Gentlemen of Hampden-Sydney

I’ve listed Hampden-Sydney again this year as the most preppy college in the South.  It was founded in 1775, when George III was King of England, Virginia was a British colony and the Declaration of Independence was yet to be written.  One of only four all-male colleges remaining in the United States, Hampden-Sydney counts Patrick Henry and James Madison as two of its original Board of Trustees members.

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members

Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Members at Hampden-Sydney College

Students at Hampden-Sydney take a great deal of pride in their appearance and believe in good manners.  In fact, the school has published its own etiquette guide:  To Manor Born, To Manners Bred (now in its 7th edition), which has been updated for the social media age.  That’s serious dedication!  Some gentlemen of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity above display a range of attire:  plain front khakis, blue blazers, a navy suit with a Brooks Brothers repp tie, freshly pressed pinpoint and oxford cloth button downs, bow ties, ribbon belts with motifs and a needlepoint belt.  This is all standard dress on campus, and one of the reasons Hampden-Sydney is considered a very traditional college.

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating - Football Weekend

Hampden-Sydney Alumni Tailgating Prior to a Football Game (Fall 2012)

In the February 2013 issue of Town & Country, Hampden-Sydney alumni were featured tailgating on campus prior to a football game against arch rival Randolph Macon. All of these gentlemen are sporting bow ties, and one is wearing Nantucket Reds with a pair of go-to-hell socks that would make President George Herbert Walker Bush envious.  Tailgating was spoofed in Lisa Birnbach’s The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) in which she also listed Hampden-Sydney as the #3 preppy college in the country behind Babson (#1) and Hamilton (#2).

Off The Wagon:  The Tailgate Picnic - The Official Preppy Handbook

Off The Wagon: The Tailgate Picnic – The Official Preppy Handbook

Also in The Official Preppy Handbook, noted both for its finely drawn satire and anthropological treatment of preppiesis a section on body types with representative photos and descriptions of each.  The Good Old Boy’s biography includes attending Lawrenceville and Hampden-Sydney, and his stated attributes suggest a fun-loving, if not bawdy, demeanor.  He is holding a “genetically attached beer can,” while wearing a button down layered over a Lacoste shirt (Southern collar notably not popped), rumpled, flood level khakis and a pair of penny loafers, one of which is duct taped to keep the sole and the upper together – a practice cultivated at Lawrenceville.  He’s the one of the three I think I’d most enjoy being around.

Preppy Body Types - from The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

Body Types (Male) – The Official Preppy Handbook (1980)

As an homage to Birnbach, whose publication became a national bestseller, the college’s Kaleidoscope yearbook staff responded with The Official Preppy Yearbook.

The Official Preppy Yearbook 1981

Kaleidoscope 1981 — The Official Preppy Yearbook (Hampden-Sydney College)

Birnbach visited Hamden-Sydney a few years ago to promote her most recent book, True Prep, in which she elevated the college’s sartorial place, writing,”… allow us to assure you, in no uncertain terms, that Hampden-Sydney is, without equivocation, the preppiest college in the United States.”  In fact, one enterprising student there, Samuel Thomas, recently co-founded a bow tie company called Dogwood Black (originally Southern Ties) and is now marketing his expanding product line nationally after getting requests from upscale men’s clothiers.

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie ($45.00)

Dogwood Black: Nantucket Summer Madras Bow Tie

In addition to the classic madras bow tie shown above, Dogwood Black offers such unique items as a camo bow tie.  I think this qualifies as the Southern version of go-to-hell style, allowing  a wearer to go from duck blind to formal party without skipping a beat.  One quote on the company website functions as a philosophy about wearing one of their ties, “If you can handle being the center of attention.”

Dogwood Black:  Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black: Camo Bow Tie

Dogwood Black - Tie Box

Dogwood Black – Tie Box

Hampden-Sydney has become more diverse in recent years, and with that change has come a difference in fashion sensibility on campus.  The look among some students retains the preppy style but is much more updated.  The gentleman on the right (below) looks as if he might be wearing a Dogwood Black Delta Chi fraternity bow tie, but I’m not positive.  The gentleman on the left seems more aligned with Unabashedly Prep, which I’ve heard described as “new wave prep” or as “preppy with a twist.”

