Chess

Chess: A thinking man's game with classic European pedigree.  Hard to get more WASP'y than that.

Chess: A thinking man’s game with classic European pedigree. Hard to get more WASP’y than that.

Since this is possibly the final weekend before world politics devolve into a Third World War what better time to highlight a pursuit that, perhaps more than any other, values strategic thought, deep calculation, psychology, and prudence.  Sadly I am most definitely not talking about 21st Century diplomacy… but rather the game of Chess.

Although come to think of it, maybe Chess could be the answer to this current crisis? The howtoWASP believes that war, and especially unnecessary war, is exceedingly detrimental to Western Civilization (and therefore WASP culture) and should be avoided if at all possible.

Rather than fight things out over the cities of Europe and Asia, why not settle this dispute on the chessboard instead?   How entertaining would it be to have President Obama challenge President Putin to a winner take all (or just the Crimea) game of Chess?  The broadcast rights alone would probably be enough to pay down a significant portion of the national debt.

Then again perhaps challenging a Russian to a game of Chess isn’t the wisest thing in the world?  It would be a bit like challenging a Norwegian in skiing, or an Irishman to drinking, or like the French challenging anyone else to an actual war…  Probably not a good idea.  But enough with the politics and back to the matter at hand, Chess!

Screech Powers was in Chess Club.  Enough said.

In the 1990′s Screech Powers was the face of Chess Club. Enough said.

Chess is kind of a strange topic because it straddles the line between the worlds of WASP culture and nerd culture.  In terms of historic pedigree, Chess has a lot going for it.  It was popular among the British, it’s seen as a noble intellectual pursuit, and often evokes images of civilized competition among students at a prep school or members of a social club.

Then again, over the past half century or so, Chess has definitely struggled with a reputation of being the preferred hobby of the kid you probably didn’t want to hang out with in school.

Today, there's a whole new style of Chess whiz.

Today, there’s a whole new style of Chess whiz.

Thankfully, that has been changing of late and Chess is becoming cool again.  Want proof?  Google the name of the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, and you won’t see the stereotypical Chess nerd, but rather someone who would look perfectly at home selling Abercrombie & Fitch clothing at the mall.

So, with the social stigma disappearing, and the WASP cred as strong as ever, Chess is definitely something worth learning.

The History:

If you’re looking for historical pedigree, Chess is difficult to beat.  It is one of the oldest games on the planet, having been played in some form or another for neartly 2,000 years.  There is still debate over the earliest origins of the game, but credit is generally given to the Indians (the Asian variety) who played a game called Chaturanga as early as 300 A.D. Chaturanga was played on an 8×8 grid and featured different pieces that each had special attributes, more or less analogous to the modern Chess pieces of today.

By the 7th Century, Chaturanga had found its way to the Persian empire where it continued to gain in popularity and spread throughout the world.  Around the 9th Century the pastime began to pop up in Europe as well, most prominently among the Moors who introduced it into the Iberian Peninsula and what is modern day Spain.  It was during this time that the game, which had picked up the name “Shah” (Persian for “king”) began to be known as Chess.

How many games still around today were enjoyed by Members of the Knights Templar?  Not many, which is pretty badass.

How many games still around today were enjoyed by Members of the Knights Templar? Not many, which is pretty badass.

In the hundreds of years that followed, Chess spread quickly throughout Europe where it continued to evolve. During the 15th Century the modern rules for the game were adopted by the Spanish and Italians.  With small tweaks here and there, the game as we know it today was finalized in 1850.

It was during this European evolution that the aura of Chess as a gentleman’s sport was cemented in place.  Since the Middle Ages Chess has enjoyed a reputation as a noble pastime, where it was viewed as the game of choice for kings, knights, and other members of nobility.  It’s popularity and esteem continued to grow with the great thinkers of the Renaissance and continued into the Age of Enlightenment.  Benjamin Franklin himself went so far as to write an article praising Chess as a method of self improvement and for the virtues of strategy and thought it can instill in man.

In the Modern Age, since 1850, Chess experienced further explosions in popularity as rules for formal competition and rankings were set in place.  However, the good times would not last.  With the onset of the World Wars, and the Cold War that followed, much of the Western world lost interest in the game (it didn’t help that the Soviets dominated the wold competition during those years) and Chess settled into a new role as a niche hobby for those with more brains than braun.

But again, with the dawn of the the 21st Century, it appears those days might finally be behind us and Chess is poised to rise again.

The Game:

The standard starting position for a fresh game of Chess.

The standard starting position for a fresh game of Chess.

The best thing about Chess is that it follows the golden rule for great games:  It’s simple to learn, but nearly impossible to master.  It can be picked up quickly and played by just about anyone, yet subsequently provide a lifetime of challenge and enjoyment for those who seek to improve.  Chess is also one of the few games where chance plays no role in the outcome.  You win or lose based on your play alone and the winner is always going to be the player who commits the fewest errors.

If you’ve never played before, or if its been over a decade since your last game, then the only place to begin is with the fundamentals.

I won’t waste time reinventing the wheel here because there are plenty of great resources available where anyone can learn the basic rules of the game.  My personal recommendation would be to check out Chess.com, which offers great lessons for everyone, from the rank beginner to the Grand Master.  If you want to go the more formal route, there are plenty of books on the subject available for pennies on Amazon, or for free at your local library.

Once you know how the pieces move, you could theoretically begin playing immediately, just be prepared to lose, a LOT.  While there’s no substitute for in-game experience, I would highly recommend devoting at least some further study to the three main components of the game and the strategy and tactics behind them.  As a very brief overview, these include:

There are many different openings, but the howtoWASP prefers the English, for obvious reasons.

There are many different openings, but the howtoWASP prefers the English, for obvious reasons.

  • The Opening:  This covers the first 10 moves or so of the game.  Basically both sides are seeking to establish position and control the center of the board as quickly as possible.  Setting up a solid defense and protecting your king are also paramount.  The good news here is that since Chess has been played for centuries, most openings are set to an established script.  While there are only 18 possible opening moves (and really only about 5 that you’d ever want to use) there are hundreds of “book” openings to cover all the possible responses, re-responses, and so fourth that can follow.  Again, Chess.com provides a wonderful library of book openings.  Like anything else, all it takes is study and experience to recognize and play them.
  • The Middle Game:  This is where most of the action occurs.  The fight for position continues, but more pressing is the need to set up an effective attack, or defense to counter an opponent’s attack.  Most of the time the goal in the middle game is to force exchanges (trading pieces) that leave you with a material (having a greater number of and/or more powerful pieces left on the board) or positional advantage.  This phase requires much more thought and analysis than the opening as tactics begin to outweigh the strategic focus of the opening.   Players must calculate several moves ahead, taking into account many different pieces and possible combinations, to be successful.
  • A typical End Game scenario: short on material, long on options. A tacticians paradise.

    A typical End Game scenario: short on material, long on options. A tacticians paradise.

    The End Game:  Assuming that you didn’t blunder the game away in the middle (which is definitely possible, especially as a beginner) then things proceed to the final phase, the end game.  Here calculations become theoretically easier because there are often only a few pieces remaining (usually mostly pawns and kings), but it rarely seems that way in practice because of the sheer number of possible moves available on the open board.  Here tactics are paramount as even a slight mistake can lead to a disadvantage and eventual loss.  If you’re ahead or even at this point, you’re playing for the win.  If you’re down, then playing for a draw(tie) is probably your best bet.

Of course that’s a gross over-simplification of the game, but those are the basics.  As I said, the only way to truly learn and get better is to sit down and play as much as possible (which thankfully is much easier in the internet age). Fair warning, it will probably take about 6 months of regular play before you start to really understand and win games on a consistent basis, but once you reach that point, you will have developed a new skill for life.

So what are you waiting for?  In this crazy world, where attention spans increasingly need to be measured on a nano scale, and shows like Teen Mom and Jersey Shore makes up a disturbing proportion of the entertainment content available, wouldn’t it be nice to slow down and give your brain a bit of proper intellectual (and supremely WASP’ish) stimulation?

As we know, Benjamin Franklin believed that Chess was an excellent resource for self improvement, and with that in mind, I will close with what I believe is the number one life lesson taught by Chess:  No matter how well you prepare, or how far you’re ahead, we are all but one blunder away from complete and unmitigated disaster.   Perhaps both Obama and Putin would do well to remember that…

Next Steps:

  • Assuming you’ve learned the basics, the best thing you can do is get out and play some Chess.  While in-person games are classic and always fun, the internet has opened up a whole new range of options.  My favorite offering from Chess.com is the ability to play online, turn based games (typically up to 3 days per move) that allow you to play at your own leisure, against thousands of players of every skill level across the globe.
  • When you play, try to play against opponents who are better than you.  While it’s always enjoyable to win, if it’s against a lessor player, you’re probably not learning much in the process.  The flip side is that while losing sucks, you can actually learn a lot if you pay attention.  Remember, it takes about 6 months to really pick things up and become competitive.  Don’t get discouraged!
  • Nothing classes up the joint like a dedicated Chess table.  Although all you really need is a good board and set.

