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The Logic of Stupid Poor People
October 29, 2013 10:53 PM   Subscribe

"If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars? One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill."
posted by parudox (393 comments total) 253 users marked this as a favorite

 
Amen.
posted by 256 at 11:04 PM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Status symbols are status symbols because they are symbols of status, go figure. This is sort of what infuriates me about the notion that poor people should make do with the stained and worn castoffs that people dump off a a clothing center, or that dental care is not an important part of health care services. If you bring a packed lunch to an office where your superiors always go out, you separate yourself. If you take the bus instead of driving, you separate yourself.

I left law school primarily because no matter how hard I worked on my grades, the fact that I was not good at presenting myself as upper-middle-class had sunk my career before it even started. It matters.
posted by Sequence at 11:05 PM on October 29, 2013 [112 favorites]


What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor.

qft.

In a world where the haves deny the have nots even the basic necessities of food and shelter and health care...

No, wait, I don't live in that world. I live in a world where the haves literally prey upon the have nots in their search for these things. The whole mortgage loan crisis and bailouts and complete lack of accountability. God damn.

I'll be ready to listen to any rich person criticize a poor person's choices when they have dedicated 90% of their wealth to charity. So far that puts Bill Gates alone on the list, as far as I know.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:08 PM on October 29, 2013 [56 favorites]


I am a white (ostensibly) Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, and I basically ignore most of the status-seeking symbols which others seem to crave. I don't make much money, and I'm sure much of that has to do with my refusal to buy into their game.

But I have a lot of joy and laughter in my life, and while I can't just impulsively do everything I want, I get to do most of the things which are truly important to me.

None of this matters in the context of this post, because I am not a visible minority (I am gay, but that is basically invisible) and I am not truly poor.

I can't pretend to understand what the life of a poor minority person is like. I only know that I think a lot of the social rules they are presented with to make them fit in are bullshit, because I think those same rules are bullshit. The difference is, I can wear what I want and have as long a beard as I want and still qualify for basic social respect due to the fact of being a white male.

It is a reality which my brain does not really compute but which still exists.
posted by hippybear at 11:14 PM on October 29, 2013 [55 favorites]


I recently realized how much I do this when I spent a day agonizing over whether to wear glasses or not to a meeting I was attending for a gay organization where I was making a substantial accessibility proposal. I have pretty poor vision, but since my day job is in academia, I never wear glasses - because then I get weird whispering and comments about how smart Asians are, with the nasty implication that I only got my job and only get my grades due to my racial background. But in this circumstance, knowing my audience of gay, middle-aged white men - I was acutely aware of my appearance could easily be pigeonholed into that of a young Asian "twink" - and how easily that could potentially defeat my proposal.

So I wore the glasses. It went well. Only one of the men made a pass at me by saying out loud to the board during the meeting, right in my face, how much he liked his Asian men to be aggressive. But otherwise my proposal was accepted.

But this event made me realize how much tailoring my outfit and tailoring my appearance to even the smallest tweaks and ornaments has become just one of those every-day things that I do. I never really consciously picked up this skillset - I probably learned it from watching my parents, seamlessly blend from situation to situation by shedding clothes and picking up ornaments and signifiers like a chameleon changes colors to match its environment. Certain things signify humility. Certain things impart an aura of confidence. Of modernness, of tradition; of being western, of being eastern. Who is your audience? What rapport do you want to build? What messages are you sending?

Sometimes I catch myself changing outfits multiple times a day as I move from place to place, environment to environment and audience to audience. I've never really considered this to be a fixation on fashion or anything - it's just one of those things that you, as a person of color, have to do to survive in a culture that tends to be a little hostile to your existence. More so if you don't blend properly.

I don't really mind the rules. In fact, I rather enjoy this skillset, if I may admit guiltily: I like being able to suddenly fit in anywhere I go with a sudden unbuttoning of the collar, loosening of a tie, switch of a belt. I know it's not really fair, but it doesn't matter because inequality and inequity is pretty much the polluted air that I breathe anyway - it's always there as a nagging reminder of how much of an outsider I am, but in some respects, you learn not to notice the adaptations you've made to compensate after a while.

Sometimes I try to explain this to my white friends, and they always tell me: fuck the rules! Why do you care what people think of you? You should just do whatever you want!

I don't know; maybe I should be angrier about it. But they don't seem to get it. The $4.99 that I pay for a button-up shirt at the thrift store buys me more than just the shirt. It buys me job security; it buys me insurance from violence on the streets; it buys me some relief from the vicious gossip that goes around about me if I don't show up with an appropriate appearance - one that straddles the line between following the rules and breaking them, a good minority, neither threatening nor a stereotype.

A few extra dollars a month, a few hours spent shopping, a few extra loads of laundry. Even if it's unfair, it's not a big deal. Is this really the hill I want to die on?
posted by Conspire at 11:44 PM on October 29, 2013 [197 favorites]


This is a good post but I think there's a little more to it than that.

I can't remember the article I read that summed it up best, but it was basically, when you're poor and come into a sum of money, you don't believe it will last. Because it never lasts. Something always goes wrong and you're right back where you started. You either have an extensive list of Stuff That I Really Need To Take Care Of and the sum of money takes a few things off the list or something always goes wrong, like your tire suddenly blows out or your kid gets sick or whatever and, welp, there you go.

So when you get a little bit of money in, you spend it because you're going to have to spend it anyway and, yeah, maybe you do something fun with it like buy a nice new TV instead of some Morally Correct but more lingering thing--let's face it, if you've put off the dentist for 10 years, as I had at one point, that $600 for a nice new TV isn't going to touch all the work you need done and you're probably just going to get a lecture for your time and god knows poor people get endless lectures--and then it's gone anyway, but at least you got something tangible.

I really wish I could remember the article because it basically summed up my experience being poor so precisely I wanted to staple it to people's foreheads.

And yeah, status symbols matter. I have an apartment in a really nice part of town where homes start at $500,000 and go rapidly upwards and getting the keys to some rich guy's rental property was about a million times easier than getting any of the hood apartments I've lived in because the wife and I drive up in a nice, newish car (a Honda Fit but that's still a current, popular line and it's in really good shape) and look like Nice Yuppies and so the path is smoothed for us because the assumption is The Poors wouldn't even bother showing up here and the leasing agent said as much, though it was much more elegantly phrased. It's literally cosplay for adults. I'm the same person I always am, but when I put on my suit jacket that was hand-made in Italy, people call me sir, I get offered first class upgrades just chilling around the gate, and everyone assumes I'm a real important person they should totally respect and I have to laugh because that suit was $15 at the thrift store, not $3000 in Milan but the effect is the same.

But even that has a catch, that's the sick part of it. Because I can present as upper middle class, they'd applaud my ingenuity at getting such a great coat for such a great price, precisely because I don't have to shop at thrift stores. If I didn't have a choice, it'd be a whole different story, and people would know. It's the difference between an ironic 70s-style t-shirt and a t-shirt that is literally from the 70s because I couldn't afford anything else.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:47 PM on October 29, 2013 [173 favorites]


I can't remember the article I read that summed it up best, but it was basically, when you're poor and come into a sum of money, you don't believe it will last.

The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor?
posted by fatehunter at 12:03 AM on October 30, 2013 [39 favorites]


When I moved to the US a friend of mine (also latina, but she lived in this country her whole life) clearly explained to me that if I didn't want to be mistaken as part of the cleaning staff at my company, I would have to invest in better clothing. I dismissed it as ridiculous, after all everyone wears jeans and t-shirts at technology companies, right? Let's just say she was right.
posted by papalotl at 12:08 AM on October 30, 2013 [76 favorites]


That's the one. I remember doing all those things (and was just in the process of my multi-times-a-day checking of my bank account).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:10 AM on October 30, 2013


The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor?

That's exactly the article. We had a great discussion about it here two winters ago: They can't shake the idea that the money is perishable.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:14 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I recognize what she describes about the precarious balance of incentives involved in "passing," or at least I really want to believe I do, but at the same time I feel like this is a narrow and empirically fuzzy way of grounding things generally. We should be able to acknowledge and defend the thought that the stresses and uncertainties of poverty are alone a hugely sufficient, and sufficiently absolving, condition for people making actually bad decisions without having to rely on closeness of match with particular anecdata about saintly mothers and grandmothers whose apparently bad decisions turn out upon closer examination to have been considered bets.
posted by batfish at 12:20 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Do most people who complain about the poor's poor spending habits really pick on the clothing? Or at least, the type of clothing the author is talking about?

I would think that most people would understand the logic of buying nice, job-appropriate clothes. Maybe you could quibble about the logic of buying a new designer-label suit vs. a cheap(er) one off the rack, or thrifted label. But a suit? If you're poor (even if you're not poor) and you want a better job, a suit is a logical thing to spend money on, not an extravagance, and the author does a good job explaining why this is the case. The author does a good job of explaining how it opens up more doors than employment, for that matter.

But she never got back around to explaining the TV she mentioned.

There are companies that will give out suits or clean them for people in need for job interviews. Anybody handing out DirecTV for the disadvantaged? Plasmas for the poor?

People _do_ complain that poor people spend money irrationally (especially when the complainers see it as "their" money, of course). And one of the many obstacles poor people face is that many people in positions of power often look toward signifiers — status symbols in the most literal sense — when deciding how to treat them. And often, these things are connected.

But answering "When you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols?" with "Nice clothes are necessary to improve myself and my life by getting preferential treatment from people in positions of power," may be true, but it isn't really a complete answer, is it?

(It was a thought-provoking article. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to read it. I'm just not sure it does a good job of explaining "The Logic of Stupid Poor People" in the way that many people in my experience criticize "Stupid Poor People" for their faulty logic when choosing how to spend their money.)
posted by brentajones at 12:26 AM on October 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


Ghostride the Whip, those John Cheese articles spoke to me the exact same way.

I think that you're on to something, too, about there being a lot more to it than just this article. And, to be honest, what the article made me think of wasn't how true it is--though in some ways, it totally is--but how desperate we as poors can be to distance ourselves from the bad poors, and to justify and validate things that we do. I'm not saying that fancy shoes and nice clothes aren't, as mentioned in the article, solid investments for poor people--I have some of that sort of thing myself, and used them pretty much as discussed. But let's face it--I also have random techy gadgets and things that were bought in a sudden flush of money because I wanted to have something that was nice and shiny and new for a change. Which is a thing that I'm ashamed of--and, when I think about it, I have to admit that I'm ashamed of it not because I have [insert thing here], but because I'm aware that in purchasing said thing because I wanted it, I'm ceding my moral high ground. I'm admitting that sometimes, I'm a Bad Poor.

I'm poor, and from poor. After decades of construction/military/steel mill work, my parents are now solidly middle class. They hit it right around when my little sister got to high school, and the difference in the way that she approaches the world and the way that I do is remarkable. Some of it, I'm sure, is because she's a relatively conventionally attractive, straight, white woman, and I'm a...not attractive, queer, ambiguously gendered white person. But some of it isn't. She just expects that the world will do what she wants it to, when she wants it to, and that seems to happen for her. She'll show up somewhere wearing sweats, and no one will bat an eye--at least in part, I assume, because her sweats cost more than any item of clothing I've ever purchased for myself.

There's an art to presenting yourself as middle class, and there are clearly huge benefits that go along with it. I think that it's a slippery slope, though, to start justifying purchases the way that the author has, because I feel that all it does is reinforce the good poor/bad poor dichotomy. Good poors buy status symbols that they can leverage to benefit themselves and the people around them; bad poors are the ones who buy giant televisions and grab onto the coattails of their betters. Things like this only reinforce that division, and ignore the fact that many, if not most, people can be good and bad poors at the same time, and that people purchase things for many reasons, some rational and some not.

I hope that the author's mother was able to enjoy her nice things, at least sometimes, as nice things--as beautiful things that made her feel special, as luxurious things that she was worthy of having. I hope for her sake that she, at least sometimes, was able to have something beautiful for herself, and not just as means to an end.
posted by MeghanC at 12:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [42 favorites]


The corollary would be if you're so rich, how come you're not smart?
posted by islander at 12:48 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


They can't shake the idea that money is perishable

Much as you're demonstrably not paranoid in 2013 to believe the government can read all your e-mails and listen to all your phone calls, you're demonstrably not stupid in 2013 to believe most of your hard earned money can suddenly disappear because of someone else's fraud or malfeasance.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:56 AM on October 30, 2013 [72 favorites]


I know the value of this myself, even as a white male -- I have an anecdote about when I was freelancing and spent too much of my "down" time out of town once, leading my bank to close my checking and savings accounts for inactivity. I rushed back to town, went in to complain, and was unsuccessful at getting anywhere. I went home, changed from t-shirt and jeans, shaved, and put on a business outfit. Back at the bank, I was shown to a different banker, and breezed through the reopening process.

The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate.

This stood out for me. It's part and parcel of the Republican war on voting: Make it so difficult they {for various values of "they"} give up. Why, how could it be their fault for denying them the vote, when all they had to do was go to the courthouse the next three counties over, and find the records bureau in the basement at the end of a poorly lit, damp hallway, where a simple citizen request will get you the birth certificate you need in three to six weeks? What are you, lazy and fickle? Which is to say, female?

Anyway, there are similar barriers being set up for all kinds of public benefits, even though the administration, investigation, and enforcement costs often exceed the amount of benefits lost to fraud. It's definitely strategic.
posted by dhartung at 1:24 AM on October 30, 2013 [31 favorites]


People think poor people don't need TVs or iPhones or whatever else, and maybe you don't need them tangibly in the same way that you need a nice suit for an interview or a silk shell-- but they're still part of fitting in and belonging. I don't "need" a fancy Grand Tour through Europe, but it was something all the other upper and middle class kids talked about when I got to college that I didn't understand ("oh, Italy is amazing," "oh, I loved the food in Paris, but it was so dirty," &c.). They ate fancy food, went to fancy places. Had fancy phones. Had nice TVs. Could afford every book they wanted, every gorgeous art book, every independent comic. A subscription to any magazine, any club, any gym, any film series.

Culture is expensive. And it's hard to make friends at the fancy college you got into on a scholarship or at the new job where you're surrounded by the perennial middle class if you can't touch on any of the same cultural markers as they do.

You can go without these things and just be "zen" but that's not the same as being upwardly mobile. And when you're poor upwardly mobile means things like security, health insurance, better health in general, education, &c. Making up for early life disadvantages later in life is nearly always much more expensive and much less effective. You have to scramble.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [51 favorites]


I don't know if this is about being poor. I always end up reading articles like this, and not recognising myself or the people I knew/know who grew up poor, or who are poor.

God knows, I have my problems - mostly to do with food - that I attribute to poverty, but I couldn't give a shit about appearing of higher status than I am. I believe an attachment to status symbols has less to do with poverty, and more to do with the fact that some people (rich and poor) have an unhealthy & unwarranted respect for the shiny.

Making it about being poor (a) ignores the fact that some non-poor people also spend way too much of their income on status objects.

I'm calling bullshit on this, and on articles like this. If anything it's a pretentious and condescending articulation by the intellectual classes, that they think they understand the situation of being poor better than some randomer on twitter.
posted by zoo at 1:56 AM on October 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


People who are poor live without a lot of things they would like to have and when they get a little extra coin in their pockets, treat themselves to a little luxury. It's not economically rational, but it's completely understandable.

I have known plenty of poor white people who spend their money on luxury items they cannot really afford and the difference is that they don't blame it on racism; "I owe it to myself," is reason enough.
posted by three blind mice at 2:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


> People _do_ complain that poor people spend money irrationally (especially when the complainers see it as "their" money, of course). And one of the many obstacles poor people face is that many people in positions of power often look toward signifiers — status symbols in the most literal sense — when deciding how to treat them. And often, these things are connected.

> But answering "When you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols?" with "Nice clothes are necessary to improve myself and my life by getting preferential treatment from people in positions of power," may be true, but it isn't really a complete answer, is it?


I think the answer is just that ethics is written in the first person, not the second person. We are to make our own decisions, but we have no right to judge other people, or even think about their choices very much. People will do whatever they do, and I try to do my best, and succeed sometimes and fail other times, and that's it.

Even trying to justify how people act is presumptuous, I think, because it still implies that you are judging them (only in this case you approve). We really don't even have a right evaluate them in the first place.
posted by officer_fred at 2:06 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is possible to be an intellectual and also be poor (and come from poverty). And that in itself is a good point-- what if you're very poor and a natural intellectual and can't obtain the books you want to read, or the music that you love and need to develop your talents, or a musical instrument to play, and on, and on, and on...
(PS, The library is not a solution if you live in a rural area. And yes, I was a poor kid who couldn't afford books, and finally got to use the interlibrary loan program at age 16-- of course, I couldn't write in the books, or keep them and reference them later, &c. &c., but at least I could finally read them for free. Too bad about all the music I was interested in that I couldn't listen to, and the fact that I dropped out of most of my high school activities because I couldn't afford them or needed the free time to work, &c. &c.)

People want to participate in the world, they want to connect with others, and they want to experience culture. This costs money, which is often a surprise if you've always had money and never had to think about it.

The author of this piece was poor and black you fucking people. She understands what it means to be both poor and black. But keep feeling good about yourselves for denying the structural role that consumerism plays in our culture I guess. Instead it's just the poors making a few mindless, irrational decisions once in awhile-- the way they spend money could never have meaning. I mean, obviously, they're poor. Meanwhile the mindless decisions of the middle class are rational because they have money.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:08 AM on October 30, 2013 [61 favorites]


Try living a life of constant deprivation, of not just your needs but also the vast majority of your wants, for about a year and then report back to Metafilter. I think this would be a different discussion!

Sometimes poor people want to experience good, pleasurable things in life! And it's not just about "treating themselves," which I actually think is a kind of nasty weird middle-class description of "indulgences," it's about not wanting to be crucially excluded from life in the way that it has meaning to them. Whether that means buying expensive food or an iPhone that changes their social life or whatever else. You think about these deeper meanings a lot when you want something you can't have! It's not about eating full-fat yogurt and feeling naughty, it's about feeling fundamentally deprived of the human experience as it's discussed by people you respect.

Personally, I'd like a designer purse so that I didn't feel looked down upon at my workplace, but that's not going to happen. But I guess if I did buy one I'd be "treating myself." Whoopdefuck. Similarly, I'd like an iPhone so I can feel intimate on a day-to-day level with my relatives, who I moved away from because they live in an economically depressed area with no jobs where I'd be poor forever. But whatever, it's just a mindless poor person attraction to shiny things. iPhone!!!! Now I can play Candy Crush while I get an unnecessary pedicure and eat bon bons! Ethically bankrupt activity with no social dimension whatsoever! Playing games with friends and family doesn't count if it's on a phone (for some reason)!!!! AGHHHHH fucking kill me ok not reading this thread anymore.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [47 favorites]


The author of this piece was poor and black you fucking people.