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Preppy With a Twist at Hampden-Sydney

Dogwood Black - Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dogwood Black – Delta Chi Fraternity Bow Tie

Dr. Christopher B. Howard, Hampden-Sydney’s 24th president, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.   This gentleman was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Master of Philosophy and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics.  He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  Howard is the first African-American president in the college’s history, and he is proudly a Brooks Brothers man.

In 2010, Hampden-Sydney entered into a formal partnership with Brooks Brothers to provide a 15% corporate membership discount to students, faculty and staff of the college.  The program is titled “Dressing for Success with Brooks Brothers.”  In this YouTube video, President Howard discusses the program and the investment in college education with parents of prospective students at an event hosted in a Brooks Brothers retail store in Richmond, VA.

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Hampden-Sydney Display at Brooks Brothers in Richmond, VA

Now in its third century of operation, Hampden-Sydney has a beautiful campus, an excellent academic reputation, a long tradition and a very loyal alumni base, many of whom contribute substantially to the institution every year.  Its past is distinguished, and its future looks secure.

Hampden-Sydney-College

Hampden-Sydney-College

Hampden-Sydney Historical Marker

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Preppy in the 80s

I recently opened a box of old photographs and college annuals and blew off the dust.  The images here are all from the 80s, an era that I fondly recall as the days of hair.

1983 –  This photo was taken just after my 17th birthday, and I would be going off to college the next year.  I’m wearing a pair of white cotton pants (white ducks), a navy surcingle belt, a light blue button down shirt and a rep tie.  I have a blue blazer draped over my shoulder and a hand in my pocket, stock gestures that class photographers back then encouraged.  Do they still do that?  If so, someone should tell them to stop!  It doesn’t look nonchalant, but rather silly.

Before College 1986 – Class photograph from my sophomore year of college.  Wow, where do I begin?  The hair was huge!  My wife refers to this as helmet hair.  The tortoise shell glasses were also huge, a style trend in the 80s, and should have come equipped with windshield wipers.  My smile was David Letterman-esque.  I’m wearing a tweed sport coat, a button down shirt (starched from the looks of things) and a rep tie.

Sophomore Year - 1986

1986 – With friends in the courtyard of Silliman College during the Summer Studies Program at Yale.  I’d changed to a smaller pair of tortoise rim glasses.  I’m wearing a polo shirt and a pair of Bermuda shorts.

Yale - Summer 1986

1988 – Senior year of college.  Preppy on steroids in this photo just a week or so before graduation.  Madras plaid button down shirt, Bermuda shorts and a ribbon belt with a sailboat motif.  Yeah, those were the 80s.

1988 - Senior Year of College

WASP 101 Blogger Exposed?

WASP 101 Richard and Bryan Richard HollowayThis week Christian Chensvold of Ivy Style received a tip from an unnamed source concerning the identity of the person responsible for the pretentious Richard character of WASP 101.  Following clues gleaned from postings at WASP 101, the source claims that Richard is actually Rep. Bryan Richard Holloway (R), a five-term member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.  Holloway’s 91st district is a largely rural area of farmers, blue collar workers and NASCAR races.

For those of you not familiar with WASP 101, it was a much maligned personal blog devoted to what Richard perceived as the manners, taste and lifestyle of the upper class.  He frequently posted images of himself wearing clothing that he thought suited to the landed gentry.  Apparently, Richard viewed himself as a gentleman and member of the leisure class, but this was clearly a fantasy.  The clothing combinations he posted were, in my opinion, ill-fitting affectations and signified the desperate longings of a social climber who was too incompetent to pull off even a passable act.  In fact, many bloggers have commented that they first thought WASP 101 was conceived as a satire and were disappointed to learn that it was in ernest.

