerance, democracy and freedom. I know there is more to it, but that doesn’t sound so bad. So thank you, Martin Luther, Henry Tudor, and St. Thomas Cranmer. Thank you Mr. Knowles, Mr. Plimpton, Mr. Saltonstall and all of those Carolina mill hands. And also thank you Messrs. Windsor, Buckley, Kennedy, Press, Lauren, Olivieri and Kim, Ms. Birnbach, Mom, Dad and the rest of us WASPs by adoption. Maybe we can all relish our WASP heritage, wherever it, and we, actually come from. Let’s toast to that. Mine’s a large G&T.  — CHARLOTESVILLE

65 Comments on "Searching For The P In WASP"

  1. This wasn’t a bad narrative of the protestant journey. Of course the English separation from Rome was a good deal more complicated than Henry’s need for divorce. Luther’s thinking and the attitude of the English toward Rome were somewhat contemporaneous. I always think people overlook at just how important -and contrary- the Puritans were. They left England to escape the Romish aspects and persecution of the Anglican church so I view them as the most hardcore protestants. Their severe dress and settlement in New England probably manifests itself today in the unlined button down collar. All in all a good piece.

  2. As much as people do not want to admit, the true WASP would including the so-called “hillbillies” all across the South from Virginia to East Texas. White, most tracing their roots back to the British Isles, and all Protestant.
    My late father, who was blue-collar who entire life, dressed like a banker, lawyer outside of work. He insisted his children attend university, and didn’t care if we worked as a ditch digger, but to him an education was important in life.
    Now, he wasn’t the traditional Southern WASP. But that “branch” of WASPs exsists.

  3. I think Brookhiser’s “The Way of the Wasp” explains the differences between roman numeral-type WASPs and the Elvis Presley kind.

    I’m related to Elvis in that respect.

  4. Most of the “hillbilly” people of Appalachia are descended from Scots, and their Scottish ancestors would have hated to be referred to as Anglo-Saxons, or as they would likely have put it, sassenachs.

    The Scots-Irish people were expelled from Scotland and the extreme north of England during two rather brutal forced population movements, referred to as “the pacification of the Border” and “the Highland clearances”. Many of them went straight to the New World, mostly to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Many were settled first in Northern Ireland, and some of them later made their way to the New World (hence the “Scots-Irish” designation).

    It should be noted that the Highlanders and Borderers (along with the Ulstermen) were Western Europe’s last true barbarians: with segmentary lineage tribal societies, and warrior cultures, the likes of which currently thrives only in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the Highlands of New Guinea. The British authorities’ idea to pacify the Ulstermen by settling the Borderers and Highlanders among them was one of the most bone-headed policy decisions ever made. Northern Ireland has had centuries of Troubles as a result.

  5. WhollyRoamin | December 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm |

    As a dyed-in-the-Polyester Papist, I’d like to ultracrepidate on this for a moment. I mean this in the best spirit of ornery polemics.

    Protestantism’s choose-for-yourself ethos of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20 be damned?) and rejection of authority could have only been possible in the political disorganization of Germany in the late Holy Roman Empire (spare us your Voltaire quotes), and enables the Joie de Amérique of rugged individualism and the “Don’t Tread On Me” of the 1775 Philadelphia Marines.

    It was that same Sola-Scriptura-as-supreme-authority ideal that made Adam Smith’s economy possible, because no prince or pope could guide the invisible hand. Interestingly, Smith considered the religious revival of the European and Anglo-American Great Awakening to be evidence of competition in the marketplace of salvation. An interesting thought, since there is only one seller of salvation, and it’s the Almighty God, and his shops are the confessional booth and the altar rail, not the revival tent and the Crock Pot buffet. And if you’ll *indulge* me for another thought– only a Protestant could conceive of the idea of a “marketplace of salvation”.

    Still though, the studied indifference of a crewneck sweater covering your club tie could only be possible in a religious milieu that says “there are rules and I don’t care about them” (very modern-Protty), but it could only be popular in a further milieu that says “I really do care about them a lot”. John Knox would be so proud.

