March 15, 2007

What WASPs Wear

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?

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.
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?

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.

You don't want to flaunt wealth, you just want to look immensely secure. Which is how you would if you were an Onassis.
I simply must give in. Old money, here I come!

17 comments:

Day said...

I only know one person who wears such expensive, radically stylish clothing like this, and she shops exclusively at Savers and DI. It's an amazing proof that there actually exists people who buy clothes like this, (and then they get rid of them).
Personally, I would not wear a Lace coat like that one even if it were a reasonable price. I can just picture my two-year-old tugging at the coattail and using it to wipe her nose.

Marie said...

Well, the Peterman CEO may be serious about this stuff, but whoever's writing the product descriptions (Julia Louis Dreyfuss?) sure isn't. What a hoot! I want their job! I'm surprised they don't get fired for such snark!

I guess if you're going to be a snob, it's better to be a tongue-in-cheek snob, or you might get guillotined by the unruffed masses.

And I love that lace coat. I always wanted to be an extra in a period drama. Now to find me a yacht party...

Vicky said...

Uh... my parents used to get this catalog when I was little. It was so boring to me. Yellow cover like a mini national geographic without colored photos just sketches. I can't believe it's still around.

Toni said...

I had no idea it was real either!

compulsive writer said...

I don't want to purchase their clothes, but wouldn't it be so much fun to write for their catalog?

cruncha said...

The Derby hat is very interresting to me. But that price is something else! I bet we could make it for $30 tops and then (if there really are buyers for stuff like that) turn a nice profit on ebay or craigslist. Just a thought. . .

Polo Pony said...

The prices for J. Peterman's products would fall under the "affordable" or "moderately priced" categories. I am thinking Hermes is more for the high end crowd.

I am so confused by the catalog. It screams sarcasm but would people with a good sense of humor have such a poor sense of style?

Jenny said...

Debry hat at $500 a piece...I'll take two. I can't believe this! This is awesome! I've always imagined that something like this existed, and here it is and better! It reminds me of Gatsby!

Amy said...

Sarah, your multi-facetedness impresses me. One day white trash with a dirty kid, next day a WASP wearing J. Peterman.

The Wiz said...

Freeeeeaaakkkyy.

Lindsay said...

Wow, that's some awesome stuff. Especially that Derby hat. If I had old money, that's what I'd invest in. And then I go to Kentucky Derby to show it off while I ate delicious Derby pie and oohed and aahed over those really fast horses.

Chanel said...

so funny! i never knew it was a real company, why would it be?
ANYWAY your white trash blog- fab!
It takes a lot of energy to not be white trash, seriously. My kids can get away being unkempt (they're so stinkin cute), it ME that has to really pull it together- I am sooo ok with not brushing my hair and leavign the house--- whats up with that?

s'mee said...

hnShe clicked on a familiar blog reading familiar posts, then without warning,like the sudden sea spray splashing up from her East Hamptons private deck, the words hit her and she remembered that her Urban Sombrero was from last season! Gasp! What to do? Grab the latest Derby Day Hat and set out quickly for a perfectly positioned box seat to cheer, in dignified tones of course, her favorite long shot.

emma jo said...

This catalog is great reading material...brief entries that are rich and fulfilling and take no time at all to read.
I forget to check your blog, I need to more...you are real funny and I love your daughter's name. Thanks for the entertainment.

Jamie J said...

I must be retarded, but what does WASP stand for?

Sarah said...

White Anglo Saxon Protestant. You know - everyone who makes it big in this country.

Sorry you're retarded ;) I only know because I read Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities." I think "WASP" was the only thing I took away from it.

Jamie J said...

Got it, thanks! I realized I really AM retarded. Even my husband knew what it was when I asked him just now...oh well...

Thanks for the link! I'm pretty sure I do have some people following me trying to kill me so you might just want to watch your back ;) They could find you too...I'll let you know if the threat is elevated. hehe