Privilege Blog

High WASP Entertaining, The Themed Party

Costume parties, scavenger hunts, holiday parties, you name it. High WASPs like parties with themes.

When I was at Princeton, my sophomore year I lived with 3 roommates in a 4th floor quad at the top of many, many stairs. A gray stone dormitory. With turrets. At Christmas, we decided to give a party. We sent out invitations. In this case, they were just Xeroxed, handed out everywhere on the gray stone paths of the university. Under arches. In the invitations, we stressed that the party would involve mistletoe, Christmas carols, and punch. We said, dress for the occasion.

And, in 1974, they did. Our room was full all night. Carols were sung, punch was drunk. I can only imagine what a photo of that party might look like now, tall boys with floppy ’70s hair wearing sports coats they had bought back home in Atlanta or Houston or New York, clean-faced girls with Echo scarves around our necks, a Cartier tank watch we got for our 18th birthdays, our one pair of high heels, intoxicated, crowded, worried, giddy, privileged. Dirty carpet. Mistletoe in the doorway. Red ribbons.

That Easter the roommates decided to give another party. Only this time, with hats. The invitation was quite ironic. We collected more girls, 10 of us in all, to host the event. We took a picture of all of us outside on one of the gray stone balconies, with parapet. In hats. And clothes of course. This was 1975 after all. Again we distributed invitations far and wide.

This time the room was full, but this time so was the narrow stairway. All the way to the ground level and out the heavy wooden dormitory door. Everyone in hats.

Lest you think this love of themes was college student foolery only, my mother was, in the 21st century mind you, the chairperson of the volunteer board for one of Santa Barbara’s cultural institutions. She ran the annual fundraiser. The party? A scavenger hunt. It was a huge success.

I think the High WASP effort spent on getting it right means that when someone says be silly, we take advantage. Maybe themes were another sanctioned way to step outside the code. To behave in ways that we might not otherwise consider. I say were because, as I have said before, our original species is a dying breed. The full set of generational and geographical permutations is not yet known. I’m writing an elegy, a celebration of what I valued, and an attempted debunking of everything else. We might or might not wonder why.

18 Responses

  1. I can vividly imagine…, a bit of visual history for me, growing up and schooling in Zurich,Switzerland, dormitory life is a stranger to me.

  2. Oh, how I wish we such great theme parties in my circle of friends! We did, however, recently attend a birthday party with a Scarface theme (i.e. 80s Miami)….haha it was interesting! I love the idea of a proper Christmas party complete with plaid and mistletoe!

  3. this is what I loved about college- theme parties! there is just nothing like one at all! last summer I went to one that some of the rowerboys from my alma mater hosted themed "olympics" one of the rowerboys went as bela karoli (sp?) and I went as keri strug when she nailed her landing with a sprained ankle! the swim team alum guys all wore speedos, we had a crooked russian judge and many many more- oh what fun!


  4. I love parties, and those sound like good ones. If it's true that it's a dying breed, then I sure hope someone takes it upon themselves to carry on the tradition.

  5. I love a good theme party. And also miss the camaraderie of dorm living. But not community baths.

  6. Theme parties are always fun. They give an opportunity for everyone to step a little outside of themselves for awhile and cut loose.

  7. I must say as a non-WASP, I find this all fascinating. I'm curious about the Cartier tank watch thing. They're lovely, but aren't they easily identifiable, and therefore showy (non-high-WASP)?

    When you see them on most of the "Real Housewives" of various locations, hasn't Cartier lost its cachet? Or am I looking at the 1970s through a 2000 prism? Are they still rare enough to be one of those signaling things to those in the know? They are certainly less flashy than a Rolex. I'm genuinely curious.

  8. Every weekend in Oxford involves a couple of themed parties. The English toffs LOVE dress-ups, the boys, in particular.

  9. The mention of the scavenger hunt for the fundraiser reminds me of the opening scenes in My Man Godfrey.

    We have a company picnic every summer and host a Christmas party for our employees (at our house, no less) every year. That's about as much as we party.

    Oh, our lives, they are exciting…

  10. *claps*

    yay! i *love* themed parties! i regret not having instigated more during my more party intensive years. my brother is 22 and seems to go to one every week, so his facebook page is densely populated with images of him and his extended crew in chaps, or 60's aqauscutum with black leotards and cigarette holders, or oompa loompa garb or something. we had a "design your own bond character" theme party once….. my favourite ever outfit was emma peel, although jack sparrow for my bf's birthday 2 years ago was awesome…

    i've been planning my daughter's birthday party (october) since about january. can you tell?

  11. I would be happy to have a party with the theme "party" where when I tell people it's a "dress-up" party, they know that means NOT JEANS, A T-SHIRT AND TENNIS SHOES.

  12. The British love theme parties. Makes sense. We High WASPs verge on the British occasionally. Maybe everyone likes them, hence the growing popularity of Hallowe'en? I love kid birthday parties too. And dressing up, on occasion, not in jeans. However, I think the only kind of theme party that would fly with software engineers would be a) Star Trek b) dress as an iPhone app.

    Uh, we didn't have coed bathrooms in 1974. I try to keep an open mind but that one's tough.

  13. Your mother's scavenger hunt is a hoot Miss Privilege, we can just imagine. And any post with the word parapet is awesome in my book, I *love* that word.

    My the rest of your week be outstanding!

  14. dressing as a i-phone app has just become my new fashion maxim. this morning i am channelling x-plane 9; a very calming palette.

  15. "The British love theme parties." I attended one given by British friends for the marriage of Camilla Parker-Bowles to HRH Prince Charles. The men dressed as Camilla and the women as Prince Charles. So much fun…

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