The Post About High WASPs


If you’ve just landed here, I need to say one thing before you read. My Twitter bio says “I try not to be a jerk,” and that’s true. I’ve got good intentions; I may occasionally fail to execute. If you’ve been around for a while, all this will be familiar, perhaps restated all in one place to answer a few questions. In either case, welcome.

OK then.

When I first began this blog, I wrote often about my cultural sub-group, which I chose to call “The High WASPs.” Over time, I have found the topic demanding. It’s hard to write well about social class, and it requires a lot of emotional stamina, particularly when writing about oneself. As a result, I’ve since moved towards a more inclusive blog space, one characterized by posts on what to wear and thoughts on mothering.

But I would like to be able to keep social class in play, if only now and again. Let me now explain my purpose. In future, when I take up the matter, I will point people here for context.

Is There Any Universal Value to Discussing High WASPs?

Is there anything to be gained from what is clearly on the one hand a quirky personal deconstruction? Well, of course, only you all can judge, and I welcome your civil thoughts. But here are my hypotheses and hopes.

  1. High WASPs were the ruling class. An exposé of the ways of power is fun and often useful, even if we rely on domestic narrative.
  2. The High WASP story is almost always told incorrectly. Somehow, I know not how, a WASP trope grew wild like kudzu. All that Muffy and Biff, gin and tonics, Lilly Pulitzer and lobster pants, it’s wrong. Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% correct. When I was in first grade, at my alternative progressive school, the kids teased me and Mark Callaway (of Callaway Vineyards) and said we wore gold underpants. We didn’t. Look, do you think those early American families could have forged a nation and made so much money in the process were they universally fatuous? No? I thought not.
  3. In some ways, the culture has left its mark on etiquette, and knowing the ins and outs can help you to feel comfortable and even prevail in certain situations. For example, job interviews. weddings, visits to the boss’s house. It can be useful to hear the back story around etiquette, and how to take the approach of those to the manor born. Even if you quite happily decide to ignore everything I say. I could always be wrong.
  4. Think about the High WASP aesthetic. It’s useful to consider how, after generations of abundance, we value aesthetic restraint.
  5. High WASP culture had some other good bits. Leaving England and Scotland took guts. Writing the Constitution took brains. Building a culture that despite its sins is still the most inclusive in the world, took heart.
  6. The High WASP culture is on its way out. In 2012 the most immediate routes to financial success involve athletics, creative performance, or technology. All characterized by quite different behaviors than the High WASPs of yore. We may want to keep Please and Thank You in place, even while Just Saying No to  hegemony.

But Seriously, Why Break the Rules of Good Behavior?

Really, you might wonder, unconvinced, it’s crass to talk about money and class, right? Why break the rules?

As has been true throughout history when it comes to breakage of rules, it’s my heart’s fault. Who doesn’t want to tell their own story, at some point? The process can unfold in many ways, I suppose. If you’ve lived through trauma, maybe you learn how and when and who to tell what serves you. If you’ve had a happy childhood, averagely well-to-do yet unique in cultural details, I hope there’s little difficulty in the communication.

But what if the telling of your warm family stories often implies, “I had more than you did. More, in fact, than my fair share?” How to tell friends about your family when one dear memory involves an actual silver spoon? I remember our silver iced tea sippers. Shaped like a heart, at the base, with a straw for the stem. No big deal. My mother would take them out of the silver chest for us to fool around with, every now and again.

This was probably all more complicated because we’re liberals, my family. Secular liberal intellectuals, at that, who tend to associate with other such, where wealth is not overly appreciated.

So from one perspective, I’m doing as anyone who likes to talk might. Telling my story, explicating my culture, remembering what’s been dear to me or difficult over the years. In this process, I could either pointedly avoid mentioning privilege, or lay it bare. I chose the more naked path.

Federalist Mirror Detail

This choice is also personal. I have been a blurter for much of my life. Luckily for everyone, less so as I age. But as a young woman, I was the one who said the thing. That thing others were thinking about and pointedly not saying.

High WASPs, you have to know, value discretion. Many things are silently barred from discussion. In particular, one does not speak of privilege except in jest.

“Yes, this Christmas in Jamaica is costing us more than a small nation state’s transportation budget. “

Followed by jocular and embarrassed laughter. Things both said and not said.

My careful writing on High WASPs sails me towards a unified self. In the calm and privacy of writing I replace both suppression and blurting with intention. Jibing and tacking toward a small true island.

Which reminds me of summers on Cape Code and Swallows and Amazons but that’s neither here nor there.

Authentic Harris Tweed Jacket from the 1940s

Third question. And some answers.

All that said, what is a High WASP again? A WASP with old money and a lot of education, if I’m blunt. In my case, the old money is almost gone. The fortune, fading, fading, faded.

It’s also possible that the High WASP is only a construct I’m building out. A framework to tell a personal story that might otherwise have been reduced to spoons and secrets. A construct characterized by a rather nice balance of values and aesthetics, at that.

Anything big  has multiple meanings.

Revere bowl from Tiffany's

Thank you for reading.

Images
Dessert plate from some miscellaneous china Dad gave me
Tiffany’s bowl from my maternal grandmother. We share a monogram.
Small detail from my maternal grandmother’s Federalist mirror
My paternal grandmother’s Harris tweed jacket from the 1940s
Gold Georg Jensen bracelet from my maternal grandmother, bangles I bought when I returned from India, Chinatown link bracelet, “Victory” charm from Dad’s side. Only modern High WASPs can countenance the exuberance of an “arm party.”
A needlepoint pillow Aunt Priscilla made me when I was at Princeton. In case I wasn’t clear, the family affection matters way more than the ugliness.

