I don't know how it happened, but I am now on the mailing list of the J. Peterman Company. Who knew this was even a real brand? For years I've seen the company and its creator mocked on the sitcom "Seinfeld." I was certain it was simply a fantastical product of script writers. But there in my mailbox was the Early Spring 2007 catalog.
I flipped it open and found myself looking at the picture I've posted to the right. The description for this seemingly common shirt read as follows:
May we put in a word for the much-bashed WASP?The shirt was priced at $78, which for those in "The Old Money Club" should pose as no purchasing deterrent. The pricetag also ensures the guy with the iPod they pass on their Sunday stroll won't be sporting it as well. What more could an old WASP want?
Industry, conscience, civic-mindedness, a whole-hearted belief (at best) in the level playing field...those aren't bad things. And neither are the clothes.
These shirts, for example. The kind favored for casual wear by Skull-and-Bones members with little summer places on Fishers Island.
The colors suggest a capacity to enjoy the good things in life. They don't shout about it though. They speak softly, which is how old money speaks.
I looked into the company a bit. Surely their brand name recognition on "Seinfeld" would have catapulted their business to immense success. But no. Most viewers, like me, never realized this was even a real company. In fact, despite more than three years of exposure on the popular show, John Peterman sold his company brand in bankrupcy in 1999. A few years later Peterman bought the brand name back with the help of his alter-ego, John O'Hurley (the actor who played him on "Seinfeld"). Strangely enough, the company's exposure on the show seemed to have no affect on the company's sales. Who knew Edwardian Lace coats, Marti Gras caftans, and Pommel slickers weren't hot on the runway?
As ridiculous and overpriced as all of their products were, I had to admire the dumb guts behind the brand. They don't bother pretending that just anyone would feel comfortable in their clothing. In fact, I bet they have a strict policy against selling their products to any racial minority or manual laborer. I read the entire catalog just for the fantastical descriptions and promises of adventure, affluence and intrigue guaranteed with each purchase.
I'm not sure whether to be honored or disgusted that someone at their Lexington, Kentucky headquarters thought to add me to their mailing list. But just because I've never worn a hat in public doesn't mean that I wouldn't look stunning in the Derby Day hat. There's a whole lot of WASP in me buzzing to break free. How could I resist a description like this for an Italian coat:
You've somehow garnered an invitation to the latest mega-yacht launching at La Spezia. And suddenly your wardrobe is out of date.I simply must give in. Old money, here I come!
You don't want to flaunt wealth, you just want to look immensely secure. Which is how you would if you were an Onassis.