What Do High WASPs Really Think About Mr. Ralph Lauren?


So how DO High WASPs feel about Ralph Lauren, anyway? Lisa was good enough to write me and ask my opinion.

Do you feel that Ralph has cheapened things for you? Things that were inalienable rights that are now marketed to the masses that haven’t a clue as to their origins but fork over the big bucks for a sense of ‘belonging’?

Yes, well, Ralph was bound to come up. He’s inescapable. Let’s cut to that ever desirable chase. We admire the man, loathe the brand, and buy the clothes on occasion.

Is that a surprise? Maybe not. Let me expound. Ralph Lauren whacked the American dream out of the ballpark. Through the goalposts. A hole in one. You know Don Draper? Mad Men? What Ralph did Don would have killed for. See an emotional need, a longing of the imagination, attach it to stuff that not only wears out but has a half life of 18 months, and find a way to manufacture low, sell high. Ta da!

My father’s family made cheese. Then found their way to Wall Street. Financed a railroad or three. My mother’s family preached in Western Massachusetts. Then built a pipe and valve company. We like enterprise. You go Ralph.

The brand? The sheer mention causes my father to shudder. Literally. Close his eyes. My mother would most likely dismiss the idea with a shake of her head. As she straightened some books on the counter.

You see, Ralph is good at what he does. Repellently good. Take any of those ads where a family sits on a lawn. Some kind of gathering. A mansion implied or visible in the background. A BIG lawn. In any one of those ads, probably 35% of the message, the visuals, the models, hits home. While the other 65% makes us want to run screaming from the room.

Yes, the family is generally slender. Hair is generally healthy. Khakis are apt to make an appearance, along with something navy blue. Something else will be monogrammed, most likely something silver. The lawn is, in fact, large. Or the deck, which overlooks the pond, the bay, the ocean.

But our children are just as dirty as anyone else’s. There is just as much chocolate in the corners of our mouths. Someone is divorced. Someone has failed dreams. Someone else sold liquid nitrogen to semiconductor companies. That family fortune does run out if you do too much lounging around on lawns in blazers. Most importantly on the sartorial front, the only crest you are going to see is intaglio, on a ring, around the patriarch’s finger. And he will readily admit that it’s specious, having been invented in the 18th century. Was not forged for a Celtic warrior from the fens. Or glens. Or whatever. We really don’t put crests on our clothing anymore.

Everyone else should feel free to wear what they will. I don’t feel something that was mine has been appropriated. Only that something real has been made into a cartoon. These things happen.

We High WASPs are not alone in the ravaging path of capitalism and its camp follower, Miss Brand. Other cultures suffer their private stuff to be used in the sale of foodstuffs and dry goods. I remember commercials for some spaghetti sauce or other, presided over by a stereotypical Italian mother. Aunt Jemima was even more egregious. And let us not forget Irish Spring.

High WASP food, until we discovered cooking, has never been worth selling to anyone. What were they going to use, images of little tow-headed children smiling at their Libby’s Corned Beef Hash on cook’s night out? High WASP great-aunts doling out overcooked frozen peas? And since we can hardly even say the word “smell”, much less admit that we might, I don’t think deodorant soap was a good promotional niche for our type.

I guess we got off easy. And, that said, some of what Ralph puts out, I like.

Most likely not these…


But this…

However, I never have worn and nor ever will wear a polo shirt with a little guy on a horse prominently featured over the breast. My apologies, but my family played polo. Lot of horsy stuff.

I know, this is really for events. But it could have been polo.

Only recently did my father sell his horse after decades of dressage. Under these circumstances, wearing that polo player feels wrong, wrong, wrong as an emblem of anything. Even when those old horsey trophies in the cupboard are now surrounded by 5 cheap identical vases, originally sent full of Ecuadoran roses via 1-800-Flowers.

*BTW, none of this applies to his house goods. Which Tickled Pink And Green shows us how to honor:).

25 Comments

  • 11/30/09
    9:59 am

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    Miss Cavendish said...

    You know, I've never found RL's clothing to fit well. Even when I see his adverts, I cringe thinking of how the silky cream trousers will fit poorly . . .

  • 11/30/09
    10:48 am

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    Belle de Ville said...