63 Comments

  • 09/26/12
    7:10 am

    Reply

    Susan said...

    Great post. And yes, I’ve missed your musings about growing up in a High Wasp situation. More please. Your posts on this topic are among my very favorite of all of your posts.

    (I grew up in deep East Texas. My parents grew up on small family farms (my mother in New England) from which they had to make a living. My mother’s family came from Poland in the early 1900s. Even so, sterling silver flatware was valued in our household. Unfortunately, no tea sippers though.)

    09/26/12
    8:22 am
    Megan said...

    I’ve been lurking your blog for quite a while, and I, too, love reading your “high WASP” posts. I myself am from a high-WASP family (my mother’s people arrived on the Little James, and then proceeded to be extremely industrious and grow extremely rich for a couple of centuries before the fortune began to fade in the 1970′s). I’m in my mid-20s, and was raised in old-money culture (though with a more modest budget).

    Reading these posts brings to mind my own family, my mother, my aunts. When each of the girls was born, my grandmother chose a silver pattern for her; they would get pieces in their pattern at every birthday and Christmas. There are so many little details like that; it’s just the way it was for them. I’ve never (knowingly) met anyone outside my family who came from that place.

    Don’t get me wrong, there was ugliness in my mother’s childhood; there were a lot of things that went wrong. But there was a lot of privilege, too, and that’s been passed down to me – not just the silver, but also the “way of being”. It’s my culture, good and bad, and I love reading these posts, because it’s your culture, too. It’s like finding a long-lost aunt who knows where I’m coming from.

    09/27/12
    7:00 am
    Lisa said...

    Welcome Megan, and thank you. It’s wonderful to have the culture out in the open – no longer something that’s my family’s quirks alone.

    09/27/12
    6:46 am
    Lisa said...

    Thanks. The combination of East Texas farm and Polish ancestry sounds like it would make for some great stories.

  • 09/26/12
    7:10 am

    Reply

    materfamilias said...

    I can see how risky this is, and has been, for you to do, and I appreciate the courage. I think the project absolutely worthwhile, the view you share interesting at the very least, the peek behind a curtain that isn’t so often drawn back. And you write, and tell stories, so well, I’ll certainly be reading, listening.

    09/27/12
    6:46 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. I appreciate the company, as you know.

  • 09/26/12
    7:14 am

    Reply

    Buckeroomama said...

    Thank you for sharing.

    I appreciate your deconstructions and the laying bare of things. Your blog, your prerogative. We could choose to read (and enjoy your way with words) or not.

    09/27/12
    6:47 am
    Lisa said...

    With blogging, don’t you come to feel that you share ownership with your readers? I do.

  • 09/26/12
    7:21 am

    Reply

    Sarah @ Belle on Heels said...

    At the risk of glossing over all of the wonderful bits of this post, OHMIGOSH I LOVE YOUR NEEDLEPOINT PRINCETON PILLOW!!!

    And this? “The High WASP story is almost always told incorrectly. Somehow, I know not how, a WASP trope grew wild like kudzu. All that Muffy and Biff, gin and tonics, Lilly Pulitzer and lobster pants, it’s wrong. Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% correct.” So, so true. Something that frustrates me to no end.

    09/27/12
    6:47 am
    Lisa said...

    Hehe.;)

  • 09/26/12
    7:21 am

    Reply

    Ally Bean said...

    What a fascinating look at your childhood and the assumptions implicit within it. As an adult it is so easy to ignore how we were taught to behave as children– and just mindlessly behave that way. But not you, thankfully.

    I love the bit about the silver iced tea sippers. My aunt had some of those. At our house the wasp-ness revolved around bone dishes. Another one of those “lost” wonders of affluence.

    09/27/12
    6:49 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. And I didn’t even know about bone dishes, so you have enriched my lexicon.

  • 09/26/12
    7:30 am

    Reply

    Jan's Sushi Bar said...

    I love this post – like Susan, I often miss your musings about growing up, well, privileged. And I dislike the fact you feel compelled to explain and often apologize for it. People need to just get a grip.

    “I have been a blurter for much of my life. Luckily for everyone, less so as I age. But as a young woman, I was the one who said the thing. That thing others were thinking about and pointedly not saying.”

    Me, too, my dear. Me, too.

    09/27/12
    6:55 am
    Lisa said...

    Blurters Unite! That will help when people don’t manage to get a grip;)

  • 09/26/12
    7:31 am

    Reply

    kathy said...

    Coincidentally it seems, I’ve been mulling over emailing you about bringing this subject back to the blog, after hearing you talk about it some on your radio interview. I thought you articulated it in a way that you never quite nailed when you wrote about it previously, and thought that perhaps you should try writing it as you spoke about it. Well, you did that exactly here, and I’m looking forward to more of these posts. Really well done!

    09/27/12
    6:55 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. Interesting, the alignment, and gratifying.

  • 09/26/12
    7:38 am

    Reply

    Tabitha said...

    Re number 5, “Leaving England and Scotland took guts.” I always say this too, the ones who left had courage and determination, all the naysayers were left behind, I think that’s part of the reason for our nation being so dour and yours being more of a can do positive culture, we lost a lot of our positive genes to America.

