Privilege Blog

When High WASPs Have Social Anxiety

Silicon Valley is full of very rich people. As in having a Gulfstream IV doesn’t mean you have the right toys. It’s got to be a Gulfstream V. Twenty Four At Heart calls a similar area of her hometown “Moneytown.” Well we’ve got Moneytown too. You mix private jets with Ph.D.s and people who think all software should be a free platform for rebellion and old hippies from the days of Ken Kesey living up in the redwoods, leavened with a cup or two of accountants who got moved here from Kansas to run the local office and venture capitalists with ADD and a lot of testosterone, and that’s our version of Moneytown.

All these people send their kids to school. As did I.

My son and daughter went to private schools here in the Valley. Their grammar school allowed kids to run around barefoot and throw wet clay onto a rapidly spinning wheel in an attempt to turn it into pots. I have the adorable relics on my shelves in the front bathroom. The other mothers, even if their husbands were named partners in billion dollar law firms, dressed down for the school’s culture. I did not find the environment terribly fashion-challenging.

High school was another matter. I could tell from the moment we showed up that no one was putting their hands into wet clay anywhere in the vicinity. The mothers of the other kids? They scared the bejesus out of me. What, afraid? High WASP? Whither impunity? What about the deep confidence of generations of privilege, the knowledge that my ancestors participated in the creation of this country? That had George Washington been less of a populist and done as the Society of the Cincinnati wanted, I would be titled? Countess High WASP. Or some such thing. Doesn’t all that nullify the usual social anxieties?

I wish. In the face of trophy mothers I quail. Their hair is so shimmery. Their voices are so pitched. Their toes so pink or coral. Or pink or coral. Or pink or coral. Their cars so large. Their wedding and engagement rings so even larger. The visible signs of wealth so, well, visible. And audible. They jingle when they walk. They scare me.

The worst of it is that I couldn’t revert to the usual last resort of High WASPs in danger. I couldn’t feel disdain. These women had style. Oh, sure, one or two went over the top. But they weren’t scary, those who failed. The ones who scared me were the ones even I had to admit looked great. They looked like they were at the top of the social pyramid. I didn’t. And they were, and I wasn’t. At least not at the top of their pyramid. I hate to confess my shallow heart but this is all true.

Most days I could avoid the anxiety this caused me. I usually showed up directly from my office. No one does sparkly in an office. It’s not good practice to jingle when you walk. So I kept myself company with an inner litany of my accomplishments, a false chant of Yes I Can, a silent recitation of every presentation I had ever made to audiences of over 200 people and every person who had ever worked for me. I talked myself down from enough of the anxiety to attend things like soccer championships and senior fashion shows.

But then my son graduated from high school. And I swore to myself that I would find something to wear that made me feel like I had won. Won the battle that of course no one but me even knew was being fought.

18 Responses

  1. You forgot one thing! Those woman are also IMPOSSIBLY thin no matter HOW many children in their brood!!! BASTARDS.

  2. It’s bad enough to be outdressed by other women (me at every Junior League and Madonna Circle meeting I ever attended in Memphis), but I knew I was a hopeless case when the high school girls of the Hutchison (private school) swim team, which practiced at the JCC pool where I swam before work, and got dressed in the locker room I used, outdressed me as well.

    I had never seen a Manolo Blahnik shoe live and in person until I saw those girls and their wardrobes. When I was in high school, I wore clothes from Sears. Wow.

  3. Can’t say many of them have a great fashion sense here in The OC. Expensive stuff? yes. But with way too much cleavage and plastic surgery … tacky looking … but eye catching to every male in the vicinity.

  4. I think this is how most people feel about a certain group at any given time in their lives. I know this is true for me.

  5. I’m glad that the moms in J’s school are quite an eclectic collection of expat wives who, in themselves, are a curious mix of dressers and non-dressers, overseas Chinese who wear their confidence the way others might wear their Marina Rinaldi, and a few ‘earth-mother’ types –which makes it easy to waltz in whatever one might feel like wearing on any particular day, be it comfy casual, smart casual, or in I-want-feel-like-a-queen attire.

  6. Here there is a range from bare foot to designer-chic. But you’re right; some women ALWAYS look so well put together. How do they do it…

  7. I remember those days. My mother couldn’t stand the families at our private school. She would say that she needed to wear sunglasses to PTA meetings because of the huge rocks they had.

  8. i guess when you are younger, especially in high school, you have some hopeful belief that once you get to a certain, mature age that such things as these just disappear and no one cares anymore. wrong. i guess being girls, and now women, we don’t really change that much. anxieties and all :) and i think all of us, no matter the amount of money we have, fight against being the least noticeable in the room–whether we act like it or not. so what did you wear to graduation? :)

  9. Just remember confidence is always in season & always fits! That said….are you in the Society of Cincinati? I have all the paperwork ready to send in…I'm also in DAR.

  10. I love this post!!! I am only sending my kids to preschool and get nervous before the mom fashion show…I mean pick up. Thank you for a fun read!

  11. Oh don’t get me started on fashion shows. In high school they have real ones. Moms have to be IN them. I got to walk the runway in workout clothes when my son graduated. And no, I’m not in the Cincinnati or DAR. I just hate paperwork way too much…

  12. Have just discovered your fine blog. My children are also in private school, and I, the literature professor, never do glossy, just-purchased clothing (even if my clothes are new). I always err on the side of sleekly eccentric, with emphasis on the sleek.

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