Preppy in the 90s

Me_1998

1999 – A professional headshot of me taken by a photographer in Tribecca when my wife and I were living in New York City.  I took my glasses off for this shot because the lenses, as I recall, didn’t have an anti-reflective coating, and because the photographer was going for more of an intense lawyerly look.  I have on a Ralph Lauren navy blue wool suit with gray chalk stripes that I bought for $50.00 at a thrift store in Asheville, NC.  It was memorable because, though a great suit, it was one of the most expensive thrift purchases I’ve ever made, but I still wear it occasionally.  I’m not sure where I got the button down shirt and foulard tie.  Both were likely thrifted.

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1999 – My beautiful wife and I on our wedding day outside her aunt and uncle’s house.  They hosted the reception.  I have on a charcoal gray suit with suspenders, a paisley tie with navy background and a white button down shirt.

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1999 – Outside the small Episcopal chapel where our wedding ceremony was held in Greenville, SC.  I think my wife looks lovely here!  Opting for simplicity, we kept the invitation list to 50 and had no groom’s men or bride’s maids, just a priest, a crucifer and musicians.  We designed and printed our wedding announcement and program for the ceremony and asked that there be no gifts (though this was largely ignored).  We tried!

The coup in the do-it-yourself approach was my wife’s wedding dress.  While we were in New York, she selected her own material from a shop in the Garment District and took it to a boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  She asked them to design a party dress, which cut the cost down considerably.  The cap toe dress shoes I’m wearing with the charcoal gray suit were polished, but cracked, and had a small hole on one of the soles – likely visible to our guests when we knelt at the altar.

We’ve been happily married for 13 years.  As we look back on the wedding, we’re glad that we kept it a simple ceremony.  The organist was wonderful.  There were solos from a friend who was a professional opera singer.  A string quartet of classically trained musicians, my wife’s friends since childhood, played for us.  It couldn’t have been a more prefect day.

Us_1998

1998 – My wife-to-be and I on the balcony of a friend’s apartment in New York City.  You can’t tell here, but we were on the 44th floor high above 9th Avenue near Times Square.  We had been invited to a Christmas party.  I have on a wool houndstooth sport coat, a sage turtleneck and a pair of khaki pants.  My wife is wearing a vintage (60s) green and black houndstooth jacket whose design was very Sherlock Holmes.  That was a thrift find at Anne Merchant’s Time Warp shop (now out of buisness) in Greenville, SC.  I still have that jacket, too.

Middleburg_19931993 – With friends in Upperville, VA after the fall Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point races.  I’m wearing a light windbreaker, a classic Norwegian Fisherman’s Sweater from L.L. Bean, a pair of rumpled khakis – rumpled being their usual state – and Bean Boots.  Among my friends is a sampling of Barbour, Burberry and Brooks Brothers.

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Tad Friend – A True Wasp

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Tad Friend, in his 2009 memoir Cheerful Money:  Me, My Family and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor, reveals in candid detail his complicated upbringing and emotionally insular life in an illustrious family, which includes a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a president of Swarthmore College and generations of Ivy League degrees.  He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and a graduate of Harvard University.

In the first chapter of Cheerful Money, Friend begins to unpack the meaning of Wasp and discusses why that term is not really accurate in describing old money families and their mores.  Given the frequency with which the term Wasp is bandied about by fashion bloggers, and particularly in light of the recent dust up between Ivy Style and Wasp 101, I thought it might be useful to let someone with some expertise on the matter cast some light.

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From Cheerful Money (pages 11-14):

The ACRONYM “Wasp,” from “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant,” is one many Wasps dislike, as it’s redundant – Anglo-Saxons are perforce white – and inexact.  Elvis Presley was a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, as is Bill Clinton, but they are not what anyone means by “Wasp.”  Waspiness is an overlay on human character, like the porcelain veneer that protects the surface of a damaged tooth.  Worse, the adjective is pejorative:  “Waspy” is reserved for horse-faced women, tight-assed men, penny pinchers, and a capella groups.

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I’m too cheap to spring for a new acronym.  But my family and their friends, as Wasps, were circumscribed less by skin tones and religion than by a set of traditions and expectations:  a cast of mind.  They lived in a floating Ruritania losely bounded by L.L. Bean to the north, the shingle style to the east, Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed polar expedition to the south, and the limits of Horace Greely’s optimism to the west.

