A Privileged Life

by LeeAnne Jackson

When I first picked up Susanna Salk’s book, A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style (Assouline), I wasn’t quite sure that I would identify with this somewhat shrouded demographic. I’m a Southern Prep from a world of hot toddies, pearls, and the SEC.  A far cry, or so I thought, from champagne, riding boots, and Brown. After reading this lovely book, I found myself identifying with the traditional, intelligent, classic, and casual-yet-elegant aspects of this lifestyle and how it as a whole has contributed to the often-lost traditions in today’s American culture.

Ms. Salk shares her own treasured memories of her childhood and adolescence in the book. Growing up in Massachusetts, surrounded by ribbon belts, Ivy League lacrosse, cocktails, Nantucket summers, Pulitzer shifts, and monogrammed sweaters at Milton, she is the perfect example of a WASP woman.

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Salk fills the pages with hundreds of photographs of famous WASPs, from Jackie, to Blythe Danner, Audrey Hepburn, Brooke Astor, Robert Redford, as well as many candid portraits of her friends and family. The lovely captions, and personal sentiments help the reader catch a real glimpse into this often emulated, yet misunderstood way of life.

The book beautifully explains how WASPs, like many Americans, identify with traditions, and how members of this demographic seem to almost freeze with time. They seem forever youthful, in their beloved forty-year-old camel coats, inherited summer homes, and their weekly Saturday morning brunch. WASPs define heritage, grace, joie de vivre, and formal without being fancy.

Although deeply rooted in tradition, the inherent definition of “WASP” has progressed through different eras and is a far cry from the original constraints of the word. While Salk’s parents emulated Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, her generation leaned toward Carole King and Ryan O’Neal. Today’s generation continues to add twists on the classics, but adhere to the tried-and-true preppie principles.  The barriers to this elusive American style of living have been removed, allowing increased accessibility for current generations. Even if you didn't grow up summering in the Cape, you may find yourself living slivers of a privileged life after all.