    I don't know about anyone else but when I was horsing around and playing polo, I didn't wear Ralph Lauren clothes. I always felt that the brand was too wanna be. Now, on occasion when I need something very subdued to wear, in order to put the focus on the jewelry that I'm wearing, I will wear Ralph Lauren purple or black label.
    But I agree with Miss Cavendish that his clothes do not fit well. Event the outfit that I wore to the opera last week, which I paid big money for at Neimans, fit poorly and did not flatter in the least.

  • 11/30/09
    11:19 am

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    Jill said...

    I'm not sure how high WASP's feel and I'm writing this comment before I even read the full post. Poseur is the first word that has always come to my mind.

  • 11/30/09
    11:19 am

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    DocP said...

    Ralph. . . It is a love/hate relationship, isn't it? I'm plus size, which limits my selection of quality, traditional clothing. Ralph's plus pieces fit well, but I find I must choose carefully. Lately, the offerings have been too casual for work in the plus line. My other options are Talbots and Pendleton.

  • 11/30/09
    1:12 pm

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    Queen of Cashmere said...

    Ralph Lipshitz (his real name) is peddling the dream to all those who aren't WASPs but wanna be.

  • 11/30/09
    1:41 pm

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    LPC said...

    More power to Ralph. I honestly have no issue with people who wanna be. There are many things I wanna be. WASPs have been a thing-presenting culture. People want to have those things. OK. But I really hate the vacuous faces on women who are supposed to be me. Or my mother. Or aunt.

  • 11/30/09
    1:50 pm

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    Jan said...

    Being exactly the opposite of tall and slender, the thought that I could ever wear anything produced by RL is laughable (he simply does not design for the short and round) – although I like that gold sweater a great deal, I know I could never pull it off (I have boobs, for one thing).

    I'm curious, though, as to why one would pay a large sum of money for something from Neiman's that fit poorly and was unflattering. Even those of us that are very short and very round can find clothes that fit reasonably well.

  • 11/30/09
    2:03 pm

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    DocP said...

    I have that sweater. I'm sure I'll wear it to a couple of parties this season. There is much less navy than in the past – seems to be mostly black this year. I'm hoping for navy in the spring.

  • 11/30/09
    2:05 pm

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    DocP said...

    LPC – not to mention the photoshopped model controversy.

  • 11/30/09
    2:26 pm

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    Deja Pseu said...

    Having also grown up with horses, I can't bring myself to wear a head-to-toe equestrian look. Ralph has indeed found the marketing sweet spot – making people believe in the fairy tale and even more important, making them believe they can purchase a piece of it. The Lauren line does have a nicely cut hacking jacket from time to time…which I'll wear with anything other than jodphurs.

  • 11/30/09
    6:30 pm

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    Buckeroomama said...

    I have no issue with a small discreet logo, but a big crest, a humongous logo plastered down the left side of the sternum? Um, no thanks.

    Coincidentally, I was at the Ralph Lauren shop last Saturday to drop something off for a friend whose mom manages the store. I have to tell you, it was packed –a mix of both locals and tourists.

  • 11/30/09
    6:42 pm

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    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    Yeah, I've always found those ads pretentious. Like if you buy these clothes you too can be rich and beautiful. Although that gold sweater is really nice.
    Another interesting post on a topic I'd not thought about …

  • 11/30/09
    9:17 pm

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    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    I have a few Ralph garments and they are quite plain, good basics. I did succumb to a white RL Polo, white with the navy polo pony on the front when holidaying in Palm Springs with my husband and children back in the 80's… El Paseo shop which served bubbly in a flute to the gents as they were led to a comfortable chair LOL!
    I also bought argyle cashmere socks for my neighbor who was taking in our mail and watering the houseplants.
    Your comment about how he cheapened what the High Wasp wore is more than likely true as I felt a teeny bit like I might have been a Wasp myself, wearing that polo, money well spent!

  • 11/30/09
    9:49 pm

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    Reggie said...

    You nailed it

  • 12/01/09
    3:59 am

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    Anonymous said...

    Hmmm. Bought some Ralph Lauren flannel pajamas for the man in my life a couple of years ago. Buttons fell off in no time and the flannel pilled horribly. They are a wreck.

    Interesting post.