    Nothing classes up the joint like a dedicated Chess table. Although all you really need is a good board and set.

    While online Chess is great, you’ll also want a good, old fashioned Chess set in your home. Why?  First of all because it will make you look smart and sophisticated when guests come over.  Second, it will allow you to play more games in person.  And lastly it can be a valuable analysis tool to visualize and play out scenarios in your online games.

  • Keep learning.  While there’s no substitute for actual play, reading books and watching video lessons on advanced strategy and tactics can really help improve your game. This is obviously more beneficial for experienced players, but if you’re like me, once you catch the bug, it’s hard to stop.
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Champagne

No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.

No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.

If you’re interested in living like a WASP, then it is essential that you know how to party like a WASP.  And whether you’re living it up urban style on the Upper East Side, or relaxing in the Connecticut countryside, no WASP party would be complete without a generous helping of the bubbly.  Or in other words, that most cheerful of all wines, Champagne.

Champagne has a lot going for it.  It’s versatile, it’s one of the best quality wines on the planet, and it’s virtually synonymous with fun and celebration.

Oh yes, did I also mention that it’s James Bond’s drink of choice?  Sure everything knows about the dry vodka martini (shaken, not stirred), but read Bond’s first adventure in Casino Royal and you’ll see him reaching for a flute far more often than a martini glass.

Bond and the the obvious WASP cred aside, Champagne (and better sparkling wine) really does up the enjoyment factor of  nearly any occasion.  So do yourself a favor; pitch that bottle of André and read on to learn how to select, drink, and enjoy a magnum of the good stuff like a pro.

Champagne – Une Histoire:

A common misconception is that Champagne was invented by a Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon during his stint as cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers in the later half of the 17th century.  In truth sparkling wine had been produced over a century earlier by monks at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Limoux (Saint Hilaire sparkling wine is still available on the market today for a bargain price of $12 a bottle).

None the less, Dom Pérignon was instrumental (certainly more than any other individual) in the development and perfection of what we know as Champagne today.  Perhaps his greatest contribution was refining the process of in-bottle fermentation to produce carbonation in wine, however that’s far from his only achievement.  For example, he was among the first to blend base wines to develop certain characteristics in his finished sparking wines.  He was one of the pioneers of making white wine from red grapes, a process still common today.  He was also the first to use a cork stopper for Champagne bottles and a leader in recognizing the benefits of cellar aging.

A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.

A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.

However, what really set things in motion was the perfection of the Méthode Champenoise, or Champagne Method (sometimes known as the Traditional Method) of sparkling wine production in the 19th century.  This is the method that all Champagne, and better sparkling wines, still practice to this day.  Without getting too in depth, it involves the creation of a blended base wine, which is then given a does of sugar and yeast, and fermented a second time in a sealed bottle to produce the carbonation that makes sparkling wine sparkle.

The Champagne method of production, combined with the ideal climate and soil of the Champagne region, quickly lead to the explosive growth and popularity of the sparkling wine from Champagne (known by then simply as Champagne) among Europeans and the British during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Over the first half of the 19th century alone, Champagne production increased from 300,000 bottles to over 20 million bottles.  From that point on, the world never looked back.

Today there are thousands of producers, making making millions of cases, of sparking wine in the traditional method, yet Champagne remains the benchmark by which all others are judged, and often fail.

Bubbly Basics:

While Champagne can seem overly complicated, it’s really not so long as you understand a few basics notions.

The first, and most important, distinction that you must know is that while all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  The use of the word Champagne is reserved by EU law for only those sparkling wines produced by the traditional method and in the Champagne region of France.  Other, sometimes very good, sparkling wines are made in the traditional method throughout France (labeled as Cremant), Europe, and the rest of the world, but true Champagne only comes from Champagne.

A typical Champagne label.   Note the use of the word Champagne and the "Product of France" at the bottom.  That's how you know it's the real deal.

A typical Champagne label. Note the use of the word Champagne and the “Product of France” at the bottom. That’s how you know it’s the real deal.

Outside the EU some producers will still use the term Champagne (ex. California Champagne) on their labels, but with increased globalization, that’s becoming rarer and rarer.  Most better producers will gladly self identify as sparkling wine rather than attempt to free ride off the famous name.  If you’re ever unsure, always look for “Product of France” on the label to know you’re getting the real deal.

The second thing you’ll want to know is how to identify the level of sweetness you’re getting.  While not as simple as looking for “not sweet” or “sweet” on the label, cracking the sparkling wine sweetness code isn’t all that difficult.  For the most part there are only three types you’ll ever encounter:

  • Brut:  Typically dry to very dry (that is to say, not sweet) and the most common type of Champagne (and sparkling wine) available.  This is also the most versatile type of Champagne, but one thing it is not suited for is dessert.
  • Extra Sec (Extra Dry):  Here’s where it gets a little confusing because extra dry actually means “not very dry” or “slightly sweet”.  This is a popular, easy drinking variety of Champagne that’s still fairly versatile in terms of pairings.  However it’s still not up the challenge of dessert.
  • Demi-Sec (Medium Dry):  These are less common and represent the sweetest Champagne you’re likely to find in stores (there’s a Doux, or “very sweet”, version as well, but it’s difficult to find).  These can be quite good depending on your taste and is the only Champagne up to the task of tackling a sweet dessert.

Next is learning to identify the varying levels of quality available.  When it comes to Champagne there three basic levels of wine made by producers.  In order of increasing quality they are:

  • Non Vintage: The most common type of Champagne available, this is the standard offering released every year by the producers.  It’s blended from a mix of current and past vintage wines with the goal of recreating an identifiable house style (more on that later) from year to year.  As such it will not have any sort of vintage date on the label.  It’s typically aged between 1.5 and 2 years prior to release.  Non-Vintage (N.V.) Champagnes usually sell in the $20-$50 depending on quality and the producer.
  • A bottle of Louis Roederer's Prestige Cuvee Cristal.  Note the vintage year.

    A bottle of Louis Roederer’s Prestige Cuvee Cristal. Note the vintage year.

    Vintage: These are sparkling wines created with the wine of a single (usually) good year, or vintage.  Typically they’re made with better grapes, from better vineyards, and aged longer, anywhere between 2 and 5 years.  The result is usually a much more complex and concentrated wine.  Look for the vintage date on the label and expect to pay a little more over the N.V. price for that added quality, normally in the $60-$100 range.

  • Prestige Cuvée:  These are the top of the range offerings from the best producers.  Like the Vintage variety, they’re produced from wines of a single vintage and only during exceptionally good year.  They’re made with only the best grapes from the most prestigious vineyards and are typically aged for 5-8 years prior to release.  You won’t find Prestige Cuvée on the label, so you’ll have to identify these beauties by the vintage date, the price tag ($100-$500 at release), and by their trademark names such as Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, or Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame.  While expensive, these really do represent the finest, richest, and most concentrated sparkling wines on earth.

Aside from those general categories, one other item to look for are the words Premier Cru or Grand Cru on the label.  These are indications that the grapes used for the wine were sourced from a select group of specially designated vineyards (Grand Cru being the highest honor) in Champagne and is usually a good indicator of quality.  Prestige Cuvée wines for example will likely be sourced from nothing but Grand Cru vineyards.  However, it is possible to find Premier Cru or even Grand Cru Champagnes from smaller grower/producers at very reasonable prices.

A Grand Cru vineyard in Champagne. This provides the raw materials for the best sparkling wine on the planet.

Lastly we come to the issue of style.  This is where things can get a little ambiguous, but the basic idea is to remember that each Champagne house tries to make a consistent tasting Champagne with their N.V. offering each year.  That consistency can be thought of as each house’s particular style, and while it can be specific down to the individual producer, in practice there are three basic types:

  • Light and Elegant:  This style is characterized by a pronounced acidity or tartness and dominant flavors of citrus fruit.  Generally made from mostly white grapes, such as Chardonnay, they are the lightest bodied, crispest, and most refreshing Champagnes available.  Typical producers are: Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Piper-Heidsieck, and Tattinger.
  • Medium Bodied:  Like the name implies, these are the middle ground Champagnes with respect to body and flavor.  They’re usually made with more red grapes, such as Pinot Noir, and as a result offer more red berry and biscuity flavors along with the citrus.  Well known producers are: Moët & Chandon and Pol Roger.
  • Full Bodied:  These are typically the more intense and concentrated with less acidity.  They’re made with a higher proportion of red grapes and feature full flavors of berries and toasted bread.  They can also have an almost creamy style texture that’s just wonderful.  Typical producers are: Bollinger, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, and Louis Roederer.