I don't know who you're so pissed at stoneandstar.

There's nobody in this thread saying anything which even hints at looking down at the poor for "treating themselves"
posted by zoo at 2:21 AM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


You're welcome.
posted by fullerine at 2:24 AM on October 30, 2013


I have known plenty of poor white people who spend their money on luxury items they cannot really afford and the difference is that they don't blame it on racism

I don't know that the author was so much blaming it on racism as she was blaming it on being a marginalized person, which happens because of many reasons--race is one of them, certainly, but poverty in and of itself is one, as well, as are other things such as gender nonconformity, age, family status, etc. There are multiple white people in this thread (me and dhartung, at a minimum) who mention using similar coping techniques to deal with belonging to (or being perceived as belonging to) a marginalized class. To say that the author is "blaming it on racism" seems like a remarkably uncharitable/borderline racist read.
posted by MeghanC at 2:33 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


The corollary would be if you're so rich, how come you're not smart?

People who have never been anywhere near the poverty line have no idea how ridiculous their advice to those who live there often is. Still, they listen to each other giving it, and judge it wise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:59 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


fullerine: You're welcome.

[I can only guess that this was meant as an oblique reference to The Road to Wigan Pier? Not to be demanding but perhaps to understand each other it would help to be less cryptic. In general: nothing deleted but if we could keep it civil in here I feel it would be widely appreciated. Please remember to assume good faith even in the face of disagreement. Cheers.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


" But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. "

Ah, graduate students!
posted by craniac at 3:19 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


I found the article to be quite thought-provoking, and at the same time still not quite entirely convincing. The idea that the poor purchase luxury items as status signals wasn't something that had occurred to me, and it was compelling.

But I don't think the author adequately dealt with the idea that there's a lot of room between "presentable," i.e., the bare minimum necessary to present one's self in civil society, and a $2,500 hand bag. You can probably signal the same kind of status for a lot less.

I don't want to go in a judgmental direction here, but more towards the "stupid habits of poor people" direction in the earlier discussion. The intuition that one needs to upgrade one's presentation can justify spending which would otherwise seem to be beyond one's means. But a lot of poor people seem to go about this like, well, poor people, i.e., in ways that don't make financial sense even if we assume that we're in the market for luxury-type items.

Things like buying the most expensive name brand out there when there are other brands for half the price which would do just as well. Or buying items together with the intention of wearing them as an outfit which don't actually work together. Or--and I've seen this one at the courthouse more times than I can count--spending that entire $2,500 on a single accessory, leaving nothing for upgrading the rest of the outfit, e.g., the Luis Vuitton bag paired with sweatpants. That last one practically screams "I'm poor and bought this as a status symbol!" largely undermining the potential benefit of having done so.

Compare two black guys getting out of identical Mercedes SUVs they parked in front of the courthouse at about the same time. One is wearing a reasonably well-fitting suit with appropriate but unremarkable shirt, shoes, and tie. Most of the people who see him and bothered to think about it might think "Oh, that guy might be a lawyer." The other is wearing an over-sized white t-shirt, a thick gold chain, sagged exercise pants, and a flat-brimmed baseball cap. The same people are probably going to think "Oh, that guy might be a drug dealer."

That's the thing about symbols: they don't always say the same thing. Context is important. The second guy in the above hypo probably did buy the Mercedes as a status symbol, intuiting "This is what rich people drive!" But he hasn't intuited how to make the Mercedes part of his entire presentation, so the net effect of the symbol is still "poor person." An effect he could have avoided for half the price. The first guy in the hypo could probably have gotten people to assume he was a lawyer even if he were driving a Honda or even a Ford SUV, because both fit with the lawyer presentation, but the second guy will continue to look like a poor person, no matter what car he drives, until he buys a damn suit. Doesn't have to be Versace, or even designer, it just has to be a suit. So we could easily wind up in a situation where the guy who looks like a lawyer spends tens of thousands of dollars less on his presentation than the guy who looks like a drug dealer.

Or pick a different context and talk about TVs. Say a poor person gets ahold of a chunk of cash and decides, motivated in part by the "cash is perishable" attitude discussed elsewhere, that they're going to buy a big flat-screen TV. Okay. Let's take that as a given. So what do they do? Well, a non-poor person would probably spend at least some time figuring out how big a TV will fit in their space, and then doing some comparison shopping to maximize the features they get for their money. A poor person seems more likely to just walk into Best Buy and buy the biggest, newest, TV their cash will permit, despite the fact that they could probably have gotten something equivalent for quite a bit less if they'd shopped around or waited for a sale.

All of which to say that yes, there is something to the idea of buying luxury items which do not obviously fit in one's budget for good but hard-to-quantify reasons, but you can still be stupid about doing that. The outfit the author's mother put together to deal with bureaucracies probably didn't cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Certainly no single item did. So while I'm entirely willing to grant that it does sometimes make sense for poor people to intuit that they "cannot afford not to buy" something, I'd still argue that sometimes that intuition is wrong.
posted by valkyryn at 3:29 AM on October 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


My wife told me that when she was working in a western African village in the Peace Corps, the women would maintain an immaculate appearance while working in the fields, doing the majority of the physical labor to support the village. Hair always perfect, never a smudge of dirt on their clothing, while the Peace Corps volunteers would usually have a layer of grime most of the time. When one of the men was specifying what dowry he wanted for a marriage, he asked for a brand new suit from a city 8 hours away to be given to him with a certain sum of money neatly folded in the breast pocket. It had to be in the breast pocket so that everyone would see it there when it was given to him publicly in front of all of the other village men. Hearing that made me think that people are really pretty similar no matter where you go or how much money you have.
posted by fraxil at 3:40 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'll be ready to listen to any rich person criticize a poor person's choices when they have dedicated 90% of their wealth to charity. So far that puts Bill Gates alone on the list, as far as I know.

Amusingly/non-coincidentally, he doesn't do that. Warren Buffet has also given a lot away...and he doesn't either.
posted by jaduncan at 3:47 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's literally cosplay for adults.

I've got a new term for the Tim Gunns of the world. ;)

Story time from me about all this. I come from a pretty well off family, parents owned three banks and dad was president of them before he retired. Due to mental issues of my own, i've more often than not resembled someone not from that. In my younger years, i was more a goth and punk, and currently, i'm usually in jeans with paint on them, tshirts and shaggy hair. My car is a 2000 VW beetle with a big part of the grill missing, since 2004. Often, when i go out in public (due to anxiety and depression is pretty rare these days) people at shops tend to ignore me and avoid helping me, especially if go to more upscale places. Not saying this to negate any of what has been said, in fact i am saying to describe how i understand why the disadvantaged would want to use status symbols to avoid that treatment.
posted by usagizero at 4:10 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


" But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. "

Ah, graduate students!


Ah, dicking on graduate students!

Seriously, this kind of writing is exactly what research in the social sciences is supposed to produce: perspectives which are completely obvious to certain sectors of the population and completely opaque to the rest.

And can we please stop the the "treating yourself" rhetoric. This is about going without food/essentials to buy signifiers of middle-class status in order to have the slimmest chance of raising oneself off the poverty line, and dealing with systems which treat you like shit if you don't conform to a norm.
posted by Omission at 4:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [37 favorites]


Among the young women in my low-income community, really amazing-looking hair extensions appear to be the norm. I completely admit I've had an unkind thought when a student with brilliant new hair tells me she can't afford to buy the books for the class. And some of these folks were good students, too -- but it makes sense that young women who are doing what they can to survive in a low-income community are making the big hair extensions choice, given this article. Thanks for posting.
posted by angrycat at 4:27 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Two things can both be true:

1. Money well-spent on luxury status goods will help a person get the respect that they ought to deserve without those luxuries.
2. Most people spending beyond their means to capture status will overspend or misspend compared to what a privileged person would realize is appropriate.

In both cases, this is primarily serving the interests of major designers who reap massive profits by selling us our signifiers of status and our prerequisites for respect. There's a reason many of the world's richest people got that way by owning fashion companies: even the middle-class and rich are stupid about clothes and accessories.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:29 AM on October 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


The issue here is that people are talking different languages.

A middle class person seeing a poor person wearing/driving expensive kits thinks they have made a poor choice because they should be investing money in something that will better their lives long term [...] so they can work up to middle class society, or at least provide them with a safety net.

A poor person isn't necessarily starting from the same point: they often don't see a path to the middle class. The data for black Americans and poor Southern whites bears that out. Barbara Ehrenreich does a good job in Nickel and Dimed of explaining the many and several ways poor Americans get dicked because they are poor. This cynicism is understandable.

Consumerism is an alternative path to both joining wider society or signalling one's status within or membership of the community. These latter two points (status/community membership) are true for any class - be it the newest pair of Nikes, the late model minivan or the country club membership. America (and other countries) has appalling savings rates.

However, the problem is not just poor people. America's middle class also prioritises visible membership of the class over securing long term financial security. Compare against the polar opposite, China, where savings rates are exceptionally high. Why? Because Chinese see accumulated wealth as a clearer path to social success. In essence, sacrifices made today can clearly be seen to improve outcomes tomorrow.

Criticism of poor people is often seen as a failure of judgment where it is arguably more representative of a failure of aspiration - about as divisive a topic as it gets, politically speaking. It brings up a wealth of ideas, the ongoing relevance of the American dream, the role of the state in promoting social equality, personal responsibility, the value of hard work and WHO IS TO BLAME for why poor people struggle to escape poverty. It strikes at the heart of what modern day America is.

There are cases which support a more conservative view that hard work and investment do pay off - for example, immigrant communities with higher savings rates, unusually hard work ethics and improving social outcomes; and there are also examples where poor people do spend recklessly and stupidly. It would be absurd to deny either, and sometimes in defending outlier examples social progressives end up denying any agency on the part of poor people, verging on the patronising: but they can't help it, you couldn't possibly understand. Poor people are no more or less immune to stupidity and poor planning than the rest of us.

The problem is that these outlying cases are used to justify why other poor people remain poor: in short, that they are poor because they deserve to be poor.

In addition, these criticisms fail to reflect the huge changes that have taken place since the 1970s. To often, in the same breath as decrying high taxes and big government, commentators ignore that a heady mixture of Reagonomics and globalisation has filleted America's middle class and pushed the working poor under a rock. The land of opportunity many of them talk about and still imagine exists where the average man could pull himself up by the bootstraps started to disappear decades ago.

In that respect, getting worked up because a poor black guy has bought new sneakers is a red herring. Singling out the poor for inappropriate consumerism is misplaced, and using those examples to wave away data on social mobility and income equality is now effectively a standard operating tactic, up there with welfare queens and other tropes.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:36 AM on October 30, 2013 [97 favorites]


I remember being deeply affected by an essay Phil Dick wrote about being poor. It was the preface of his anthology "The Golden Man." He talked about how being poor made you a very good accountant with small sums of money, because if you had 35 cents and you lost 10 cents through a hole in your pocket or misplacing a dime, you might not eat dinner that day. And then he went on a rant about how his constant fear of authority figures was triggered every time he went to the pet food store and bought horse meat. He worried that somebody was going to find out he was eating the horse meat that was clearly labeled as not for human consumption.

Anyway, I recognize the problem in the OP. I am working a shitty temp job for low wages. I am so poor that all my regular clothes have worn down to being threadbare. When I dress casually, it looks like I'm wearing rags. I worked at an assignment with a guy I hadn't seen in a couple of years, he said, "hey.. what's the deal? You're looking kinda shabby lately."

I searched my closet and found a couple of decent shirts I could wear more often, but I needed new pants. So I went to the store to see what a replacement pair of work-casual khaki pants would cost. It cost $60 at a midrange company like Eddy Bauer. I can't spare that kind of money. But I do have a closet full of dress clothes that I've been saving for a rainy day. Can't wear them too often or they will become worn and threadbare too.

So I can't afford a $60 pair of pants. But I can afford $5 a week in dry cleaning for my dress pants. So I guess for now, I will wear my expensive clothes. This significantly improved my job where I work with college graduates (up to PhDs) for $12 an hour. But I got temporarily shifted to a job where I work at data entry with people mostly no higher than a high school diploma. They wear jeans, sweats and track suits to work. And they look at me like I'm slumming and that I'm trying to show that I'm better than them. Maybe I am.

I remember when I moved to LA and at first I was shit poor. Then I got a job with a dress code: dress pants, white shirt and tie, with a sport coat. I told my new boss that I didn't have a jacket, but I could do the shirt and tie until I got a couple of paychecks and could do better. I had one pair of dress slacks and one white shirt and a tie, the ones I wore to the job interview. I had to hand wash that white shirt every night, then hang it up to dry, and get up early to iron it every morning. On Friday evening, I'd drop off my slacks at the dry cleaner, and get them back sunday in time to wear them to work. After my first paycheck, I bought a second shirt, but I still had to hand wash them almost every day. After the second paycheck, I bought another pair of dress slacks. It took me another month, and two paychecks, to afford a decent sport coat.

Shortly after that, I got recruited to a better job that was suit and tie only. I was expected to buy a new suit at least every 3 months, and the company had quarterly mandatory group visits to a men's clothier where everyone must attend and buy a new suit if they had not done so in the previous 90 days. And my bosses watched us and knew every suit we owned.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:37 AM on October 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


charlie don't surf, have you tried dry cleaning less often? In addition to costing money, dry cleaning shortens the life of clothing.
posted by Omission at 4:43 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or--and I've seen this one at the courthouse more times than I can count--spending that entire $2,500 on a single accessory, leaving nothing for upgrading the rest of the outfit, e.g., the Luis Vuitton bag paired with sweatpants.

Do Louis Vuitton bags still count as status symbols? Given how common they seem to be, probably a function of how much they've been faked over the past ten years or so, I'm curious about whether they still have the ability to signify wealth in the way that they obviously did at one time.

That's the other downside of being poor -- you're always playing catch-up with that shit. Even if you've got the money, your lack of insider status means that you're probably gonna buy the wrong damn thing anyway.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:49 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


In a world where the haves deny the have nots even the basic necessities of food and shelter and health care...

Well, a lot of them don't believe that food and shelter and health care are basic necessities. A lot of them also see basic appliances such as "refrigerators, microwave ovens, window unit air conditioners, televisions, and cell phones" as luxury items:
These arguments are mean and misleading on several accounts. First, the electronic devices that Heritage cites are everyday necessities today. Who has iceboxes anymore? Who doesn’t need a cell phone to find a job or keep one? Fortunately, these appliances are all significantly cheaper these days, but not so the real everyday basics such as quality child care and out-of-pocket medical costs, both of which have risen much faster than inflation, squeezing the budgets of the poor and middle-class alike. In fact, if anything, those who we consider poor today are far more out of the social mainstream in terms of their basic income than when our poverty measure was first set in the 1960s.

Indeed, the rising cost of paying for electricity for the very appliances that Heritage thinks are indicators of luxury are eating a bigger and bigger hole into the pockets of the poor. Today struggling families are spending at least 15 percent of their household budget to pay their electric bills, and the poorest of the poor shell out an even higher percentage of their income for this basic expense. Somehow Heritage manages to completely ignore the fact in America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found in 2008 that half (50.3 percent) of poor households with children said there were days when they didn’t know how or if they could pay for their next meal.
And these families are paying an extraordinary share of their income for basic housing, too. While the average renter makes about $13.52 an hour, the national average wage needed to afford a fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is around $18.46 an hour. This problem is exacerbated for minimum wage working parents who earn just $7.25 an hour.

To avoid a real discussion of these issues, the Heritage Foundation craftily creates indexes that rank households on skewed measures of “amenities” that suggest that no further federal action is needed to buoy the standard of living of poor and working-class families. Such indexes are heartless and foolish. Heartless because they ignore the fact that it takes much more than a few appliances to support a family. And foolish because they lend credence to the calls for cutting the supports that research has shown are necessary for every child to become a healthy and productive adult.

Smart federal investments in nutrition programs stem the degree to which struggling families face hunger and food insecurity. Reasonable investments in affordable housing and community development make it possible for millions to keep a roof over their head. Our economy also depends on countercyclical programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and the earned income tax credit. By putting resources directly in the hands of struggling families, these programs boost consumer demand, keep small businesses humming, and create jobs that strengthen the middle class.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:53 AM on October 30, 2013 [32 favorites]


There was a discussion about this this morning on Market Place Morning report. Should be online tomorrow or later today - interview with this financial writer and her experience two weeks ago at an unnamed store that sounded a lot like Bloomingdale's ....
posted by tilde at 5:04 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This isn't "Life isn't fair". This has nothing to do with life, living, and most things based on the individual. This is people being bad at logical decision making, logical behavior, and ignoring-when-convenient the goody-good lessons and morals often taught to their own goddamn children. Its not a matter of life being fair, its a matter of other members of the species being absolute shit at post-enlightenment anything.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:15 AM on October 30, 2013


Do Louis Vuitton bags still count as status symbols?

Danged if I know. I just know that expensive-looking handbags look really weird when paired with sweatpants.
posted by valkyryn at 5:17 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was a period where I was really poor but dressing incredibly well, because I was being given castoffs from what seemed like every woman in town of babymaking years, and also the elderly university professor's widow my aunt was keeping house for (nothing trendy, but all good, Eddie Bauer/J.Crew stuff, no more than a year or two old).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read a study a while back, I think it was called "Conspicuous Consumption and Social Segmentation," but that's only available online in PDF so I don't want to link to it. Maybe you guys have better Google-fu than I do. Anyway, the point as I remember it was that people who were part of a relatively homogeneous community tended to all spend the same proportion of their money on status markers that other people in that community could read. The more homogeneous, the larger the proportion of their budget they spent on conspicuous consumption. A relatively homogeneous community would be something like an inner city poor black neighborhood, or a suburban middle class white neighborhood, or an inner city rich white neighborhood, or...you get the point. It wasn't that poor people were weird for doing what they were doing. And it's not like signalling that you're like your friends and neighbors but cooler isn't an important thing to at least try and do -- it keeps everyone feeling like you're a respectable member of the community, and community/social ties are an important thing to nurture, *especially* if you're someone who's financially vulnerable. If the price of belonging to a community is some luxury items, it's not a bad idea to buy those luxury items.

A $2,500 purse might be a great investment if it helps you catch the eye of a good man or makes you the envy of your friends or impresses your mother or whatever. Not just because everyone likes it when people like them, but also because it's pragmatic and smart to make sure the people in your life, the people most willing and able to help you out if you need it, think you're respectable and have something to offer. Not all social signalling is for the middle class and/or government bureaucrats, a lot of it is for the people who you know -- and that's not a bad thing. It's strange to me to think of signalling as something you do for people *outside* of your community, let alone your class. That has its place, too, but it's not like the judgement of people who are essentially peripheral to your life (even if you've got to please them because they've got financial power over you) is the *only* judgement that matters.

