Washing of the Watchbands Marks Summer's Mid-Point for Preppies

SEAGULL COVE, Mass.  This secluded village, a township so obscure it isn’t listed on maps of the municipality of which it is a part, is a place you probably can’t get into if your family didn’t buy a summer place within its borders long before you were born.  “It’s sad, really, and I feel for those people,” says Oliver “Budge” Northcott, a long-time resident from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  “But it’s not my fault they chose the wrong grandparents.”


“I’m sorry, but if my grandmother didn’t know your grandmother, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

 

As exclusive as it is, however, this quiet seaside neighborhood is always packed to the gills mid-July for a tribal ritual not observed anywhere else in the United States; the ceremonial washing of grosgrain watchbands or, in cases where the fashion accessory is too dirty or damaged to survive until Labor Day, a burial of the same at sea.

“It’s a throwback to the sumptuary laws of our Puritan ancestors,” says Rev. Ancil Fleming, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church, a congregation dedicated to the patron saint of haberdashery.  “If you were successful and made enough money to buy a pew in the local congregation, you were allowed to add a ribbon to your clothing without being stoned to death.”

“Grosgrain” is a corded fabric whose weft is heavier than its warp.  Watchbands made from the material function as gang “colors” among “preppies,” white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who attend private secondary schools.  While such bands are typically either striped or solid in color, so-called “super-preppy” crime syndicates have been known to flout convention by wearing bands with plaid patterns.


Don’t be messin’ with these bad girls.

 

The washing of the watchbands stands in sharp contrast to other community events up and down Cape Cod, such as the blessing of the Portuguese fishing fleet in Provincetown and the psychoanalysts’ three-legged race in Wellfleet.  “We are a bit more reserved than some of our fellow summer residents, it’s true,” notes Northcott.  “On the other hand, we’re going to heaven and they can throw their loud parties in h-e-double hockey sticks.”

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