There is really no difference in quality between styles (at the same level at least) and what you like comes down to a matter of personal taste and perhaps occasion.  The only way to find out your own preferred style is to try them all!

When to Drink Champagne:

The traditional notion is that Champagne is for celebrating, like at a wedding toast, and sadly that’s the only time that most people will enjoy it.  Even more unfortunate is that the “Champagne” typically served for those occasions is about as far from real Champagne as you can get…

Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.

Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.

That’s a shame because Champagne (and sparkling win in general) is perhaps the most versatile wine you can buy.  Between all the different styles and products available, there’s literally a sparkling wine to go with any occasion.

As an appetizer and with dinner Brut Champagne goes with just about anything, but is happiest when paired with salty and oily foods.  That means you can very properly enjoy a glass of Champagne with anything from a plate of caviar, to peanuts, to french fries and fried chicken.

When it’s time for dinner you may want to opt for a fuller bodied style, which will go with just about anything you like, but especially so with seafood or pasta dishes.  One of my favorite pairings is Champagne with spicy Asian cuisine, which works exceptionally well.  The only real exception is to stay away from tomato based sauces, which can clash with the wine.  Nobody is perfect.

For dessert make sure to put away the Brut and break out the Demi-Sec Champagne to accompany sweeter dishes.  It will go best with lighter colored desserts such as lemon dishes, fruit, and custard, however no one will arrest you for enjoying some with a piece of chocolate cake either.

And finally, why confine your drinking to the evening?  Champagne is equally at home in the morning, especially during brunch.  Early in the day pair it with egg and mushroom dishes for a real treat, or mix it two parts to one with orange juice for that other brunch classic, the Mimosa.

How to Drink Champagne:

The general rule is that you’ll want to serve sparkling wine cold, around 40 degrees.  Better Champagnes can be served slightly warmer, but I would never go north of 50 degrees.  Just make sure never to leave the bottle in the fridge for long periods of time since it can pick up off odors and/or be disturbed by the fridge motor as it cycles on and off.  Rather, keep Champagne with your other wines and chill it in the fridge for a few hours before drinking.

When it comes time to open the bottle, don’t be intimidated.  Make sure it’s properly chilled (to reduce pressure) and remove the foil and wire enclosure from around the cork.   Place a dish towel over the cork, get a firm grip on the towel, and slowly rotate it (and the cork) back and fourth while holding the bottle steady and pointed away from anything, or anyone, you don’t want damaged.  When you feel the cork begin to rise, apply slight downward pressure to hold it back as you continue twisting so it eases out as slowly as possible.  While a loud “POP” is dramatic and fun, what you’re really after is a slight “sigh” to release the pressure as slowly as possible.

A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.

A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.

As for stemware, you can drink Champagne out of anything, but the classic flute or tulip glass is what you really want.  These tall, narrow glasses are specifically designed to retain carbonation in the wine while letting you enjoy the bubbles as they move up through the glass.  The long stem also insulates from body heat, helping to keep your wine cool longer.  You’ll want to avoid the classic bowl shaped Champagne glasses as they allow all those bubbles and aroma you paid so much for escape far too quickly.

Lastly a word on aging.  All Champagnes claim to be ready to drink upon release, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be at their best.  Prestige cuvées reach their peak 10-15 years after release and will keep for decades after.  Even basic NV Champagne will benefit from a few years in cool, dark place.  However, do not attempt to age your Champagne if you can’t offer it the right conditions (50-60 degrees) for a long time.  If you’re plan it to age it on a wine rack in the kitchen, then it will never be better than now!

Don't age wine if you can't provide the right conditions!  This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.

Don’t age wine if you can’t provide the right conditions! This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.

Next Steps:

  • First, if you don’t already have them, go out and get yourself some proper glasses.  No need for the ultra expensive crystal set of 12, a simple set of glass flutes or tulips will do just fine.
  • Next is to try some Champagne!  One option is to try out a wine bar where you can experience as glass at a time.  The downside is that most wine bars are often lacking on sparkling options, and when they do have Champagne, they won’t offer it by the glass.  The other option is to grab a bottle from your local retailer.  Start with a basic NV Brut and work your way up from there.
  • Want to get a sense of Champagne without breaking the bank?  As mentioned earlier, many producers make very fine sparking wines using the Champagne method all over the world.  Just look for “Traditional/Champagne Method” or “In-Bottle 2nd Fermentation” on the label.  As mentioned earlier, anything labeled Cremant is French sparking wine made in the classic method outside of Champagne and most of what is imported drinks well and is a great value.
  • My favorites are the American versions produced by the Champagne houses themselves.  The best in my opinion are Domaine Chandon (Moët & Chandon), Mumm Napa (Mumm), Domaine Carneros (Tattinger), and my personal favorite Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer).  All are very good, give you a great taste Champagne style, and cost about half as much ($15-$30) as their French cousins.
  • For a real deal there’s nothing better than Cava, the Spanish interpretation of Champagne.  Cava is produced in the Traditional Method and can be easily be found for under $10 a bottle.
  • Learn more and become an expert.  This article covers only the bare basics and there’s a lot more information for those willing to seek it out.  A great place to start is French Wine for Dummies which devotes and entire chapter to Champagne.  Good luck and keep those bubbles flowing!
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The Raincoat

Spring is coming and nothing says WASP style like a classic raincoat.

Spring is coming and nothing says WASP style like a classic raincoat.

It’s been a particularly brutal winter for the howtoWASP and in anticipation of the arrival of spring, warmer, and wetter weather, what better time to feature that all-time WASP wardrobe great: the raincoat.

Not just any raincoat, mind you, but the classic Burberry style trench coat.  As I’ve often mentioned, one of the great things about WASP fashion is that so few of the trends every go out of style and the raincoat is definitely not an exception to that rule.

Here’s a simple test; go look in your grandparent’s closet and see how many of the clothes you’d be willing to wear out today.  Since they probably lived through the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s, the answer will invariably be: not many.  However if you’re lucky enough to pull out a Burberry trench coat, you could wear it with pride and not look a bit out of place walking down Madison Avenue.

Of course there have been updates to the classic style over the years (more on that later) but the basic raincoat has endured as a fashion icon for more than a century and likely won’t be going anywhere soon.

History:

So which is it, a trench coat or a raincoat?  Both are technically correct but the former highlights the original purpose for which the coat was designed, and eventually made famous, in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

The trenches of Europe during WWI gave birth to the original trench coat.

The trenches of Europe during WWI gave birth to the original trench coat.

But let’s back up a little first.  The true origin of the raincoat began with Thomas Burberry’s invention of a new water repellant fabric he marketed as Gaberdine in 1888.  The material was made of a pre-treated worsted wool and cotton blend and tightly woven together to enhance water resistance and durability.

Any early example of the original Burberry trench.  Many feature remain today.

Any early example of the original Burberry trench. Many features remain today.

Burberry used the material to outfit the great British explorers of the day (including polar pioneers Ronald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton) but it wasn’t until 1901 when he submitted a design to the Army for a new, lighter weight, officer’s coat that concept of the trench coat was born.

Or more correctly, the “military style officer’s raincoat” was born.  The term “trench coat” would not become ubiquitous until a decade later with the onset of the first World War.  By then the coat had received minor modifications including the addition of several now classic features including shoulder straps for epaulettes, D-rings along the belt to carry equipment, large pockets, and various flaps and vents all designed to aide functionality on the battlefield.

After the war, many of the officers returning to civilian life held on to their beloved trench coats and gradually the style became as common on the streets of London as on the battlefields of Europe.

The Modern (Classic) Trench:

While there have been countless updates to the Burberry style raincoat over the years, the true classic will always include certain features:

A modern version of the Burberry raincoat, featuring many of the classic elements.

A modern version of the Burberry raincoat, featuring many of the classic elements.

  • Khaki or tan colored gaberdine fabric.
  • Fairly long, with the bottom hitting somewhere around the knees.
  • Double Breasted, button up enclosure.
  • Shoulder Straps.
  • Rain flap over the back of the shoulders.
  • Belt with D-Rings attached.
  • Strap adjustments for the cuffs and sometimes the collar as well.
  • Large front pockets.
  • Gun flap over the front of the right shoulder (less common but still a classic feature).
  • Zip-in liner for added warmth.

If you’re a true sucker for tradition, then there’s really no other way to go.  However, if that all seems like a little too much, there are more modern versions.  The best of these manage to look much less conspicuous (fewer straps and military relics, different colors), are easier to wear (single breasted, no belt, shorter length), while still retaining small touches and nods to the classic version.

This definitely makes a statement, although probably not one a WASP would comprehend.

This definitely makes a statement, although probably not one a WASP would comprehend.

Ironically, today the company that seems to be pushing the envelope the most when it comes to raincoat styling, is the company that brought us the original: Burberry.  While they still do offer some traditional versions, many of their modern interpretations take the concept to the point of bizarre.