I also don't think it's financially stupid to spend money, even quite a bit of money, on something that is the substitute for a more expensive purchase. I don't think it's dumb to plunk down $600 on a TV so your family will enjoy hanging out at home, instead of plunking down $infinite on going out to see movies, etc. I mean, what are you supposed to do, go into suspended animation for your recreational time? And the upshot of a lot of these "luxury" purchases is, if times are rough it's easy to sell or trade a purse or a TV, so it's not like the money has vanished in a puff of smoke, you *bought* something with it.

I read a quote from an economist once that went something like, "we try not to base our theories on the idea that people are stupid." People are generally rational, they just want things besides money. Respect is something a lot of people are willing to pay for, with good reason, and it's sad in a systemic way that poor people are granted such a dearth of it for free that it's shocking how expensive it is for them to buy as much as they need to get by. Or maybe we as a society are just irritated that poor people can afford any. *Shrug.*
posted by rue72 at 5:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [38 favorites]


Do Louis Vuitton bags still count as status symbols?

I find the frequency with which I see Louis Vuitton bags kind of insane, partially because they're expensive, but mostly because they're so damn ugly. For only $1,800 dollars you can own a kind of drab brown bag covered in busy, ugly logos. When there's other nice designer handbags out there that's like 1/3 the price, but comes in colors, I have no idea why you buy one of those things.

The larger point generally about what counts as a status symbol changing is a real one. As you say, the poor are always playing catchup, and can find themselves spending a ton of money on the "wrong" status symbol fairly quickly.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:32 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or maybe we as a society are just irritated that poor people can afford any.

I think you'd be shocked at how many people will immediately, and rabidly, hate on a person because they are both poor and have saved up the money for a small TV and PS3 with a few games. Or a decent computer and an internet connection. Or, and I've actually heard this from the mouths of people I used to respect, something as necessary to modern living as a refrigerator.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


I find the frequency with which I see Louis Vuitton bags kind of insane, partially because they're expensive

You are probably seeing lots of knock-offs, some fraudulently sold as the genuine article.
posted by thelonius at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sometimes I try to explain this to my white friends, and they always tell me: fuck the rules! Why do you care what people think of you? You should just do whatever you want!

To quote Neil Gaiman, "The game is rigged, but it's the only game in town."

I hate the rules. But I realize that if I defied the rules as blatantly as possible, I would still hate them, so what would that get me?


A $2,500 purse might be a great investment if it helps you catch the eye of a good man or makes you the envy of your friends or impresses your mother or whatever.

Metaphorically, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Four times.
posted by Foosnark at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, a lot of them don't believe that food and shelter and health care are basic necessities. A lot of them also see basic appliances such as "refrigerators, microwave ovens, window unit air conditioners, televisions, and cell phones" as luxury items:

Smartphones, too, are in this category to a certain extent, though the right likes to complain about poor people with smartphones, too. I pay about $80/month for my cell phone and internet access. The easiest way to cut that* is abandon my home internet access and spend $50/month on a smartphone, which would at least enable me to check my email at home (handy for a job search, for example). If I had to cut further, I'd dump the smartphone and lose internet altogether.

*I've tried and it seemingly cannot be done without some sort of lifestyle change, i.e. giving up internet access or giving up calling my mother and best friend.
posted by hoyland at 5:37 AM on October 30, 2013


I am a white (ostensibly) Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, and I basically ignore most of the status-seeking symbols which others seem to crave.

There is a connection between the first and being comfortable doing the second, you realize.
posted by aught at 5:37 AM on October 30, 2013 [46 favorites]


Commodity fetishism is the perception of the social relationships involved in production, not as relationships among people, but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade. As such, commodity fetishism transforms the subjective, abstract aspects of economic value into objective, real things that people believe have intrinsic value.
posted by larry_darrell at 5:37 AM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wow that 5 stupidest habits piece is great. Without getting too personal, I will say that my wife has many of these habits, and it's causing substantial tension. I have been working on ways to address this with her, and it's been tough. Seemingly basic things like 'we should pay down our highest interest credit cards first' turn into major battles. This gives me hope that I can find a way to address the entire syndrome.
posted by Mister_A at 5:40 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once read an interview with Michael Caine, and they asked him why he kept appearing in really really bad movies. Surely he was at a point in his career where he could pick and choose roles? His reply was that he had grown up desperately poor, and he could not shake the sense that you do not refuse work. After all, there may not be dinner on the table tonight if you didn't.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:42 AM on October 30, 2013 [43 favorites]


I think you'd be shocked at how many people will immediately, and rabidly, hate on a person because they are both poor and have saved up the money for a small TV and PS3 with a few games.

I had a temp job that ended in early 2011, without having any idea what I was going to do next. The first thing I did on my first day unemployed was buy myself a PS3 as an "unemployment gift" to myself. One of the best decisions i have ever made. It gave me something to do to fill my days, a way to blow off steam when job searching became too depressing, and it made me happy when things were pretty shitty. Seriously, if you can make it work, buy that kind of thing; it can make your life demonstrably better.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:43 AM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


expensive-looking handbags look really weird when paired with sweatpants.

I'm not quite sure what sweat pants are, but a pair of Versace leather jogging pants costs $3,375.00.
posted by colie at 5:43 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


So I can't afford a $60 pair of pants.

I'm sure my upper middle class perspective slants this, but I bought a new pair of perfectly nice Van Heusen khakis at Sears at the mall for a third that. (Eddie Bauer is the last place I would go for affordable pants or any other clothing really. Well, maybe not the last.) Also, two important words for cheap but presentable clothes: TJ Maxx.
posted by aught at 5:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I lived in Newport, RI, and there is some unimaginable old-money wealth still hanging around town. I mean, set up for generations and generations of multi-millionaires or billionaires wealthy.

Do you know what kind of car they drive?

Subarus. Usually ones 5-7 years old.

Do you know what kind of clothes they wear?

Mail-order L.L. Bean.

Luxury items are designed soley to take more money from the lower and middle classes than could otherwise be commanded. So you have these social markers, that actually mark the opposite. If you have a $2000 handbag, people outside your social class aren't going to think "Wow, she must be rich!"

They're going to think, "Wow, poor people can't be trusted with money!" Even people in your social stratum aren't going to be fooled - you still have to work two jobs and walk a mile to the discount market to do your shopping, and everyone knows it. The truly rich will be spending a lot more than two grand on a handbag if they want to splurge, and can tell at a glance if it's a $2k bag, or an $8k bag.

So it becomes a three-way trap - it sucks money out of the pockets that can least afford them. It becomes a reverse status marker - it separates you out as lower class. And it allows those in higher social strata to blame your generational poverty on your poor decision making.

Luxury brands are pretty evil.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:47 AM on October 30, 2013 [90 favorites]


That's just the Yankee old-money aesthetic, Slap*Happy, although those folks can be remarkably frugal too.
posted by thelonius at 5:50 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Amazing. Should be required reading for everyone, although I fear many would not understand it, or dismiss it. But this is some deep stuff. Thanks for posting.
posted by agregoli at 5:51 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's literally cosplay for adults.

Almost all of adult life is cosplay. Anyone who thinks they're not wearing a costume or uniform on casual Friday at the office or in their sports clothes at the game or in studied-casual pre-faded jeans and concert t-shirt at a friends' party or in novelty boxer shorts when going to bed with your loved one... hasn't thought much about clothing.
posted by aught at 5:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [33 favorites]


I was expected to buy a new suit at least every 3 months, and the company had quarterly mandatory group visits to a men's clothier where everyone must attend and buy a new suit if they had not done so in the previous 90 days. And my bosses watched us and knew every suit we owned.

I hope you got paid a lot of money to deal with that crap.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


We all play the game to an extent, whether we think we do or not. I've done the glasses /contacts debate with myself depending on the audience. I've chosen a particular outfit in order to provoke a particular response. Designer brands do suck as they can trick people into thinking they're getting quality, when when it may wear out quicker than regular items.
posted by arcticseal at 5:57 AM on October 30, 2013


If you have a $2000 handbag, people outside your social class aren't going to think "Wow, she must be rich!" They're going to think, "Wow, poor people can't be trusted with money!"

Story time from me: my dad grew up poor and now is pretty well-off, and rents out a few apartments to earn his living.

He used to drive around to collect rents and deposits from his tenants and would make sure he drove an old beat-up Volvo, and tried to be super friendly (left a bottle of wine in the fridge for a new tenant; smoked a joint with student tenants once, etc).

But he had loads of slack payers and problems with his renters until he noticed that the other landlords in the street were showing up to collect rents in brand new blacked-out Range Rovers and Bentleys. They told him that their tenants always paid on time, because they presumed that a guy in a 100k car gets paid properly by everyone, because that's just how he rolls.
posted by colie at 5:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


One of the most damaging effects of people's attempts to look like they have more than they do is the food they buy for their children. Instead of letting the kid get the free lunch to which he or she is entitled, or sending the kid to school with a simple homemade bag lunch- pbj, apple, thermos- parents will buy the pricy pre-packaged meals and snacks they and their kids see advertised on tv. Have you ever seen a tv ad set in a poor neighborhood? The ads for kids' stuff, whether food or toys or whatever, are all set in middle-class suburban environments and the message is that the product advertised is used/consumed by kids who live in that kind of (idealized) environment.

As a consequence of eating so much crap food kids are growing up unhealthy.
posted by mareli at 6:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Status symbols are more important the less status you actually have. I am white, male, and middle class. For me, just looking presentable is good enough in most circumstances. But that is very much a privilege. When I show up at the immigration office, I can wear jeans and a tshirt, and am treated politely. But I know that the Vietnamese guy wearing a suit behind me in line needs to wear that suit to get the same level of respect I am granted by default. It's a lot more expensive for him.
posted by Nothing at 6:03 AM on October 30, 2013 [41 favorites]


Slap*Happy, not all incredibly wealthy people drive used subarus and wear reasonable clothing.
posted by kavasa at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am a white (ostensibly) Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, and I basically ignore most of the status-seeking symbols which others seem to crave.

There is a connection between the first and being comfortable doing the second, you realize.


This cannot be emphasized enough. And different arenas of life have different gatekeepers. My mom once told me that while she sat on the review board for new hires at her workplace (a largely female-dominated profession that requires post graduate degrees), other members of the group decided not to hire a qualified (female) candidate because she hadn't had a manicure when she came in for her interview. Not that she had some kind of wildly out-of-place nails, just regular unpainted nails. Yes, women are largely the ones to notice things like whether you're wearing a tank top or a shell. Men have other signalling items, like watches or shoes.

That story about the shell, by the way, is just another way of enforcing so many terms of gender performance. I wouldn't even know where to go to find a silk shell that would fit me and not look like a sad sack of fabric that's way too tight across the chest and hips. If you aren't a "straight size" finding professional clothing that is affordable is even tougher. The tank top will fit a wider range of bodies, is available in more stores, and is likely to be a fraction of the cost of a silk shell.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:07 AM on October 30, 2013 [24 favorites]


A $2,500 purse might be a great investment if it helps you catch the eye of a good man or makes you the envy of your friends or impresses your mother or whatever.

Metaphorically, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Four times.

People you care about (for whatever reason) care about something? Make sure you show at least the potential for having that thing they care about. Otherwise they're not going to care about you and then you're actually in deep shit. If how you show you're worth caring about is through a $2,500 purse, for god's sake, buy the damn purse.

I think that was the writer's point -- if looking like a "deserving poor" person is important to the bureaucrat who has power over something essential to your life, then show up looking like the deserving poor or risk getting screwed. And plenty of people can't look how they're "supposed to" in a given situation and they do get screwed. Like the old woman who the writer's mom was trying to help, or the woman who wore the "wrong" outfit to the receptionist interview.
posted by rue72 at 6:08 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, two important words for cheap but presentable clothes: TJ Maxx.

I want to say TJ Maxx is better for women. My mother could find work clothes there, but the men's section is generally a disaster, at least if you wear a size smaller than XL (and even then, I don't know about work clothes). That said, they do have those shirt and tie sets for $20. Certainly there's sometimes stuff, but it seems my success rate is much lower than my mom's.
posted by hoyland at 6:09 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


colie: But he had loads of slack payers and problems with his renters until he noticed that the other landlords in the street were showing up to collect rents in brand new blacked-out Range Rovers and Bentleys. They told him that their tenants always paid on time, because they presumed that a guy in a 100k car gets paid properly by everyone, because that's just how he rolls.

That's an interesting point. Like your dad, I would have thought that driving a beater to collect rent would be more endearing to tenants. The intended thought process being: "the guy with the Bentley is stupid rich, so screw that guy if I'm a little behind, but this chill dude in the old Volvo looks like he needs the money more. "
posted by dr_dank at 6:09 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


But I know that the Vietnamese guy wearing a suit behind me in line needs to wear that suit to get the same level of respect I am granted by default. It's a lot more expensive for him.

One of the consistently best dressed guys I know is an older African-American lawyer. In an office where the business casual uniform of ill-fitting blue dress shirts and khakis predominates, he regularly wears perfectly tailored double breasted suits. I tend to assume that this comes from having to be better dressed than his white peers in order to command the same level of respect.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


> Luxury items are designed soley to take more money from the lower and middle classes than could otherwise be commanded.

But being associated with the lower classes can be problematic for a luxury brand - e.g. "Burberry versus The Chavs". Like you point out, once adopted by the lower classes, it had become a reverse status marker. Burberry basically had to get rid of all the things the Chavs liked to buy and wear to break that association and re-establish its brand.
posted by needled at 6:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


aught: There is a connection between the first and being comfortable doing the second, you realize"

I believe that was the whole point of hippybear's post. It's a little unfair of you to take that opening sentence out of its context.
posted by Lorc at 6:12 AM on October 30, 2013 [30 favorites]


Spending beyond your means to impress the people standing in your way to success is smart.
Spending beyond your means to impress your neighbors is not. (Unless, of course, your neighbors are the people standing in your way to success.)
posted by pracowity at 6:12 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do you know what kind of clothes they wear?
Mail-order L.L. Bean.
...
Luxury brands are pretty evil.


I like the L.L. Bean Signature line
posted by Going To Maine at 6:13 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


People you care about (for whatever reason) care about something? Make sure you show at least the potential for having that thing they care about. Otherwise they're not going to care about you and then you're actually in deep shit. If how you show you're worth caring about is through a $2,500 purse, for god's sake, buy the damn purse.

Which is why my friends are comfortable with unbranded, vanilla clothing; share hobbies that have moderate entry costs and very low monthly upkeep; and value discussion over consumption.

Discussions like the five hour drunken one on what might happen to society in post-scarcity economics that meandered into a heated discussion on the morality of the Borg (if one is perfectly fulfilled, all are perfectly fulfilled, so is forcing people to join perfect fulfillment actually bad?) and their quality as a 'villain' in Star Trek as compared to the Romulans in 'The Balance of Terror'.

Having fulfilling friend circles shouldn't be something you have to drop more than $1000 on. You are a human being with experiences, foibles, ideas, and flaws that others around you will find interesting. If the others around me would require those traits to wear a funny hat and belt, I would find other others.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Which may actually take the discussion back to that recent on on MeFi on subcultures and escaping from tiresome/burdensome mainstream cultures.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:20 AM on October 30, 2013


I am reminded of this anecdote (pages 21 and 22) regarding linen shirts. You have to look and consume like "them" to be one of them. Being a human being with similar goals and interests isn't enough.
posted by koucha at 6:20 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Smartphones, too, are in this category to a certain extent, though the right likes to complain about poor people with smartphones, too. I pay about $80/month for my cell phone and internet access. The easiest way to cut that* is abandon my home internet access and spend $50/month on a smartphone, which would at least enable me to check my email at home (handy for a job search, for example). If I had to cut further, I'd dump the smartphone and lose internet altogether.

With the simultaneous casualization of labor and more rigorous rules for lousy jobs*, poor folks have got to have smartphones. I can get by with my old candybar phone because I hate instant connectivity and have a pink collar union gig, but my truly poor friends have to be able to find out about and apply for short-term or one-shot jobs and coordinate childcare no matter what time it is or where they are, and they can't do that without a smartphone. It's awful, truly a dystopian nightmare.

I mean, I spend my excess dollars on middle class and upper middle class signifiers of various kinds, so that I look like the kind of pink collar worker whose partner has an upper crust job and who themselves has a college degree. That's so I get treated better and more respectfully, an especially concern both in pink collar/affective labor and for gendernonconforming people.

*Ie, you read Samuel Delany's memoirs and he talks about really casual labor - sweeping sidewalks, moving stuff, unloading trucks - as a way that poor guys could get by or get out of homelessness or whatever, and it was all very informal, you'd know someone who ran the store and he'd just hire you for ten bucks to do a task. Whereas now many (though not all) of those jobs have been formalized - they're simultanously jobs where you need to show up at the drop of a hat and jobs where you need to pass a drug screening and maybe a background check.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 AM on October 30, 2013 [25 favorites]


Almost all of adult life is cosplay. Anyone who thinks they're not wearing a costume or uniform on casual Friday at the office or in their sports clothes at the game or in studied-casual pre-faded jeans and concert t-shirt at a friends' party or in novelty boxer shorts when going to bed with your loved one... hasn't thought much about clothing.

One of my favorite of RuPaul's catchphrases is, "You're born naked, and the rest is drag."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 AM on October 30, 2013 [41 favorites]


The Judgment of the Nations Matthew 25:31-46,
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We already know that those who have prisoners for neighbors and do not visit them, have the hungry for neighbors and do not feed them, have the ill for neighbors but do not care for them, or have foreigners for neighbors and do not welcome them into their homes cannot plausibly claim to be Christian. But the Jesus of the Gospels doesn't just have some harsh invective filled words for the kinds of religious hypocrites who make a show of their own piety while maintaining indifference to the hunger, loneliness, illness, and oppression of others but also those who are indifferent to the nakedness of their neighbors. Ancient Judea was not a place that ever got especially cold during the day, and it would be a mistake to suggest that this dude who so many of us at least claim to worship as a God had some practical purpose for the clothes in mind. This is already a nation that declares with our actions that there are prisoners who should not be visited, hungry people who should not be fed, sick who should not be cared for and foreigners who should not only be unwelcome but hunted - but also one that feels that there are people who should not be clothed with dignity.

That is the real purpose of all of the outrage over supposed uses of EBT money at shoe stores, it is offensive to our worst natures that the poor should be as visibly proud as us. The 'waste' involved is inconsequential, the wealth involved in all of the bullshit examples that have ever surfaced on the internet could easily have fit into any of the dozens of briefcases that have been 'lost' in Iraq. This is about pride and those we feel shouldn't have it.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:26 AM on October 30, 2013 [73 favorites]


I think this article does a much better job of explaining what this feministing article titled Wow that Lorde Song "Royals" is Racist, was trying to go for.
posted by fontophilic at 6:27 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My wife's (white, conservative, upper-middle class) uncle got positively livid when this topic came up in conversation once. His assumption was that anyone poor who had too many (one? two? It was unclear what the acceptable limit was) nice belongings must be involved in crime or ripping off the Canadian welfare system in some way. Why can't those people just wear rags like they deserve to?