One could take most of WASP 101, for Richard sometimes got things right, as an important source of what not to do for those looking to better themselves by improving their appearance.  Unfortunately, the WASP 101 site was deleted shortly after Chensvold’s post suggesting the Holloway connection.  Observers have taken this key point along with other clues on the possible Holloway/WASP 101 connection – physical resemblance (at least the chin), shared name Richard, same birthday, same pet dachshund named Governor and a striking similarity in clothing- as conclusive proof.

If you read Chensvold’s linked post above and his follow up, the evidence does seem fairly strong that Holloway is Richard of WASP 101.  Should this prove to be true, it will be up to the voters of the 91st district to decide whether their current representative, a man with strong upper class pretensions, a passion for men’s clothing and a fondness for posting images of WASPY women he deems desirable, should be reelected.  Maybe he could survive these revelations.  But more troubling is that Holloway is a married man.  If he, as Richard, was making the WASPY women postings, that could be more problematic for the “God fearing” voters of his district.  Even more potentially troubling:  Chensvold’s source suggests that Holloway’s administrative assistant was the female “Kipp” character of WASP 101.  That in itself would be innocent unless there was more of a John Edwards or Mark Sanford dynamic at work.  Imagine the derision that would ensue.

I have to say that I am disappointed that WASP 101 was taken down.  Along with many other people, I have more than once been amused by what Richard took to be the essence of good taste.  But I do not revel in a man’s misfortune.  If it is true that Bryan Richard Holloway finds his career ruined or his personal life distrupted over a fantasy world he created on a personal blog,  that would make me sad.  It is also a bit troubling – and amusing at the same time – that someone could so despise a blogger or his pompous behavior or his bad judgment in clothing that he would make it a personal mission to uncover his identity.  This much can be said with certainty:  never post anything on the internet that you would not want connected with you in the future.

POLL:  SHOULD WASP 101 RETURN?  VOTE NOW!

Correction:  In an earlier version of this post, I stated that Christian Chensvold had been contacted by an unnamed New York fashion writer regarding the identity of Richard at WASP 101.  That was incorrect.  I should have stated that he was contacted by an unnamed source.  I have revised my text above accordingly.

Class: A Guide Through the American Status System

The Dreaded Prole Jacket Gape

In his unmercifully accurate 1983 book Class:  A Guide Through The American Status System, Paul Fussell wrote about a fashion faux pas he regarded as a lower class signifier – the “prole jacket-gape.”

Here, the collar of the jacket separates itself from the collar of the shirt and backs off and up an inch or so:  the effect is that of a man coming apart.  That this caste mark is without specifically reactionary political meaning is confirmed by a photograph of Richard Hoggart, the British radical critic and Labor Party enthusiast, used to promote a recent book of his:  his jacket is gaping a full inch at the rear, ample indication that jacket gape afflicts the far left as well as the far right.  What it betrays, indeed, is less the zealot than the stooge.  Like the poor chap interviewed on TV recently by William F. Buckley.  He was from Texas and wanted to censor school textbooks to repress, among other evils, pro-miss-kitty.  (As gently as possible, Buckley corrected this mispronunciation of promiscuity so that the audience would know what the poor ass was talking about.)  But even if the Texan had not, with complete confidence in his unaided powers, delivered repeatedly this prole mispronunciation, his perceptiveness and sensibility could have been inferred from the way his jacket collar gaped open a full two inches.  Buckley’s collar, of course, clung tightly to his neck and shoulders, turn and bow and bob as he might.  And here I will reject all accusations that I am favoring the rich over the poor.  The distinction I’m pointing too is not one between the tailored clothes of the fortunate and the store clothes of the others, for if you try you can get a perfectly fitting suit collar off the rack, or at least have it altered to fit snugly.  The difference is in recognizing it as a class signal and not recognizing it as such.  You’ve got to know that, as Douglas Sutherland says in An English Gentleman, almost the most important criterion in a suit worth wearing at all is “that it should fit well around the shoulders.”

Preppy Icon - William F. Buckley, Jr.