    09/27/12
    6:56 am
    Lisa said...

    Well that’s highly complimentary but if America had more of your creative sense of humor and self-deprecation we’d fare well, I think.

  • 09/26/12
    7:52 am

    Reply

    MarySue Foster said...

    Keep writing about this. I grew up as an Army officer’s dependent — all the manners but none of the money. I’m 68 now and have been deconstructing all that for 40 years or so. Still slips up sometimes and pokes me in the rear. A lifetime of working for social justice and I’m still sometimes just the White Lady in the Room.

    It’s worthwhile examining this background conversation. Thanks.

    09/27/12
    6:56 am
    Lisa said...

    Great term, White Lady in the Room. I thank you for your thoughts.

  • 09/26/12
    8:01 am

    Reply

    Stephanie @ La Dolce Vita said...

    Another great post. I appreciate how often you put yourself out there for us. You do not offend, are not “a jerk”. And you write so very beautifully, it’s a pleasure to visit with you here.

    09/27/12
    6:58 am
    Lisa said...

    xox

  • 09/26/12
    8:01 am

    Reply

    Patsy said...

    I’m a blurter too.

    I believe your pillow combines needlepoint with bargello – I was a big bargello-er in the 70s.

    09/27/12
    6:58 am
    Lisa said...

    MORE terms I didn’t know! So great. Let’s together and blurt some day.

  • 09/26/12
    8:25 am

    Reply

    pigtown*design said...

    It’s funny… i’ve gotten some grief about both my name and the house where we were raised. It’s not like I could do anythng about either one. Was I supposed to run away from home and change my name at age 10 because years later, people would think i was bragging about my background? We’re all accidents of birth and it’s all a huge lottery.

    Never complain. Never explain.

    09/27/12
    7:01 am
    Lisa said...

    Ha!. I like to hear from people with more impunity than I. Good for the soul.

  • 09/26/12
    8:26 am

    Reply

    Beth said...

    I also have enjoyed reading your reflections, explorations of “high WASP” culture. However, I found myself uncomfortable with this: “Building a culture that despite its sins is still the most inclusive in the world, took heart.” when thinking about the creation of US culture, I don’t know how you define culture or inclusivity, but I don’t see true inclusivity in the beginning. I also think about the North-South divide when thinking of WASPS, not that northerners were blameless themselves in terms of racism and sexism.
    I see the “building of culture” as a process that is incredibly complex, with the “underdog” often having more of an influence than we might imagine. I’m curious to hear what time period you imagine for this. For example, when I think of colonial-era inclusivity/egalitarianism, I think of the Quakers, and a few individuals here and there.
    I hope my curious, conversational tone is coming across in this comment. I very much expect that we are on the same page, literally and figuratively.

    09/26/12
    7:09 pm
    materfamilias said...

    I’ll admit to wincing a bit at this as well, but from a different perspective, a Canadian’s. We feel as if we’re pretty inclusive ourselves although we know that hasn’t always been our history, and many of us know that we still often fall short. But so often Americans seem to need to be “the most” at so many attributes that others of us think we’re also fairly decent at. It’s more Canadian, I must admit, to apologise for pointing that out. . .

    09/27/12
    7:07 am
    Lisa said...

    First of all, your tone is exactly as you state, curious and conversational. Thank you. Second, I agree that there was no true inclusivity in the beginning. But in order to establish the rights of those who set up America – who were often economically excluded by the English landed gentry – the founders had to articulate a framework of inclusion. Once articulated, they had to live by it. I have to add, clearly the large territory, and the willingness to eradicate native populations, supported the later capacity to include. So by no means ideal, blameless, or even virtuous. I suppose I could italicize the relative nature of my sentence, i.e. compared to most of the rest of the world, I see America as highly inclusive.

  • 09/26/12
    8:34 am

    Reply

    Miranda said...

    I have missed your commentary on our WASP heritage.
    Good, bad or indifferent,it is a heritage that has helped shape the world. I was raised to be kind to those who are less fortunate – now, so many seem to be so self absorbed, greedy and grasping, some even sneering at helping others. Personally, I mourn the fading lose of the culture and the good manners that went with it.
    Sometimes, I imagine a world where everyone is equally educated and all have kind, good manners.
    My ideal Utopia.
    Thank you for today’s post.
    Sincerely,
    Miranda
    SF Bay Area

    09/27/12
    7:07 am
    Lisa said...

    You’re very welcome, Miranda. Education and kindness are two of the greatest components of humanity.

    09/27/12
    9:55 pm
    Latha said...

    The world? There is a huge world outside of the West that has sustained over centuries longer than America has been in existence! That said, I love this post.

  • 09/26/12
    8:44 am

    Reply

    Karena said...

    Lisa you blog is titled Privilege; so once in a while it is nice to hear about yours and what it entailed.

    I grew up in a large middle class family whose forefathers farmed and worked themselves to death literally.

    What I did though was realize there was no entitlement, started work at an early age, etc. I did however watch the girls at school who wore the finest clothes, had a certain stature, also emulated a friend a couple of years older who introduced me to a boutique that had great sales and I started collecting died to match sweaters and skirts, Looked for nicer accessories.

    We all know that money does not make class. However the High Wasp Society can teach us all a lesson or two!

    xoxo
    Karena
    2012 Artists Series

    09/27/12
    7:08 am
    Lisa said...

