How do High WASPs differ from WASPs? Well, WASP is simply an acronym for White. Anglo-Saxon. Protestant. No more, no less.
However, in America, the broad term WASP is often used to mean a smaller, more specifically defined socio-economic group. When the broader term is used to indicate the smaller group, it’s often done metonymically. Yes. Big word for the day. Which I’m actually using incorrectly but let’s pretend. Meaning, using a part to imply the whole. In other words, the word WASP is backed by a list of daily life characteristics, rather than a discussion of the root cause/socio-economic background. By gin and tonics, red pants, and an Ivy League degree, rather than history, anthropology, psychology.
Which drives me nuts. Since my family falls into the smaller category, and I find that the daily life characteristics being bandied about hit the mark just enough for discomfort, and not enough for the relief of being fully found out.
Hence the term High WASP, used here for precision. Defining a smallish group of Americans. After the term came to me, when I was beginning to blog, I looked it up on the Internet. This is the only prior reference I have found. Below is the definition I use. Which I invented, out of whole cloth, and to which we need to attribute no authority whatsoever.
What are the traits of the broader category, the WASPs? I do not know. Perhaps they are too diverse to discuss in generalities. I try to talk only about what I know, or believe. And I try not to believe things about groups of people unless I have terabytes of personal or scientific data.
Let me just say straight out that I understand I tread a difficult line here. Matters of class are deservedly touchy. I think Twnkltwrp** said it best in reponse to Toffegyrl’s post on the Fatshionista LiveJournal forum. When asked if Privilege was a joke, she said she thinks that if it is, it’s one Amid Privilege gets. I hope I get it. I try to. I try very hard to get the joke.
So, leaving aside the question of whether we ought to be talking about all this in the first place, we might ask ourselves, should anyone care about High WASPs? In terms of world affairs and commerce, it’s probably no longer necessary. The day when my ancestors oversaw the political and economic workings of the United States of America have come and gone. As it should be, in the American way. But in the arena of style and taste, possibly, we have left our mark.
The High WASPs, in their heyday, developed a certain aesthetic related to social context. Hence, Privilege. The aesthetic is useful if) you want to hint at the American upper class – even though we rule no longer our style lingers b) your deepest desire is to dress “appropriately” b) you want to emanate power in many work cultures, such as law, finance, and traditional corporations.
The High WASP aesthetic is not homogenous. We allow for individual expression. Hence our style archetypes, the Grande Dame, the Sturdy Gal, the Artsy Cousin. Faux Fuchsia, she of the fabulous frocks and unchipped nail polish, she who in fact Directed Me (as she would say) to define the difference between WASP and High WASP, is apparently the best instantiation of the Australian version of a Grande Dame one could ever wish to see. The aesthetic is neither proprietary nor immutable. Anyone can do it if they like. I say so.
Which leads to the question, which I will lob back to Faux Fuchsia, and to you around the world, do other cultures have their High WASP equivalents? The thing about America is that in a culture where social class is firmly tied to money and achievement, where we replaced titles and aristocracy with welcomed waves of immigrants, our ruling class can, in fact, um, die. Leaving these rules of style and taste with no one left at the head of the cabal. Maybe that’s why I tell the inner secrets now. I mean, who’s left to get me in trouble?
I don’t know how it works, in other countries, and I’d love to find out.
*And now, if I may, I’m going to put my tongue firmly back into my cheek, square my jaw, and carry on.
**Toffegyrl, Twinkltrp, if you are reading, thank you so much for your comments. I would have responded on the forum but was thwarted by LiveJournal and all the signing up requirements.
***For a more wistful version of such folderol, read Tad Friend’s book, Cheerful Money
****The Anonymous Speller did me the enormous favor of pointing out that I misspelled Fuchsia. Apparently it the color was named after the flower named for Herr Doktor Fuchs.