I have mentioned in my thrifting posts that it is possible to find many well-made jackets and suits from traditional clothiers, which makes the task of getting a correct fit much easier.  J. Press and Brooks Brothers, for example, make jackets and suits designed to fit  the natural slope of one’s shoulders and come without excessive padding.  You must know your correct size, a point I will cover in more detail in another post.  It is very important to have a reliable tailor, who can adjust the fit and lower the collar, if necessary.  If you follow these principles, you will never suffer prole jacket gape.


Class:  A Guide Through The American Status System
, by Paul Fussell.  This witty and spot on analysis of class distinctions among Americans was originally published by Touchstone in 1983.  Alison Lurie of The New York Times Book Review wrote, “A shrewd and entertaining commentary on American mores today.  Fascinatingly accurate.”

WASP Lessons – From People Like Us

PBS aired a fascinating documentary a few years ago:  People Like Us – Social Class in America, taking on one of the most taboo topics in a democracy based on the concept that all people are created equal.  The documentary explores the subtle and not so subtle distinctions about class that some people make in our culture, which have an impact on each of us every day.

Consider the famous quip by Sargent Shriver, who was George McGovern’s 1972 Vice-Presidential running mate.  Campaigning in West Virginia, Shriver gave himself away as upper class when he walked into a tavern full of coal miners and announced, “Bartender, a round of beers for the boys and a Courvoisier for me!”  In a Movable Feast, Ernest Hemingway claimed that F. Scott Fitzgerald once told him, “The rich are different than you and me,” to which Hemingway replied, “Yes, they have more money.”

Do money and a privileged position in society determine class, or is there something more to it:  manners, education, refined taste and a concern for the common good?  What things make one class different from another?  These are difficult questions to answer.  Certain clothing designers, most notably Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, have built marketing campaigns based on entrée into the upper class – or at least the popular imagination of it – launching the aspirational preppy movement.

America is a meritocracy.  If you have skill and talent, you can rise socially.  You can gain admission to a first rate college or university, regardless of background.  Witness Bill Clinton of working class origins, who gained acceptance to Yale Law School, making connections that helped put him in the White House.  President Obama is another example of rising above one’s economic limitations and social prejudices, attending Columbia University and Harvard Law School, on the way to his history making election.  Part of achieving success in the workplace is dressing in a manner that creates the greatest opportunity for advancement and the least resistance, which is partly why books like Take Ivy and The Official Preppy Handbook have had such a lasting impact on fashion.

For more clips from People Like us, visit the documentary YouTube page.

On Ivy Style, Christian Chensvold has a great prep/class related post, “Poised or Oblivious?  The True Essence of Prep,”  He writes, “But since anyone today can don the clothing of the power elite, you never know just what the wearer of embroidered trousers may be really thinking. After all, he could be a radical environmentalist with an ironic sense of humor on a noble crusade to save the whales.”

For a very funny critique of the aspirational preppy movement, check out Rob Lanham’s piece, “True Prep:  It Is Not the Time for the Preppy New Testament.”  He pays homage to Lisa Birnbach’s influential satire The Official Preppy Handbook, while remaining sharply critical of her sequel True Prep, which was published in the middle of an economic recession.

Know Your Prep Accents: Boston Brahmin

In the last few days, I’ve been focused on New England, posting about Nantucket Reds and their connection with sailing.  Today I found a YouTube video of two teriffic Boston Brahmin gentlemen bantering back and forth about their preferences in literature as well as their peculiar dialect, one associated with some of the original families in this country.  The Brahmin presence in Boston dates back over 350 years.  Many things preppy – including Anglophilia, a reverence for tradition and a thrifty, penny pinching approach – may be attributed to them.  Their dwindling number is directly related to a greater inclination to discuss literature and the arts than to procreate.  All of this somehow reminds me of the Cole Porter lyrics from “Anything Goes” with its Puritan and Plymouth Rock references.  The Ella Fitzgerald 1956 version – my favorite – is posted below.