    The conformism and social canon of the Ivy Style and its associated WASP life is such a deeply Catholic worldview, but that it need to appear to challenge that worldview (the somewhat-inappropriate-to-the-settingness of it all) is so Protestant. But that it tries to challenge the appropriateness from within is so Catholic. That proper New England families shouldn’t show any of that challenge is so Protestant. That people love asking “Is this Go-To-Hell hoverboard Ivy?” on this group is the definition of canonical Catholic (Latin, 3rd declension dative singular, canōnī)– that there even *is* a canon is so Catholic– but the way that people end up shrugging their soft shoulders and say “do what you like, man” is only possible in a country where there are 20,000 different variations of Protestant Christian churches (look it up).

    In the end, Luther almost certainly didn’t nail the 95 theses to the Wittenberg door. And if he did, it wouldn’t have caused a stir anyway. Professor Paul Gregory of (wait for it) Notre Dame University last week gave a lecture at the Catholic school where I teach, and touched on this very thing: The Theses were 2 columns of very small, very dense font, making somewhat arcane complaints about ecclesiastical practice– and they were entirely printed in Latin. Do you think the denizens of early-16th-Century central Europe stopped trick-or-treating long enough to become literate in a language, much less disputes on scriptural and sacramental theology?

    Of course not. They had to get off to the Harvard/Yale football game, where they’d eventually pour out of Harvard Stadium singing the old hymn of Crimson Football “That’s alright, that’s ok/You non-Puritans will burn in Hell one day”.

    Who puts the P in WASPs? Certainly not Catholics, whom, everyone knows, aren’t supposed to put their P in a Protestant. But it is the Protestants who deeply want to be Catholics (in my experience, the Catholics who want to be Protestants wear Hawaiian shirts) who secretly pine for the catechetical value of a 4-in-hand and the glory of center-vent sack suit– truly the cappa magna of High Church Ivy. Catholics fondly remember the glory of the Missa Cantata the same way trads remember when Brooks made jackets that came down far enough, and say they really did prefer the “lowest of the low Masses” (whatever that means) like a seventh grader wears a Chipp tie to 9:30 service at the Upper-Norfolk Presbyterian Church– privately, and hoping their grandmother doesn’t notice.

    Here I take my stand. I can choose no other.

  6. No more prickly, nor more enjoyable – in my opinion – topic than the religious component to that great, big mess of an American family that we all are. My own family tree has ‘high Episcopalians’, Southern Baptists, Catholics and converts between all of the above. And I went and married a Presbyterian, so there you go.

    One fun little aside: during my junior year abroad, the big news from my stateside Jesuit campus was that a group of students pushing for certain administrative and curriculum changes had, in the middle of the night, nailed their ‘demands’ to the heavy oak door of the alumni chapel. Whether or not they were theology students, I can’t remember. But I thought then, as now, that their act was very clever.

  7. True story: friend is in a wedding party, and is seated on the dais next to an extremely attractive blonde; he chats her up during the course of the reception, and she’s amenable; at one point, however, she turns to him and says, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”; and he replies, “I’m Catholic – we don’t talk about things like that.”

  8. It’s all of a piece. Of course things can be Scottish, German, from “West Virginia coal country”, etc. and fall within the category–depending on any number of qualification and amendments. One could make a really interesting (or not) case that the roots are New England Puritan–Scottish Presbyterian and very, very Low Church Episcopalian (“haven’t received Eucharist in a year and haven’t missed it much”)– as opposed to High Church Anglicanism.

    It’s likely Baltzell had certain character traits in mind as he developed the sociology that underlies the acronym. His works confirm as much. His follow-up book includes scathing indictments of what he judges to be a lack of WASPY(ish)ness in the culture. He gets into specifics.

    You know them when you see (and hear) them. Again, I think it’s all of a piece. Amateur-but-robust athleticism, outdoorsiness, aversion to cities (filth, grime, pollution), a certain reserve, reverse snobbery when it comes to food and drink (“Keep your single malts, I’ll have a Dewar’s”), public support of-yet abiding suspicion of the arts, a particular sort of formal modesty that correlates beautifully with tweed sack coats, wrinkly oxfords, and old penny loafers. The culture has become so obviously non-WASP that any given combination of the traits appears countercultural. Because it is.

