I grew up very aware of all status symbols. I also grew up consciously resisting them. In a school covered in brand names as a means of communicating social order, I did weird things like cutting the logos off my Keds and hating Porsche owners solely for the environmental damage they perpetuated.
When I see someone upholding their status symbol it’s obvious to me that that’s what they’re doing. It usually makes me dislike that person.
Which is a little weird since these days I own a lot of status symbols. I have a SmartPhone, usually a newer generation. I have an Ipad. Because of my body size I can’t really wear couture. For the time being we even still have a plugin car. But most of these things aren’t about telling strangers with symbols who I am with my stuff – they’re just about making my life easier. Sometimes I even hide status symbols from friends because I know owning them will create a bump in our friendship and I’d rather have the friend than the toy.
I’m the person who can’t remember the make and model of a car worth a damn. My car recognition is so poor that I have routinely sat down in strangers’ cars, having them confused them with the car a friend was driving. So far the strangers have been quite gracious. I am also actively put off by “retro technology” because it’s also clearly done for the sake of status – i.e. “branding.” The minute I see a guy whip out a stylus and a Palm Pilot, I know he’s got compensation issues – and if I give him any inch of rope at all, he’s going to lasso me into his crap.
My weird inverse relationship with status symbols has carried on into adulthood. I think anything that screams the brand of my clothing, purse or shoes is still just gauche. I have a knock-off Chanel that has the C’s stitched on – but off center, the only clue it’s NOT a Chanel. I loved the purse enough to ignore the logo. When I go out, I often set the purse facing inward so no one can see it. I only name the brands of my clothing in pictures for Fat Chic or when another woman asks for the designer so she can get something like it herself. I own only a few bottles of designer perfume – and if the knock off is satisfying enough, I just get that instead. I’m bewildered by the high end cosmetic brands. I read all the labels and there is absolutely no difference between that stuff and what you can get in a drugstore.
So when someone approaches me with an attempt to interest me in his/her status symbols, I immediately smell the inauthentic. Nothing reads more false than “look what I have.” My friends with real wealth are indistinguishable from the ones who struggle. We just use what’s organic to ourselves and express gratitude for the good things we have.
A lot of people at a bar I frequent use their drinks of choice as a way of positioning their social status. But me? I have no signature drink. I have no loyalties. I do, however, have a lot of allergies.
One summer night when I was working very hard on re-establishing basic social skills eroded after my father died, I grabbed a glass of Chardonnay and wandered out onto the patio. I sat down with a group of girls and we were talking politely enough when one girl burst out, “What the hell are you drinking???”
“But this is a BAR. I have whiskey. You don’t get wine at a bar.”
I shrugged. “I wanted something light and I like the wine list here.”
“But it’s a bar -”
I set my glass down. “Are you seriously making a thing out of what I drink?”
She turned bright red. “But it’s a bar…”
“That also serves wine. And this wine happens to be quite good.”
“I know nothing about wine,” the woman who was the head of the pecking order said. From the look on her face she was ashamed of it.
Great. Since I refused to take bottom place in the pecking order they were not creating a class divide for me, just because I am genuinely tough I have no need to look tough. “You drink what tastes good to you, that’s the secret.”
The conversation moved on. I’ve barely spoken to those women since.