While the howtoWASP believes everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to style and taste, I would not recommend going that route if the air of WASP’iness is what you seek.  And let’s be honest, would you have really made it this far in the post if that wasn’t the case?  I thought not. Let’s move on.

Where to Buy:

If money is no object, then your best option is to head over to Saks, Nordstrom, or some other high end retailer and pick up a classically styled Burberry raincoat in khaki.  Or, if you’re still not impressed and just can’t bring yourself to buy off the rack, then you could always go the bespoke option for the ultimate in WASP’ish outerwear.

However, if you’re like me and neither have nor want to blow $2,500 on a coat, there are other alternatives.

First is to look into other manufactures to see what’s available.  Virtually every major clothing brand makes at least one style of raincoat and many can be had for very affordable prices.  Quality is going to fluctuate with maker and price, but you could easily pick up a nicely made, classic looking coat for a mere fraction of the cost of the Burberry original at just about any mall in America.  No, you won’t get the Burberry check on the inside, but most people will never know the difference.

The second option is to go used.  The advantage here is that through eBay or some other second hand source you can pick up true Burberry raincoat for for under $100.  The obvious downside is that you’ll be at the mercy of what’s available on the market at any given time with respect to size and style.

Condition can also vary wildly so be sure to either inspect in the item in person if possible, or request plenty of pictures before committing any of your hard earned dollars.  The last thing you want is a stained, ragged, and obviously used looking coat.   However a nicely worn (and  remember they are meant to be out in the elements) vintage coat can look just as classy and last longer that something bought new in a store.

A vintage Burberry label.  If you're buying used, make sure you can spot a fake.

A vintage Burberry label. If you’re buying used, do the research and make sure you can spot a fake.

One other word of caution, if going the second route, make sure to become familiar with the features and label of an authentic coat.  There are many more counterfeit Burberry items on the market than legitimate ones and it only takes a a little research to pick out the obvious fakes.

Option three is to get lucky.   Or in other words, find a friend of a relative that has a nice vintage raincoat that they no longer use nor want and is willing to donate it to you.  This is the classic grandpa’s closet strategy and unfortunately, more often than not, you’ll come up empty handed.  Then again, that’s exactly where my own mother got her Burberry raincoat, so you never know what you might find.

When to Wear:

Once again, the truly great feature of the raincoat remains it’s versatility.  While ideally suited as a topcoat over a suit or other professional wear, it’s equally at home on a casual weekend out.  That’s doubly true for today’s more modern versions, which are designed with more casual wear in mind.

For me the only real requirement necessary to break mine out is having the right kind of weather.  It’s definitely an “in-between” kind of item, at its best during the transitional seasons of spring and fall when it’s too cold for a jacket but too warm for a full on wool overcoat.    And of course any time you get a cool, damp day (think stereotypical London) there is no better choice.

The only real exception is if you find a coat with a good removable liner, which in some cases can pull double duty as a winter coat in less frigid climates.  Get yourself one of those and you’ll have truly found a real workhouse of WASP outerwear style.

The weather the raincoat was designed for.  However that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it in the sun as well.

The weather the raincoat was designed for. However that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it in the sun as well.

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Wimbledon

Green grass, white clothes, and prodigious amounts of tradition.  It must be Wimbledon time.

Green grass, white clothes, and prodigious amounts of tradition. It must be Wimbledon time.

Enter into a discussion of WASP’y sporting pursuits and it won’t be long before you’re talking tennis.  The reason?  Simple.  As far as WASP’y sports go, tennis really has it all: an English heritage, plenty of history, loads of tradition, a distinct association with country club culture, and of course a complicated set of rules that make absolutely no sense to the casual observer.

And when it comes to tennis at its WASP’iest, nothing even comes close to Wimbledon (That’s actually The Championships, Wimbledon if you want to be really proper about it).  Wimbledon is to tennis as St. Andrews is to golf; the spiritual home of the sport.  It’s not only the oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments, but having been played since 1877, it’s the world’s oldest (and most prestigious) tennis tournament, period.

And so, with the start of Wimbledon only weeks away,  the howtoWASP decided to put together a brief viewing guide to help you, the aspiring student of WASP culture, to fully understand and appreciate one of the world’s truly great a sporting spectacles.  Also so that the when, at your next cocktail party, someone asks if you saw Djokovic’s blown break after attempting that volley drop shot after deuce #4 in the third set of the Federer match you can respond with “Yeah, that was great!” instead of “Yeah… that was great?”

The Tradition:

Between its long history and English setting (taking place at the All England Club in suburban London) you might expect tradition to play a central role at Wimbledon, and naturally, you would be right!    In fact tradition is really what sets Wimbledon apart.  While the other majors have embraced the usual aspects of modern professional sports (technology, advanced playing surfaces, styling, advertising, etc…) Wimbledon has insisted, to the maximum extent possible, on keeping things as they have always been.

Wimbledon is famous for it's playing surface and strict dress code.

Wimbledon is famous for its playing surface and strict dress code.

The most unique aspect of Wimbledon is the playing surface: grass.  A century ago this wasn’t anything special as most tennis was played on grass (the game was originally called “lawn tennis” after all).  However, most tennis today is played on a hard court, or occasionally on clay.  In fact these days it’s pretty rare to come across a grass tennis court at all since they require so much work to maintain.

While the grass court is undeniably cool looking, it also has a major impact on the game itself.  Grass is the fastest surface on which tennis is played, which is mainly due to the low friction between the grass and the ball on impact.  This means that balls move faster and bounce lower than the players are used to.  Also the relatively irregular surface creates more variation and odd bounces, which are also difficult to address.  Those conditions tend to favor “all court” style players who can move quickly and hit a wide variety of shots from anywhere on the court, which in turn generally makes for exciting tennis.

Another uniquely Wimbledon feature is the dress code: all white.  Tennis players can wear whatever crazy colors they like during the rest of the year, but when they play at the All England Club, the choice is made for them.  While this may seem boring, the on-court effect is actually very cool, especially when set against the grass court backdrop.

It isn't unusual for the Royals to make an appearance.

It isn’t unusual for the Royals to make an appearance.

Beyond the court and the dress code, Wimbledon is packed with all sort of other minor nods to tradition.  You’ll see very little advertising on the court for example.  You’ll also usually see members of the Royal Family in attendance, especially in the later rounds of play.  The overall effect is a retro look back at the way tennis used to be enjoyed, but with modern competition among some of the best athletes ever to play the game (more on that to come).

The Score:

Tennis is a fairly complicated game, but thankfully the basics required to enjoy a match on TV (or if you’re lucky enough to go in person) are easy to get down.  First we’ll look at scoring.

A tennis match is decided by “best of” series of “sets”.  Sets are decided by “games” and games are decided by “points”.

In a major, women’s matches are decided on a best of three sets series and men’s matches are a best of five affair.   The sets themselves are generally decided by the first player to win 6 games.  However, there is a catch: you must win by 2 games.  This means that a set can’t end on a score of 6 to 5.  If that happens, another game is played.  If the player who had 6 wins, then he wins the set 7-5 (having won by two).  If the player who had 5 wins, then the score is tied 6-6 and one of two things can happen.

Final score of the Isner vs. Mahut match in 2010, which took 11 hours 5 minutes to complete.

Final score of the Isner vs. Mahut match in 2010, which took 11 hours 5 minutes to complete.

If it’s the final set of most Majors (Wimbledon included), then play will continue until one player has won by two games.  Sometimes this can go on for a very long time.  In fact the longest match ever played was at the 2010 Wimbledon Championship where John Isner won the final set 70-68!

However, most often the set will go to a tie breaker, where the first player to reach 7 points wins.  But like sets, a player has to win by at least two points.  This means that tie breakers can go on for a very long time as well, but since a winner is decided by 2 points (as opposed to 2 games) they’re generally much quicker.  The final score of a set decided by tiebreaker is recorded as 7-6.

Individual games are won by points.  Essentially the first player to win 4 points wins the game, but the scoring terminology is a bit odd.  Instead of 1,2,3… scoring is recorded as follows:

  • 0 Points = Love
  • 1st Point = 15
  • 2nd Point = 30
  • 3rd Point = 40
  • 4th Point = Game

So, for example, a game where a player has won 3 points, while his opponent hasn’t won any, would have a score of 40-Love.  If his opponent wins the next point, it’s 40-15.  And if he wins the next, that’s game.

Pretty easy, but keep in mind there’s that pesky “win by 2″ rule to deal with.  In the case of a game, if the score reaches 40-40, it’s referred to as “deuce”.  The player who wins the next point then has the “advantage”.  If he wins the point after that, he wins the game (having won by 2).  If his opponent wins the next point, the score goes back to deuce (sometimes you’ll see the number of times deuce is reached appended, so in this case it’s deuce #2).  Play continues in that manner until one player wins the deuce and his advantage point.