    There are good reasons why the WASPy among us fair so poorly in business, politics and the arts. This merits another piece by ‘Charlottesville.” And we’re left to wonder: is the relationship between the style (clothing) and the character accidental or superficial, or is there something greater/deeper at work?

  9. Props to WhollyRoamin for writing the best comment I’ve ever read on Ivy style – and, perhaps, the internet.

    Were you to write a whole book on the subject, I’d be the first to preorder it.Your grasp of the paradoxical nature of WASPdom is enviable. As one who was raised by ex-papists (New Orleans style Catholicism) in the southern evangelical tradition, I cannot think of any religious ethos more anathema to the WASP social order. My pastors worse flip flops and board shorts on stage – a far cry from repp ties and blazers.

    Still, here am I, absolutely drawn to lovable illusion of WASP culture and history.

  10. Charlottesville | December 21, 2017 at 3:08 pm |

    Paul — Funny story. An Episcopal author recently said to a group (which included my wife) that she knew that Episcopalians are not comfortable with questions like “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” but, she went on, she was from Mississippi “where the question is on the SAT.” One of my former law partners used to say that he came from so far back in the hills that “even the Episcopalians handled snakes.” There are lots of cultural differences even among us “frozen chosen” and lots of room for humor at our own expense.

    At any rate, I hope people do not take the above tongue-in-cheek piece too seriously. It was not intended as history, theology or social commentary, but simply as a lighthearted reflection on WASP stereotypes on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s famous theses. My “research,” as indicated, was confined to thumbing through a couple of old magazines one Saturday afternoon, a bit of Googling for dates, and some hazy memories, so I defer to the superior knowledge of others on weightier matters of church history. I hope my fellow commenters enjoy it, and that all have a very merry Christmas. And I know that we are all looking forward to whatever Christian may have up his sleeve for this site in 2018.

  11. 2018 will mark 10 years of Ivy Style.

    Christian is going to have to do some viewer fundraising…

  12. @Charlottesville: I laughed out loud at your two anecdotes. And the first person I’ll relay them to is a friend who is FFV on his mother’s side (nee Turner, Northampton Co., grandfather HSC), but who converted when he married his wife who is of Filipino descent, and very conservative Catholic. She, to bring this tale full-circle, was Phi Beta Kappa at Mr. Jefferson’s university!

  13. Among the theological origins of the WASP the
    central influence of Calvinism was omitted.
    This creed was foundational in the development
    of New England Puritanism from which WASP
    culture eventually emerged. Here’s Wikipedia’s
    Puritans by definition were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England’s tolerance of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and, in that sense, were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents), but they also took note of radical criticisms of Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva. In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. These separatist and independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a Presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church.

  14. Charlottesville | December 21, 2017 at 4:38 pm |

    Christian — Congratulations on 10 years of a great website. Does fundraising mean we all need to buy another Ivy-Style tie and belt? 🙂

    Paul — Your friend’s wife sounds like quite the accomplished Hoo. Best wishes to her from her old stomping grounds. One more story regarding the Episco-Catholic connection, if I may. Very dear friends of mine and my wife’s “swam the Tiber” a few years ago and converted to the RCC. Nothing odd so far. But, he was also an Episcopal priest. Under a special dispensation from Pope Benedict, he was not only received into the Catholic Church but is now a Catholic priest in a parish in Arizona. Probably the only RC priest in Phoenix with a wife and six children. Oddly, because of similar parental conversions, all of my godchildren and everyone I have sponsored in baptism as Episcopalians are now practicing Catholics. Not sure what my secret is, but the RCC should consider paying me a bounty.

  15. Joe Alexander | December 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm |

    White Anglo-Saxon Papist

  16. I’ll venture a guess that a generally Fogey mentality is at work, and somehow, this particular brand of Fogeyness is connected to the “P” in WASP. This might inspire a fun game of “Who’s more Fogey?” or “What’s more Fogey?” We have a Millennial Fogey among us–interesting that he picked that as a username. One encounters the type in certain circles. Fountain pen cognoscente,* choral music (especially Tallis and Byrd) aficionados, pipe collectors. etc. They’re out there. If Trad-leaning clothiers are going to make anything resembling a go of it–well, they had better know their audience. No longer can they rely upon the habits of the Heyday generation. Embrace the Fogey, whatever the denomination.