That cast of mind is excessively attuned to such questions as how you say “tomato” – a word I now find myself pronouncing both ways, usually at random and always with misgiving.  In this and more important respects I seem to have become, somehow, a motley product of my famously marvelous background.  Oh, sure, I don’t belong to any clannish or exclusive clubs, I prefer beer to hard liquor, I am neither affable nor peevish – the alternating currents of Wasp – and I love pop culture.

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And yet.  Until quite recently, I had the Wasp fridge:  marmalade, wilted scalions, out-0f-season grapes, seltzer and vodka – nothing to really eat. (The Wasp fridge is like the bachelor fridge, but Wasps load up on dairy, including both 1 and 2 percent milk, moldy cheese, expired yogurt, and separated sour cream.  And atop the Wasp fridge sit Pepperidge Farm Milanos, Fig Newtons, or Saltines – some chewy or salty or otherwise challenging snack).  I have a concise and predictable wardrobe, and friends even claim that I inevitably wear the same oatmeal – colored Shetland sweater.  I will never experience the pleasures of leather pants or a shark’s tooth on a thong dangling in my chest hair.  I will never experience the pleasures of chest hair.  And, like the Tin Man, I don’t articulate my upper body sections; it moves en masse or not at all.

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I politely stand aside:  no, no, after you.  I have a soft laugh, and I rarely raise my voice.  Though I have an outsize grin, and friends take pleasure in trying to elicit it, I am reserved upon first meeting (it’s Wasp women who are expected to charm).  I used to like being told I was “intimidating,” because it seemed to sanction my verbal jabbing to maintain a perimeter.  Making everyone a little uneasy came naturally.  When I characterized a college roommate’s dancing style as “Jimmy Cracked Corn,” he nursed the wound for decades, and a woman I fooled around with in my early twenties told me years later, that she had to get a new mattress and headboard after I remarked on her “game-show bed.”  I am slow to depend on people because I hate being disappointed, hate having to withdraw my trust.  All this has often led people to read me as aloof or smug.

I am fiercely but privately emotional – I was embarrassed, recently, when my wife, Amanda, found me having put The Giving Tree down while reading it to our twins, Walker and Addie, because I was in tears.  I married Amanda, a strong-minded food writer, seven years ago:  she revamped my fridge, and some of my other disaster areas.  And I convinced her to have children, the best thing we have done together.

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I walk into parties with a confident air but wait to speak until I have a point to make or self-deprecating joke to offer. I can give a handsome wedding toast.  I am slow to pitch in on manual labor and not particularly handy, though I pride myself on the rarely called-for ability to carve a watermelon into the shape of a whale (a sprig of parsley makes the spout).  I am frugal to the point of cheapness – when out to dinner with friends, I used to contribute only for the dishes I had ordered.  I dislike having to eat quail or crab, all that effort and mess for scant reward, an aversion Amanda calls “No sex in public!”

For a long time I didn’t think of myself as competitive, though my friends kept assuring me, as they pointed out where my helicoptored five-iron had landed, that I was.  My belief that you shouldn’t do something you care about in a half-assed way often provokes the charge that I don’t want to take part in any activity I can’t do well, that I fear public ineptitude, which is certainly true for karaoke.  Despite my standoffishness, I am a good listener, and loyal, and friends often turn to me for advice.  A Wasp friend remarks that I would have made an imposing country parson.

Most of all, I am a Wasp because I harbored a feeling of disconnection from my parents, as they had from their parents, and their parents from their parents.  And because, deep into my thirties, most of my relationships had the life span of a child’s balloon.  I felt that I was carrying around a brimming bucket of walnut stain and that if anyone got too close it would spill all over both of us.  So I ended up spending my inheritance and then some on psychoanalysis.  I was in trouble, but it was nearly impossible for anyone who didn’t know me to tell, and I made it nearly impossible for anyone to know me well.