He's also big on the bootstraps myth, even though he's a boomer who got a good job after attending university back in the '60s, when it was dirt cheap due to being heavily subsidized by taxpayers. He's not so big on paying taxes, though.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


> "At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars."

And I'm sure many people are saying this as they struggle to pay off the student loans for the particularly expensive college they simply had to go to.
posted by kyrademon at 6:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]



I lived in Newport, RI, and there is some unimaginable old-money wealth still hanging around town. I mean, set up for generations and generations of multi-millionaires or billionaires wealthy.

Do you know what kind of car they drive?

Subarus. Usually ones 5-7 years old.

Do you know what kind of clothes they wear?

Mail-order L.L. Bean.


But this depends so much on the type of wealthy. I happen to know someone from a very, very posh Indian family - old money, just not US old money - and let me tell you, mail order LL Bean is not on their list. There's a particular kind of English/WASPy wealth that prizes understatement, but there's also old money that prizes great expense, old money that prizes ultra-modernity, etc.

I add that wearing old LL Bean is a kind of humblebrag - it signals that you're wealthy enough to have the kind of posh, basically fun and rewarding job where you don't have to dress up but you still make lots of money, or that you don't have to work at a serious job, or that you're so important that you can dress much more casually than your subordinates and no one will say boo.

Technically, one can work the old-LL-Bean look while poor in certain scenarios - I try to play off some of that "old dress shirts and gently worn classics" look myself to suggest class status, but I'm not in the corporate sector.
posted by Frowner at 6:31 AM on October 30, 2013 [30 favorites]


"What, this old thing?"
posted by colie at 6:32 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Humans are blessed (or cursed) with an additional fundamental instinct. There's the desire to survive, and the desire to not suffer. Because we have a tendency to foresee and project, sometimes the immediate desire to not suffer trumps the longer term desire to survive.

Many of us are social animals, and societal rejection amounts to suffering, and must be defended against. Whether through complying (purchasing those status symbols), rebelling, or opting out, it must be addressed somehow in most of us. It's human nature as I see it.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:39 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously, this kind of writing is exactly what research in the social sciences is supposed to produce: perspectives which are completely obvious to certain sectors of the population and completely opaque to the rest.

I just want to thank you, Omission, for making so much fall into place for me right now. This is the crux of it.
posted by psoas at 6:45 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


like whether you're wearing a tank top or a shell

i reread that bit like 5 times no kidding.

i am 34, have been told by many i dress fashionably, was raised middle/upper middle class, and while i have been poor because of job reasons, i've never been actually poor.

i have to say that i had no idea there was a difference between a shell and a tank top. i thought that some tank tops were just nicer material and fit me really weird (as in don't fit). i am not kidding my mind is blown.

i totally see it now and never actually NOTICED it. but it is something i notice in the background and just never realized i was noticing. when i look at an upper managment professional woman in my workplace. or else mistake one of the admins for one - they are wearing a shell. i always noticed it wasn't quite a shirt or a blouse, but i couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. it seemed like a kind of uniform and now it makes sense...

holy crap.
posted by sio42 at 6:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [33 favorites]


I'm sure a lot of it goes back to schools where we're all lumped in together with kids from wildly different socioeconomic backgrounds, which is, of course, a double-edged sword. It's good for our development to be around people from different backgrounds and learn how they live, but it can create lifelong feelings of shittiness and incompletion in some people.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:47 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I add that wearing old LL Bean is a kind of humblebrag - it signals that you're wealthy enough to have the kind of posh, basically fun and rewarding job where you don't have to dress up but you still make lots of money, or that you don't have to work at a serious job, or that you're so important that you can dress much more casually than your subordinates and no one will say boo.

Calling this a "humblebrag" seems off, since it suggests a deliberate putting on airs. I don't know that I object to the idea that it's a signifier, but I think I object to the idea that it is necessarily a studied, deliberate one. (I was raised, dang it, to get clothes at both L. L. Bean and TJ Maxx.)
posted by Going To Maine at 6:49 AM on October 30, 2013


With the jobs I've worked in the past, there's been a nearly perfect inverse correlation between the pay and the amount of attention my supervisors paid to the dress code. When I worked for $10 an hour with no benefits, my boss pulled me aside a few times to suggest that I dress more nicely, perhaps in suits and better shoes? This was a role in which I never saw a client face-to-face, and it wasn't as though I was wearing sweatpants and tank tops to the office. My current job is worlds better in all respects (and I pray it never goes away), and I regularly wear outfits that would probably make my old boss scream. Though I make an effort to look pulled together, it's definitely not the corporate silk-shell aesthetic.

Opting out is very often a luxury.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:54 AM on October 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


I've always found it interesting how poor people think rich people behave, versus how they actually behave. I do know a lot of poor people and they seem to think you need a posh handbag, a nice car, fancy jewelry, and a big screen TV with HBO to appear rich. Meanwhile the actual rich people I know just have well-fitted but unremarkable clothes, drive economy cars, and more often than not don't even have a TV. The big difference is the rich travel a lot more and live in much nicer houses, which is harder to imitate if you're poor.
posted by miyabo at 7:00 AM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I like the L.L. Bean Signature line

The L.L. Bean Signature Line is kind of the opposite of a luxury brand. It ever wears out, you send it back, they'll replace it... and it's cheaper than "upscale" department stores.

I add that wearing old LL Bean is a kind of humblebrag

Yup. Not a downside.

Slap*Happy, not all incredibly wealthy people drive used subarus and wear reasonable clothing.

Ah. New money. ("Summer folk" as some of the locals call them. They don't mean they only show up on megayachts in summertime to roar around town in exotic cars with handbags the size of a suitcase that don't actually have anything in them except a wallet and some lipstick - tho there is that - it means they haven't been tested by a hard winter yet.)

I don't have much experience with other places, but the generational ultra wealthy in the Northeastern US pin their social status on things very, very, very far removed from our middle-class experience and desires. How many charities they're on the board of directors for, items where scarcity and provenance rather than mere monetary value is the appeal (including property, art and vehicles), memberships to certain clubs, societies or organizations... generally things you don't wear or use everyday. The everyday stuff is selected for practicality, as it's meaningless as a social marker to someone who funds an entire cancer research lab with their pocket change.

The point I was trying to make, is that it's a lot cheaper to look actually well off than it is to pretend to be well off - and this is by design. Luxury brands are a scam and a sham.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


Her premise is a bit off. The I-can't-believe-you-wasted-your-money-that-way trope is less about decent clothing for work than it is about toys and bling. The writer is moving on up ("I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind") and was fortunate in her trainers. (That toss-off comment on realizing the value of speaking standard English deserves an entire essay on its own.) She does not share the same goals as her coevals who are tossing money away on moonpies and pennywhistles. So - kind of an apple and oranges thing going on.

On preview, what pracowity said, and more succinctly.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:04 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The intended thought process being: "the guy with the Bentley is stupid rich, so screw that guy if I'm a little behind, but this chill dude in the old Volvo looks like he needs the money more. "

I thought that too for a while. It turns out that endearing yourself to people who owe you money means they think they have a lot more slack as to when they can pay you. As in "man, this guy is cool, he hangs out, he's like my buddies and they don't give me a lot of grief about money I owe them." If someone needs to do something with rent money that isn't paying rent, they're not about to start considering who else needs money more than they do when they have to pay out. Sort of a Maslow's Pyramid thing: something is more important to them than paying for shelter on time, so whatever that is, it is certainly more important than the chill, Volvo-driving landlord.

They guy in the Bentley? He's wearing his authority on his sleeve. He's showing that he's got the means to take the money from you if you don't give it to him yourself.
posted by griphus at 7:10 AM on October 30, 2013 [27 favorites]


(That's also why the best rule of thumb for lending friends money is "don't expect it back.")
posted by griphus at 7:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


The big difference is the rich travel a lot more and live in much nicer houses, which is harder to imitate if you're poor.

And have health insurance.
And have health insurance that can cover a lot of things.
And have health insurance that allows them to afford when something goes seriously wrong.

Like, seriously, this is pretty much up at the top of the list of the massive advantages the rich have over the poor, by a country mile. They also have a social network capable of providing thousands of opportunities, and the ability to pay people more to educate their children however they want, and the freedom of residential mobility. All of which is impossible if you're poor, and we haven't even got into the massive inheritable privileges afforded to the upper classes.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:12 AM on October 30, 2013 [47 favorites]


The first thing I see when I walk into Walmart are 4 or 5 large TVs for sale. Do they want me to spend reasonably or not? Getting mixed messages here.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're expecting a store to give you reasonable spending advice? "Red Light Special: Don't buy this useless crap! It will break within six months, just after you lose the receipt we will demand when you try to return it."
posted by pracowity at 7:36 AM on October 30, 2013


People you care about (for whatever reason) care about something? Make sure you show at least the potential for having that thing they care about. Otherwise they're not going to care about you and then you're actually in deep shit. If how you show you're worth caring about is through a $2,500 purse, for god's sake, buy the damn purse.

I guess there's a huge cultural disconnect.

Among my people (middle class white folks, grew up in considerably lower in the middle class and everyone has personally experienced financial struggle of some kind, but doing fairly well now) a $2500 purse is offensive, borderline criminal, and definitely stupid.

To that way of thinking, a "good" man would run like hell from any woman who thinks a $2500 purse is going to impress him, trying to make your friends envy you is a good way to lose them, and any mother that requires her daughter to own a $2500 purse isn't worth placating.

$2500 is three months of mortgage for me and my wife, or a year of lunches, or one hell of a donation to a worthwhile charity if i wanted to impress my mother.
posted by Foosnark at 7:44 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or two pretty decent new computers, a wardrobe update, a new smartphone, and a bunch of fun toys... anyway.
posted by Foosnark at 7:46 AM on October 30, 2013


One thing I think could have been more clearly elucidated is that what we are objecting to is often not the spending of money to signal socially - it is rather the failure to signal properly.

Poor people signal wrong - they buy $2500 purses when they should buy a $500 phone, $500 pantsuit, $200 shoes and a $150 haircut and maybe $1000 in elocution lessons.

They make these poor decisions because they don't properly understand how to signal, not because they aren't interested in signalling. From their background, how would they know how to signal properly?
posted by Neuffy at 7:49 AM on October 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


The other component no one seems to have mentioned is credit card debt. Plenty of people have toys because they have credit cards. I see people with less means than I with ipads and iphones and such, which I cannot afford. But then again, I have a teensy amount (a few hundred dollars) credit card debt. I don't know their balances, but its higher than that. No one is using 2500 dollars cash for a purse, I'm sure.
posted by agregoli at 7:50 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


how many poor people buy 2500 dollar purses
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


Among my people (middle class white folks, grew up in considerably lower in the middle class and everyone has personally experienced financial struggle of some kind, but doing fairly well now) a $2500 purse is offensive, borderline criminal, and definitely stupid.

That's the second leg of the three way trap - not only does it mark them as not being middle-class, it makes the actual middle class hostile to them. It breaks solidarity.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


23% of all homes under mortgage in the US are underwater. Is it really just the poor who are bad with money?
posted by srboisvert at 7:56 AM on October 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


Well, among my people, it's apparently the done thing to spend 4000 dollars on wedding flowers, which I think is pretty close to insane...but there's a whole industry devoted towards coaxing people towards those kinds of figures and "rewarding" them with blog posts and pins when they do. I wouldn't buy a 2500 purse*, but I'm not going to judge-- society is pretty much doing a great job of that anyway.


*I also seriously doubt we're talking about a real dollar numbers when it comes purses: most LV totes, for example, are closer to 500 dollars. Longchamp Le Pliages, which I still see used by both upper middle class and aspiring students, are like 150-365 bucks if you buy the fancy limited edition ones.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


23% of all homes under mortgage in the US are underwater. Is it really just the poor who are bad with money?

I think you're underestimating, by a ton, how many people are currently poor (by one financial definition or another) in the US right now. I should know the percentage of people who make less than $30k a year off the top of my head by now, the number of times I've had to use it when someone very right-wing complains that 50% of the country doesn't pay federal income tax.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Almost all of adult life is cosplay. Anyone who thinks they're not wearing a costume or uniform on casual Friday at the office or in their sports clothes at the game or in studied-casual pre-faded jeans and concert t-shirt at a friends' party or in novelty boxer shorts when going to bed with your loved one... hasn't thought much about clothing.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
posted by Ndwright at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Signals and semiotics, status and signifiers. The blog post and this thread would read differently if, instead of people of color or the poor, they were about geeks or graphic designers or Mefites.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Among my people (middle class white folks, grew up in considerably lower in the middle class and everyone has personally experienced financial struggle of some kind, but doing fairly well now) a $2500 purse is offensive, borderline criminal, and definitely stupid.

It's funny, I grew up in a similar sort of environment -- working-class immigrant neighborhoods where most people made it to at least lower-middle-class in a generation or two -- and a really ostentatious purchase like that was, if anything, a sign of independence. The fact that you got a $2500 purse (or whatever item that could have been purchased for less but wasn't) meant that you could. It was less "look at me putting on airs" and more "I pulled my ass out of the mire and I deserve this." But then again the general reaction to "can you believe how much that person spent on that thing?" was usually "why are you counting other people's money?"
posted by griphus at 8:09 AM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I lived in Newport, RI, and there is some unimaginable old-money wealth still hanging around town. I mean, set up for generations and generations of multi-millionaires or billionaires wealthy. Do you know what kind of clothes they wear? Mail-order L.L. Bean.

To work? Or just kicking around? I doubt they wore LL Bean to work.

I RTFA, and the thing that jumped out at me was the passage where the writer spoke of a woman who was interviewing for a secretarial position at the salon chain she worked for, so she could move up from being a hairdresser. When she left, the recruiter turned to the writer and said, "did you see she was wearing a tank top under her jacket? You're supposed to wear a silk shell underneath that!"

That's the kind of social signifiers we're talking about - the polished clothing that the gatekeepers to the better jobs say are appropriate, but is financially out of our reach. The stuff we can afford apparently isn't good enough for the gatekeepers.

And if a recruiter was freaking out about wearing a cotton top instead of a silk one under a jacket, they would hardly accept LL Bean as work attire either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


If your prospective employer is nitpicking over whether or not you're wearing a tank top or shell, they probably weren't going to hire you in the first place and are fishing for a reason to turn you down.
posted by dr_dank at 8:19 AM on October 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


I was just thinking that if a poor person asked me what they could do to appear rich and hang out with rich people, I'd tell them to take up running. All you need to do it is shoes, and yet the average income of a marathon runner is over 100k with a lot of much richer people in the mix. Backpacking would also be a good bet -- it's rare to meet someone on the trail who isn't taking a break from their high powered job. But so far no one has ever asked me....
posted by miyabo at 8:25 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was just thinking that if a poor person asked me what they could do to appear rich and hang out with rich people, I'd tell them to take up running. All you need to do it is shoes, and yet the average income of a marathon runner is over 100k with a lot of much richer people in the mix. Backpacking would also be a good bet -- it's rare to meet someone on the trail who isn't taking a break from their high powered job.

There's a difference between looking the way that actual rich people happen to look, and looking rich. Sure, marathon runners are generally well-to-do, but very very few people look at someone jogging down the street and think "wow, they must be minted!"
posted by Dysk at 8:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Old Money in Newport can wear whatever it wants, wherever it wants, even to work (though many would probably choose to dress up). There aren't any gate keepers at that level. As Slap*Happy said earlier, the things used to project worth and status are orders of magnitude more expensive than anything we can imagine. I believe an example he used was Cancer lab funding levels of money.

Clothing of any value at all fails to compare to that kind of wealth expenditure or the worthiness (in their eyes) of the expenditure. That's the real difference between rich and Old Money. Its Old, and its interests are equally venerable.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:31 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Logic of Stupid Poor People"

Because stupidity is America's #1 cause of poverty... when did MetaFilter turn into Free Republic?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:34 AM on October 30, 2013


Around the time people stopped reading the actual articles.
posted by griphus at 8:35 AM on October 30, 2013 [88 favorites]


If your prospective employer is nitpicking over whether or not you're wearing a tank top or shell, they probably weren't going to hire you in the first place and are fishing for a reason to turn you down.

Or they had more than one plausible candidate and were looking for a way to differentiate. Or they might have hired you, but for their weirdly specific prejudices about clothing that meant that they weren't really listening to your answers.
posted by Omission at 8:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


how many poor people buy 2500 dollar purses

Selling (really nice, but still luxury) items at 20% to 50% above market took one company from near bankruptcy a decade ago to the highest-valued company in the world last year. Making "luxury" items expensive but just barely affordable even to the poor is a great business strategy. Fashion, tech gadgets, even coffee houses make tons of money this way.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I RTFA, and the thing that jumped out at me was the passage where the writer spoke of a woman who was interviewing for a secretarial position at the salon chain she worked for, so she could move up from being a hairdresser. When she left, the recruiter turned to the writer and said, "did you see she was wearing a tank top under her jacket? You're supposed to wear a silk shell underneath that!"

I will never forget a discussion on a left-leaning, highly educated, girlie-end-of-the-tech-sector kind of site where a senior person talked about how she would never hire a woman who wore nylons to an interview (instead of having bare legs with her skirt suit, which was also obligatory) because a person who wore nylons clearly did not share the corporate mission and would not be a "good fit" with her team. In a small way, I really hate that woman about as much as anyone I've ever encountered on the internet, because of course bare legs mean waxing, especially if you have dark hair, and that runs into time and money far more than shaving, and someone who is looking at a candidate's legs to that level of detail is virtually certainly also going to reject for scars, or fat, or visible aging - because those show "disregard" for the body and thus refusal to be a good corporate citizen.

In some other thread, I was all "oh, most people are terrible, it's a lot of work to be a good person" and got soundly pooh-poohed. But seriously, left-leaning-tech-sector-lady, a perfectly ordinary person who probably didn't seem like a monster on the street - what a nasty swamp of cruelty and privilege inside.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on October 30, 2013 [65 favorites]


Selling (really nice, but still luxury) items at 20% to 50% above market took one company from near bankruptcy a decade ago to the highest-valued company in the world last year. Making "luxury" items expensive but just barely affordable even to the poor is a great business strategy. Fashion, tech gadgets, even coffee houses make tons of money this way.

Yes but how many poor people buy 2500 dollar purses
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:45 AM on October 30, 2013


Jogging to appear rich? That won't get you a job, or help with social services, which was the main focus of the article.
posted by agregoli at 8:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Barneys has teen arrested for buying $350 belt

No poor people are buying $2500 purses, the don't let poor people in those stores. They are from a guy who knows a guy and are ostensibly stolen but actually they are fake.

Remember when that store in Europe wouldn't even sell Ophra one.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


In a way, you know you've arrived when you actively work against the signifiers of wealth. If you find yourself "dressing down," you're probably moving up.
posted by xingcat at 8:46 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


There's a difference between looking the way that actual rich people happen to look, and looking rich. Sure, marathon runners are generally well-to-do, but very very few people look at someone jogging down the street and think "wow, they must be minted!"

But they are the sort of people you want in your social network.
posted by codswallop at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


because of course bare legs mean waxing, especially if you have dark hair

What? No. It means shaving or Nair or maybe waxing but tbh I do not know a single woman who gets her legs waxed.
posted by elizardbits at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


One recent example of how I completely misunderstood the situational logic of Chicago was when I read about why South Side Chicago gang members posted pictures or videos of themselves with guns (and got busted for parole violations). Stupid right?

Well, they are posting those images and videos so others won't come after them. They are advertising that they can defend themselves in hopes of warding off being victims of gun crime themselves.

So they risk a tangle with law enforcement, which is likely to happen anyway, to try and prevent an encounter with flying bullets. Suddenly much more understandable behavior.
posted by srboisvert at 8:48 AM on October 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


But yes, a very stupid and obnoxious requirement.
posted by elizardbits at 8:49 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


how she would never hire a woman who wore nylons to an interview (instead of having bare legs with her skirt suit

You're not supposed to wear nylons? Seriously? This is a thing? When I was a girl it was bare legs that were informal and therefore a bit tacky in an interview.
posted by JanetLand at 8:51 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


I wonder if the nylons thing was not about shaving so much as being in tune with what is "modern".

Modern women in the workplace do not wear stockings the way they do on MadMen so maybe that's what that woman was thinking.

But you might not know that if you grew up in a place where the modern working women you know do not work in offices wearing suits. And when you ask them, they say, well yes of COURSE you wear nylons when showing your legs because that is classy and what proper ladies do. Because the last time they work a skirt to impress someone, it was 30+ years ago and definitely still a socially proper thing.

As someone upthread said, it is hard to keep up with what's a signal of being well-to-do when you're not well-to-do.
posted by sio42 at 8:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just don't hire anyone with legs, because I can't keep track of this stuff.
posted by Mister_A at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


on preview -

janetland - exactly.
posted by sio42 at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2013


was just thinking that if a poor person asked me what they could do to appear rich and hang out with rich people, I'd tell them to take up running. All you need to do it is shoes, and yet the average income of a marathon runner is over 100k with a lot of much richer people in the mix. Backpacking would also be a good bet -- it's rare to meet someone on the trail who isn't taking a break from their high powered job.

This is actually insane. I'm about to run my third marathon, most of my friends are marathoners, and uh, none of us make close to that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:53 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do you know what kind of clothes they wear?
Mail-order L.L. Bean.

Exactly how do you know the brand and method of purchase? For example, how do you know they wear L.L.Bean and not Ralph Lauren? I don't know any old money families but the way I understand it, with such luxury of time and freedom from obligation, the wealthy can focus on becoming who they want to be, so I imagine they're a diverse bunch with varying tastes in clothing.
posted by quosimosaur at 8:54 AM on October 30, 2013


I also seriously doubt we're talking about a real dollar numbers when it comes purses
"A second black customer, Kayla Phillips, came forward Wednesday, telling the New York Daily News and the New York Post that she was harassed by police after buying a $2,500 Céline handbag from the upscale store.

Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing student from Brooklyn, told the newspapers that four officers approached her in a nearby subway stop minutes after the purchase and asked her why she used a temporary debit card to buy the bag. "
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:54 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


What? No. It means shaving or Nair or maybe waxing but tbh I do not know a single woman who gets her legs waxed.

I don't know anyone socially who gets their legs waxed, but I do know that for me - a person with very dark, fast-growing and sturdy hair (great for the head! inconvenient elsewhere!) - only waxing ever gave me actual smooth skin. Shaving - I was stubbly in an hour or two. Nair - ha, my hair laughs at Nair. Luckily, I am so gender non-conforming now that girlie-tech-field-hiring-manager would deep six me for that reason alone and wouldn't even need to look at my legs, which she couldn't because I don't wear skirts anymore, so I wouldn't get hired anyway because skirt suits were a requirement.

My point being - there are definitely people who need to wax if they're maintaining smooth and hairless skin. If you're blond or you have average or fine hair, you don't need to - but lots of people aren't and don't.
posted by Frowner at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


I remember reading a study by an American anthropologist in the the mid 90s about an experiment she and her (all Hispanic/Latina) colleagues ran passing through various borderpoints with Mexico and seeing which outfits/hairstyles got them through more easily.

Consensus -- cheap running shoes, colorful athletic wear and lots of bling were red flags for border patrol officials.

Want to pass through unquestioned even if your name is Hernandez? Faded, drapey linen, subtle makeup, handmade leather sandals, and artisan silver jewelry.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


was just thinking that if a poor person asked me what they could do to appear rich and hang out with rich people, I'd tell them to take up running. All you need to do it is shoes, and yet the average income of a marathon runner is over 100k with a lot of much richer people in the mix. Backpacking would also be a good bet -- it's rare to meet someone on the trail who isn't taking a break from their high powered job.

This is actually insane. I'm about to run my third marathon, most of my friends are marathoners, and uh, none of us make close to that.


I still think that is really sound advice, though. Wealthy people do put a huge premium on fitness and "elite" sports.

And just a quick Google brings up this

Typical U.S. Female Runner: 70.8% earn a household income of $75,000+

Typical U.S. Male Runner: 76.5% earn a household income of $75,000+
posted by jfwlucy at 9:04 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I found the article really good - actually, I came to Metafilter specifically to post it, but got beaten to that punch. It really does a good job of explaining why those things that relate to presentation are important.

When I was younger, I spent about two or three month's pay to go to one of the mid-scale stores - not designer stores, but designer knock-offs. Then I went to a makeup place, got myself completely made up, and bought all the things I needed for that.

It was really valuable, and also gave me a lot of ability to see just how much clothing and presentation really affected things. It would get me upgraded on airplanes, out of traffic tickets, and when I walked in with a problem, I would be helped. It helped me get past security without a hassle - and also probably let me gate crash some places I wouldn't ordinarily have been able to. I also, for what it's worth for those people saying no man would be influenced by status markers, found myself attracting a really different class of men. I didn't have an interest in dating them at the time - I found them alien - but if I had been trying to make it a feature, rather than a bug, it would have been helpful there as well. Mostly, for me, it was useful in making connections - because people, even if they knew I was not rich, at least knew I wasn't poor. Even though, of course, I was. But they felt comfortable networking with me, assuming that I was at least high enough on the ladder to have worthwhile social connections. "Fake it 'til you make it."

As a woman, what I found the strangest, is it actually tended to protect me from street harassment and other overt harassment. In the few instances it occurred, some guy would come over and ask "Is this guy bothering you?" By putting on some skirts and shirts and the right coats, I had put on armor that saved me a lot of anguish and frustration.

It is shitty that we live in a world where people often tend only to help those that present as a member of their tribe, but that is the world we live in. And these things that were just useful to me, might have been survival, life-or-death, to others. In fact, I can't be sure that they weren't.
posted by corb at 9:05 AM on October 30, 2013 [32 favorites]


Correlation is not causation, guys. They don't hand out corporate jobs at the end of the NY marathon.
posted by prefpara at 9:05 AM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


I also seriously doubt we're talking about a real dollar numbers when it comes purses

I mean, I obviously know there are purses that are 2500, but Celine is a very different niche of the luxury good spectrum; it is, I think, only available at a handful of stores around the country, Barney's being one of the limited number of options. The recognition factor of a Celine bag is quite different than the recognition factor of a LV tote or duffel bag, logos or not, and I think consequently its role as a status signifier is quite contextual. I don't think there is a huge mass market of knockoffs of Celine bags, but I'd love to be wrong, I think their larger bags are stunning.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:06 AM on October 30, 2013


"That is the real purpose of all of the outrage over supposed uses of EBT money at shoe stores, it is offensive to our worst natures that the poor should be as visibly proud as us. The 'waste' involved is inconsequential, the wealth involved in all of the bullshit examples that have ever surfaced on the internet could easily have fit into any of the dozens of briefcases that have been 'lost' in Iraq. This is about pride and those we feel shouldn't have it."

This is one of the best things I have ever read on Metafilter, and genuinely helps me understand a right wing view I never got before. It is indeed exactly about policing pride.

See also: "can't the gays/lesbians/Muslims just do what they want at home rather than shoving it in people's faces?"
posted by jaduncan at 9:06 AM on October 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


Exactly how do you know the brand and method of purchase?

I was a projectionist at the Jane Pickens theater, itself A Cause, and showed movies for the Newport Film Festival, another Cause. They told me. Because they, like most humans, were tickled to be wearing the same thing I was, and had opinions on it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:06 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is actually insane. I'm about to run my third marathon, most of my friends are marathoners, and uh, none of us make close to that.

I don't know, it doesn't seem that crazy given the statistics presented here, provided they're accurate, on just general runners. The key word is probably average.

This is a stupid derail though. Great article. Many people should be slapped in the face with it.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:06 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


will never forget a discussion on a left-leaning, highly educated, girlie-end-of-the-tech-sector kind of site where a senior person talked about how she would never hire a woman who wore nylons to an interview (instead of having bare legs with her skirt suit, which was also obligatory) because a person who wore nylons clearly did not share the corporate mission and would not be a "good fit" with her team.

Tongue in cheek, this is why the poors need a smart phone and $5 for a MeFi membership - so they can browse the green and learn about the subtleties of dressing for a job interview, as well as how to rock the bare legs look. I, a middle-class smart-phone-owning type, had NO idea how to go bare-legged in nice shoes without turning my feet into hamburger before I posted an AskMe about it.

And I think Frowner has a point in the second part of her post - that bare legs reveal things like cellulite (No Fatties!) and spider veins and other signs of aging (No Olds!); for all I knew Leftie Tech Sector Lady was screening out women with visible bandaids on their feet (No Tenderfeet!) or those who balk at going bare-legged in rain or cold (No Wusses!).

I'm of the generation that grew up believing that bare legs with suits or "business" attire type dresses are tacky and that you always wear nylons or tights. That really does make me think that Tech Lady was doing a bit of subtle age discrimination there.

In any case, having the money for a smartphone - or at least regular access to the Internet, somehow - means that poors and olds and others can do a web-search to find out what is acceptable business attire. Corb is right - presentation really does matter and looking "respectable" can make a huge difference. If poor people want to spend money on clothes (or TVs for that matter), it's no skin off my nose. Wall Street has wasted vastly more of my taxpayer money than Peter and Polly Poorperson have on "luxuries."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:08 AM on October 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


Exactly how do you know the brand and method of purchase? For example, how do you know they wear L.L.Bean and not Ralph Lauren? I don't know any old money families but the way I understand it, with such luxury of time and freedom from obligation, the wealthy can focus on becoming who they want to be, so I imagine they're a diverse bunch with varying tastes in clothing.

The wealthy might be, but New England WASPs have a uniform. I guess you have the choice of to have little lobsters embroidered on your Nantucket Reds, but they do all kind of dress the same. It's not only L.L. Bean obviously, but it's a small number of companies.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:08 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re: runners-- "Results from the National Runner Survey reflect "core runners", that is, active adult participants who tend to enter running events and train year-round."

So, yes, the adult population that can afford to regularly cough up $50 race fees and train year-round is probably different. I admit, I'm always a little astounded and a little jealous when I see folks at the Y in marathon t-shirts from races that I know cost them $100+.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:09 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This advice is based on the assumption that if you buckle down, save money and make better decisions, that you will eventually be able to leave the class of your birth - short term sacrifices for long term gain - in an environment where even the middle class is facing downward mobility. The alternative is saving for what can be nigh impossible to cover adequately - the ability to afford uninsured health emergencies and support yourself throughout the instances of long term unemployment and sporadic quasiemployment that often mar the work lives of the poor. In the face of that, it's natural to want to grasp for dignified treatment in the present (for people who don't have much money, respect is an important form of currency on and off of the job), than worry too much about a future where uncertainty is the only certainty.
posted by Selena777 at 9:09 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm always a little astounded and a little jealous when I see folks at the Y in marathon t-shirts from races that I know cost them $100+.

But again, it's the same phenomenon, IMHO, as having a $2500 purse. I do NOT make a lot of money, and I spend probably $2000-$3000 a year in race registrations. Because all of my friends are doing it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:10 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Been poor, but never had to hang up my white male privilege, so I've done okay overall. However, I work in a very ageist industry, that is also populated heavily by peers/bosses for whom facial hair is an important authority signifier. Plus, I look extremely young without facial hair and my actual age with it. My friends and family think I'm out of my mind that I grow a beard when I know I'll be meeting with people who need to think of me as an authority, and I shave that beard when I know I'll be meeting with people who need to think I'm young enough to do my job effectively -- but if I make the wrong choice, it's painfully obvious by the way I'm treated.

So I can only imagine how important this is for folks without the white male privilege, and/or without the money to make the costly choices (nice car, nice clothes, etc.) they need to overcome otherwise pointless obstacles in their path to success.

On the running thing: if you aren't working multiple jobs and you set your own hours at the job you have -- and don't have a financial need for overtime -- then running is a much easier endeavor to take up. I'd suggest that high-paying, flexible jobs lead to more running, instead of the other way around.
posted by davejay at 9:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Growing up poor, I fought back by making sweeping judgments on rich people's spending. Like looking down on them for being selfish greedy assholes because they bought a racehorse instead of sending a bunch of less fortunate people to college. My attitude was equally pointless and damaging, I'm sure, but it sure shook people up. Ever walked through a marina, and after everyone has finished picking out which yacht they would buy if they were rich, you announce that the last thing you would EVER buy if you had money is a boat? Ever told people you don't play the lottery because you DON'T want to win?

We are all puppets to a certain extent, being told what to want, what to trade for our time and our labor. We live in a world where people are constantly trying to sell us things and they use some pretty tricky tactics to make us believe we NEED these things. Resistance is divine.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:14 AM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, I obviously know there are purses that are 2500, but Celine is a very different niche of the luxury good spectrum.

Hey, I was just surprised that there are student nurses out there, blowing $2500 on a purse.

When I was a young adult from a working class background, living in my parents house with no financial responsibilities, I was also happy to blow a large proportion of my disposable income on designer clothes. It was a mod thing. Crombie overcoats and Tonik suits, etc.

But I'm sure I'd have drawn the line at spending that kind of money.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:15 AM on October 30, 2013


That said, I had to go look and see what they looked like online -- and you're right, they are stunning.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:17 AM on October 30, 2013


I can empathize with the facial hair thing; when I'm clean-shaven I get carded. At the movies.

I can't imagine reasonable clothing making a hire/no hire decision at any place I've ever worked. One place maybe if you wore jeans to the interview and weren't a slam dunk technically. I can remember the outfits of precisely zero people I've ever interviewed. Tech-industry privilege I suppose.

I'm grateful, it sounds soul-crushing to have to worry over that kind of (to me) minutia.
posted by Skorgu at 9:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In a way, you know you've arrived when you actively work against the signifiers of wealth. If you find yourself "dressing down," you're probably moving up.

That's been a main driver for Jeeps going from working-man practical vehicle to upscale wealth signifier: if you don't care what you drive, you must have enough money and status to not care what you drive. The large crop of upscale off-road (or off-road-looking) vehicles available for purchase now is the result: first the wealthy appropriate the working class tools to signify social status among their peers, then the manufacturers start catering their products to those people with more money, and now "working class" vehicles actually require significant wealth to purchase.
posted by davejay at 9:18 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is about pride and those we feel shouldn't have it.

Possibly. But, speaking of class markers, I also would be really curious to know how attitudes about poverty correlate to class-based reading material.

From what I remember when I was growing up, reading material was also sorted by class to a certain extent - middle class people grew up reading (or were perceived to grow up reading) somewhat older reading material - the "classics" - books their parents knew and loved - while lower class people grew up reading more modern stuff, because who has time to worry about or even know what the classics were, just learn to read, kid.

Older, "classic" stuff like that - E.E. Nesbit, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, All-Of-A-Kind-Family, A Girl of the Limberlost, even Anne of Green Gables, or really, a host of any others that I can think of really emphasized the nature of genteel poverty. You could tell someone was "really a lady" by how they handled themselves in poverty - and they made sure to differentiate between the genteel poverty and the crass, vulgar poverty of other people. The vulgar sort was often identified by being loud, careless with their clothes, tacky - wearing the wrong colors - and by consuming the wrong things when they did have money.

So I wonder how many of those instinctual reactions - because those are very rarely carefully thought out reactions - relate to the lessons they learned in earlier years, lessons from a time period where poverty meant different things (and also, a time period in which minorities in particular were largely invisible, or perceived to be forlorn waifs in need of assistance.)
posted by corb at 9:22 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can't imagine reasonable clothing making a hire/no hire decision at any place I've ever worked. One place maybe if you wore jeans to the interview and weren't a slam dunk technically. I can remember the outfits of precisely zero people I've ever interviewed. Tech-industry privilege I suppose.

I have bolded the part that perhaps could be something to reflect upon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The poor are required to be more virtuous than the rich so we can deem to give them charity.
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 AM on October 30, 2013 [33 favorites]


In the age of surveillance which we find ourselves living, it arouses suspicion for poor people to actually have money in the first place. If you have large amounts of cash, that is just about proof enough of "suspicious activity" and your cash can be seized as evidence of such. If you put it in a bank, the ban will flag it as suspicious activity, and put a hold on it, alerting god knows what agencies to the amount of money that just showed up in your account. Being suddenly not-dirt-poor is pretty much proof that you're a criminal.

Had a personal bout with this recently -- my daughter got a college loan, and they funded the whole year, paying the school directly. The school only wants to be paid a semester at a time, so they refunded her the $6000.00 not needed for the first semester. She's pretty notoriously bad with money, & has a crap "free" internet-ony checking account at BOA, so I went down there to withdraw it & go put it in my savings account, so it could earn a little interest at least, & I could dole it out next semester. They offered me cash. I thought "hmm... if I get pulled over on my way from this bank to mine, they'll probably seize it, & I'll have a year's worth of providing proof that it wasn't ill-gotten" -- no thanks, I'd like a cashier's check. That cost $10.00. *ding!* Then, when i deposited the $6000.00 cashier's check in my bank, they held it for SIX DAYS. When I called them to ask them why, they said it was "out of pattern behavior."
They wouldn't elaborate on a particular amount of money that triggered an "out of pattern" hold, or which if any authorities were notified. I got stonewalled. God knows the TSA is now looking at my travel history. Feeling really secure about my long history of visiting Mexico once or twice a year between 1984 & 2003. Mostly, I was made to feel like a criminal for just having more money that I was expected to have, & I am most likely on a TSA watch list for drug mules.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:26 AM on October 30, 2013 [20 favorites]


So I wonder how many of those instinctual reactions - because those are very rarely carefully thought out reactions - relate to the lessons they learned in earlier years, lessons from a time period where poverty meant different things (and also, a time period in which minorities in particular were largely invisible, or perceived to be forlorn waifs in need of assistance.)