    *Especially Esterbrook collectors; not entirely sure why

  17. With all these “ancestry” DNA kits now offered, likely that a lot of folks who formerly thought (or hoped) they were old WASP got quite the surprise when the Sicilian/Lebanese/Polish percentages showed up.

    And remember that a lot of Protestantism was protesting sending so much money to Rome and it’s representatives.

  18. “Oh, Winthorpe! I’m glad your parents are not alive to see this.”

  19. @Charlottesville

    I apologize for failing to mention how much I enjoyed the essay that gave rise to the comment. As always, it’s a joy to have a gentleman of your knowledge and temperament around.

  20. @ Charlottesville,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. In retrospect, I believe I have enjoyed fairly much everything you write on this wonderful web address. Your comments are consistently polite, well thought out, and when intended, very informative. Your writing speaks well for you, and for your locale. I look forward as always to your continued commentary and the occasional essay. Cheers.

    The Concord Diaspora

  21. Great read, from one (Calvinist) Episcopalian to another.

  22. SE: We’re out there. I pass my business card out whenever I attend a Tridentine Mass.
    Side-note: swam the Tiber a few years ago immediately prior to the Jefferts-Schori régime. Still hold much fondness for classical Anglicanism as well as the Reformed tradition, taking Augustine as my confirmation name. Although that was mainly because his motto was mine through college: “Lord, give me chastity. But do not give it to me yet.”

  23. The two main components of what we think of as WASP style: British and Yiddish

  24. “White-Anglo-Saxon” never made sense to me. If you’re “Anglo-Saxon”, you are already white by definition. Instead, “W” should stand for “wealthy”. Then it makes sense, and under this definition, types like “rednecks” and “hillbillies” can not be considered “wasps”. You’re not a real wasp, unless you’re (at least somewhat) wealthy.

  25. Down Tradden | December 22, 2017 at 4:42 am |

    Wake up and smell the stench of reality. Wasps exist and they will sting wanabees on their bare, sockless ankles.

  26. Down Tradden | December 22, 2017 at 5:03 am |

    @ Mac McConnell.

    An interesting read maybe. But a wayward reading of history. The original rednecks were the white indentured slaves whose necks became reddened as they did their fieldwork under the urging of the crackers whose whips made sure those rednecks didn’t slack.

  27. Richard Meyer | December 22, 2017 at 5:45 am |

    If you are looking for the P in Protestant, don’t forget that most African-Americans are Protestants.

  28. @Charlottesville: you are clearly due some sort of finders fee from Rome!

    When my well-to-do Episcopalian grandmother brought her working-class, Irish Catholic boyfriend to her church in the 1930s, the rector said, “What are you doing bring that harp in here?”

    When I first started taking my now-wife to an Episcopal service, she said, “Boy this looks, sounds and smells a lot like a Catholic mass.”, Which, to a girl raised as a Presbyterian, is probably about right.

    Nothing, though, tops the memory of going with my maternal grandparents to their Baptist church for a full-immersion baptism right there in the sanctuary: lots of black ladies in big hats; parishioners of every race and age “testifying” spontaneously; etc.

    I clearly love all this stuff. It’s such a big part of who we are, not only spiritually but culturally and regionally and everything else.

  29. Oh, and one more story from me too, Charlottesville, regarding “non-traditional” Catholic priests, and it’s another wedding story. Friend is getting married; his parents are divorced and his mother has re-married a man who had left the Catholic priesthood. My friend and his fiancee ask the mother’s husband to officiate at their non-denominational wedding ceremony. So far, so good. At the appointed time, however, he enters the hotel ballroom where the ceremony was being held wearing his former vestments!