    I appreciate that you’re willing to listen, once in a while.

  • 09/26/12
    9:33 am

    Reply

    Ida said...

    What an interesting post on the original founding fathers of America.

    Megan,I am reading about the ships,Anne who had 60+ passengers.
    Little James, – a pinnace to act as a trading craft which arrived August 1623 at New Plymouth.It has come more alive to me hearing your family arrived on it.

    Not much American history was taught at school,but we all seemed to know about the Pilgrim fathers.

    Thank you Lisa for this informative post.Ida

    09/27/12
    7:17 am
    Lisa said...

    Ida you are very kind. I know so little about history – except through the lens of my family and culture. All this is pointing out that I need to learn more.

  • 09/26/12
    10:06 am

    Reply

    Suburban Princess said...

    Interesting. I don’t often give a lot of thought to my WASPiness…perhaps because I live in a fairly WASPy place. I’ve long ago tho, stopped worrying about whatever privilege has been afforded me – regardless of how old or new one’s money is, someone, somewhere worked hard for it, and that keeps me humble.

    Chuckling at your statement “All that Muffy and Biff, gin and tonics, Lilly Pulitzer and lobster pants, it’s wrong. Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% correct” …we all know I have more than my fair share of GTH pants, I would never hide that fact…but you said something to me a year ago that summed it up perfectly. It’s about tradition. Not everyone gets that. The fluff has to be backed up with tradition.

    09/27/12
    7:18 am
    Lisa said...

    Culture is such an amalgam of tradition, history, and as you put it, fluff:).

  • 09/26/12
    10:37 am

    Reply

    CinderellarRidvan said...

    Delurking to applaud your bravery and integrity.

    09/27/12
    7:20 am
    Lisa said...

    Welcome, and thank you for reading, lurking, and delurking.

  • 09/26/12
    10:45 am

    Reply

    Carol said...

    You are so very right. I have been fortunate enough to have inherited over one hundred various Waterford stemware, my grandmothers china, silver, a Duncan-Phyfe dining table, etc. I love to entertain. BUT, the way to entertain, as I was raised, seems to be intimidating and unknown to some of our guests. They may never remove their napkin from the place setting, are confused over which glass to use and heaven help them if I set more than one fork or spoon at table.
    These are fine people. But there is a cultural difference between us.

    09/27/12
    7:22 am
    Lisa said...

    Over time, I’ve learned to mix it up. To be be precise, the fading of the family fortune meant I had to mix it up:). So silver flatware with white Crate and Barrel plates, pottery serving bowls, and so on. Your family inventory sounds lovely.

  • 09/26/12
    12:09 pm

    Reply

    The Preppy Princess said...

    It’s wonderful to see you writing about the High WASP topic, the subject is one you cover very well, with a shot of much-needed panache. Like others, I concur about the WASP trope going through some sort of transmutation, “All that Muffy and Biff….” is indeed off the mark. Not entirely, but mostly.

    I loved this one Miss Privilege,
    tp

    09/28/12
    7:04 am
    Lisa said...

    But the part about family names for middle names, that one is right, no?:)

  • 09/26/12
    12:51 pm

    Reply

    Candace said...

    Please keep writing about your heritage and upbringing, as I am enjoying your descriptions and commentary immensely. Your “arm party” high WASP bracelet is my favorite!

    09/28/12
    7:04 am
    Lisa said...

    <3

  • 09/26/12
    12:53 pm

    Reply

    leaming2956 said...

    Thank you for sharing additional thoughts about your “High Wasp construct”. If we’re honest, many of us are fascinated by class; who has it, who doesn’t, how it’s defined and how it’s evolved. My parents immigrated from pre-Communist China and both came from “good” (indeed ancient) families. However, they escaped with their portable wealth literally sewn into the linings of their clothing.
    They were grateful to start over in the U.S. acknowledging the life of privilege was something left behind in the old country. I grew up distinctly middle class, yet with a deep appreciation for the family legacy and heritage. That’s not a bad inheritance and less vulnerable to the vagaries of the market and popular tastes.

    09/28/12
    7:05 am
    Lisa said...

    I’ve learned so much from my Chinese-American colleagues and friends, about the immigrant experiences, and then about my own in contrast, if you will. And I understand the wealth sewn in.

  • 09/26/12
    1:44 pm

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    I realize that for all your evocative, nuanced, descriptive writing, I still do not know how you feel about the fact of “the fortune being…faded.” That is not to say you are obliged to reveal that. Reading your post several times, there is little about your or your family’s adaptation to what I imagine is a tangible, real and not-readily-reversed change. Having known some families in that situation (WASP and not), I have seen an array of attitudes and behaviours- but that is someone else’s story, not yours.

    09/28/12
    7:06 am
    Lisa said...

    I can tell the story of my own reaction and experience. Good question. Probably the next time I touch on this, some weeks off, I’ll use this topic.

  • 09/26/12
    2:31 pm

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    Although the money helps I think it’s also about culture.

    09/28/12
    7:06 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank goodness, right?

  • 09/26/12
    2:39 pm

    Reply

    Mardel said...

    I love your musings about growing up, about assumptions, and background, but can also see how these posts are the more difficult to write, to lay bare your own assumptions and background.