Preppy In Virginia: Steeplechase Gathering

 

Gathering of Friends - Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point, Upperville, VA 1992

Gathering of Friends – Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point, Upperville, VA 1992

I was going through a box of old photographs this week when I found an image that summed up the early 90s for me:  a gathering with my friends at the Piedmont Hunt Point-To-Point Races in Upperville, VA .  We spent countless weekends in the beautiful Virginia countryside.  Decked out in Barbour, Burberry and L.L. bean, we look as though we might have walked right out the pages of The Official Preppy Handbook.  The clothes are casual classics of very high quality and, of course, contain natural fibers.  I am second from right; and I still have the L.L. Bean Boots and the  Norwegian Fisherman’s Sweater.  Preppy clothes last!

Prepped Out & Layered Up

Some accessories are just hard to find in a thrift store.  One example is this navy and maroon grosgrain watch band which supports a cheapo – but very accurate –  Timex watch.  I bought the band at J. Press for $9.00.  Grosgrain watch bands come in many colors and various stripes.  They are quintessentially preppy, and some people change them frequently depending on ensemble.  I think the navy/maroon band works well with the Brooks Brothers tattersall shirt (thrift store purchase:  $5.00), green L.L. Bean wool sweater (thrift store purchase:  $7.00) and navy Ralph Lauren duffle coat (outlet mall purchase:  $279.00).   With a little more patience, I probably could have found a duffle coat in my size in a thrift store, but the weather in NYC turned cold, and I paid the higher outlet mall price for mine.  It’s very warm and has a hood.  I’m all prepped out and layered up!

New L.L. Bean Store

A new L.L. Bean store opened  recently in Yonkers, NY just off I-87 at Ridgehill Mall about 15 minutes from where I live.  Although this was a bit of a departure from my normal weekend round of thrift stores and consignment shops, I just had to go and check out the new Bean store.  I’ve never actually visited one.  This wasn’t an outlet mall version either — it was full retail with the regular merchandise prices.   The store was well-stocked and very spacious, and there were plenty of sales people ready to help at a moment’s notice — but they weren’t intrusive or pushy in any way to sell me.  That was refreshing.  Unfortunately, the battery on my phone/camera died while I was in the store, and I won’t be able to post interior shots until another visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I looked at the classic men’s handsewn blucher moccasin and came very close – on an impulse – to getting a new pair at $69.00.  For many years, I had a pair of these, but somewhere along the way I lost them, or gave them away — probably to a thrift store.  But I passed on these – actually, they didn’t have the saddle color in stock, only the cactus color.  The store is still trying out the clientele and guaging up what items will move.  I don’t think these shoes will be easy to find in a thrift store.  I’ve never seen a pair in that setting.  It’s one of those items that I will probably have to pay full retail for one day soon.  The gas I’d burn going to the L.L. Bean outlet store in New Jersey would more than swallow any savings.

Bottom line is – while I’d like not to pay retail – sometimes it’s both necessary and practical to do so to get just the right thing.  That sums up my shopping philosophy.  But I’m amazed at how many kinds of clothes in the L.L. Bean product line – shirts, sweaters, field coats and goose down vests – I’ve been able to find in thrift stores.  The money saved has been considerable — hundreds of dollars.

My one purchase today:  a pair of heavyweight 100% Merino Wool Ragg Socks for $8.50.  

L.L. Bean Goose Down Vest

I recently came thrifted a men’s large medium blue L.L. Bean goose down vest for $7.99  The vest was made in Freeport, Maine before the company began outsourcing more of its production.

The vest has a nylon shell and lining and a 100% goose down filling that will provide great warmth in the winter months.  The vest has snap buttons on the front and does not have a zipper.  It also has two ample non-zipping front pockets for storing keys and other items.  

My L.L. Bean Field Coat

Yesterday, I posted about finding an L.L. Bean field coat at a very low price in a local thrift store.  I didn’t buy it because I already had one.  Since I wore mine while walking my dogs in the park this morning, I thought I’d post a couple of shots of it.  This coat is very durable, water repellant and warm enough over a few layers well into December.  The lining is cotton/plaid and not the detachable PrimaLoft version.  So when it gets really cold, I’ll have to wear a much heavier sweater than cotton cable nit one I had on today, or else put on my wool duffle coat.

 The fall colors are really starting to look amazing in New York City, and much of the park near where I live is coming alive in brilliant tones.  Fall is my favorite time of year here.