    I don’t know what the rules are for this situation, but I can tell you that the group of friends I was sitting with (we were all law students at an Augustinian university at the time) started looking for places to hide when the lightning bolts came…

  30. Lawton (Wentworth no more) | December 22, 2017 at 7:15 am |

    @ Boston Bean

    I rather think that you make a jolly good point.
    There was once an old saw: “Think Yiddish, dress British”.
    An NYC thing, I suspect.
    Nothing wrong with that. Brooks came from NYC and Brooks originated the “Ivy” style. Others copied later. However, Brooks, I understand, were not Jewish. However their copyists largely were, and it was Brook’s copyists who spread and developed the style by editing it down to various (wonderful) cliches: OCBDs & Sacks ONLY!
    Can you develop a style by editing it down & not expanding it?
    Clearly yes.
    If we are talking Ivy college culture then it’s WASP.
    If we are talking “Ivy” menswear then it gets more complicated.
    What a glorious muddle!
    I embrace it.

  31. Lawton (Wentworth no more) | December 22, 2017 at 7:18 am |

    “Think Yiddish, dress British, eat Italian!”
    There were various of these.
    “Drink Irish” used to pop up too.

  32. Down Tradden | December 22, 2017 at 7:38 am |

    @ Lawton.

    “Brooks came from NYC and Brooks originated the “Ivy” style. Others copied later.”

    Without a doubt true, and without them Wasps would have been unclothed.Yet strangely this truth periodically becomes lost as perhaps much truth does. Thank you for reminding all.

    I note that you mention above the juvenile newbies to Ivy at FNB’s Talk Ivy. It is so sad to see how that place has so lost its way.

  33. “The term redneck is a derogatory term chiefly used for a rural poor white person of the Southern United States. Its usage is similar in meaning to cracker, hillbilly, and white trash. Wikipedia”

    Crackers or rednecks didn’t own slaves, a relatively few he upper middle class did as house servants. Plantations were owned by the landed gentry from England, mostly these were English WASP and a few Catholics. Financed by Wall Street WASP.

  34. Props to Charlottesville and WhollyRoamin for their respective essays (even if one is an essay-within-a-comment). I concur with the others who have said they’d read a book-length exploration of the latter’s thesis.

    Speaking of Catholic “WASP” icons, I’m surprised Fitzgerald hasn’t come up. I’d also like to submit John O’Hara to the mix.

  35. Somebody (??) once affirmed the style as an “American version of English clothing that has a certain snob appeal.” Have any among us yet improved upon this definition? Attempts at either denying, neglecting, or downplaying the inherent Anglophilia are misguided. I wonder how many trad adherents are traditionalists with a British bent in other arenas of life. Impossible to know–I type as I prepare to pick up my circa ’50s Conway Stewart fountain pen.

    Funny that restraint hasn’t been mentioned (as a uniquely WASP virtue) yet. I would think it’s close to the top of the list. I’ve been devouring The Queen (how about that Claire Foy?)–the Queen Mother’s reaction (utter shock) upon witnessing the weepy, teary eyes of her citizens during a Billy Graham crusade is priceless. Stiff upper-lip, “Get ahold yourself,” “Keep Calm” and all that. So very out of place in America right now.

  36. Shame on me for neglecting this: Well done, Charlottesville! We expect more from you -!!

  37. Charlottesville | December 22, 2017 at 9:43 am |

    Thanks for the very kind words, JDD, NDC, MRS and Paul. I am very glad that you enjoyed what I wrote. It was fun, and thanks to Christian for giving me the opportunity.

  38. Charlottesville | December 22, 2017 at 9:45 am |

    And thanks to SE and Eric as well!

  39. Thanks for the entertaining read, Charlottesville!

  40. Excellent piece WhollyRoamin. As a Papist with a Catholic lineage on both sides of my family going back centuries, I found it particularly interesting. Let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of WASP families were Catholic if you go back far enough. In fact, the spirit of St. Thomas More, St. Edmund Campion (and the other English martyrs), along with Gerard Manley Hopkins, Cardinal Newman, Evelyn Waugh and others is still alive in England today. My distant English relatives still attend Sunday Mass at their countryside parish in the south of England.

    Although there is much that I like about the WASP culture, let’s not forget that it was WASPs who butchered Native Americans and then went on to enslave millions of Africans, enjoying the fruits of free labor, while leaving a painful legacy, the effects of which are still felt in many ways today. I am not implying that other cultural / religious / ethnic groups weren’t guilty of persecution and atrocity, just that the WASP version has been particularly relevant to the American experience. Other groups had slaves and committed horrible acts, but those in power were WASPs and the country at the time was overwhelmingly Protestant.

