WASPs: What They Really Wear

WASP-squareAs boat shoes, white bucks, nautical outfits and madras infiltrate the world of fashion, the misunderstandings about what WASPs really wear have become widespread. Even the term “WASP” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) is more fantasy than reality – more and more truly preppy people are not Protestant or even white. So from here on in, we are referring to them as preps.

Particularly irksome are the shopping guides urging people – men in particular – to buy expensive designer clothes in order to look like a WASP. The Harvard student in this New York Magazine Look Book feature, wearing head-to-toe Paul Smith, calls himself a WASP but has a lot more in common with a British dandy. Of the white bucks shopping guide by David Colman piece in today’s Times, the only pair an actual prep would buy would be the ones that cost $130, by Johnston & Murphy. (Preps have already been buying bucks at Johnston & Murphy for years, so why start paying $400 now for something from faux-preppy Steven Alan?) Most importantly, white bucks are only for special occasions like weddings or cocktail parties. Not for running errands on a Saturday afternoon.

“WASP fashion” is not fashion at all in the traditional sense. It’s based on practicality, comfort and timelessness, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are few designer labels and even fewer trends. For fashion editors and designers to suggest otherwise is specious at best.

To set the record straight, I’ve taken photographs from an undisclosed, very preppy location on the Fourth of July and made them available to you, dear readers. Consider it an update to the Preppy Handbook – the only true guide to preppy fashion.

WASP Fashion: Faded Nan Reds, Flip Flops

Nantucket reds are a summer staple. The older they look, the better. Other than eveningwear or cool sporting gear, garishly new clothing is frowned upon. Flip flips are generally the shoe of choice for lazy summer afternoons.

WASP Fashion: Crab-Print Bathing Suit, Club Polo

Clothing embroidered with animals or sea creatures is always popular, like these bathing trunks embroidered with crabs. The shirt is embroidered with a club logo; the white baseball cap is also a casual standard. Why is he wearing a bathing suit on the street? Because you never know when you’ll have to jump in the pool.

WASP Fashion: Embroidered Flip Flops, Canvas LLBean Tote

Visors are a favorite for women – they keep the sun out of your eyes without messing up your hair, and they’re excellent for tennis. An LL Bean-style canvas bag and flip flops embroidered with burgees accessorize a plain cotton red dress.

WASP Fashion: Lilly Pulitzer Shorts

Note how this woman incorporates elements of current fashion – high waisted short shorts and a gathered top – without straying from the preppy tenets: Lilly Pulitzer, long blond hair, beat-up flip flops.

WASP Fashion: Bright Colors, Lilly Pulitzer

Acid green and bright yellow – a classic Palm Beach-esque preppy combo for women. Southern preps in particular love bright colors, whereas their northern counterparts tend to stick to navy. Jack Rodgers sandals.

WASP Fashion: Plaid Bermuda Shorts, Braided Belt

Plaid Bermuda shorts and braided leather belt. One of the biggest developments in preppy fashion since the Preppy Handbook came out is the incorporation of athletic shoes like Merrells, Tivas, Reefs, etc. into everyday casual dress. Practical shoes are essential: You never know when you’ll have to participate in some kind of athletic activity or be invited on someone’s boat.

WASP Fashion: Khaki Shorts, Athletic Shoes, Kooky Hat

Khaki shorts and unisex dressing. Often the only difference between men’s and women’s casual wear is a slight variation in the cut. Khaki is to preps what denim is to hipsters: an everyday staple. Note that she is not at all embarrassed to be wearing a kooky styrofoam hat. Kooky hats are one preppy way of being “wild,” especially encouraged on holidays.

WASP Fashion: Straw Hat and Bicycle

Adult preps don’t stop riding bikes when they become adults, nor do they put on Lycra racing clothes to ride a bike. Bikes are simply an essential and inexpensive means of transportation. A floppy straw sun hats looks fetchingly feminine and vaguely French.

WASP Fashion: Boater Hat, Khakis, Leatherman Knife

The main thing about this outfit is: There’s nothing wrong with this outfit, so why buy a new one? This has been the preppy ethos since the dawn of the time. A blue button-down and khakis is appropriate for almost every occasion. The fashion world is now co-opting the straw boater hat, but this guy was wearing it first. Note that the object attached to his belt is a rigging knife, not a cell phone.

WASP Fashion: White Capris

White capris have become an essential part of the preppy female uniform. They telegraph summer and days of luxurious ease, all while being machine washable.

WASP Fashion: Gingham Capris, Polo Shirt

As you have probably noticed by now, any excuse to wear themed clothing is embraced, and red, white and blue on the Fourth of July is no exception. In fact, it is considered bad form not to wear red, white and blue on the 4th. She mixes cute gingham capris with a white blouse and blue shoes and visor. One exception to the no-obvious-designer-labels rule: Polo shirts, as seen on him in red, white and blue stripes. Of course, preps were wearing Polo before the rise of the designer label.

WASP Fashion: Canvas Boat Hat and Docksiders

This is what “nautical fashion” really is. Practical shorts, brown leather docksiders, and a wide-brimmed, crushable cotton hat that wards off the sun. I believe his shirt said USMC. Most male preps would sooner die than wear multi-colored boat shoes.

WASP Fashion: Polarized Sunglasses

The brand of sunglasses doesn’t matter as much as the fact that they’re polarized. Sunglasses are mainly viewed as sports equipment, not a fashion statement.

WASP Fashion: Looking Patriotic

In a 4th of July parade, most of the children are dressed in red, white and blue.

WASP Fashion: Kooky Colored Wigs and Sunglasses

Donning crazy colored wigs and sunglasses is another way that preps get “wild.”