The Play:

Once you understand the scoring, the play is actually pretty simple.  The players line up at opposite ends of the court.  One is the server and the other the receiver.  Once the server is ready, he’ll stand just behind the baseline (see diagram), toss the ball up, and hit it into play.  That first hit must travel over the net and land somewhere in the opposite court’s service box.  From that point on anything goes so long as the ball travels over the net, lands in bounds, and doesn’t bounce more than once before being hit.  The first player to violate those rules loses the point, at which point the ball goes back to the server and the process repeats.  A player serves for the entire duration of the game, but will switch sides (left and right) after each point.

Basic anatomy of a tennis court.

Once a game has concluded, the receiver becomes the server and vice-versa.  It’s generally considered an advantage to serve, which is why service alternates after each game.  After every odd numbered game (so at the end of games 1, 3, 5, 7, etc…) the players will switch ends of the court and get a little break.  Play continues in that manner until one player has won 6 (or 7) games to win the set, and ultimately 2 out of 3 (or 3 out of 5) sets to win the match.

The Lingo:

Tennis has some unique vocabulary, some of which you’ve already experienced just by reading this post.  Below is a quick sampling of some other common (and confusing) terms you’ll hear while watching a match:

  • Deuce Side: The right side of the tennis court. The first service in a game will always begin from this side.
  • Ad Side: The left side of the court.
  • Break: This is when the receiver (as opposed to the server) wins a game.  The final point is called a “break point”.  Breaking an opponent is usually considered a major advantage and will often decide a set.
  • Hold: The opposite of a break, this is when the server wins the game.  Since the server theoretically has the advantage, he is expected to win, or hold, the game.
  • Fault: Technically any ball that goes out of bounds, but generally used to describe an illegal serve, i.e. one that either stopped by the net or lands outside the opposite service box.  If this occurs on the first serve, the player gets another try.
  • Double Fault: Same thing as above, but the illegal serve occurs on the second attempt.  In this case the point is awarded to the opponent.
  • Let: A let occurs when a serve hits the net, but still continues over it.  If the ball lands legally in the service area, then it’s still the first serve.  If the ball hits the net and lands outside the service area, it’s a fault.  However a second serve that hits the net results in a do-over regardless of where it lands in the opponents court.
  • Out: Usually used to describe a ball in play that lands outside the playing area.  The player who hits a ball out loses the point.
  • Ground Stroke: Any shot that a player hits after it has bounced once.  Forehands and Backhands are the most typical ground strokes.
  • Volley: A shot that is hit out of mid air, before bouncing on the court.  These generally occur at or near the net.
  • Lob:  A high, arching shot that goes over the opponents head and usually lands deep in the court.  These are usually defensive shots that give the hitter time to get set up for the next shot, or back an opponent away from the net.
  • Drop Shot: A short shot that is placed as close to the net as possible.  This requires the opponent to quickly move forward and often results in a weak return, allowing for a…
  • Overhead:  Also known as a smash, results from an easily ball hit or bounced high into the air, typically near the net, that is returned with a powerful over-the-head swing.  Usually these shots are unreturnable and result in…
  • Winner: Any shot that decisively ends a point for the player hitting it, but generally a powerful or well placed shot that the opponent either can’t reach or has no chance of returning.
  • Error:  The opposite of a winner, it’s a shot that a player mis-hits into the net or out of play.  Unforced errors are points that the hitter gives away to his opponent via his own mistakes.
  • Spin: Refers to the spin or action put on a ball by a player.  Topspin results in balls that arch down rapidly toward the opponent’s court and kick up high after.  Backspin results from slice shots that bounce low and away from an opponent.  Side spin can be used to “kick” a ball left of right after impact.
  • Pace: Tennis speak for the speed of the ball.  A player that generates a lot of pace on his shots is hitting fast balls that are more difficult to return.

The Players:

While there are 128 men and 128 women all competing for the Singles Championship (plus many others in doubles, mixed doubles, juniors, etc…) there are really only a handful of players you’ll want to pay attention to.  That’s not to say you can’t enjoy every match, but at the end of the tournament, odds are that it will be one of the following four names will be talking about.

Federer defeated Andy Murray in last year's Championship to win his record setting 17th Grand Slam title.

Federer defeated Andy Murray in last year’s Championship to win his record setting 17th Grand Slam title.

Roger Federer: Federer is arguably the greatest tennis player in history.  He’s got more Grand Slam titles than any other play (17) and the grass courts of Wimbledon are his specialty.  He won the Championship from 2003-2007 straight and again in 2009.  Oh, and he’s also the defending champion having won the 2012 event as well.  All in all that’s a record tying 7 titles at Wimbledon, an achievement he shares with Pete Sampras.  A win this year to defend his title would give him the undisputed record and join Rafael Nadal as the only other player in history to win the same major 8 times.  Federer is an excellent all court player with a ton of shots and seemingly unlimited finesse.  The only problem is his age.  At 31 he’s far from his prime and professional tennis is a young man’s game.  Going five sets against a younger, fitter opponent might prove too much.  Still Federer is probably the odds on favorite to win.

Fred Perry was the last British player to win Wimbledon back in 1936

Fred Perry was the last British player to win Wimbledon back in 1936

Andy Murray:  Murray is a relative newcomer to the elite ranks of tennis and is still looking to prove himself and improve upon his lone Grand Slam title (the US Open last year).  However the real story with Murray is that he represents the best shot for a British player to win the Championship since 1936.  He came close last year, losing to Federer in four sets.  Despite the devastating defeat, he came back to beat Federer just a few months later in the gold medal final at the London Olympic games (hosted at Wimbledon), proving that he had what it takes to beat the best on the grass.  He followed up his gold medal with a US Open title last fall and a trip to the finals of the Australian Open this year.  He skipped the French Open and should be well rested and poised to give Britain perhaps it’s best chance in nearly 80 years to win one for the home team.

Nadal is the undisputed king of clay, but is he healthy enough to win a 3rd Championship?

Nadal is the undisputed king of clay, but is he healthy enough to win a 3rd Championship?

Rafael Nadal:  Federer may be the greatest player of all time, but Rafa has made a strong case for himself as the best player of the past 5 years.  His specialty is playing on clay, which is evidenced by his record setting 8 French Open titles, including his most recent earlier this month.  However Nadal’s skills go beyond the clay and he’s proven that he has what it takes to win just about anywhere.  He has achieved a career Grand Slam and has 12 major titles under his belt, including two wins at Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010 (beating Federer both times). If Nadal has a weakness, it has to be his health.  He spent most of the past year recovering from a knee injury and is still feeling his way back to the top.  That being said, he still managed to win the French Open convincingly, proving that even a recovering Nadal is better than most players at 100%.  Rafa has made it clear that he wants to limit his play on hard surfaces to preserve his knees, which means he’ll likely be trying extra hard to secure Grand Slam #13 on the last “soft” court major of the year.

Djokovic is the best player, but does he have what it takes for a repeat of 2011?

Djokovic is the best player, but does he have what it takes for a repeat of 2011?

Novak Djokovic:  Djokovic is probably the best all around tennis player today.  At 26 he’s still relatively young, yet he’s also already managed to rack up 6 Grand Slam wins, including the Wimbledon championship in 2011 (along with the Australian Open and the US Open that same year) and the Australian Open title earlier this year.  He narrowly missed the career grand slam this June in the French Open, losing a grueling 5 set semi-final match to Nadal, the eventual champion.  Like Federer he’s an all court player, which should work to his advantage on grass.  He’ll be a formidable opponent to whomever he faces and will probably be the favorite in every match he plays.  He is beatable, but only through exceptional play on the part of his opponent.  Anything less and he could very well find himself with another Championship this year.

Other Players to Watch:  Other players to watch include David Ferrer, who made (and lost) his first Grand Slam final against Nadal in the French Open this year.  Jo Wilfried Tsonga could also make trouble for the elite four, as could Juan Martin Del Porto.  John Isner represents the best (if not remote) chance for the Americans.  While most of the excitement will take place on the men’s side, Serena Williams is the one to watch for the women.  Defending her title from last year and fresh off a dominating performance in the French Open, the question is not so much whether anyone has what it takes to beat her, but if they can even make it a competitive match.

Next Steps:

There you have it, all you need to understand, watch, and enjoy the 2013 Championships at Wimbledon in style.  Not much else is required on your part but to dress smartly in white, get some strawberries and cream, and tune in June 24 to watch the action for yourself.

Oh, and one final note.  Nothing makes a better excuse to treat yourself to Brunch (and perhaps some Bloody Mary’s) than the Sunday final of a Grand Slam tournament, especially Wimbledon.  Enjoy!

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The Bow Tie

Nothing celebrates the return of warm weather like a bow tie.