    On a much happier and brighter note, some of my best friends in the world are WASPs. They are kind, decent people. I wish all here nothing but the merriest of Christmases and health, peace and happiness in 2018.


  41. Not to mention those large numbers of us in North America (especially in Canada) with Scottish ancestors somewhere in the background. We aren’t even Anglo-Saxons.

  42. Edit: I see that Cameron already made my point. It’s really pretty hard to be just one thing or another in North America. I say that as a French-Canadian Scottish Unitarian Jew (and those are just the pieces I know about).

  43. I’m kind of curious about those DNA tests.

  44. CJ van Schagen-Meijer | December 22, 2017 at 12:33 pm |

    A peek at the following links will provide you with some historical information regarding the origin of the term Anglo-Saxon:

    I think the term should not be taken too literally. Take note of some of the people who are certainly considered WASP’s:

    The Astors (German)

    The Roosevelts, Vanderbilts (Dutch)

    Livingston (Scottish)

    Alexander Hamilton (half French)


    CJ van Schagen-Meijer

  45. Charlottesville | December 22, 2017 at 2:03 pm |

    Glad you enjoyed it, DJP.

  46. Roamin-what college do you teach at?

  47. WhollyRoamin | December 22, 2017 at 5:52 pm |

    I teach at a middle-sized Diocesan high school, and a local, public community college.

  48. NaturalShoulder | December 22, 2017 at 7:51 pm |

    Another fantastic contribution offered by Charlottseville offering a nice respite from a long day at the office.


  49. DJP
    Slavery is a moral stain on all of the human race. Slavery was the norm in every past civilization in the World, America didn’t invent it, nor did WASP. Slavery was no more “free labor” than believing once your car is paid off transportation is free. Some might argue that the Plantation was a micro socialist system. Like a military’s expense of feeding & sheltering large groups of humans.


    Regardless of religous affiliation or none, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Enjoy your loved ones over the holidays.

  50. Gentlemen, the most apt definition of WASP is as follows: an American of Northern European, especially British ancestry and of Protestant background… member of the dominant and most privileged class of people in [America].”

    Scots, Huguenots and the Dutch fit into this category as most WASPs (especially the New York ones) have trace amounts of one or all three in their lineage.

  51. I also have to add that I very much enjoyed this piece by resident southern gentleman ‘Charlottesville’ and hope to read more by him in the new year.

    P.S. Alexander Hamilton (half Scottish)

  52. A fine post & responses.
    Purely for light entertainment, an old Catholic joke:
    Q – How many Protestants does it take to change a light bulb?
    A – It doesn’t matter as they all dwell in eternal darkness.
    Not a view I subscribe to, but jolly funny.
    Count me as a good Welsh chapel Boyo from The Mumbles!
    And a happy Christmas to all.

  53. @ Down Trodden

    We concur.
    The origins of Ivy menswear are WASP/WASP Wannabe.
    The reality of Ivy menswear is/was a patchwork quilt, and as THE American style it should be.
    I invite everybody to the party!
    And Happy Holidays to all.

  54. Kudos to Charlottesville for a valiant effort to resolve the great WASP “From whither we comest” question. Like so many “origin” questions, certain answers are shrouded in the mist of time, and others fall victim to the philosophical query “Oh, yeah, well how about them guys?” I think the NE branch is more grounded in Congregationalist and Unitarian churchings than Episcopal or Presbyterian, those being rather heavily Southern. I’m not even sure the English Anglican High Church considers itself “Protestant”, and in any event the Angle/Saxon component is only one of the mix of Britons, Romans, Danes, Normans, and whatever else trickled in through the numerous port towns and cities. Don’t even get me started on the Visigoths.

    Jack Purcell (Scottish) Floyd (Welsh).
    I think my Presbyterian and Methodist ancestors shot at each other during the Revolution, but that was less about religion than politics, and had nothing to do with natural shoulders or hook vents.