    My great grandmother had silver iced tea spoons like that, and gumbo spoons as well. She would let me play with them. There is so much meaning in the history that the things themselves are but the least of it.

    09/28/12
    7:07 am
    Lisa said...

    Silver gumbo spoons. Now sounds like richly threaded cultural heritage.

  • 09/26/12
    3:27 pm

    Reply

    Susan Partlan said...

    I shouldn’t be taking a break from my studies but couldn’t resist stopping by to say hello. Hello! (I miss reading blogs!) It’s interesting you revisited this topic now as I become increasingly steeped in research around what it means to construct/deconstruct culture, especially our diverse and complex US culture. As I understand it thus far, sociocultural theorists would welcome your willingness to construct/deconstruct, but would prefer that this kind of discourse involve a wider variety of perspectives. What you do here is more personal, more intimate. I enjoy it, because I’m more interested in you as a person than in the wider subject of High Wasps. I wonder though, if some readers misunderstand because they are expecting a wider discourse. Food for thought. And please keep writing!

    09/28/12
    7:11 am
    Lisa said...

    There’s many a slip ‘twixt expectation and results:).

  • 09/26/12
    5:18 pm

    Reply

    Peg Nicholson said...

    I come from long line of faded HWs on one side and working-class oriented immigrants on the other. Became acquainted with true high wasps in their habitat at Princeton in the 70′s. (Ah, sherry hour!)You evoke lot of warm and ironic memories.Thank you for your honesty and generosity of spirit. I have missed your posts on privilege & class.

    09/28/12
    7:18 am
    Lisa said...

    I was class of ’78. I was too busy having beer hour to get to sherry – oof. Some college indignities are shared across all sorts of demographics. And thank you in return.

  • 09/26/12
    6:53 pm

    Reply

    deb-u-naunt said...

    I was totally taken by the new girl that moved to town when we both were in the 7th grade…she was totally different than most anyone I had met thus far… she was from “privilege” also. I was facinated!
    I wanted/(still want) to be her.
    She had a middle name that sounded like her uncle (Miller)… as did all her siblings. Her father’s swords (from VMI),
    were displayed in their “formal living room” we weren’t really even allowed to mess around in that much. Her older sisters wore Papagallas, she introduced me to Weejuns! They had secretish sweet nicknames for each other(trudy,muffy), they had antique furniture from the mom’s side. All the girls went away (sadly) to boarding schools in the East when they turned 15ish. She gave me my first monogrammed disc as a 16th birthday present.
    They also had money…never spoken about.

    I, to this day, am completely taken by “the Privileged”, as I am by everything you say or write.
    Keep talking/writing. I can’t get enough of this mystique.

    09/28/12
    7:18 am
    Lisa said...

    Wonderful and specific memories. I’m very happy to continue demystifying:).

  • 09/26/12
    7:21 pm

    Reply

    deb-u-naunt said...

    I just re-read several of the comments and was wondering…
    I love you because you serve me a glass of wine in your Waterford, and that the olive fork is silver, and that it’s alright if i might have chipped your Aunt’s Gein dessert plates unknowingly…and the hunt prints in your living room. I really love the way you wear your clothes and adore your grandmother’s needlepoint pillows…But mostly, I love the way you laugh and your sense of humor, the way you make me feel as if I am your best and only friend…I was wondering, what might you love about me?

    09/28/12
    7:21 am
    Lisa said...

    Loyalty, intelligence, steadfastness, resourcefulness, and all the other characteristics that matter so over the course of a life. All your cultural details, the stories of making dumplings for Chinese New Year, or your Bat Mitzvah reading, or your abuela’s stories. I think it’s about the generous universal, and the true specifics.

  • 09/26/12
    7:51 pm

    Reply

    Jane said...

    I’m late to the conversation but as ever totally fascinated both by your beautifully written piece and by the measured responses to it.

    Do keep looking back and do continue processing your world with us.

    xo Jane

    09/28/12
    7:24 am
    Lisa said...

    And I will keep remembering to put Flowers In The House as often as I can manage:).

  • 09/26/12
    7:58 pm

    Reply

    Reggie Darling said...

    Ah well, how nice to see (and read) one of your “home again” pieces. As one HW to another, it is most ratifying to read your musinings on this subject, so close to heart. Reggie

    09/28/12
    7:24 am
    Lisa said...

    Ah Reggie – you are such a brilliant ambassador for the tribe.

  • 09/26/12
    7:59 pm

    Reply

    Reggie Darling said...

    I meant “gratifying” not “ratifying.” Why does my Yale education leave me in such matters of haste? Reggie

  • 09/26/12
    8:30 pm

    Reply

    Sally said...

    My nother (born in 1909 in Oklahoma just after statehood) came from a family of degreed teachers and Methodist ministers. She started college at a girls’ school before the age of 16. She cetainly knew which fork to use, used perfect grammar, and so forth. I grew up with silver and fine dishes – my point is that we were upper middle class (barely) financially and with four children were not afforded private high school, travel abroad, etc. However, these surroundings were taken for granted and I was amazed to find out later in life that not everyone I came up against had the same emphases placed on education, table manners etc. Interesting country we have…

    09/28/12
    7:25 am
    Lisa said...

    Sally – Exactly. How we go from assuming our experience is common, to understanding what we really share with each other and what is unique.

  • 09/27/12
    3:40 am

    Reply

    Mise said...

