Combine acres of baby-friendly pink with as much loud kelly green as you can fit on the square footage that makes up an ensemble and what do you get? If you said "fashion disaster" followed by a possible "romper-room...romper" you'd be correct. Unless, of course, you're talking about eyescorching "Go to Hell" fashion color palette of a small caste of elites that used to control American business, politics and economic aspiration. White Angle Saxon Protestants received their WASPy tag back in the mid-1960s and while their social control has dwindled, their fashion "sense" continues to thrive. (image)
In 1976, the writer Tom Wolfe described the tribal colors of the Boston brahmins vacationing on Martha's Vineyard thus:
The jackets were mostly navy blazers, and the ties were mostly striped ties or ties with little jacquard emblems on them, but the pants had a go-to-hell air: checks and plaids of the loudest possible sort, madras plaids, yellow-on-orange windowpane checks, crazy-quilt plaids, giant houndstooth checks, or else they were a solid airmail red or taxi yellow or some other implausible go-to-hell color. They finished that off with loafers and white crew socks or no socks at all. (Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, Esquire Magazine)
According to Christian Chensvold of Ivy Style, this crazypants palette probably emanated from the Art Deco aesthetic of 1930s Palm Beach, where the original WASPs fled the inclement northeastern winters for fun in the sun. And then brought some of the sunny vibe back by way of these "go to hell" hues. "When you have money and spend time in sunny places," notes menswear historian and author Alan Flusser, "you begin to see color." Which also communicated a code: if you understood, you were "in" and if you snickered, you outed yourself immediately. "You wouldn't have someone not from money walking around in clothing that would draw a lot of attention to himself," continues Flusser. "Imagine a guy wearing a pink shirt. If people didn't understand what that was about, you had to be prepared to be laughed at...Up to the '60s it was always a brahmin, upper-class thing, because they could wear it and not be laughed at." (image)
Obviously in a world where a WASP in the gray-flannel suit ruled the corner office, such sartorial peacockery denotes that the wearer is off the clock. Maybe the old-school WASPs were such conforming birds of a feather as to require an off-duty sartorial sign to announce they were officially at play. Or perhaps wearing such "preposterous combinations” of pastels simply carried the risk of "specific color blindness." (The Official Preppy Handbook, 1980).
Regardless, designers continue to find ways to keep the preppy palette alive, most recently the extremely elegant Raf Simons, creative director for Christian Dior. For Spring/Summer 2014, Simons created "Trans Dior", a clothing meditation on codes, both literal and figurativ. His floral frocks (a staple of the female members of the 1%) were diverted down the Primrose Path which apparently pointed straight to Alice's rabbit hole. The preppy shirtdress got a serious infusion of sex appeal, and the normally-demure cableknit crewneck sweater in preppy pink told an entirely different tale in back.
So for the Supremium femme who likes her clothing codes tinged with some go-to-hell, Dior S/S '14 is one-stop shopping until hell starts to freeze over...or at least until the temps start to fall.
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott