Lisa Birnbach

It’s Back to School. (Shock & Awe)

Put away the .

They are out of season now, anyway.  (Did you notice I punctuated right after the photograph?)

Though it’s almost time for , it isn’t quite yet.  Leaves are still green, the weather is… in crisis, and besides the turning of the seasons — later this week —  we’re in the angry season of a presidential campaign (as well as other hugely important senate races) that threaten our psychic well-being.  (And I don’t mean psychic as in ; I’m referring to what the Oxford Dictionary calls (relating to the soul or mind:

he dulled his psychic pain with gin.)

I’m over my cut’n’paste-athon.  I promise.)

Life has been funny all around.  Here are a few things on my mind.

  • One day one candidate is up; the next he’s a disaster.  I believe for the first time in my sentient, voting life that when voters say they’re undecided, they mean it.  (I always thought that was an excuse to not divulge one’s preference, but this year is filled with unexcited voters who aren’t ready to commit.)
  • Too much vagina talk.  I suppose it was exciting (for some) to hear the word used (and used) on network tv last year.  But now that this particular body part even has its own biography, it’s vagina this and vagina that.  I believe the shock of the word is over, and even its low rent sister, vajayjay — has been overused.  
  • It’s fun to meet old friends and make occasional new ones on Facebook, but reading Facebook can be detrimental to one’s mental health.  I’ve learned the hard way.  I post too much (including posts which will herald this blog) but mostly I do it because I think I should post something.  I suppose posting on FB gives me something to regret, and I always need to second-guess myself.
  • Either every single woman in the metropolitan area of New York is wearing Christian Louboutin shoes, or many women are secretly painting the bottoms of their shoes with red paint.  Either way — look at what we value.  On the Nieman Marcus website, prices for his shoes begin at $550, for a pair of simple ballet flats, and rise to $6395 for a crystal-encrusted platform pump which no real lady will ever wear.  Congratulations to Monsieur Louboutin for winning his court case, which proves his red soles are his legal trademark.  (Ça suffit, Yves St. Laurent.)
  • Kardashians, the Today Show, and the Kardashians on the Today Show.  I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to pick on the poor Kardashian-Jenners and cite them as proof that our world is messed up/going to hell/messed up and going to hell in a red-soled crystal-encrusted platform pump.  They do make me angry when they refer to themselves as hard-working business women.  It does offend me that even the media outlets that claim the Kardashians are a symptom of our national malaise give them ink or air.  Look at me — I’m doing it too.  But when I think of hard working people, I do not consider a family that has to wake up unpleasantly early to get their daily hair & makeup fix in order to allow cameras film them shopping  or posing to be  work of any importance.  Disagree with me.  Feel free.  Defend that tribe.  And when the Today Show decides that the coup of having Kris (the mother) discuss her breast implants at 8:46 am, on September 11th — at precisely the time of our first observed moment of silence, I wonder if that producer still has her job.
Why am I grouchy?  I have my reasons.  But mostly I am shocked by the swift passage of time.  It seems like just yesterday my daughter, Exhibit B, graduated from high school.  And now she’s away at college, and I’m missing her like crazy.   And I have to get used to it, and we all have to get used to these and other inevitable changes.
Now stop reading this and do something useful.

p.s.  If you stayed with me till now I’m very grateful.  And I already feel better.

jacqchase-deactivated20130925 asked: Mrs. Brinbach: I have recently renewed my passport in preparation to study abroad in Argentina (goodbye, elementary-school picture!). I am currently looking for a new passport cover--the Pokémon one I so loved in second grade no longer appeals to me. I'm looking for something made from quality leather, preferably without a pattern (though a tasteful one would be acceptable), and I definitely want to be able to monogram it. What are your suggestions? (Psst--I'm a college kid on a budget!)

Dear Jacq,

There are tons of decent looking passport covers all over the internet.  Everyone from Pottery Barn to a great travel source called sells passport covers which won’t hurt your wallet.  Cute, right?  Have a great semester!

jackelinnerm asked: Lisa, are you considering writing a book on international preppy? It would be interesting to see how different each country interprets their "preppy" and even so, how "preppy" is translated. For example in Mexico a preppy is called a "fresa" meaning strawberry meaning preppy. Just a thought.

Dear Jackie,

I am considering writing an international preppy guide, as a matter of fact.  In September’s American ELLE, I wrote an article about what it was like to see preppiness in Europe and Japan.  Gracias!  

A Purposeful Peloton

When I was watching the women’s road race event, I had no idea at first what Peloton meant.  The way I interpreted what I saw on screen, Peloton was — don’t laugh — the name of a Russian cyclist.  Think about it; Peloton sounds Russian.  Pelotonoff.  Peletonov.

Peletonovska.  Anyway, I learned as you did that peleton refers to the group behind the leaders in a bike race.  I’m not sure if you can have a peleton in a marathon or other sorts of races, but I’m doing my best to use it in a kind of “off-label” way.  I am not expecting FDA approval (nor OED approval), but it’s more fun than joining the chorus of complainers about the Olympics.