I mean, yes, class behavior is learned from a young age, just as everything else is. Whether those reactions are carefully thought out doesn't matter: The minute you realize how much they hurt other people, you need to fight them until you die.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:28 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, Corb, another Five Little Peppers fan? Phronsie was the voice of my childhood id for several years.

Plus, this: As a woman, what I found the strangest, is it actually tended to protect me from street harassment and other overt harassment. In the few instances it occurred, some guy would come over and ask "Is this guy bothering you?" By putting on some skirts and shirts and the right coats, I had put on armor that saved me a lot of anguish and frustration.

Yes, a hundred times yes. Look rich and maybe competent and people will not mess with you. I would sometimes don my "corporate exoskeleton" even on days when I wasn't working, just to be, literally, that much more free from harassment.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:29 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos was that directed at me?
posted by Skorgu at 9:36 AM on October 30, 2013


This advice is based on the assumption that if you buckle down, save money and make better decisions, that you will eventually be able to leave the class of your birth -

And then not fit in anywhere, because no matter how well you pass, there will always be something that trips you up and reveals that you were raised poor.
posted by winna at 9:41 AM on October 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yes, a hundred times yes. Look rich and maybe competent and people will not mess with you. I would sometimes don my "corporate exoskeleton" even on days when I wasn't working, just to be, literally, that much more free from harassment.

The blue blazer is like the single best peice of camouflage known to man. There was reason the big time hallucinogenic delivery man always dressed like a lawyer.
posted by The Whelk at 9:42 AM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


And then not fit in anywhere, because no matter how well you pass, there will always be something that trips you up and reveals that you were raised poor.

It's even creepier when you do fit in and there's the voice in the back of your head screaming THESE PEOPLE. ARE. THE ENEMY. ABORT ABORT ABORT. But that's more of a personal viewpoint.
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 AM on October 30, 2013 [40 favorites]


This is a good article, but it purports to tell the whole story when in fact it only tells part of the story.

Don't get me wrong, the story told by the author is quite salient. The ability to make a middle-class life for yourself often depends on your ability to look the part, navigate intransigent bureaucracies, utter certain shibboleths, etc. This woman knows 100% what she's talking about, and we would do well to heed her message.

Thing is, her essay doesn't cover iPhones, grilles, rims, expensive TV sets, thousand dollar handbags, etc. Yet, at least at the outset, it purports to explain "why poor people overspend on expensive status symbols." I'm not saying poor people should be judged for splurging on rims, just that it's a different problem and has nothing to do with getting a job or getting welfare benefits for a small child. Again, I'm not saying it's morally wrong for poor people to spend money on luxuries. Fuck do I know about being poor? The only poor I ever experienced, I experienced while being white and male. Even at my worst, I was still privileged. Who knows? Maybe in some neighborhoods, a shiny grille and a set of rims is your key to social survival.

What I think is really sick is our society's crass materialism, and how that seeps into all socioeconomic strata. We don't criticize rich people for being obsessed with luxury status symbols. But why is it better when they do it? Just because they can afford it? Still makes their culture shallow and empty.

For the longest time, I was dismayed by all the name-dropping of luxury brands in rap music. Truth be told, I still kinda am. But I understand it better now. I mean, I grew up listening to punk and classic rock. Lots of anti-establishment sentiment there. So, I thought, "Why isn't rap more anti-establishment? Why does it promote materialistic values that keep people poor?" The simplistic answer is that a lot of rappers came from underprivileged backgrounds, and the name dropping of luxury brands is aspirational -- they want what they've been deprived of. However, I think the real answer is that they want what everybody else wants. We just don't think it's weird when rich people have the same mesed-up priorities.
posted by evil otto at 9:45 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


The issue here is that people are talking different languages.

Exactly!

A middle class person seeing a poor person wearing/driving expensive kits thinks they have made a poor choice because they should be investing money in something that will better their lives long term ...


This seems to me to be the difference between capital and expense, and a LOT of people don't appreciate it. Remember all the grousing about Mitt Romney's income all coming from investments and not wages? Mitt put his money where it would work for him, and so he doesn't have to punch the timeclock anymore.

The big difference is that you first have to get up out of poverty into stability before you can start to think that way.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:47 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Foosnark: "$2500 is three months of mortgage for me and my wife"

LALALALA YOU LIE THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALA
- Los Angeleno
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


because no matter how well you pass, there will always be something that trips you up and reveals that you were raised poor.

Yes, precisely. It's not just dressing up in the clothing so much as it is dressing up in the "I am naturally entitled to your automatic goodwill and excellent customer service where applicable" attitude. It's a combination of lifelong privilege and situational confidence, and while the former isn't usually a teachable thing, the latter absolutely is.

(not to be confused with arrogance.)
posted by elizardbits at 9:53 AM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


I admit to knowing very little about the history of sociology, but it seems to me the discipline started with the premise of explaining the differences in cultures and subscultures, but has done its best work when similarities are noted. The primary similarity between peoples being the use of whatever tools are at hand to rationally construct the best possible life.

Even the plasma TV and DirectTV argument can possibly be seen through the lens of a rational choice. An apartment with a big TV becomes a place for people to congregate-- connections are made, food is brought, relationships are deepened. It provides a safe space away from bad influences for small children. It keeps teens at home at night watching TV and movies and playing video games as opposed to being out. It saves money on other entertainment options.
posted by cell divide at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's very difficult to get that ...tone of voice right, the unquestioned assumption that you WILL be listened too. It's not arrogance, it's just not being listened to has never happened before.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 AM on October 30, 2013 [38 favorites]


(like, try to unlearn a lifetime of apologizing before every sentence!)
posted by The Whelk at 9:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


If your prospective employer is nitpicking over whether or not you're wearing a tank top or shell, they probably weren't going to hire you in the first place and are fishing for a reason to turn you down.

It must be pleasant to think we live in a meritocracy that is colour-blind, class-blind, gender-blind, etc etc etc.

The job in question was not a highly-specialized position that required a rare set of natural abilities and years of specialized training. It was to be a receptionist at a cosmetology school in a strip mall. Most folks would be competent at such a job. It then becomes a question of whether the candidate is a good "fit," not whether the candidate is the most skilled and competent. From the author's account, the tank-top wearer was charismatic and likable, and had many years of experience in the industry to boot. Unfortunately, she 'signaled' wrongly. There were probably many other little social cues that labeled her "not a good fit" to the social-climbing VP who interviewed her; the tank-top VS shell thing is merely a handy synecdoche.

Partly in answer to the few whiffs of anti-academia sentiment (those calling into question the legitimacy of someone in academia making such observations) - this is actually very portable to the academic realm. Academic jobs are scarce, and ones that offer security, benefits, and an upper-middle-class salary are, now, positively rare. Like the cosmetology receptionist, each tenure-track job in the academy has dozens of very qualified applicants, all of whom would no doubt do a better-than-competent job.

There's a story I know about someone who got through to the campus visit (so, one of a final three candidates, someone who has already been very impressive on paper and in a brief interview). This person did very well until the formal dinner portion, when the candidate is taken to a fancy restaurant by the hiring committee. In this case, the applicant licked his plate after the meal and absolutely blew his chances at getting the job.

This story was told to a crowd of graduate students and professors, and I witnessed an older professor rise to defend this choice. In his opinion, licking the plate signaled such a lapse in judgement that, should they be hired, this person might show up to the first day of class wearing an offensive t-shirt, etc etc. Never mind that, in some cultures and in some classes, licking the plate signifies not bad manners but enjoyment of the meal. Nevermind that whether you lick your plate or not has absolutely nothing to do with how effective you are as a researcher or a pedagogue.

Things like accent or dialect, clothing and grooming, etiquette, etc. all play a very important part in determining how others treat us and what we can or can't do in a society. Unfortunately, not everyone is handed the same playbook, and those of us who weren't fortunate enough to be born into the dominant class and culture need to learn as we go. As the author of the piece writes, who knows what opportunities passed us by because we unknowingly signaled that we weren't "the right kind of person"? Because we did not understand how to navigate this particular social passage - or even that we were in a social passage that required navigation?

If you disparage "shiny" things, you are merely signalling to others that you are among those who understand what "true" worth looks like - that you are somehow wiser or of a better quality than those foolish folks who, like magpies, are in thrall to all things "shiny."

Basically: there is no outside of culture. All clothing is costume, all social interaction a form of performance. For example, I took a shower after reading this comment thread but before replying, in order to translate my frustration and annoyance into what I hope is a well-structured, orderly, rational little bit of formal written prose. This is a piece of performance. If you don't have to think about how you say and act as performance, congratulations: you are the beneficiary of a certain kind of privilege. Folks tend to notice things and think about them only when they need to, and that is one of the reasons why I loved this article: it does an excellent job explaining how this works to people who may never have had to think deeply about it before.
posted by erlking at 9:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [82 favorites]


(like, try to unlearn a lifetime of apologizing before every sentence!)

I'm sorry, but that's asking way too much.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:59 AM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


[Folks, not so much with the sarcastic-restatement-of-what-you-think-other-people-think thing, please.]
posted by cortex at 9:59 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In some other thread, I was all "oh, most people are terrible, it's a lot of work to be a good person" and got soundly pooh-poohed.

Which thread was this in? I'm with you. In my experience, at least 99% of people are assholes, morons or, really, most of the time, both. Fortunately, I'm just an asshole.

Of course, that's just what a moron would say, isn't it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:01 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


All clothing is costume, all social interaction a form of performance.

There is no true statement.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:02 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I noticed I had it when talking with the lawyers who were arranging the exchange and completion on our house. My girlfriend called and would talk to someone and get put on hold and not called back and also not be able to get any information out of them. I call in my "mildly annoyed voice" and get put straight through and called back within 20 minutes and also get exactly what I need emailed to me withing the hour. I never had to raise my voice, yell and scream or anything I was just frustrated that I even had to make the call and spoke in clear and simple terms with a direct authoritative voice and problem is solved. I have this voice and I didn't even know it.

As far as all of the fashion things go I am so glad I have the white male privilege working in science and not business as myself and all of the scientists come to work in jeans and either t-shirts or polo shirts and we wander around the office in sock feet. You only have to wear the suit if you are interviewing or being an interviewee and even that is just a suit and tie even a cheapo £80 suit from tesco would be fine.
posted by koolkat at 10:03 AM on October 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


I reject the idea that if you're poor, you're not entitled to express your personality and identity using signalling mechanisms such as possessions and clothing. Poor people are not literally a faceless mass. I often encounter the sentiment that poor people should limit themselves to the bottom tiers of Maslow's pyramid because everything else is so frivolous. It's so frivolous and wasteful to want to differentiate yourself or signal your belonging to a particular group or subculture or communicate your aesthetic and social preferences to others. Which is a defining and fundamental mechanism by which human beings self-actualize. But not for the poors, those ruminating animals, who need to earn the privilege of fully participating as individuals by clambering up to a higher class. And if that's not possible, it's certainly not our problem, but don't be wasteful! Or we'll take your food stamps away.
posted by prefpara at 10:05 AM on October 30, 2013 [23 favorites]


Oh, that's another huge class marker - do you consider the professional class of problem-solvers available to you or do you rely on personal network and informal connections? Like all those middle class kids who got money suddenly I knew who would NEVER think to get an accountant, despite the fact that it would save them many thousands of dollars. When a friend of mine was in a housing kerfuffle, her husband (working class from the midwest, small business owning family) thought they could work out a deal and pay in installments if they where just really really supplicating. She (Professional class academic background, form NY) made a few phone calls and got the name of the best housing lawyer in the city and immediately on started on building a case against the landlord. It's not that he couldn't afford the lawyer, just the idea of going to a lawyer had never crossed his mind cause no one in his family had ever done that.

Stuff like that is the expanding basketball hoop of privilege, every little thing makes the basketball hoop a little bigger, and you wonder why everyone else isn't scoring non-stop dunks like you.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on October 30, 2013 [67 favorites]


Hey, I was just surprised that there are student nurses out there, blowing $2500 on a purse.

Why? She's going to be making over 50k a year very shortly.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:13 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A way of demonstrating one's own blindness to oneself is as follows:
1. Find a privilege-conscious (or racism/classism/etc) theory that seems well-founded.
2. Make predictions based upon the theory.
3. See if your preconceptions/taste match the theories predictions.

I've come to believe that many of my beliefs regarding lifestyle, appropriate behavior, suitable relationship partners etc are simple reflections of underlying issues. My "natural" taste has far too much alignment with stereotypical white cishet male taste for me to be truly comfortable with it. Given how broad this effect seems to be in myself, someone who comes from a background utterly unassociated with strict gender/race/class roles I have to wonder how much stronger it must be for others.
posted by Neuffy at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My "natural" taste has far too much alignment with stereotypical white cishet male taste for me to be truly comfortable with it.

See, this I don't understand. White cis-males are allowed to have their own cultural preferences... the issue isn't a fondness for "Wooden Boat Magazine" and penny loafers without socks. The issue is denying opportunity and justice to people who aren't the economic and ethnic/cultural majority.

You can still like Great Eastern Cutlery pocket knives and give a crap that your wife is massively underpaid, and agitate for legal same sex marriage in your state. The end game is for everyone to be comfortable with who they are, and accorded basic human dignity and respect by society and their fellow citizens.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:49 AM on October 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


corb: "As a woman, what I found the strangest, is it actually tended to protect me from street harassment and other overt harassment. In the few instances it occurred, some guy would come over and ask "Is this guy bothering you?" By putting on some skirts and shirts and the right coats, I had put on armor that saved me a lot of anguish and frustration."

Absolutely; street harassment is very much a crime of opportunity, and street harassers don't hassle the women they think are prettiest, they hassle the women they think they can get away with hassling. Looking upper-middle class is a very effective protection against that. The entitled idiot executive visiting your office might hit on the secretary in an inappropriate fashion, and consider himself pretty well-protected against retaliation unless he actually pulled out his penis, but that same entitled idiot executive would never DREAM of hitting on, say, Hilary Clinton in a meeting, because the personal cost would be enormous.

A woman whose clothes and manner signal that she's relatively privileged will get much less harassment; if she chooses to confront the men who are harassing her, she is much more likely to be taken seriously by police (or HR, or management of the venue), she is much more likely to have access to lawyers, she is much more likely to be able to navigate the bureaucracy to pursue a complaint, etc. Those men aren't doing it because they think a woman is pretty and can't help themselves; they're doing it because they think that particular woman can't fight back effectively. The moment they're faced with a woman who they suspect CAN fight back effectively, they STFU, because they're cowards.

(Related topic, our last prosecutor where I live actually said MULTIPLE TIMES in interviews that he didn't pursue burglaries and muggings in the poor area of town unless he had a "white collar" witness, because the "witnesses available are not very credible." That's right, his attitude towards the people in town most affected by crime was, if you're poor, the jury won't believe you anyway, so we just won't bother to try. And that's why professional-looking women get harassed less: the prosecutor just miiiiiiight take you seriously, but if you're a maid, ALL BETS ARE OFF and the prosecutor can't be arsed.)

One of the real problems of this is that well-educated, professional women who are very effective advocates for feminist causes often don't see the sorts of things that less-well-off women face on a daily basis, and have a hard time understanding how prevalent those problems are.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2013 [74 favorites]


Anyone who thinks they're not wearing a costume or uniform ... in studied-casual pre-faded jeans and concert t-shirt at a friends' party or in novelty boxer shorts when going to bed with your loved one... hasn't thought much about clothing.

If you're wearing pre-faded jeans, a concert t-shirt and novelty boxer shorts you've clearly never thought about clothing ever, at all, in any way, and have no concept of exteriority that might inspire you to ever look into a mirror.

Anyway. Thanks so much for posting this. These types of biases are so real, so pervasive and often so insidious (witness my assuming you're a total douche for wearing pre-faded jeans) it is absolutely worth it to scrutinize the phenomenon until the status quo becomes uncomfortable and is forced to make public noises about it.
posted by Mooseli at 10:54 AM on October 30, 2013


No, Slap*Happy, I'm not speaking of actually being openly biased or failing to support open issues, nor do I mean simply having personal taste.

It's more along the lines of "These people look untrustworth/unattractive, and it's their fault for X reasons" aligning heavily with class and race lines without the observer realizing it. The signifiers of attractiveness are those things that people of the "right" class and races have.

For an example of how ingrained structure affects taste:
What If Black Women Were White Women?
posted by Neuffy at 11:13 AM on October 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


It's more along the lines of "These people look untrustworth/unattractive, and it's their fault for X reasons" aligning heavily with class and race lines without the observer realizing it. The signifiers of attractiveness are those things that people of the "right" class and races have.

I think it's actually more subtle and insidious than that. It is not, clearly, "Those people are bad" so much as "These other people are good." Sure, the one means the other in the negation, but it's not an intentional thing - so someone can, with a straight and sincere face, say, "I'm not prejudiced against X. I just like Y better." And they both will and will not be lying.

And that's a much harder thing to deal with. It's really, really easy to say, "Stop treating people badly because they look like this." It ties into our feelings of fairness and justice. Sure, some people won't go for it, but those people are generally jerks anyway who won't listen to anything. But it is staggeringly difficult to say, "Stop treating people positively because they have cultural similarities to you, many of which correlate with racial similarities."

Because we tend to align into tribes. People who pay a $5 membership fee and become part of a community turn into Mefites. People who like knitting, or anime, or steampunk, or fairytales, or comic books. Marathon running and backpacking, for example, are referenced above. And we reach towards those people. "Oh, that guy's a fellow geek, I should do him a solid." And we don't think - when we help our fellow geeks, who by exclusion are we not helping? Which populations are underrepresented in geek culture? Who may not have the financial ability to hop around to conventions and spend a lot of money on gear? Who can't take days off to go backpacking, or doesn't have a car to get to the forest?

And the devil of the thing is that there's not really a good solution. People tend to react tribally to a certain extent, we are semi-social creatures, and there are limited resources of time and energy. How do we use these things? What is the way to fix it?
posted by corb at 11:25 AM on October 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


Maybe we shouldn't try to "fix" it. Maybe it's a feature, not a bug.

If ethics can ultimately only be grounded in moral intuitions, and we find that basically no one actually acts as if they think all humans have equal moral standing, then... maybe they just don't.
posted by officer_fred at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2013


Which populations are underrepresented in geek culture

The populations that don't have the free time, energy, or knowledge base to participate in their hobby of choice, if they participate in a hobby at all.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:35 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe we shouldn't try to "fix" it. Maybe it's a feature, not a bug.

If ethics can ultimately only be grounded in moral intuitions, and we find that basically no one actually acts as if they think all humans have equal moral standing, then... maybe they just don't.