Nothing celebrates the return of warm weather like a bow tie.

With the height of spring rapidly approaching, what better time to highlight one of the all-time great WASP fashion accessories: the bow tie.

While the general theme of WASP fashion revolves around the subtle and understated, the bow tie is unique for its boldness.  Perhaps its the bow tie’s association with classic formal wear, or the stereotype of people who traditionally wear them, or maybe it’s simply the fact that they’re so difficult to tie.  Whatever the reason; when you put on a bow tie, people will notice.

The key of course is getting it right.  As a student of WASP culture, your goal is to project the kind of formal preppiness that sets you apart at a cocktail party, or an air of intellectual superiority that gives you the upper hand at a business meeting.   Get it wrong, however, and you may quickly regret all that new found attention…

But not to fear, the howtoWASP is here to help and by following a few simple rules you’ll be a bow tie pro in no time.

From the Battle Field to the Opera

In a departure from most things WASP’y, the bow tie does not trace its origins back to Great Britain, or even Western Europe for that matter.  Instead we have the Croatians to thank.

A 17th Century Croatian mercenary with "cravat"

A 17th Century Croatian mercenary with “cravat”

Back during the Prussian Wars of the 17th Century, Croatian mercenaries were hired to fight for King Louis XIII and became known for the knotted silk scarves they used to hold the top of their shirts closed.  The scarves aroused the curiosity of Parisians who began wearing the “cravats” (simply French slang for Croat at the time) themselves and a fashion legend was born.  The style caught on in France, particularly among the upper class, and became wildly popular over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.  During that period, the cravat evolved into the modern bow tie and eventually the neck tie of today.

Of course it wasn’t long before the British, who often looked to the French as the vanguards of fashion, began to emulate the style on their own, furthering the bow tie’s popularity and world wide exposure.

However, all good things must come to an end and by the 20th century the modern neck tie began to replace the bow tie as an every day fashion accessory.  The bow tie stuck around, but became regulated to formal wear duty and as a trademark fashion accessory among a few niche segments of society (doctors, attorneys, professors, etc…)

Fortunately the bow tie is making a comeback.  Gone are the stuffy/nerdy stereotypes of the past.  Today the bow tie can be the perfect option for the fashion forward WASP who’s not afraid to stand out amongst the crowd.

The Technical Stuff:

As mentioned earlier, part of the mystique surrounding the bow tie probably comes from the fact that they’re so difficult to tie properly.  Truth be told, the knot itself isn’t all that complicated, but unlike a typical necktie (with a Full Windsor for example), a bow tie is not adjustable.  In other words, there is no margin for error.  Once it’s tied, it’s not going anywhere, so it better be done right.

That being said, let’s try and walk through the process.  Note that all directions are given relative to your own body (i.e. they will be reversed when looking in a mirror).

1) If you have an adjustable tie, be sure to set the correct neck size.  Sometimes it’s helpful to go 1/2 size larger to give you a bit more material to work with.  Drape the tie around your neck, with the left side just sightly longer than the right.  Then cross the left side over the right.

Left over right.

Left over right.

2) Take what is now the right side and pass it around the back of the knot so it hangs over the front.  Grab both ends and pull lightly to comfortably tighten the tie around your neck.

Right side back and around.  Tighten comfortably.

Right side back and around. Tighten comfortably.

3) Take the left side and fold the flap over on itself so that it forms the bow shape.  You’ll want the folded side on the right and the single end on the left.  The right side of the tie should be draped over the middle of the new bow.

The folded end is being held.

The un-folded end is being held.

4) Here’s where it starts to get tricky…  Fold the ends of the bow together in front and hold then with your hand.  You should have the right (unfolded portion) side of the tie trapped in the middle of the fold.  Then pull down slightly on untied portion to cinch the knot a bit.

Fold and hold.  This is where things get tricky.

Fold and hold. This is where things get tricky.

5) Now things get really difficult.  If you pull the pinched ends out slightly, you’ll notice a hole in the back of knot.  Take the unfolded portion of the tie and push the wide portion of the fabric back through the hole,right to left, folding it on itself on the other side.  The idea is that you want to create another bow shape, matching the bow in front (the one you created in step 3).  The only difference is this time the folded portion will be on the left and the single end on the right.  Don’t worry about getting the knot tight, proper basic form is all you need here.

IMG_1455

Notice the hole, this is where the undone portion must be pushed through.

IMG_1456

Half the the back bow has been pushed through. Adjust as necessary.

6) You should be left with a loose version of the final knot with one bow in front and an identical bow in back.  It takes a lot of practice to get to this point, but if you make it, you’re 95% of the way there.

If you made it this far, you're gold.

If you made it this far, you’re gold.

7) Now all that’s left is to cinch down the knot to make it look great.  Grab the back folded half of the knot in your left hand and the front folded half in your right.  Then pull the ends very slightly to begin to cinch down the knot.  If the ends are in danger of being pulled through the knot, stop and recenter the front and back, one at a time.  The knot should stay tight while you recenter the front and back bows.  Repeat the cinching procedure until the knot is tight.

Pull the double folds apart.  About 75% of the way there.

Pull the double folds apart. About 75% of the way there.

8) To finish things off, before the final cinch, take the edge of the front bow in the middle and give it a little fold forward along the top and bottom of the knot.  The ideal is to create a uniform pinch in the middle of the tie.  Think like a piece of bow tie pasta.  Once you have it, give the knot one more final pull to cinch things down for good and you’re ready to impress!

Done!  Notice the folds in the middle near the knot.

Done! Notice the folds in the middle near the knot.

The key thing to remember is that practice makes perfect and tying a bow tie will require a  lot of practice before you can get it right with any sort of regularity.  You’ll know you’ve mastered it when people ask (and they will) you if you’re wearing a pre-tied bow tie, at which point you can proudly show off your WASP’y skills by informing them otherwise.  Note: You should never wear a pre-tied bowtie…

Bond likes the "undone" bow tie look.  So should you.

Bond likes the “undone” bow tie look. So should you.

Oh, and to remove the tie, simply pull single ends of the tie (as opposed to the folded ends, which you used to tighten the knot) and you’re free.  As a bonus you can then rock the “undone bow tie look”, which is unequivocally one of the coolest looks in all of fashion, WASP or otherwise.

What to Wear:

Now that you know how to tie your bow tie, the only issue that remains is what to wear it with?  The options here are endless, but in order to avoid falling into the stereotype zone (i.e. looking like a nerd) I would suggest keeping things conservative by not wearing the bow tie without some type of formal jacket (suit, blazer, sport coat).  Remember that typically bow ties are considered one step up on the formal scale, so plan accordingly.

In terms of colors you’ll want to follow the same rules you (hopefully) use for choosing a neck tie.  In other words, contrast is good, but you’ll want to match at least one color in the tie to the color of your shirt.  Unless your shirt is white, then the sky’s the limit.     But in general, don’t be afraid to go bold.  After all, the whole point of wearing the bow tie is to stand out and be noticed.

He may be a doofus at times, but he does know how to wear a bow tie.

He may be a doofus at times, but he does know how to wear a bow tie.

Lastly a word on formal wear.  Bow ties should always be a no-brainer when it comes to putting on a tux.  The modern neck tie may be acceptable these days, but the fact of the matter is that you won’t look nearly as cool as you will with the bow tie, especially one that you’ve tied yourself!  Just be sure to keep it classic.  No colors besides black (for black tie) and a basic conservative shape is all you need.

Next Steps:

  • Go out, get a bow tie, and start practicing!  For your first tie, I would recommend something conservative that will match a wide variety of shirts.  Also you might want to avoid smaller ties, as the lesser amount of material makes them more difficult to knot properly.  Finally, you’ll definitely want to get an adjustable strap.  Need a place to start?  Like most WASP’y fashion, you can’t go wrong with Brooks Brothers.
  • If you’re having trouble mastering the typing technique, check out YouTube, which has plenty of how to videos of varying usefulness.
  • The first time you wear the bow tie, be sure to give yourself plenty of extra time to tie it.  It’s also helpful to have a backup necktie on hand just in case…
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Port

Port: the greatest, and WASP'iest, of all fortified wines.

Port: the greatest, and WASP’iest, of all fortified wines.

After a hiatus, I’m pleased to announce that the how to WASP is back!  And to celebrate its return to the blogging world, I’ve decided to highlight one of my all-time favorite WASP’y indulgences: Port.  Now that I think of it, Champagne would have probably been a better celebratory choice… but that will have to come later.  So for now, Port!

No, we’re not talking about the seaside variety (although confusion could be understandable given the focus of this blog), but rather the undisputed king of all fortified wines.  When it comes to dining like a WASP, there is perhaps no better way to finish off a fine meal that a good glass of Port.  However, the subject can be surprisingly complicated, so it’s important that you know the basics before you can order, and most importantly enjoy, that tote of Cockburn (see Next Steps below) with confidence and pride.