WASP Fashion: Whale-Print Dress

A little girl in a dress embroidered with whales and, yes, Crocs. They’re immensely practical.

WASP Fashion: Plain Cotton Dress with Nautical Stripes

Another simple striped cotton dress and lots of 4th of July decorations on her Razor scooter.

WASP Fashion: WASPs Love Their Dogs

Like their English brethren, preps are a little obsessed with dogs.

WASP Fashion: Dressing Up Dogs

But at least you – and the dogs – can look good doing it.

WASP Fashion: Antique Car and Boater Hats

Here are the real trendsetters behind straw boater hats.

WASP Fashion: Leis Worn Ironically

The ironic fake lei is standard summer party wear. Note that he is wearing loafers with no socks, which is what you would wear if athletic shoes were too casual.

WASP Fashion: Matching Children's Outfits

Dressing your kids in matching outfits is a long held tradition. Often preps pay more attention to children’s fashion than their own.

WASP Fashion: Beautiful Car, Kooky Costumes

This group rode in the parade in a beautiful antique car draped in beautiful flags and flashed their not-so-beautiful fake hillbilly teeth while toasting to the crowd. Fake hillbilly teeth are a huge costume favorite among preps, whatever the occasion.

WASP Fashion: Vintage Red Convertible

Most preps would rather have this vintage red convertible than any new Mercedes or BMW.

WASP Fashion: Plaid Plus Flip Flops

The fashionable plaid shirt in preppy form: Loose-fitting, with baggy, practical cargo shorts and beat-up flip flops.

WASP Fashion: Bermuda Shorts and Boater Hat

Another boater hat, paired with Bermuda shorts.

WASP Fashion: Tennis Whites

Another ridiculous misconception is the designer version of tennis whites – the kind that includes a white cable-knit sweater and dry-clean-only shorts. Here’s what tennis whites really look like – truly effortless. And accessorized with Mardi Gras beads, just for fun.

Posted in fashion | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

23 Responses to WASPs: What They Really Wear

  1. EB says:

    Wow. That made me sad.

    • Martine says:

      Why? I though it was a wonderful article. Slow fashion is far better then any silly trends. These peoplelook amazing, and classy. None of this “pop pof color” or avoiding mom jeans( of course mom jeans are far cooler then the 2003 low rise nonsense) and everything they are wearing looks completely current. It makes me feel happy, and want to take notes.

  2. Carolyn Keenen says:

    That was fantastic! Your Mother sent the site to all of her golfing friends to enjoy. The 4th of July Parade a real traditon here, and it seems to get bigger and better each year.

  3. What an absolutely fabulous, fun, beautiful post Miss GastroChic, it is utterly delightful. The pictures are just so perfect as illustrations, it is almost like a fashion course or something!

    Love it lots!

  4. Ali says:

    Brilliant! You have captured so well the core tenants of WASP fashion. It might appear effortless, but the art form has taken years of sailing, tennis, cocktail hour, and fraternity and sorority parties to fully hit its stride.

  5. Gicster says:

    Really scary! Having spent a lifetime ensconced in prepdom and at this place in particular, the brainwashing is so intense that I have blithely moved through life unaware of my plight. I will shifting to a tee shirt, black jeans and steel toed boots at the Club tomorrow night. Keep up the good work.

    • Martine says:

      Unless you are Syd Vicious, I wouldn’t…although Syd Visious just as often sported a nce preppy sweater.

  6. Maureen says:

    Being from CT., I loved living there. It was like a New England outpost.

  7. rob says:

    you guys are awesome cause im gay and i think that you guys did a fabulous job! 2 thumbs up!

  8. caroline says:

    Wow, the guy in the Nantucket reds in very attractive! <3

  9. louisfan says:

    The girl in the red dress with the ll bean bag is from LA and she’s an upcoming movie star she is not a true wasp!! Look out for her in upcoming flicks! She’s smokin’!

  10. The Nose says:

    He is wearing a “bathing suit on the street” because he is the suburban-isle version of David Hasselhoff – ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. (sans camera, of course) HAWT!

  11. chad worthington says:

    WASPs don’t exist anymore

  12. Carol says:

    Those folks look like they are having fun. I should go back to school, get a real job and become rich like them. I’d better hurry before Obama fully crushes the American Dream though!

    • Martine says:

      Yeah. He did manage to do a lot of damage. Its sad that people don’t get a simple truth; Every time someone gets something for free, other people have to work and get nothing.

  13. Aly says:

    WASPs do in fact exist, as I am one of them. A true WASP would never wear cargo shorts- I resent that picture.

  14. I assumed the guy in the cargo shorts was a WASP going through some sort of rebellious stage. Yet I’ve never seen him on the island since… perhaps he was an interloper!!

  15. Timm says:

    WASPs certainly exist… although I can’t think of a single example in my personal life other than my family members.

    “A true WASP would never wear cargo shorts?” False. A true WASP doesn’t have inane rules of fashion. Frugality is the #1 objective. Be it conservative or even a bit silly, something that is versatile, practical and timeless is most important (hence my father bragging over phone that his Bean slippers are over 25 years old).

  16. Nadia says:

    I love certain elements of this style, mainly the elegance implicit in its simplicity–but that’s where it ends. I don’t understand why everyone would want to look so similar. I consider myself fairly conservative, but I prefer an exotic, bohemian, or eclectic look over any of the preppy styles out there. Guess that’s the Cuban in me 🙂 but to each his own

  17. Renee says:

    I just loved this post! Great WASP watching!!

  18. John says:

    LOL, I think Richard at WASP101 need to read this. His postings are telling everyone otherwise.

  19. bucks shoes says:

    very informative wasp watching

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