I realize the objections are really about the way NBC and its many offshoots are deploying delay tactics but rather than complain about all the complaining, indeed, rather than join the peloton of gripers, I’d like to say my Science Experiments and I are enjoying what we’ve seen of the 2012 Olympics, and we’ve laughed at the sarcastic tweets written at NBC’s expense.

NBC can take it like a grown up.  

This evening at 5:45, I’m sipping a rare DecafO’Clock mug of fake coffee.  The rosé can wait.

It’s horrendously hot out (sounds like a grievance to me) but in my hermetically-sealed writing room, I’ve had to turn off the air conditioning and appreciate the fact that it works, and sometimes, even I do.



A matter of Madras

As I was saying on Facebook, when Joe Garcia talked about all the patchwork madras he’s seen (as opposed to what I call “something that is confident in its own-ness, and doesn’t have to invite its other madras friends along”), I thought I had better seek a menswear expert who is a biological male.  

Enter Michael Williams, the blogger behind the brilliant A Continuous Lean.  I asked Michael if he concurred that patchwork was more plentiful than the plain bleeding madras of yesteryear.

Here is his reply:  ”It’s a little late in the summer to be worried about Madras. Tell your readers to worry about fall clothes!”

But because he cares (and he is made of good, solid, Midwestern Swing State stock), he did send me a coda: 

O’Connell’s is the best…the most classic:

Authentic Bleeding India Madras Trouser (DRd2)Authentic Bleeding India Madras Trouser (DRd2)

Note that most of this wonderful Indian Madras merch is already on sale.

I think we’ve learned a lot this evening.

Thank you Michael.  Thank you Joe.  And thank you readers for your devotion to the classics.

xo Lisa

ohheyitslikepat-deactivated2012 asked: Hello Ms. Birnbach. I have asked u a question about preppy fashion before about the military jacket I bought and now I have a new one. I just wanted to know if v-neck tee shirts were considered preppy? I only have three in grey, navy blue, and white.

Hi Pat,

Whether you are a Patrick or a Patricia, I’d say the answer is the same:  V-necked Ts are fine if they are not too low cut.  Round necked t-shirts are a bit preppier, but I’m going through a v-neck stage myself at the moment, and since mine are simple and all-cotton, (and also navy blue and white) I’m ruling in their favor.


cej77 asked: Page 26 of the Official Preppy Handbook is titled "Never On Thursday", Help in the House. I don't recall this being any sort of "rule", either spoken or unspoken, while growing up and was wondering if you could explain the significance further. Thanks!

Here’s the story from my mummy.  ”It was Thursdays and every other Sunday off in the 40’s and 50’s and the 60’s.  It started to end in the 60’s-70’s.  It wasn’t a rule, it just was what was.  I remember dinner for you kids every Thursday night was a can of Spaghettio’s.  All I did was warm up a can of Spaghettios.”  Here she broke off to laugh heartily.

This schedule was customary (not the Spaghettios part) for live-in domestic workers.  It would have made more sense, it seems, for that schedule to be reversed to every Sunday (for churchgoing and family supper) and every other Thursday (when you could go to the bank, have doctor appointments, etc.) but this is how it was.  Most of the women who worked in our house were American and had homes and/or family relatively close by that they returned to on their days off.  I’ll try to research this further.  It is interesting.  

It is also interesting that my brothers and I grew to our full height being fed a diet of canned pasta and chemicals once or twice a week.

missemrenee asked: Hi Lisa, I'm a young, preppy professional in West Palm Beach but still haven't discovered where all the other young preppies hang out on the weekends. I consulted "Where the Preps Are: A City-by-City Going Out Guide" in the "Official Preppy Handbook" for suggestions but it's a little out of date. Do you think you could over me an updated list? Many thanks and all best wishes!

Dear Miss Em Renee,

I’m taking the liberty of cutting and pasting your question onto the True Prep page on Facebook, as I haven’t put in the time in West Palm Beach recently enough.  I expect we will get some up-to-the-minute advice there.



allthatglitters12 asked: Is being a vegetarian considered to be not preppy?

Being vegetarian isn’t preppy, nor is it not preppy.  It is one of those things that doesn’t have any bearings on the matter.  However, most preppies live in profound disregard of what they eat.  Were it not for preppies, there would be no jello desserts nor swiss-cheese-on-triscuit-canapes.  


thevintagevoguelover asked: Hello Ms. Birnbach! I am visiting a few colleges in the next few weeks or so and I was wondering if you could tell me; preppy or not. Ive already done my research on the academics, sports ect, but I want to know whether you think they're preppy or not. So here you go: Trinity College,Holy Cross, Villanova, Boston U, and Washington and Lee. Thank you!!

Hi Classic,

Your list is not just prep; it is uber prep!  Trinity College is so very very preppy that I had to name it the preppiest college in New England.  That’s serious.  (B.U. is the least preppy, but it’s also the largest one in your group.)  

Good luck to you.