    The principle of High WASPishness by which it does not discuss itself is one that rings very true to me, and I find your background and mores more interesting in your embodiment of them rather than your forthright discussion of them, Lisa, accomplished and entertaining though that discussion is. But then again, part of the you I consider you to be is that you will do your own thing, so any approach you take to the subject, either simple embodiment or perceptive analysis, will be consistent and admirable.

    09/28/12
    7:26 am
    Lisa said...

    Well thank you. I find that by the examination I can more consciously embody the good bits, and give up the less than stellar, ounce by ounce.

  • 09/27/12
    6:09 am

    Reply

    Lee Rosenthall said...

    Lisa, I don’t have time right now to read through all the comments, but I had to applaud you for a great post. As someone who has worked in private philanthropy for 30 years, I’m familiar with much of the world you’re able to share about from first-hand knowledge, and it’s so very interesting (and helpful!) to me.

    I was privileged to study “Social Stratifications” in college with the great Digby Baltzell and continue to be fascinated by the sujbect of “class” in what is purported to be a “classless” society. I will, again, highly recommend Paul Fussell’s hilarious little tome “Class” for all those who want a public intellectual/curmudgeon’s take on the story of social class in the US:
    http://www.amazon.com/Class-Through-American-Status-System/dp/0671792253

    P.S. My mother, a third-generation German Jew whose father made and lost a fortune during the Great Depression, had little wealth to share with her children, but one thing she did pass along was the family silver (monogrammed pieces and other assorted pieces). Alas, our silver drinking straws (ice tea sippers??) were lost along the way. The “spoon” part of ours were lovely little leaves, perfect for a tall glass of iced mint tea. :-)

    09/27/12
    2:56 pm
    Aleatha said...

    I love Fussell… I have Class, as well as an assortment of his other essays. He’s an absolutely wonderful author. His examples are a bit dated, but it’s funny to see the echoes of old taste prejudices, decades later.

    09/27/12
    3:14 pm
    Aleatha said...

    Late to the party again! As I think I’ve said before, I love reading about High WASP culture. It’s a unique vantage point you have to offer, and I love your modesty and your self-awareness. As leaming2956 says, people are fascinated by class, and it’s fun to see the world through your eyes, from a place most of us cannot come from. (Although people are always far more curious about what’s above them than below. The unique vantage point of poverty is somehow never very interesting to anyone.)

    And I confess, as a someone who has found herself in an entirely different socio-economic strata from the one she was born into, I do watch carefully for those pearls of etiquette dropped from your lips. You can only get a limited amount of social pass for good intentions and being an engineer. And I have a bad habit of blurting too, although I’ve also gotten much better with age.

    09/28/12
    7:36 am
    Lisa said...

    It makes me very happy to know that the little bits of etiquette, which as a blurter quite haunted me in my youth, are useful to someone as accomplished as you.

    09/28/12
    7:31 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you Lee. The time has come for me to read “Class,” which I have somehow avoided until now. I can see the leaf spoons quite vividly.

  • 09/27/12
    7:12 am

    Reply

    Jacqueline said...

    Excellent. As usual!

    09/28/12
    7:32 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you!

  • 09/27/12
    8:15 am

    Reply

    Mary anne said...

    Excellent post. Go you and pass the Wheat Thins, please.

    09/28/12
    7:35 am
    Lisa said...

    Hehe. You bet. And ginger ale.

  • 09/27/12
    11:40 am

    Reply

    em said...

    My own family and subculture was so far out of things (poor and country) that I was never even aware of this other, the people of US history, wealth, and its culture. My adult life has placed me in many ways smack in the middle of them, and I love discussing and learning from each other. The differences that come up, things we simply carry as part of ourselves and assume about the functioning of the world, are fascinating!

    09/28/12
    7:35 am
    Lisa said...

    The things we simply carry. Exactly.

  • 09/27/12
    3:15 pm

    Reply

    Aleatha said...

    Oh dear. That was supposed to be a reply to the main post. *sigh*

  • 09/27/12
    5:00 pm

    Reply

    BarbaraG said...

    Lisa,
    I encourage you to consider writing a book. Your readers are already enthusiastic,
    interested and curious and will be there at your book signing.
    BarbaraG

    09/28/12
    7:37 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. If I do proceed with my book proposal, it would be about High WASPs. We shall see, and I thank you for the endorsement. You are wonderful.

  • 09/27/12
    10:15 pm

    Reply

    Latha said...

    I love reading the posts on your culture, partly because it resonates but also out of sheer curiosity about the details. I come from a Brahmin family in India. The notion of privilege may be the same but it is the details that interest me. In India, we eat with our hands off silver or gold plates :) Babies (including my son) get silver rattles, silver milk jugs, silver plates and bowls, and gold jewelry.
    T.

    However, the whole idea and practice is complex and paradoxical. It aims to reify the community’s power while standing at the forefront of change because of the very power.

    09/28/12
    7:46 am
    Lisa said...

    OMG exactly. Reifying power means it’s up to the powerful to lead change for the good.

  • 09/27/12
    10:17 pm

    Reply

    Latha said...

    By the way, you are so so far from a jerk!

  • 09/28/12
    5:54 am

    Reply

    Rubiatonta said...

    I enjoy reading your WASP posts, as I grew up in WASP paradise on the East Coast (Newport, RI), and have claims to the mantle (Mayflower ancestors on both sides, Sperry topsiders and Lily Pulitzer prints, an acute sense of what the right thing is), though there wasn’t a ton of money (no private schools, no yacht clubs).