Prosperity gospel.
posted by maxwelton at 11:39 AM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Prosperity gospel.

Yup. Maybe they are the only non-deluded ones.

Someone would point out that the Prosperity Gospel types have the most outlandish metaphysical beliefs, so how can that be. It is ironic. Maybe there is a tradeoff between an accurate picture of the world and ability to get stuff done. Either you are free to shape your delusions so that they push you in the exact right direction to be maximally effective, or you are hamstrung by a model of the world that rigidly conforms to reality, and which your are helpless to alter. You pays you money and you takes you choice.
posted by officer_fred at 11:45 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What? God no (pun not intended).
posted by zombieflanders at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2013


To expand: no, they aren't "hamstrung by a model of the world that rigidly conforms to reality," there's an overwhelmingly oppressive structure in place that makes much of what should be possible to be impossible (or at least so improbable as to be essentially so).
posted by zombieflanders at 11:51 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're wearing pre-faded jeans, a concert t-shirt and novelty boxer shorts you've clearly never thought about clothing ever, at all, in any way, and have no concept of exteriority that might inspire you to ever look into a mirror.

See, my first instinct would be to say 'eat me' as a joke, because this describes what I wear most days (except for the pre-faded part, my pants just end up that way), but in actuality, I don't care. I don't have to, because I'm a young white male from an upper-middle class background, so if anything, I come off quirky and/or disarmingly humble, regardless of what some internet drive-by fashionista has to say about it.

Hell, even in my WEALTH of privilege, I can tell what clothes I CAN'T get away with and when: When I was 26 and in shape, kept my hair trimmed, etc, a slim-fit powder blue Pokemon shirt is "quirky", even "cute". When I fell apart after my ex cheated on me, and I gained 50 lbs and let myself go, that same shirt would make me look like a stereotypical "neckbeard" creep. I never thought of myself as attractive, but the difference in how people treat you is JARRING.

But in spite of that, none of that ever threatened my employment or living situation, so I can't even begin to entertain the idea that judging poor people negatively by superficial markers "proves" anything other than prejudice and bias.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:53 AM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I keep my concept of exteriority in my novelty boxer shorts.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am reminded of an incident in John Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" where he has been driving around the country camping out of his truck with his dog, and had made arrangements to periodically rendezvous with his wife at a hotel in a major city. So he shows up at a Very Nice Hotel in (IIRC) Chicago, a few hours before check-in time. His room isn't ready, so he decides to hang out in the hotel lobby and wait. Except he's been on the road for a while and hasn't showered or shaved in days, and looks pretty rough. The hotel knows he is Famous Author but still isn't happy about having him camp out in the lobby in that state, so they offer to let him use a room that hasn't been cleaned yet until his own room is ready. He understands they want him out of sight, so he agrees, and in the elevator on the way up to the room, the bellboy looks him over and comments, "You must be awful rich to dress as bad as you do."
posted by ambrosia at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2013 [29 favorites]


Prosperity gospel.

Yup. Maybe they are the only non-deluded ones.


Uh, how exactly are you defining "deluded," here?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:02 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


winna, see the wonderful seen from My Fair Lady at the race track.


"But my father, he kept ladling gin down her throat. Then she come to so sudden she bit the bowl right off the spoon."
posted by Carillon at 12:15 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


If ethics can ultimately only be grounded in moral intuitions, and we find that basically no one actually acts as if they think all humans have equal moral standing, then... maybe they just don't.

what
posted by kagredon at 12:18 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


And we don't think - when we help our fellow geeks, who by exclusion are we not helping?
Ummm, I think about it every day when going to my job to pay the bills and make a corporate geekish person happy and I get on the bus to go do this and there's someone also getting on the bus who is not as lucky as I happen to be. But for the grace of God there go I, I think to myself even as an agnostic. I think about it when writing code for some stupid app, how pointless it is to the man who asked me for change or a cigarette. If these thoughts don't trouble you well, then as they say whatever.
posted by localhuman at 12:32 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb there is a proposed solution to the problem you articulate above, namely higher taxation to fund massive state-run social welfare programs that provide education, food, work, and other such goods and that are at least in theory not subject to tribal bias. You just don't agree with/believe in it.

Weberian bureaucracy is the least bias-prone ideal-typical system of administration for large diverse populations we've managed to come up with as a species, however imperfect it is.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:33 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the longest time, I was dismayed by all the name-dropping of luxury brands in rap music.

I believe this started when alcohol companies started paying rappers to mention their brands, rather than them just dropping names to signify wealth.

Backpacking would also be a good bet

I'm a backpacker, and I think it would be really difficult for a poor person to afford all of the lightweight equipment, the time away from work and travel expenses to take up the hobby. It's definitely a luxury. Unless you mean just carrying a sack into the local backwoods for an overnight camping trip, in which case it wouldn't be very useful for networking with the rich.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:35 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Re: running: it really isn't coincidental that recreational runners who run more demanding races have high incomes. I think it's a number of factors, including:

-Training injuries are super-common, so you work in a career where that can be taken in stride and won't affect your ability to do your job. (If you have shin splints and an office job, it won't affect your ability to earn your living. If you stand 8-12 hours per day, you're screwed.) You also have health care coverage and financial resources to pay for diagnosis and treatment of injuries incurred in a non-work setting.

-You have enough free time, or a sufficiently flexible schedule, to complete the workouts required. (Training for marathons is extremely time-consuming.) If you have children, you have available childcare, and you can afford to spend that childcare on a hobby.

-You have access to safe areas of town to run in after dark/before sunrise, and/or access to a gym, and/or a treadmill in your home.

Also, from waaaaaay upthread, there is an alternative to leg waxing that isn't shaving or Nair, and while it's an upfront cost, it's cheaper than waxing: an epilator. Available at Target starting at $20 for a cheap one or ~$50 for one that plugs in and will last several years. Not pleasant to use, no, but much closer to waxing's effects than the alternatives. (And yes, knowing this is a sign of privilege. And I agree that anyone basing a hiring decision on panty hose is an asshole.)

Anyway. This thread reminded me I need a new purse, because I keep buying cheap ones and the current one has started showing through the faux leather. What is the current "tasteful, high-quality, wears like iron" option these days? These things change so quickly. I can't keep track.
posted by pie ninja at 12:53 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Pie: tjmaxx has kept me in real leather purses for under $50 for years.

I still get compliments on a Franco Sarto I've had for going on 5 years now.

Then again i had $50 to blow on a purse i don't even use everyday.
posted by sio42 at 12:58 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


tasteful, high-quality, wears like iron

Kate Spade, Cole Haan, or MZ Wallace, mostly. At least in NYC.
posted by sweetkid at 1:01 PM on October 30, 2013


tasteful, high-quality, wears like iron

Kate Spade.
posted by Windigo at 1:28 PM on October 30, 2013


For the longest time, I was dismayed by all the name-dropping of luxury brands in rap music.

I believe this started when alcohol companies started paying rappers to mention their brands, rather than them just dropping names to signify wealth.


Ciroc is the worst. How many videos have a bottle of Ciroc in them. Every video from Bad Boy records at least.

Louis Roederer certianly never paid for Cristal name drops. In fact Jay-Z calls them racists in On to the Next One, saying "I'm on that spade shit" referring to Armand de Brignac

There are other brands that are actually kinda contentions. Some rappers like Audemars Piguet watches, but Both Kendrick Lamar and Method Man eschew them stating "No Audemars" in Thanksgiving and Built For This respectively.

The funny thing is the closer you pay attention to rap, the more you realize how much of it is part of the act.

You see rappers share chains and even clothes. There was a twitter beef recently over some dude from GBE borrowing another guys' Gucci belt. There was also the incident with Ace Hood's Rolex spontaneously disassembling itself during a red carpet interview

Of course some of it is aspirational, along the "Super nintendo, sega genesis", "Birth days was the worst days, now we sip champagne when we thirsty" vein, but a lot of is part of the competitive nature of hip-hop and proof they out there hustling and grinding.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:39 PM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


an epilator

THE NAME OF THE BEAST

Seriously those things are a hellish ordeal the first time you use them and while it supposedly gets better over time I have not been able to bring myself to attempt it.

I would rather have each hair individually ripped out by a screaming baby.
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thing is, her essay doesn't cover iPhones, grilles, rims, expensive TV sets, thousand dollar handbags, etc. Yet, at least at the outset, it purports to explain "why poor people overspend on expensive status symbols." I'm not saying poor people should be judged for splurging on rims, just that it's a different problem and has nothing to do with getting a job or getting welfare benefits for a small child.

You know, when I was trying to get welfare for my small child, I had a series of forms that I had to fill out, sign, and fax back. Fax. FAX?! I don't even know where to go to FIND a fax machine. So I called the agency and said "Can I just take a picture of this with my iPhone and email it to you full size?" and the caseworker said "Sure, people do that all the time." So I was able to get all that filled out and sent in while my small child took a nap rather than having to haul said small child all over town looking for a damn fax machine.
posted by KathrynT at 1:49 PM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


tasteful, high-quality, wears like iron

Kate Spade.

Heh. Ten years ago Kate Spade was the go-to tasteful high-quality handbag, five years later no one touched them, and now the brand's making a comeback. My "simple, timeless, classic" Kate Spade bag from 2003 is still in very good shape, but even timeless classics change, and these days it's looking a little dated.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:51 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sounds like Kate Spade is the way to go. Thanks, everyone.

Re: epilator: I actually find them less painful than shaving (even at first) and I hate shaving/epilating enough that anything that reduces the number of times I have do it is awesome. However, I realize that's not everyone's experience.
posted by pie ninja at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2013


Has Kate Spade been redeemed from the sweatshop thing?
posted by ambrosia at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2013


How come I'm "poor" and the most I owe anyone financially is a dinner or weekend trip, but my "rich" friends with families are $2mil in debt (school loans, mortgages, car leases, kid schooling funds)?
And yes, I dress better than they do, for the most part, because clothes and professional musical instruments and smart toys are still less than any one of my friend's payments for *one month*.
posted by Dreidl at 2:07 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


How come I'm "poor" and the most I owe anyone financially is a dinner or weekend trip, but my "rich" friends with families are $2mil in debt?

If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem. - J. Paul Getty
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:18 PM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


One more point about rap music and I'll STFU.

Rap operates around areas of proscribed knowledge and systems of codes. This goes all the way back to "PSK, what does it mean?" incidentally by the same guy to first rap about Gucci.

Some brands act as shibboleths as exemplified by the line "medusa head on me like I'm 'luminati" from the song Versace as if wearing Versace offers entree into an elite world.

In his song Dolce & Gabbana, RiFF Raff offers commentary on this. With the refrain "Iceberg Simpson", meaning Iceberg brand shirts with a picture of Bart Simpson on them, he offers bona fides of his background, then goes on to say he will only consort with women who wear Dolce & Gabbana clothing.

These brands work as proof of membership, just as knowledge of Kate Spade works for other milieus.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:23 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


f you have a $2000 handbag, people outside your social class aren't going to think "Wow, she must be rich!"

This is very true. The rich people that I know don't conspicuously display their wealth. It's a lot more complicated than upper vs. lower class. For instance, yeah, if you work in finance, you wear an expensive suit like it's your uniform, and certain things are expected. But then you have old vs. new money, and old money is a lot more subtle about signifiers. So it's not just money, but race, profession, background, accent, the current context and a whole lot more.

I definitely liked this article, because it presented a perspective that I hadn't considered. But I really don't think that the type of consumption that the author is talking about is the kind that is reviled by the middle and upper classes. They are reacting more to seeing young punks with very expensive throwbacks and tennies, and maybe even a nice car, and nothing else.

Perhaps people like the author may from time to time get lumped into that set, but it's not very likely. After all, the author is clearly describing how these accoutrements earn her a positive reaction from establishment types as opposed to inviting the scorn that she argues against. So perhaps she's conflating some things here.
posted by Edgewise at 2:41 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the leg hair, I think the new thing is laser hair removal. If you have a good person, it's not super painful and lasts several years. Which is another one of those "luxuries you buy that aren't actually luxuries" things. Depending on where you go, you can get your whole legs done for $500 - $1000, which saves you time in the mornings and also money on waxing.

Also for the menfolk, an old school metal safety razor like your grandfather had may cost $100, but after that the blades are ridiculously cheap, so you're basically set for life.
posted by corb at 2:46 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


>
Among the young women in my low-income community, really amazing-looking hair extensions appear to be the norm. I completely admit I've had an unkind thought when a student with brilliant new hair tells me she can't afford to buy the books for the class.

Salons are all over poor communities, and there are opportunities for bartering: babysit your neighbor's kid for a month for her to put in extensions, for example. Not a thing that can usually be done for schoolbooks.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:52 PM on October 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Corb wrote: E.E. Nesbit, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, All-Of-A-Kind-Family, A Girl of the Limberlost, even Anne of Green Gables, or really, a host of any others that I can think of really emphasized the nature of genteel poverty. You could tell someone was "really a lady" by how they handled themselves in poverty - and they made sure to differentiate between the genteel poverty and the crass, vulgar poverty of other people.

It's very obvious in E. Nesbit. There are parts of, e.g., The Story of the Amulet that make me wince. And she was a prominent socialist! But this is the life she led herself: the setting of The Railway Children was very likely drawn from her childhood; her own father died when she was little; and she, like the mother in that book, was a writer struggling to support her family without much support from her partner.

With the benefit of hindsight I think her keeping-up-appearances classism may have been of great benefit to her readers, for all the reasons given above. I just wish I could believe that it was by design, and not by reason of prejudice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:07 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rich people that I know don't conspicuously display their wealth. It's a lot more complicated than upper vs. lower class. For instance, yeah, if you work in finance, you wear an expensive suit like it's your uniform, and certain things are expected. But then you have old vs. new money, and old money is a lot more subtle about signifiers.

But they do display their wealth, absolutely -- they just do it in different ways than not-rich (which is not the same as poor) people do. But it's certainly just as conspicuous if you know what to look for.

I mostly opt out of these things. As a not-thin woman with Jewish hair, this causes very explicit problems for me (and probably others that I don't know about). As someone with fair skin from the upper middle class, I can mitigate these problems enough that it is worth it to me to decide to opt out of makeup or whatever.

But I think that fighting against these things is a good thing. I think complaining loudly and publicly about the costs of being a woman, or of being not-white, or of being anything apart from the so-called neutral, is important, because it calls attention to how we define neutral and what hidden costs we impose on people.
posted by jeather at 3:10 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


That's just the Yankee old-money aesthetic, Slap*Happy, although those folks can be remarkably frugal too.

As the saying goes, in New York they wear their money, in LA they drive their money, and in New England they hide their money.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:23 PM on October 30, 2013 [27 favorites]


Maybe my own thoughts will sound discordant to the general tone of the thread, so my apologies in advance. I'm probably too tired to keep track of everything. My own experience is that I'm poor in my mid-to-late twenties, I grew up poor, and my family was (I believe) lower middle-class, although they gave the impression of being solidly middle class: decent clothing, professional hair styling, two or three cars in the driveway, a nice two-story brick house in an upscale but dull suburban neighbourhood, transportation to social events across the city, etc. For her own psychological reasons, my mother only allowed me to wear thrift store clothes to elementary school and high school, so I had it drilled into me my entire life that we were dirt poor, although I discovered later on that we really weren't. Their aspirations for me were a nice Christian marriage at eighteen, lots of kids, and a part-time job at a coffee shop. (No, I'm not resentful...).

This type of thread is one of the reasons I love MetaFilter, but so much of the discussion feels foreign. Economics? Budgeting? $2500 purses? Hell, I've never had a job in my life. Money is a confusing and abstract concept. I live day to day. I live for the end of the month when the disability cheque comes in. I don't have a huge social circle, and the friends I do have are generally poor or living on employment insurance. My acquaintances who were raised differently seem so... foreign. It's hard to relate to them in terms of background or lifestyle.

I've become aware that I don't dress nearly as well as I could even on my income, because, unlike the author of the article, I was brought up hearing: "Nobody looks at you" and "People who spend more than $10 on a pair of jeans are greedy." Not kidding. I would have preferred the kind of mother who taught me why dressing well is beneficial to me, actually, no matter how superficial or "greedy" it sounds. Family background can play a huge role in where someone ultimately sees themselves ending up in the class strata.

It was a personal breakthrough when I found out my family was wrong. Wait, I don't have to feel guilty for spending more than my typical $7 for a pair of used jeans, or $50 for shoes that disintegrate (currently I have running shoes so worn that my toes poke through the front), or for spending more than $10 on a haircut? This might sound like hyperbole, but it's the lifestyle that's drilled into me. Imagine the guilt I felt when I, of all people, when overseas for an entire week, my first vacation outside the province in eight years, and spent the equivalent of $300 on new clothing. I felt like a different person. Realer, somehow, someone worth taking seriously. It's odd to think that nice, classier clothes had such a huge effect on my attitude and feelings of self-worth. Probably a Bad Poor Person monetary move overall, but what an experience!

I felt kind of the same way when I purchased my first smartphone. Suddenly I could blend in a bit better on the university campus and in bookstores and coffee shops. I felt quietly satisfied at having deceived the world, standing on a winter corner in a London Fog coat (thrifted) and decent boots, freezing as I checked my smartphone, because I'd heard that the average smartphone owner makes $35/hour whereas I get the equivalent of $6.50/hour and in some small way, I had infiltrated their world.

Even better back when I bought my own car, a cheap, ancient piece of junk, but one I'd paid for in cash ($2200) while I was told that most people on disability can't afford a car. It didn't last -- the transmission fell out, $1000 to replace, so I had to scrap the car -- but while it did, it was a nice escape from the reality of living way below the poverty line. These things can make someone feel more optimistic and energized than does the actual grinding reality of being poor and squirreling away small savings like a Good Poor Person.

Of course, when the transmission fell out, that's when the lectures started. The very same people who had opined that I absolutely needed a car were now lecturing me about how I Should Have Known Better. (The lectures the poor receive, oh, the constant lectures... that's another rant.) Either way, it was worth it while it lasted.

I want a TV. I want enough extra money for cable every month. I'm trying to ignore the inner voices that this would be greedy and wrong, and if only I had done something differently, I wouldn't even be in this situation....

Sorry for the novel. I'm on disability, so I have all the time in the world, you know. End rant.

I don't feel sorry for myself. I want to do things that keep me optimistic but also able to pay for basic necessities, because ultimately I want to escape this lifestyle.
posted by quiet earth at 3:42 PM on October 30, 2013 [36 favorites]


He used to drive around to collect rents and deposits from his tenants and would make sure he drove an old beat-up Volvo, and tried to be super friendly...But he had loads of slack payers and problems with his renters until he noticed that the other landlords in the street were showing up to collect rents in brand new blacked-out Range Rovers and Bentleys. They told him that their tenants always paid on time, because they presumed that a guy in a 100k car gets paid properly by everyone, because that's just how he rolls.

