Status Symbols Over Time: Fickle or Flexing?
I was thinking about how status symbols are really just whims of fashion the other day, when I came across an article talking about how tulip bulbs were worth lots of money, rotting pineapples was a sign of status ..
Just a bit of background — tulips was for during that Dutch craze during the 17th century and as it took 7 years to flower, were real status symbols for gardens of the rich.
As for the rotting pineapples which cost the equivalent of about $10,000 today, the fruit was so expensive that you didn’t eat it. You displayed it, rotting away. You could even rent pineapples as a status symbol. O_o
- Source: Gizmodo if you want to read about all the other stuff people found to be status symbols.
Some status symbols will always be status symbols
Houses, Transportation, Jewellery/Money and Family.
Even today, if you live in a huge house, people assume you’re rich. I know when I was growing up, my house was a 4-bedroom monstrosity.
Sure, it was in the bad part of town, but my friends lived in houses a quarter of that size, and had to share bedrooms. When they came over, they couldn’t believe the size of my backyard (about the same space as the whole house), and that I had my own room.
We weren’t rich, but I guess we looked it to many, just because of our house and (secondhand) luxury car. My parents weren’t great with money. They won the lottery and then basically spent it on status symbols.
As for family, it could be a Trophy Wife, or that you married into a titled family.
Maybe not necessarily The Royals, but they were ONCE nobles and their name is still prestigious in certain circles.
Or these days, that you have a lot of children in an expensive city like Manhattan’s Upper East Side because if you can afford lots of children and paying all of their designer garb as well as private tuitions living in Manhattan, you must be loaded.
I heard stories about friends living in New York who would have to pay to get on the right preschool waiting lists, and then pay for the privilege of schooling.
In contrast in other parts of the country, having lots of kids is a sign of poverty — you can’t afford birth control, they’re all wearing the same clothing made from one bolt of cloth, etc.
I know this was true for my mother when she was growing up with 16 brothers and sisters. They were the largest family in the town and EVERYONE knew who they were. They all looked the same – skinny, raggedy, hungry, and were poor beyond belief.
Status Symbols can be so fickle
One day, an IT bag is IT and IN, the next day, it is out, which is why it is best to buy a bag that you actually like, and will use, rather than a bag that seems very trendy but useless.
I can point to at least one recent (still?) IT bag I find pretty, but very impractical
Cult Gaia bamboo bag
…especially if you are going to spend serious dough on it.
I mean, what could you store in there? You would see everything, so your items would have to be pretty…. It seems too small for more than just a phone and a few bits and bobs.
Just an accessory that is meant to carry your items but you can’t carry much!
I bought a few of these former It Bags such as the Givenchy Antigona but I could not care less if it was in style or passé mostly because I enjoy using it so much – it is so roomy, and such a good shape.
For guys, I know cars are a real status symbol.
Cars that are fast, mostly. I have a colleague who is looking at buying a new car (he is very good with his money), because he wants a ‘toy’. Something fun to drive now that he is nearing his retirement years.
I see that often — the most expensive, nicest cars are not really driven by the young, it is driven by people who are much older, usually in their 60s or older.
They feel accomplished and able to buy the car they have always wanted (for speed, looks, whatever), and drive them, feeling satisfied that they made it.
I can completely agree with both purchases above (even if it is that impractical Cult Gaia bag) as I have both expensive purses and a luxury car, and yes, I definitely feel like they are symbols of my success (especially since I know I paid them in cash and they aren’t debts for consumer goods), and I derive great pleasure from that.
Not with showing off to anyone particular in mind, but it does make me smile when someone ooohs and aahs.
And isn’t attention really the point of status symbols?
To elicit that kind of attention?
I mean, not in a very gauche or in-your-face kind of way where you talk about your purchases and bring them up in every single conversation and RUB IT IN THE FACE OF OTHERS.
I find all of that distasteful, because I bought those things for myself, and quietly, calmly, just enjoy them. And enjoy some of the attention that comes to them.
I feel like that’s the difference between STATUS SYMBOL and status symbols in a sense. I had a colleague who purchased a luxury car, and that is ALL he could talk about. Anyone within 2 meters, within 2 seconds of meeting him, knew he bought an expensive car.
I was the opposite.
I bought my expensive car (yes, triple the price of his), and didn’t say a word for months until people eventually noticed and found me out.
Some people even started just bringing it up in the middle of conversations with other people, just because they found it so exciting and cool to know someone who had the car, and I had to pull them aside and just quietly tell them to please not spread the word, as I am not a fan of being singled out especially for this.
I never mentioned it, I never talked about it, or brought it up in conversations.
I even tried to avoid conversations as not to be implicated in revealing anything.
And for me, that makes the world of a difference. I bough it, to enjoy it, for myself, even though I know part of it was buying into this culture of conspicuous consumption and showing off, for lack of a better word.
Another bag, not a Chanel, could have carried my things just as easily.
Another car, not what I bought, could have transported me (and did for many years before), just as well.
And yet, I spent X amount more on these things because of the innate cachet they carry, which in turn, I feel and derive joy from.
Does these status symbols make me stupid?
Maybe. Who knows?
I just know I am enjoying my things and that should be enough, really.
Other people may talk about their fancy vacations and expensive travels as another way to show their status and flex.
I don’t do those things mostly because I don’t want to, but also that I don’t derive as much pleasure from flying business class and Instagramming about it, or going to an exclusive beach that costs $1000 USD a night.
To each their own.