In Discussions, Money, Wealth

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.

http://shopstyle.it/l/UYv7

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.

For myself.

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.

What say you?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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27 Comments

  1. L
    Liz

    Liz | wannabeliz.com
    I really enjoyed this post and all of the comments. I used to be really concerned about having nice bags and mid priced shoes. Mid priced shoes because really expensive shoes are like works of art. People spit, etc on sidewalks. Then you get them all dirty. Jewelry replaced my bag interest. Most people are not familiar with designer jewelry, and that’s a good thing. I don’t drive a fancy car. My Dad banged it up and I never got it fixed. Driving a nice car has never been a priority. I’m not knocking anyone who does. Now that I’m older, I just want to smell nice, look decent and wear nice jewelry, carry a decent bag. However, even those small modest things don’t bring me the joy that they used to. My Mother passed on 5/20/19 . She left behind a broken woman. I still read and comment on blogs. I love blogs as they connect me to like minded people.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I am sorry to hear of your mother’s passing.

      As for things – yes, status symbols are nice, but they aren’t life. I know that, but I do enjoy looking and styling myself so it is more for me than for anyone else…

      Reply
      1. L
        Liz | wannabeliz.com

        Don’t get me wrong ! I love luxury goods. I have a Delvaux bag and Mark Cross bags. I love designer jewelry, such as David Yurman, Temple St Claire etc… My
        Mother loved jewelry. Thank you for your condolences. Back to the bags, I like that they are not instantly recognized.

        Reply
        1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          I love that you pick obscure brands – I do the same. I for the quality, not the logo!

          Reply
  2. J
    June

    This is fascinating. I had never given a thought to the politics of car ownership. What if we had bought a Cadillac? That’s American.

    Reply
    1. m
      mia

      That would be fine…GM makes Cadillac. 🙂

      Reply
  3. M
    Mia

    I think the real status symbols people chase after in my city are the ones you can’t jus walk into a store or dealership and buy, you have to be connected or have something else going for you–for example, belonging to a country club, having a degree from a top private university like Yale or Harvard, getting appointed to certain positions of power (like being appointed to be an Ambassador to a foreign country or being appointed to the Board of certain companies).

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      The intangible stuff – private memberships, being on the boards..

      Reply
    2. L
      Liz

      That is a very good point. I think in every big city that is what the wealthy aspire to.
      They already have the toys if that is what they wanted. They are also concerned with the right addresses .

      Reply
      1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        The right zip code is something I know people are very conscious of…

        Reply
  4. J
    June

    So….. We are middle class retired folks in our 60’s, living in a somewhat rural area and we always owned a truck. We had a small farm and needed that vehicle for all aspects of our life. Trucks are not cheap. They are well built, last forever, have 4 wheel drive ( necessary especially in the winter) and do not get good gas mileage. After we decided to sell our our farm and move closer to town we traded in the truck for a very nice car. Our new car ( yes it is a luxury car) is not my any means top of the line, but it gives us the same level of quality and safety we were used to in the truck. It is well built, it will last forever, it has all wheel drive and of course it has all the bells and whistles that sort if vehicle comes with, plus it obviously has a much more comfortable ride than any truck can give. But it didn’t cost as much as a new top of the line truck. It cost less! Read that as under 50 K. And everybody stares at us. It has put all our friends on edge. If we had spent $50-60 thousand on a brand new Silverado or F150 with all the options people would had said something like “ Hey, nice truck. As it is now , they just stare or say something snarly like, “So, when did you get that ? 🤨 And we don’t talk it up. We didn’t even tell anyone we were in the market for a new car. So it it a status symbol even though we didn’t intend it that way?

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Yes. I’m sorry to say that brands hold a lot of cachet.

      A fancy car with a brand name of Dodge is not as prestigious no matter the price than a BMW. It is just the marketing and image.

      Unfortunately, you have stumbled upon the paradox of consumerism.

      People don’t see the options you put into a truck because that stuff is hidden. What they do see is a big luxury symbol that screams money.

      Only people who know cars will know it costs less than a truck. I once saw a used BMW that cost $15K and I thought it was more expensive until my partner pointed out it was a “cheap” car… I had no idea, I just saw BMW.

      Reply
      1. m
        mia

        Real car people only care about impressing other car people, though. And I think even a casual car person knows a Dodge Viper costs more than a Tesla Model S, for example.

        Reply
        1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          True. I am not a car person, and it is nice if I can be under the radar…

          Reply
    2. m
      mia

      Okay, so many rural American places are different (and so is anything in the Michigan/Ohio Rust Belt where the big American automakers are located). This is not really a status or price thing you are experiencing. This is about tradition and patriotism.

      Owning an American truck like a Silverado or F-150 is admirable because it is seen as a) supporting an American brand (nevermind that a Toyota uses just as much American labor and parts as some American cars) and b) supporting the rural/working heritage of America by buying a large truck.

      Buying a foreign made vehicle isn’t a status thing–it is seen as a sign of selling out or disrespect in some circles.

      (I say this as someone with family in these circles, and I say this as someone who owns a little foreign-made car and a Big American Truck and has driven both down there. I also say this as someone who has had family in the auto industry and knows what sells in different areas and why.)

      Reply
      1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        I learned something new today. THANK YOU. For me, I saw it as a brand/status thing, like — Silverado versus luxury BMW or some foreign make.

        Reply
        1. M
          Mia

          In some places, Buy American (and Buy Union) is a really, really big deal. I have family members that would never touch a car that wasn’t made by one of the Big Three Automakers.

          Reply
          1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

            So even a car company that is American like Tesla is out? Trying to figure out the rules. This is fascinating.

          2. M
            Mia

            No Tesla. Only the real American Big 3 count to these people. Gotta be designed in Michigan.

          3. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

            Wow. I had no idea. Maybe I should do a post on car politics in America… but I know nothing of it. HAH! Need to start researching.

      2. L
        Liz

        I work for Ford, I drive a Ford! I live in Ca. After I retire, I plan on driving Fords!

        Reply
    3. m
      mia

      Also, brand new luxury trucks (e.g., the Limited edition half-tons) with all the options now run around 6 figures (that’s American dollars, not Canadian, so definitely well over the 6 figure mark for Canadian dollars).

      Reply
      1. M
        Mia

        The Ford F-150 with extras is the most popular car in America among people earning over half a million US dollars a year.

        Reply
        1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

          Fascinating. I had no idea. Thank you

          Reply
      2. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

        You’re a fountain trove of car info.

        Reply

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