What Exactly is Port?

Excellent question!  And to provide and answer, it is necessary to take a brief trip back in time.  Port, like most things WASP’y, is a product of the British and a dislike of the French.

As most students of history will know, England spent a good portion of the last millennium fighting the French.  However, by the 17th Century they ran into a problem.  The Brits had developed a taste for Continental wine, but thanks to their most recent war with the French, they suddenly found themselves cut off.  Their solution: simply get wine from Portugal (one of their few wine producing allies on the Continent) instead.

A pretty slick solution, but another problem quickly became evident; Portuguese wine proved to be much less stable than its French counterpart   As a result, the Portuguese wine would spoil during the extended sea voyages back to England.  Fortunately for all of us, the classic sense of British stick-to-itiveness prevailed.  They discovered that by adding a small amount of brandy (a process known as fortification) to the finished wine, it could be made stable to endure the long trip back to England and the wine we know as Port today was born.

A Port Primer

Now, you may be thinking “So that’s why it’s called Port, it’s from Portugal!” but you’d be wrong.

The namesake of Port is actually the city of Oporto, located on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Douro River.  This city is where the English set up their first Port Houses to distribute the newly invented wine and where they have remained ever since.  In fact the world’s first Port producer, Warre (established in 1670) is still operation there today!

The Douro Valley, one of the most scenic wine regions on Earth and where Port is born.

The Douro Valley, one of the most scenic wine regions on Earth and where Port is born.

So Port wine comes from Oporto, which makes perfect sense, but it gets a little more complicated.  While Port is distributed from Oporto, the wine is actually produced about 50 miles up the Douro River in the hot and ruggedly mountainous Douro Valley.  This is where the grapes are grown and the wine is fermented.  It’s then packed into barrels and sent down the river to Oporto, where it’s fortified, aged, bottled, and eventually shipped to Port lovers all over the world.

Styles of Port:

Port has two constants: It’s always sweet, and (almost) always red.  Beyond that, however, the varieties and styles of Port are nearly endless.

Part of that variety is thanks to the sheer number of grapes that are permitted in Port.  In most blended wines, you’ll see 3-4 grape varietals, tops.  In Port there are more than 80!  Although in practice the most common types used are Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Barroca.

While the grapes certainly play a role in nature of a Port, it’s really the style of wine that determines its ultimate character (and price).  While there aren’t quite as many styles as grape varieties, there is still a lot to know, so pay attention!  Below are some of the most common Port styles, listed from lightest to fullest.

  • White Port:  White Port is just that, Port made from white grapes.  It’s not very popular and much more difficult to find that the red variety.  It’s also generally known to be not anywhere near as good.  I confess that I’ve never tried it myself, but I’ve heard that it’s best use is when served ice cold as a summer aperitif.  Not really in the same league as red Port, but I included it here for the sake of knowledge.  
  • Ruby Port: The youngest and simplest version of Port.  Just like the name implies, its typically deep red in color.  It’s also fruity, sweet, and easy drinking.  The wine itself is aged about 3 years in wood and is ready to drink as soon as it’s released.  In fact the younger it is, the better it will taste.  Ruby Port is also the cheapest Port available and often a great introduction to the wine.
  • Tawny Port:  By far the most popular and common type of Port you’ll encounter in an after dinner setting.  Tawny Port is generally a blend of good quality wines that have spent a long time aging in oak barrels.  While in the wood, the wine softens and turns to a pale garnet or brownish color (it tawnies, hence the name).  One point of
    Tawney Port is the most common style available.  Note the 20 year marking on the bottle, indicating the average aging of the wine in the blend.

    Tawney Port is the most common style available. Note the 20 year marking on the bottle, indicating the average aging of the wine in the blend.

    confusion is the age marked on the bottle, typically 10, 20, 30, or 40 year old.  This is NOT the age of the wine in the bottle, but rather the AVERAGE time the wines used in the blend have spend aging in barrels.  Tawny Port is generally less sweet and fruity than Ruby Port and offers more complex earthy/nutty flavors.  It varies wildly in quality and price, from less than $10 to well over $100.  Tawny Port is ready to drink upon release and won’t get better with age.

  • Colheita Port:  A sub-variety of Tawny Port where the blended wines are all from a single vintage, usually listed on the bottle.  In other words the wines from a single year are placed in wooden barrels and aged (tawnied) for many years before being bottled.  It’s generally better quality than regular Tawny, but not very common.
  • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port:  This Port is made from a single, generally lesser quality, vintage year.  The wine is fermented and then aged in wooden barrels for anywhere from 4-6 years before being bottled.  The result is a darker, less soft, and much fuller style Port than the Tawny.  LBV Port is marked with the vintage data and ready to drink as soon as it’s released.  It’s fairly easy to find and you can expect to pay $20-30 for a half bottle, making it a fairly good value.
  • Vintage Port:  The crème de la crème of Ports.  Vintage Port is only made during the very best years and from the very best grapes.  It is aged for a scant two years in oak
    Some older bottle of Vintage Port.  Amazingly these are still drinkable and probably quite good.

    Some older bottle of Vintage Port. Amazingly these are still drinkable and probably quite good.

    barrels before it’s bottled and sold, which is not nearly enough time for the wine to soften or fully develop.  As a result, Vintage Port requires an enormous amount aging in the bottle before it’s ready to drink, typically around 20 years after the vintage, but sometimes even longer (70+ years) depending on the year!  However, the wait is worth it.  Vintage Port is not only one of the best dessert wines in the world, it’s one of the best wines period.  It’s extremely full bodied, rich, and chock full of flavors such as nuts, toffee, chocolate, and spice.  Recent release bottles of Vintage Port are fairly easy to find, but are expensive at $50-$100 a bottle.  For properly aged (and ready to drink bottles) expect to pay around $100 or more, sometimes much more…

Enjoying Your Port

OK, enough with the academic stuff, now it’s time to for the fun part: drinking Port.

As was mentioned earlier in the post, the good WASP will enjoy a glass of Port as an after dinner drink, which means you should too.  Because Port is a sweet wine, it’s the perfect compliment to dessert.

Truth be told, nothing goes better with a good glass of Port than a simple hunk of dark chocolate, but in general the rule is that Port will pair beautifully with any dark colored dessert.  In other words if chocolate or dark berries are listed in the ingredients, you’re good to go.  What if you’re having a light colored dessert?  Sorry, you’ll just have to wait for the post on Sauternes…

Proper Decanting is necessary to aerate and remove sediment from Vintage Port.

Proper Decanting is necessary to aerate and remove sediment from a Vintage Port.

Of course Port can also be enjoyed without dessert on its own.  Or for a truly classic paring, try a glass with walnuts, or any strongly flavored cheese (Bleu cheese is best).

If you’re serving Port at home (or just want to impress your friends/annoy your waiter) it should be served at cool room temperature, or roughly 65 degrees.  Most Ports can simply be poured and enjoyed, but properly aged Vintage Ports (don’t even think about serving otherwise) requires several hours of decanting to remove sediment and allow the wine to properly aerate.  It may seem like a lot of work, but just do it, otherwise you’ll have wasted that $100 investment and worse yet, cast yourself as a WASP noob in front of all your friends.

Port-ing Thoughts

Port really is a wonderful wine and, unlike most things WASP’y, actually represents a phenomenal value.  Port’s popularity has waned in recent years, which is bad for Port producers, but great for you as a consumer since low demand = low prices.  Good quality Ruby and Tawny Ports can easily be had for less than $20.  Even an expensive Port (like a $100+ bottle of Vintage Port) is a great deal considering a comparable quality dry red wine will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Another value consideration is that unlike normal wines (that will start to turn bad a mere day or two after uncorking) Port will stay good for weeks, or even months, after opening.   The reason of course is the fortification (adding brandy to wine to preserve it) that makes Port so special in the first place.  After all, if it could survive weeks in the cargo hold of a ship, a couple days on your shelf is nothing.

Oh, and one last parting word of warning…  Because Port is a fortified wine, it will typically have an alcohol content that is far higher than normal table wine, usually anywhere from 15-25%.  In other words, watch out!    Generally speaking, a serving of Port is about half that of a normal glass of wine, so pour and enjoy accordingly.  Cheers!

Next Steps:

  • The first step is obvious: Go out, buy some Port, and drink it! I recommend starting with a bottle of Ruby Port and working your way up from there.  The beauty of Port is that it’s usually available in half bottles and cheap enough to try a bunch of different brands and styles without breaking the bank.  And if it’s something you don’t care for, just pour it out or cork it up for a couple weeks till you can offer it to someone who does.
  • Real Port only comes from Portugal, but that hasn’t stopped others from imitating the
    Renwood, out of Amador, CA, makes an exceptional Zinfandel based Vintage Port.

