Society Women Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive
By Amy Phillips Penn



VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post.  Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.


“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society it is a good thing,
if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth,
a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love.
After that, be a snob.” — 
Salvador Dali

 

“Do you belong to Maidstone, Devon, or both?” a classmate, who had perfected talking through her nose and posing for Town & Country at the same time, asked me.

It was that time of year again; summer was coming. I said, “East Hampton.” She said, “Southampton.” Let’s call the whole thing off. Even though we wore the same uniforms all winter long, here was a test that wasn’t described in the curriculum.

“I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype,” Carole Kane sums it up in Annie Hall. Snobbery is in the lorgnettes of the beholder.

When we’re young, we ache to belong…big time. Inclusion is manna, be it a welcome mat into to the perceived cool group, being the “right kind” of pretty (think, The Way We Were), or simply not possessing any show-and-tell signs that ink you into a checklist of “does not belong.”

Say what one might about my family, but not one of us is a snob; perhaps because we have nothing to be snobby about. My ancestors did not bundle up and sail over on the Mayflower together. Our stories go more like this: my maternal grandfather left Russia hidden in the back of a hay wagon. Years later, he and my grandmother were living in four floors of the Beresford, a ballroom occupying most of one floor with a terrace draping the real world from becoming all too real.

How he got from hay to the Beresford, seemingly without passing go, is a bit of a mystery. The invention of a brilliant baby clothes snap that couldn’t be patented was whispered about.

That generation fascinates me; relatives that I will never know, who made success appear to be a DNA stamp that we should all have, but don’t.

“Daddy nixed Baron from becoming a member of the club,” a friend of mine recounted, peacock feathers a-fanning. The Baron in question was said to be a former Nazi. Her father was the president of one of Southampton’s most elite beach clubs. On off days, he went fishing and wore a T-shirt splashing a cartoon that asked, “Who farted?” — progress morphs into many forms.

Our neighbors in East Hampton owned one of the most historic farms in the town. They drove station wagons, and the children worked or went off to survival camp.

One day a Bentley appeared, in all its Bently-ness, in their driveway. Unable to resist, my mother asked about it. Our neighbor mumbled something and quickly changed the subject.

We played “Guess who sent the Bentley?” Our neighbor had recently been tutoring the family of a deposed Shah from a Middle Eastern country. The children were enrolled in New York private schools. The “once upon a time” royal daughter immediately sashayed to the front of the cafeteria line. No one said a word; noblesse oblige has its own currency.

 

“Lila walked by with her nose in the air.
In a straight line behind her, six obedient kindergartners waddled like baby geese, singing in unison,
Row, row, row your yacht.” — 
Francine Pascal, The Boyfriend War

 



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