  55. As a Catholic, I’m always confused about the High and Low Church. Are they both part of the Church of England? I believe at one time in the late eighties there was talk of bringing the Church of England back in to the Catholic fold or at least closer to it.
    Like I’ve said before, the only time my Protestant friends want to talk religion is in my back swing.

  56. Charlottesville | December 24, 2017 at 10:27 am |

    Thanks for the kind words, NaturalShoulder, Mac, GS, Lawton, and NCJack. I hope you all are enjoying a delightful Christmas Eve. Very best from the chilly Virginia countryside.

  57. Henry Contestwinner | December 24, 2017 at 11:46 pm |

    Sorry to be so late to the party, but thank you, Charlottesville, for your funny & clever essay. I noticed that some of the comments are about as accurate and in-depth as your essay, which was another delight on top of the original.

    In any case, Merry Christmas to all, from a Scandinavian WASP!

  58. Phenomenal piece here; very clever and accurate. I also appreciate the commenter who recognized how distinctly Catholic this site can be from a canonical perspective. It’s the constantly growing credenda of do’s and donts coupled with the panegyrism that align it so well with Carholicism. It’s the difference between Trad (Catholic) & Preppy (Protestant). Reminds me of the contrast between my German Catholic mother’s fustiness and punctiliousness compared to my distinctly insouciant Scots/English Protestant (think John Wayne) father. One would go apoplectic over being late to church the other, frankly, didn’t give a damn.

    When I think WASP, my mind sees Boston/Philly, thin hair, receded chin, locust valley accent and all. Old Money, Ivy League and High Church or agnostic (possibly Low Church or Presbyterian USA but only because the local Episcopal Diocese’s rector is a gal). Everyone else isn’t what Baltzell had in mind EVEN if the general public would classify us as WASPy. We’re not WASPs just because we’re white, of Anglo-Saxon heritage and Protestant. There’s more to it than that.

    Essential reading is Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism.”

    Also, keep in mind there were a few pre-Protestant groups that had constantly protested the “Church”: Waldensians and Lollards for instance.

  59. Charlottesville | December 26, 2017 at 1:21 pm |

    Thanks, WFBJr and especially thank you Henry for spotting the (at least attempted) humor. I think some of the commenters had confused me with an historian. Like mistaking P.J. O’Rourke, or perhaps Carrot Top, for William Manchester. I hope all had a very merry Christmas and wish a delightful 2018 to everyone.

  60. Mac,
    I hope I wasn’t suggesting that WASPs were unique. The assumption is that most who are reading this are American, so it is the most germane to our shared experience. The ramifications of which live on to this day. And it wasn’t just Africans and Native Americans who were treated poorly. Charles Carroll had to be educated in France and was not able to engage in traditional colonial occupations such as law. His fortune came through land holdings.

    The distinction in 2017 between the WASP upper class and Catholics with a similar socio-economic pedigree has almost entirely vanished. There are quite a few Catholic prep schools (Georgetown Prep, Delbarton, St. Sebastian’s, Portsmouth Abbey, etc.) turning out alumni that head off to Georgetown, BC, Villanova, Notre Dame, and the Ivy League who are nearly indistinguishable from their WASP counterparts.

  61. “The distinction in 2017 between the WASP upper class and Catholics with a similar socio-economic pedigree has almost entirely vanished.”

    True, this.

  62. This article is scary, highly inaccurate, without nuance, and disgusting.

  63. I never realized just how much of a WASP I was until I was in my 30s. I’m 50 now. Although my mother’s side had the wealth and lifestyle at one time (with very interesting “rules” that I assumed all families had), I thought only “true” WASPs were from the Northeast. I’m a Southern one, and the money was gone by the time I was 15. Long, horrible story.

    Mom’s side: Episcopal gentry from Savannah, GA and central VA with English, Dutch and French Huguenot heritage. Dad’s: middle class Methodists and Presbyterians – mostly Scottish, from Atlanta, GA and western NC.

    I distinctly remember my beloved Southern WASPy grandmother saying, “In my day, a mixed marriage was an Episcopalian marrying a Presbyterian.” In addition, she’d always ask if an Episcopal church she wasn’t familiar with was high church or low church when mentioned. It always made me chuckle.

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