  • 12/01/09
    4:49 am

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    Anonymous said...

    Must disagree with various comments regarding fit.
    What keeps me coming back to the black and purple label is fit/cut.
    Fit, baby, is what it's about. Not….NOT, NOTTTT the logo and glitz.
    In fact, the stuff that doesn't try hard, works.
    For basics – trim wool shetlands (I ONLY buy the colors with the stitched logo the same color as the sweater as NOT to show). Besides, a string of pearls or a small silk knotted scarf tucked in the neck takes the eye away from the already discreet tone on tone logo of my shetlands.
    The black and purple label trousers and moleskin/velvet jeans fit like a dream AND are long enough.
    No where would I allow a label/logo show (PLAIN pockets!!) and the quality is excellent. High priced, yep. But never have altered and I've had the clothing for years. YEARS.
    His polo label and green label stuff is terrible. As are the oversized logos, gilt crested stuff and overtly, over stylized pieces.

  • 12/01/09
    5:34 am

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    Aubergine said...

    Interesting post.

    I never have been a fan of logos, (if I've paid for it, they're not using me as a free advertisement), but being a fan of polos, good shirts and v-neck cable knit jumpers makes avoiding them somewhat difficult.

    My family have always gone for teeny crocodiles instead of teeny men on horses but that still seems too logo-y for me.

    In my experience, cream trousers tend to not mix well with grass or children, even if they do have gorgeous hair.

  • 12/01/09
    5:53 am

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    Lisa said...

    Great post!

  • 12/01/09
    12:08 pm

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    class-factotum said...

    My uncle actually did play polo. Around the world. He is an immigrant from what used to be Prussia before the Russians came over the hill in tanks. His dad was in WWII. On the Other Side.

    My uncle came to this country in debt. Joined the US Army. Went to college on the GI Bill. Has worked with horses his entire life. Was a fireman, a cowboy and a rancher. Now retired as the fire chief of the Broadmoor Fire Dept, he owns and runs a commercial stables. Has probably never worn a logo'd shirt in his life. Wore Wranglers to his own wedding. Drives an old pickup. Not your stereotypical polo player, but he has played in Argentina, China, and South Africa. Hmm. Does he win any snob points?

  • 12/02/09
    8:27 am

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    Patsy said...

    ah, Ralph's ubiquitous pony! like: my adorable red corderoy black label skirt, my husband's very heavy weight oxfords and the gorgeous custom home furnishings. dislike: the giant logo. looks like it's on steroids, creepy.

    I suspect the true polo players are much like competitive sailors – wouldn't be caught dead with an RL logo'ed shirt, unless it was part of the uniform, then, since it's free, who cares?

  • 12/02/09
    9:02 am

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    Tickled Pink And Green said...

    LOL! I love that last part! I admit I'm more about the home decor than the clothes but perhaps it is more because Ralph looks better on the thinner ladies…

    ;-)

  • 01/25/11
    9:06 am

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    Happy Gilmore said...

    I played polo when I was younger and didn’t mind wearing a shirt with a discrete Polo logo, on occasion. That is, until Ralph Lauren had the audacity to file suit against the US Polo Association for showing a mounted polo player on their literature. I haven’t purchsed anything Ralph Lauren since….

  • 01/29/11
    12:29 pm

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    Lisa said...

    Now THAT’S delusional…

  • 02/12/11
    11:18 am

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    Joy said...

    Though I am not anywhere near a “high WASP” I do strongly share your sentiments regarding Ralph Lauren.

  • 12/17/12
    5:25 am

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    Kysyona said...

    I have to say, I have never owned a RL piece of clothing simply because I am quite short and have a very distinct hourglass shape, which doesn’t do justice to the RL design and vice versa. But I have to mention, that I have not been able to find a better perfume for outdoor activities than Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport.It all comes down to one’s skin chemistry since it’s part of the final cocktail, but even when I sniff it from the bottle cap it makes me think of exactly what the clothing line promotes: youth, energy, wind blasting into a warmed up by exercise pink face ( at least mine is always pink on those ocasions ). This is perhaps the only RL product that prompts me to say: here he simply nailed it.

    12/17/12
    6:12 am
    Lisa said...

    He’s such a competent person, I am not surprised.

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