    Renwood in Amador, CA makes an exceptional Zinfandel based Vintage Port.

    style.  Many wine producers (particularly in the US) make at least one port-style wine, often with very good results.  Typically these wines are made with local varieties (Zinfandel makes particularly good Port wine) and will be sold as Ruby or sometimes LBV style Port.  You’ll rarely see Tawney or Vintage offerings.  Some makers can call their wines Ports (via grandfathered rights, otherwise Port is trademarked and can only be used for real Port) but most will not.  You can identify them by their smaller bottles, alcohol content (around 20%), and usually find them along with the other fortified wines at the wine shop.

  • Most high end restaurants will include Port (almost always Tawney, but sometimes Ruby’s or Vintage as well) on the dessert menu, which you should absolutely try.  A popular offering is from a producer called Cockburn.  This is a wonderful choice, but you can save yourself some embarrassment by using the correct pronunciation: COH-burn.  Enjoy!
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The Top-Sider

A Golden Retriever and a well worn Top-Sider. A little piece of WASP heaven.

More often than not when discussing how to dress like a WASP, the conversation inevitably turns to business or other semi-formal attire. And while it’s true that knowing how to dress up properly is a key component of WASP culture, we must keep in mind that knowing how to properly dress down can be just as important.

And when it comes to casual attire, there is one item in particular that no self respecting WASP should ever be without: a pair of Top-Siders.

Now, I’ll be the first admit that some WASP’y attire isn’t exactly practical or cost effective.  There are, for example, only so many opportunities to show off that new Madras suit and not be mistaken for a hobo…  However, that’s definitely not the case with Top-Siders.  In fact they’re actually one of the most practical purchases you can ever make.

Why?  First consider that the Top-Sider (also known as the boat shoe or deck shoe) is perhaps the most versatile footwear option available on the market today.  Think about it, whether it’s in the office or on the beach, the Top-Sider is equally at home.  They’re perfectly appropriate just about anywhere and for anything.

Also handy is that they never go out of style.  Minor variations come and go, but the basic deck shoe has remained essentially unchanged (and a best seller) for nearly 80 years.  These days they seem to cycle between preppy niche item and mainstream fashionable.  Either way you can’t go wrong.

Dawn of the Deck Shoe:

Paul Sperry in 1935

Rather the typical Anglo-Saxon background associated with much of WASP culture, the Top-Sider is uniquely a product of American ingenuity.   The idea for the shoe was first conceived by a man named Paul Sperry.  During a cold Connecticut winter, Paul noticed that his dog Prince seemed to have no trouble running across slick snow and iced covered surfaces and became curious as to what made that possible.

Upon further investigation he noticed the pattern of groves and cracks in his dog’s paws and suspected they were the secret to Prince’s superior traction.  Sperry set about replicating the pattern by using a razor to score groves into a rubber shoe sole and the rest is history.  By 1935 the design was refined into the scalloped pattern of cuts (like you’ll find on any pair of deck shoes today) and the Top-Sider was officially introduced.

As the name implies, the Top-Sider (referring to the outer or “top side” deck of a boat) was originally introduced as a boating shoe that would allow sailors like Paul Sperry to maintain traction in even the slipperiest of conditions.  The shoes proved to be highly effective and over the following decades became a WASP favorite both on and off the water; as their association with boating culture sowed appeal among the general preppy set as well.

The natural element of the Top-Sider. Thanks to their uniquely designed sole, they'll maintain traction on even the slickest of surfaces.

What to Buy:

OK, so you’re on board (get it?) with the idea that you need a pair of deck shoes.  Now comes the task of actually going out and buying them.

The good news is that just about every major shoe company out there makes at least one variation of the basic Top-Sider.  The bad news is that every shoe maker makers at least one variation… You get the idea, how are you supposed to choose?  There really are a huge range of options out there between different manufactures, levels of quality, material, color, etc…

My recommendation: stick with the classic.  That means going with the original Sperry Top-Sider.  They’re the real deal, last for years, and available everywhere.  They’re also fairly inexpensive compared to many of the deck shoes offered by other brands.

In terms of material I’d suggest going with the basic leather in some shade of brown or tan.   For the soles stick with the basic flat rubber bottom.  They don’t offer a lot in terms of support, but then again you won’t be wearing them to run a marathon…  If you want to go really traditional, get the soles in white (originally designed to not mark-up decks).  Although I’ll confess that I actually prefer the colored variety.

The classic version of the Sperry Top-Sider. Note the simple brown leather construction, rawhide laces, and white "non-marking" soles. If you want to go authentic, this is it.

Again, stick with the classic and you really can’t go wrong.  However, once you’ve got your classic pair of Sperry’s, feel free to experiment.  Higher end dress models, canvas, suede, different colors, there are a myriad of options from which to choose.  Just try not to stray too far from the original if you want to maintain that WASP’y image.

How to Wear:

This may seem like a no-brainer and in some ways it is.  For the most part you can simply throw on your favorite pair of deck shoes no matter what you’re wearing and you’ll look fine.  After all, that’s a major part of the appeal of the shoes to begin with.

However, in order to really do it right, I believe there are some general guidelines you should follow when wearing Top-Siders.  In my opinion deciding when and where Top-Siders are most appropriate depends largely on the age and condition of the shoes.  The breakdown goes as follows:

Like New (100-75%) – Generally when the shoes are new an pristine.  They’re unscuffed, unstained, and maintain their original form.  They’ve never really been exposed to water so the leather is still soft and supple.

In this condition Top-Siders are best worn in nicer settings, such as the office, out on the town, or when dining at a decent restaurant.  Think of them as being on par with a pair of loafers.  They can be worn with socks (only with pants, please) or without.

A well worn pair of Top-Siders that have seen lots of time on the water. This how deck shoes should look.

Worn (75-25%) -These are shoes that have begun to show their age and/or good use.  They’ll be worn, scuffed, and probably lightly stained.  They’ve seen lots of sun and water and taken on a flater shape.  The leather is stiffer and the seams might also be separating a bit at the tops.

While it may not sound like it, this is the ideal Top-Sider condition.  It shows that the shoes have been used as intended (out in the elements) and gives you that classic preppy/casual look.  What you loose in ability to wear in more formal settings, you more than make up for in terms of all around utility.  Out on the weekend, around the house, to the beach, at the pool, etc…  The list is endless.  At this stage of life, sockless is the only way to go.  (For instructions on how to weather your deck shoes, see “Next Steps” below.)

Near Death (25-0%) - The shoes have become heavily worn with lots of scuffs and stains, maybe even some tears as well.  The laces have probably broken at some point (simply retie them together) and some of the seams have begun to open up.  The shoes are severely weathered and the interior is frayed or coming apart.  The soles have hardened, cracked, and no longer provide grip.

The sad fact about heavily used shoes is that they all eventually wear out.  Top-Siders are no different, however that doesn’t mean they’re ready for the garbage.  While you can no longer wear these shoes out on the town, they are still great to have around the house for garden chores, or perhaps for use at the beach or pool.  When you need a simple pair of shoes that you don’t really care about damaging or losing, these are the way to go.

Once your Top-Siders have worn away to nothing, it’s time to go out and get another pair and then repeat the process.  My guess is that once you get used to wearing them, you’ll be hooked for life.

Next Steps:

Even high end manufacturers now make deck shoes. This version by Salvatore Ferragamo will set you back $300.

1) If you don’t already have a pair, head out to the store and buy some.  Almost every major shoe store or department store will carry Top Siders and/or other styles of deck shoes.  Pricing is just about the same everywhere, but sometimes you can find a deal for $10-20 off.  In general expect to pay around $70 for a pair of Sperry Top-Siders.  Some brands cost less, some cost much more.

2) Check out the Sperry website to get an idea of the ranges and style available.  As I said, stick with the classic for your first pair.  After that, sky’s the limit.

3) Weather your Shoes:  If you want your Top-Siders in the desirable “worn” phase of life, there are ways to speed up the weathering process.  My dad often asks me to take his new pairs with me when I go sailing, which is hands down the best way to weather your deck shoes.  If you don’t have access to a boat, you’re not out of luck.  It’s an easy process to replicated on shore.

Simply take the shoes and dunk in completely under water (salt water if you really want an authentic look, but make sure to rinse with fresh water before drying).  Don’t worry, as long as you have a basic leather and rubber model, the shoes are designed for this kind of abuse.  Once the shoes are soaked, take them out and let them dry completely in the sun.  You’ll notice they’ll be very stiff at first, but will quickly soften out with wear.

Sometimes one soaking is enough, or you might have to repeat the process 2-3 more times.  But eventually you’ll have a nice pair of perfectly weathered Top-Siders ready for casual WASP duty anytime, anywhere.

4) Once you have your shoes purchased and weathered the last step is simple, just thrown them on and enjoy!

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