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.
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:).