    What I like about your posts is the way that you value your background while at the same time being willing to question it.

    And I share a nostalgia for “nice things” like monogrammed stationery, fountain pens, and family silver, handed down. My nice things are all in storage in the States now, and I miss them. They are what makes life less generic, and remembering the people in my family that they once belonged to takes me right back to those wonderful folks.

    Please keep posting.

    09/28/12
    7:47 am
    Lisa said...

    I appreciate the support in keeping this topic alive on the blog. And sounds to me like you grew up in High WASP central, as you say, both in location and in family. Another freighted term, “nice things…” Thank you, and nice to see you here.

  • 09/28/12
    5:54 am

    Reply

    englishvers said...

    I so enjoy reading and learning more about your heritage/upbringing. Indeed I have been out of touch. Much travel and so forth. Glad to see you writing and sharing. By the way. I adore Fussell;-)

    09/28/12
    7:48 am
    Lisa said...

    Out of touch but not out of mind. And we get to see the street style photos of you, that are so much fun. Fussell it is.

  • 09/28/12
    5:44 pm

    Reply

    wellfedfred said...

    You had me at Swallows and Amazons!

    09/29/12
    9:52 am
    Lisa said...

    Secret club!

  • 09/28/12
    10:51 pm

    Reply

    Marilyn said...

    Hi missy. Love your prose, as always. I wonder about the geographic differences between east coast and west coast privilege and even between northern and Southern California. I experienced a marked cultural or attitudinal difference between girls from the different locations in my collegiate days living in the sorority house. It would make for an interesting study. :). Love the bangles. xoxo

    09/29/12
    9:53 am
    Lisa said...

    xoxox – the regional differences fascinate me too. I’d love to travel around the country interviewing High WASPs. Ha! Can you imagine the scandal?

  • 09/29/12
    7:18 am

    Reply

    Flo said...

    Privilege has been a “race card” for generations, I think this is why so many people are calling you brave and courageous, LPC! I learned very early that I wanted a deck in my hand, that the one card wasn’t going to permit me to evolve as a modern human being. I’ve returned lately [several funerals] to the enclave where I was born, I sat quietly in the same church where I’d been christened/confirmed/married, looked around and felt some satisfaction that I’d left The Narrows [as I facetiously call the neighborhood] to go exploring. The P card is still there in my deck, and I know exactly how lucky I am to have internalized the scaffolding and the framework. The question for you to explore in your book Lisa: which pattern contributes most to the extinction of the High WASP — those subjects who stay within The Narrows, or those who step away. Where’s the data, and how in the world would you measure it? I cannot wait to host your book signing here in the Southeast! [HB to you tomorrow!]

    09/29/12
    9:54 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you for the birthday wishes. I love that term, “The Narrows,” and I know that same feeling brought my mom and dad to California all those years ago.

  • 09/29/12
    7:45 am

    Reply

    ELS said...

    Good for you, and long may we be the lucky recipients of unapologetic, intelligently-argued discussion on a subject that invokes such extremes of feeling. I for one think this forum is unique and fascinating. I don’t believe i am alone.

    09/29/12
    9:55 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you very much, oh clear-eyed one.

  • 09/29/12
    8:17 am

    Reply

    Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

    I applaud you for writing about all of this, and so eloquently. We so rarely talk about class here in the U.S., and when we do, the more privileged end of the spectrum is ridiculed without thoughtful examination. I’ve been guilty of this myself, even though my upbringing — in a family full of teachers and intellectuals — was more privileged than I’ve sometimes wanted to admit. (Privilege is not just money, as you’ve so clearly pointed out). Issues of class do affect us all, and talking about them is useful if we can do so with intellectual honesty and self-awareness. And that is exactly what you are doing.

    09/29/12
    9:56 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. Intellectual honesty is such a high bar, and so worth attempting.

  • 09/29/12
    9:50 am

    Reply

    Whitney Worthington said...

    “All that Muffy and Biff, gin and tonics, Lilly Pulitzer and lobster pants, it’s wrong. Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% correct” Thank you for writing something I wince over in the world of blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… everyday. Glad to know I am not alone in tiring over those misconceptions.

    09/29/12
    9:58 am
    Lisa said...

    Solidarity:).

  • 09/29/12
    2:18 pm

    Reply

    Jessica said...

    Look how popular this WASP post is…that ought to tell you something! It’s a fascinating way of life that you were able to experience, and one that many wished they could have…and it’s just plain old fun to read about!
    Please, when the mood strikes, feel free to wax poetically about this part of your life at any time…it’s a wonderful diversion to be able to indulge in a bit of WASPiness once in a while, especially when it’s your intelligent and humorous take on it all.
    xo J~

    10/02/12
    7:14 am
    Lisa said...

    I’m happy that this has become fun – that’s a wonderful outcome.

  • 10/02/12
    12:55 am

    Reply

    Shelley said...

    Lisa, This is such a wonderful post. I dip in and out of your blog because I’m interested in your experience of privilege and because you are not a jerk. A load of blogs give advice about what to wear, but yours seems special because of that P word.

    As has been said, we are all fascinated by class, I just didn’t realise it before. I’ve only recently had time to read and consider the issue. I learn about a different world to mine when you share your experiences. Your ‘fading fortune’ makes me think of Gone with the Wind or Bella Pollen’s Hunting Unicorns. After first reading this post I’ve gone away and Googled Class by Fussell and Lily Pulitzer prints (I shall likely buy one, but not the other). No doubt as I read it again I will find other things to investigate and ponder. These are types of posts I love most.

    I finally made it through Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class this summer and have undertaken to blog about it on Fridays. I’m aware that next to yours my writing is rather sad. I am still struggling to comprehend all of Veblen’s ideas and of course I cannot write from an experience I’ve never had, but perhaps you would find his book interesting. I agree that there should be your own book one day.

    10/02/12
    7:15 am
    Lisa said...

    I will have to read your posts. I look forward to them.

  • 10/05/12
    11:16 am

    Reply

    Emma Peel said...

    Do continue to write about High Wasp culture. It’s what drew me to your delightful blog in the first place.

    10/09/12
    7:18 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you. I will do so.

  • 10/06/12
    8:02 pm

    Reply

    Cecile said...

    I admire your commitment and excellent manners!!!! You actually reply to our posts! A vanishing breed!

    Sincerely,

    Cecile

  • 10/09/12
    7:20 am

    Reply

    Lisa said...

    Cecile, thank you. I try to reply to every comment when I write about social class. It feels respectful. When I post about my outfits, or fashion in general, I reply occasionally, as inspired or required. What with my fulltime job, I found I no longer had time to reply to everyone all the time.

    However, I read and appreciate every single comment I receive. Thanks again.

  • 10/16/12
    8:24 pm

    Reply

    Bumby said...

    Thank you and I bow.:)

  • 10/29/12
    8:38 pm

    Reply

    Margaret Goohouse said...

    I love this sidebar to your fashion blog, as of course the two are tightly interwoven in your heart and aesthetic.
    We are what we’ve inherited, at some level, not only in possessions but in the brave spirits of their original owners. How I love my great aunt’s silver service for 24! My English china, French crystal, and oh, those monogrammed Revere bowls! My favorite Persian carpets, ubiquitous here, are those purchased by my great-grandmother on the docks in New York in 1906.
    Today I love mixing it all up with Arabian linens and lanterns, Moroccan and Persian pottery, and other elements of local culture. But the day will come that I’ll return to Georgetown or Cape Cod or my Wyoming birthplace, and be glad to me back in my true element. Not WASP, but High Lace-Curtain Irish.

  • 03/11/13
    12:06 pm

    Reply

    Andrea said...

    Please accept my apologies for being late to your blog. Which is absolutley marvelous. I wonder is your plate by any chance a Minton plate? If it is, then chances are my great grandfather applied the gold to it. He had to wash over a gauze filter every evening before he left work to collect any gold that had attached to his hands.

    03/17/13
    7:32 am
    Lisa said...

    It is a Minton! The gold is still in place. Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by, and for the story. The interleaving of lives makes me very happy.

  • 08/23/13
    7:39 pm

    Reply

    Lara Panzullo said...

    Hi Lisa!

    I stumbled upon your blog while I was doing sociological research, and I enjoy it very much. Being of Slavic descent and Roman Catholic (Panzullo is my married name; it’s Sicilian), I am certainly not WASP, but I like to read about this privileged, refined world anyway.

    You will be happy to hear that WASP culture is alive and well in Wayne, Pennsylvania, which is on Philadelphia’s Main Line. I work there and am in the thick of it five days a week. In fact, I’ve found Wayne to be the WASPiest of all the towns on the Main Line, and it’s what motivated me to research WASP culture. As I am an art historian specializing in Marxist art criticism, anything pertaining to the proles vs. the bourgies interests me.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog, and congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

    08/25/13
    10:38 am
    Lisa said...

    Lara, very nice to meet you! I am happy to hear that these most personal natterings find a home in the larger context. I wonder, as an art historian, whether you have ever looked at American “folk” art, or the role of portraiture in the early days of the country. Seems to me that family paintings played a critical role in society – but I am sure you already knew that:).

  • 09/05/13
    1:51 pm

    Reply

    Joanna said...

    I’m always interested in reading thoughtful writing about my class origins. The comments are great too. I look forward to reading more.

    Thanks for this post!

  • 05/20/14
    9:58 am

    Reply

    Sarinda said...

    I am enraptured by the few things I have read thus far. I love your comments not just because of the transparency but the human insight. I look forward to learning more of your story.

    05/21/14
    6:15 am
    Lisa said...

    Thank you very much.

  • 06/19/14
    3:27 pm

    Reply

    Byron said...

    The WASP culture, by all accounts in the mainstream media, is on its deathbed. But I think we can bring it back, better than it ever was. The discretion you speak of, the values, the heritage, it’s all still there, waiting to be embraced and reborn. I wrote about much of this in The Old Money Book. I’m happy to have run across a kindred spirit. Thank you. Best wishes and continued success.

    06/19/14
    8:22 pm
    Lisa said...

    Thank you for saying hello. I’ll look up your book.

  • 06/27/14
    10:00 am

    Reply

    Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke said...

    Holy cow! Your observations and remarks above describe my Southern/Mid-Atlantic family and upbringing to a T. It never occurred to me before. At least not until recently.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

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  1. [...] does it feel like when your family fortune fades? I’ve thought about this since Duchesse asked. Whether I can sum up remains to be seen. Let us approach the subject with logic, even though [...]

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