The discussion of cars as signifiers is interesting to me as someone who has spent virtually my entire professional career in sales and has heard completely conflicting theories on what the "appropriate" car to drive is in terms of giving off the right impression to your clients.

I've been told, "Don't drive too fancy or expensive of a car; potential clients will be afraid to buy from you since they'll assume you rip off your customers so you can afford to live the good life on their dime". Alternatively, I've been told that showing up in an upscale, pricey car instills confidence in your clients that you are good at your job, since, after all, you wouldn't be able to afford such a luxury if you didn't have a string of satisfied, repeat customers behind you.

On the other end of the spectrum I've heard the theory not to show up in too modest of a vehicle since clients will lose confidence in you and assume you don't have anything worthwhile to sell (since, based on your shitty car, obviously nobody else is buying from you, so why should they). But I've also heard the argument that showing in a modest car signifies to a client that you offer fair prices and aren't looking to get rich by screwing them over.

Me, I just try to park far enough away so my clients can't see what I drove up in.
posted by The Gooch at 3:54 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would rather have each hair individually ripped out by a screaming baby.

I *love* my epilator. I used to wax, but the wax that has good results is also the wax that is a PITA to clean up if you spatter it, which I tended to do, often. So now it's like, 5-10 min per leg of gritting my teeth and i'm good for ages.
posted by Stewriffic at 3:59 PM on October 30, 2013


And what that has to do with being poor I have no idea.
posted by Stewriffic at 3:59 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


...Sometimes I catch myself changing outfits multiple times a day as I move from place to place, environment to environment and audience to audience. I've never really considered this to be a fixation on fashion or anything - it's just one of those things that you, as a person of color, have to do to survive in a culture that tends to be a little hostile to your existence. More so if you don't blend properly....

...But I know that the Vietnamese guy wearing a suit behind me in line needs to wear that suit to get the same level of respect I am granted by default...

I think Conspire made a great comment above, but, I'm not sure if he meant he felt the urge to dress differently because he is an ethnic minority or because he is low-income, or both. Because speaking for myself, maybe I'm just socially clueless and deaf to these various signals he is talking about, but I'm Asian and I've never once felt the need to change outfits multiple times a day or fine-tune my dress. At work I always wear a dress shirt and slacks like every other city office worker, and outside of work I wear jeans and a casual button-up shirt of some kind. Which is the same once-a-day outfit change that most office workers do regardless of their ethnicity. And it's not like I'm wearing $200 Brooks Brothers dress shirts...I buy them for $30 at Uniqlo.

This isn't to say that discrimination on dress isn't a thing - it's totally a thing, and I catch myself doing it all the time. And I can totally see how it would make a difference for Black or Hispanic people, because they have a whole bunch of hurtful stereotypes to deal with that are quite different from the ones Asians have to deal with.

I mean, it's easy to spot the difference between recently immigrated Asians who do manual labor, and native-born middle-class Asians, and it's entirely clothing (and hair and personal grooming, but you know what I mean). But...speaking from the latter category, I don't think I need to dress more nicely than a white guy to get the same level of respect. Or, if someone looks down on me because of my ethnicity, I don't think dressing better would really change anything, other than perhaps the mental perception changing from "look at all these poor foreigners living off welfare" to "look at all these rich foreigners stealing our jobs!!!" As well, as a native-born Asian, I'm aware I have some privilege by speaking English without an accent - which I think has just as much of an effect on how people treat you than clothing does, and is unfortunately not something you can slip on and off like a shirt.

I was expected to buy a new suit at least every 3 months, and the company had quarterly mandatory group visits to a men's clothier where everyone must attend and buy a new suit if they had not done so in the previous 90 days. And my bosses watched us and knew every suit we owned.

Do you mind if I ask what kind of job that was? Because, wow, that almost sounds like something out of Boiler Room. Mandatory suit-buying!
posted by pravit at 4:23 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The post, and this thread, have been fascinating. It's things like this that make me realize how much I actually am missing, and how much I actually am an outsider, from things I want to make happen but don't seem to actually be able to gain traction on, just because of tribal knowledge I was never exposed to while growing up. Seriously, the whole silk shell story? Mind-blowing. I guess I knew the meritocracy was bullshit, on some level, but it stings quite a bit to realize that apparently, if only subconsciously, people actually are holding it against me and my Old Navy cardi. It's made me wonder about how much I'm missing out, even after you account for my generic white educated smart lady privilege, because I don't know that apparently silk shells are a thing.

And, as a poor person still, in attitude and confidence if not in checkbook, I have no idea where I can go to learn all these signals I'm supposed to just know. Maybe if I buy a nice handbag (over the furious objections of my "that is wasteful! get something at target!" guilt complex) it will come with an instruction manual.
posted by sldownard at 4:25 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


L.L. Bean is expensive, you guys. I... don't know if you knew that. (And trying to put together a tasteful, complete outfit at TJ Maxx is expensive too, in my experience. Any item if clothing over $19.99 is officially "expensive" when you're poor, no matter how fundamental, including coats, shoes, &c. My sisters don't shop at Old Navy because its too pricey. L.L. Bean is a luxury brand here-- it's the way people with money signal "relaxed ease.")

I reject the idea that if you're poor, you're not entitled to express your personality and identity using signalling mechanisms such as possessions and clothing. Poor people are not literally a faceless mass. I often encounter the sentiment that poor people should limit themselves to the bottom tiers of Maslow's pyramid because everything else is so frivolous.

Exactly! And if you say anything to this effect it's "why are you defining happiness in such a consumerist/materialistic way??" Because people with money are just incidentally materialistic.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:35 PM on October 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


When I posted this to Facebook I got a lot of appreciation from thoughtful people. The Usual Suspects all chimed in with, "See? That's why we should cut Food Stamps!" I fear the chasm of understanding may be too great to bridge.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which populations are underrepresented in geek culture

The populations that don't have the free time, energy, or knowledge base to participate in their hobby of choice, if they participate in a hobby at all.


Omg. Thank you! For encapsulating my junior high and high school years unapologetically. Some people are *too poor for hobbies*, idk if people who have never had to worry about it get that. So many fucking thins I wanted to explore as a child/young adult that I could never ever afford. Knitting. Sewing. Computers. Gaming. Music. Crafting. Film. Etc., etc. I feel so lucky now that I can do all the interesting thins I've always wanted to do. It breaks my heart when my mom talks about the interests she's had since she was a kid and never got to pursue.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was expected to buy a new suit at least every 3 months, and the company had quarterly mandatory group visits to a men's clothier where everyone must attend and buy a new suit if they had not done so in the previous 90 days. And my bosses watched us and knew every suit we owned.

>Do you mind if I ask what kind of job that was? Because, wow, that almost sounds like something out of Boiler Room. Mandatory suit-buying!


Computer sales. It was the mid-80s, we were a high end PC dealer in LA, dealing with mostly banks and other big-money corporations. We were an IBM dealer, I was the primary Apple guy so my salary was paid in part by Apple. But we had to adhere to the IBM dress code. Just to give you an example, we were once shown an IBM corporate video, the presenter was not wearing the IBM "uniform" of a 3-piece pinstripe suit, white shirt, and red tie. He was wearing a casual jacket! A very casual jacket, made from a patchwork quilt of denim. Oh the uproarious IBM sense of humor!
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:50 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


L.L. Bean is expensive, you guys. I... don't know if you knew that.

I was waiting for someone to say this. I mean... spending $35 on jeans from LL Bean is a smarter move than spending $15-$25 at Target, as they'll last at least twice as long, but that extra $10 has to come from somewhere. And just forget it if jeans from Target are already pushing it.

I'm caught in the weird in-between place where I could afford to buy a pair of jeans from LL Bean, but it seems like a hell of a lot of money to spend and so I don't. And then I hit the breaking point of having no clothes that fit or aren't totally worn out and buy stuff from Target (which is basically the only easily accessible cheap-ish place to buy clothes; there's a Marshalls, but the men's section suffers from the same problem as TJ Maxx), which I know is not the financially sound choice if you think beyond immediate need, but I find myself with no shorts without holes in when it's 90 degrees.
posted by hoyland at 4:51 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


L.L. Bean is expensive, you guys. I... don't know if you knew that.

I was waiting for someone to say this. I mean... spending $35 on jeans from LL Bean is a smarter move than spending $15-$25 at Target, as they'll last at least twice as long, but that extra $10 has to come from somewhere. And just forget it if jeans from Target are already pushing it.


L. L. Bean isn't priced for folks living paycheck-to-paycheck, but not being priced for the poor isn't necessarily the same as being priced for the rich. It's being priced for people who can afford to wait for sales, or can get a credit card, or can pay that extra $10 for the extra wear. Paying for that extra wear is a form of saving that, if you have a modicum of extra buying power, is worth getting. The store also carries luxury stuff, but that's hardly a ubiquitous feature. Even with an intensely skewed distribution of wealth in this country, there's a definite middle ground to which LLB caters.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:01 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Expense is always relative, but if you're talking about anyone genuinely middle class or above, L.L. Bean is mid-range. It's not true that something is "expensive" just because it's not the cheapest thing you can find. That kind of thinking is part and parcel of the shaming of poor people for spending money that we're talking about. I also don't really like the tendency of some conversations on the internet about poverty to toss the experiences of the middle class in with the rich because they're not exemplary of the poorest of the poor. Someone making a middle class salary is likely struggling with money issues in a lot of ways, but they can probably afford $35 for a pair of jeans
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:06 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, but that is basically definitely middle class. Saying "the truly rich don't show off, they slum around in L.L. Bean" is basically meaningless for a poor person. For me as a poor person it would be easier to buy one luxury item (iPhone, purse) than try to maintain a casual wardrobe of L.L. Bean.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:07 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not true that something is "expensive" just because it's not the cheapest thing you can find.

But we're talking about poor people. To whom $10 is the difference between getting to work for a week or not. So it will be the $20 jeans, not the $35 ones. There is the cheapest you can find, and then there's the rest of the stuff you can't afford. Poor people don't shop at L.L. Bean in my experience. You're saying its relative, but then you're saying the perspective of poor people doesn't really count, like people buy clothes from Walmart by choice, and not because that's their budget.

I am poor, I am not "shaming" myself by stating that L.L. Bean is expensive, and that "the cheapest you can find" is all I can afford at times, and anything else, is, in fact, in my relative experience, expensive. I don't get why everyone in this discussion is assuming the poor people talking about being poor are middle class. Because we have computers? (I'm typing this from an iPhone!!!)

It's just laughable to me to think of L.L. Bean-- the brand of monogrammed backpack that the well off kids in my school district had-- is the baseline of affordable if we're talking about the poor. Because its not. There is a big gulf between poor and middle class, and to a poor person, middle class is relatively... rich. (I mean, braces? A pipe dream for many. "Sporting" clothes for fashion, not for sport? Nope.)
posted by stoneandstar at 5:19 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


stoneandstar wrote L.L. Bean is expensive, you guys. I... don't know if you knew that.

Yes, yes I did. I like the quality of their stuff (have gotten it as presents from family members) but I don't have the money to shop there myself. My jeans come from the local Goodwill, where gently-used jeans are five bucks a pair.

While I aspire to the LL Bean flannel sheets and stuff, those are also entirely out of my price range. *sigh* Maybe someday...
posted by which_chick at 5:24 PM on October 30, 2013


Just to give you an example, we were once shown an IBM corporate video, the presenter was not wearing the IBM "uniform" of a 3-piece pinstripe suit, white shirt, and red tie.

I always thought the "IBM uniform" was supposed to be a grey flannel suit. Was that earlier?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:26 PM on October 30, 2013


Or the Vimes Boot Theory from Terry Pratchett.

"....A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."
posted by dbltall at 5:36 PM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I feel like maybe people are getting L.L. Bean confused with Eddie Bauer.

Also, way upthread someone conflated L.L. Bean and Polo/RL -- which to me is odd. Polo and the other RL brands are trying way harder. Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz of the Bronx, the son of Jewish immigrants of Polish/Belorussian extraction. (The switch worked, his kids married rather well.) Polo is more self-consciously for class strivers, and is more about cultivating a particular image than quality, especially the more accessible lines (some lines like Purple Label, or DoubleRL, etc, being a bit different). Old money with that kind of somewhat traditional taste seems to tend more towards Brooks Brothers, or maybe brands like Turnbull and Asser, etc. Or those I don't know about. And I say this as someone who wears a lot of Polo.

Offhand thought: I wonder if there's some identifiable (measurable) SES at which men generally know their dress shirt measurements, or suit size. (Rather than S/M/L/XL and waist/inseam).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:40 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Poor people don't shop at L.L. Bean in my experience. You're saying its relative, but then you're saying the perspective of poor people doesn't really count, like people buy clothes from Walmart by choice, and not because that's their budget.

That's why I said it was a mid-range brand from the perspective of anyone middle class or above. I get that poor people don't usually shop at L.L. Bean, and from their perspective it might be expensive. I know that plenty of people shop at Walmart because that's what they can afford, and I'm not really sure how you got that impression from my comment.

I am poor, I am not "shaming" myself by stating that L.L. Bean is expensive, and that "the cheapest you can find" is all I can afford at times, and anything else, is, in fact, in my relative experience, expensive.

Of course you're not shaming yourself by calling something you don't buy expensive, that's not how this works. Calling something "expensive," in my usage at least, is an implicit value judgment that it costs too much money; people don't usually call their own clothes expensive. When you start calling middle class goods "expensive" you're judging the people who buy those goods, and that's going to include some poor people. It's not like every genuinely poor person in America can't ever buy $35 jeans. Once you've marked something off as "expensive" it's open season to judge any poor person who has it. The tendency, in a lot of conversations, about poverty is to lower that line between "reasonable" and "expensive" as low as it can possible go. When I say calling anything other than the cheapest available option "expensive" is part of shaming poor people, this is what I mean.

L.L. Bean specifically came into this conversation as an example of the kind of middle class clothing worn by the genuinely very rich; no one has suggested, so far as I can see, that very poor people should be shopping at L.L. Bean, just that the very rich do, despite being able to afford much more expensive clothes. Coming in and saying "but L.L. Bean is expensive" misses the point that initially we were talking about people who can afford to pay a ton more for clothes than you do at L.L. Bean. As part of a conversation about those people, L.L. Bean isn't a status marker because of price.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:40 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


L.L. Bean isn't a status marker because of price.

Slightly tangentially but one of the good things about LL Bean to any folks is that the lifetime guarantee on their stuff means that you can get a paid of LL Bean boots at a thrift store or a backpack and (technically, and a maybe on the ethical angle) get them repaired or replaced basically forever. So they have different cachet in a number of different strata.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 PM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Old money with that kind of somewhat traditional taste seems to tend more towards Brooks Brothers, or maybe brands like Turnbull and Asser, etc. Or those I don't know about. And I say this as someone who wears a lot of Polo.

A few months ago, I went through my wife's grandfather's clothes after he died and took some things for myself. He was an old money WASP; not the richest of the rich, but he wasn't hurting for money. He owned a fair bit of Ralph Lauren stuff, but mostly casual clothes, khakis, polo shirts, and the like. I think that's where the market for that kind of brand lies among those kinds of people. Also, unsurprisingly, it was the stuff with smaller logos/branding. The business stuff was almost all Brooks Brothers, with a fair number of Hermes ties. He also owned a fair bit of stuff from local men's stores that I assume was made to measure.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:50 PM on October 30, 2013


also maybe people think it's hyperbole, but... $30 pair of jeans? $30 button up dress shirt? These were aspirational items for me in high school. I saw them in the store and thought "expensive." I thought Velveeta was expensive, growing up. Jeff Foxworthy jokes don't write themselves! (Well, I guess in that sense, they do.)

This is actually a very real, painful reason I feel alienated from my family now-- after enough time at a fancy university, my baseline (at least in theory) is their unobtainable. Despite the fact that I can't afford most of that "regular" middle class L.L. Bean stuff either, it's a cultural divide-- what people think they deserve, what they splurge on, &c. Very depressing tbh. Imagine not having the self-esteem to shop L.L. Bean.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:58 PM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Imagine not having the self-esteem to shop L.L. Bean.

This point is well taken but also, I think, not restricted to the poor. Rather, it's an artifact of any sort of fashion or unifying style that is thought to embody a culture. I don't halve the self-esteem to dress like a member of hip-hop culture or as a prep (which is strange, since LL Bean is apparently an embodiment of preppy wardrobe style, so perhaps says more about me wearing mismatched apparel), and I'm pretty sure that the general clothes that are used as part of both of these cultures would be attainable with some budget stretching.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:06 PM on October 30, 2013


Ralph Lauren is kinda in the Brooks Brothers mold, as Ralph Lauren started as a Brooks Brothers salesman. At some point Brooks Brothers actually sued RL and won.

BB is about half the price of Thomas Pink, which is about half the price of Brioni. At $575 a pop Brioni make the most expensive dress shirts I know.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:07 PM on October 30, 2013


What? I do call my clothes expensive, when they are more expensive than usual. I am not judging anyone-- I wish I could afford (to me) expensive, quality goods. It is not shaming myself to buy a jacket and think "this jacket is expensive." It's just an awareness if the price of the jacket relative to my budget. Why is "expensive" a naughty word? It is a functional word people use with others who share their class experience. It can convey shame, envy, pleasure, judgment, &c.

But when someone says "the truly rich don't wear it on their sleeve, so conspicuous consumption isn't classy," who are these poor people who are trying to look *so* rich that they even compare to those people? Because I think that's how it actually came into the conversation-- people were saying "poor people who buy expensive things look tacky, because the really rich are more understated and classy than that." In so many words.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:08 PM on October 30, 2013


Somebody mentioned Polo, and somebody mentioned hip-hop, so maybe it's a good time to mention the Lo-Lifes.

(A great book could be written about Polo and hip-hop--I hope this person is working on one.)
posted by box at 6:08 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


But when someone says "the truly rich don't wear it on their sleeve, so conspicuous consumption isn't classy," who are these poor people who are trying to look *so* rich that they even compare to those people?

It wasn't about rich vs poor, but old money vs new money. Old money doesn't have to establish status through their clothing, that was how I understood what was being stated.
posted by ambrosia at 6:12 PM on October 30, 2013


As the saying goes, in New York they wear their money, in LA they drive their money, and in New England they hide their money.

And people in Chicago eat/drink their money.
posted by Windigo at 6:14 PM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Going to Maine, that may be true, but I think magnitude is of the essence in this convo. No one wants to feel like an impostor, but if you feel like an impostor for buying a $35 blazer at Target... a lot of people will not understand that. I think at a place like Metafilter where the userbase is seemingly predominantly middle-clas, it is inevitable that middle-class norms (like "L.L. Bean is a good deal") will kind of define the kids of goods we talk about.

But a weird thing is how pointing out that "L.L. Bean is a good deal" is a norm and shaped by class experience, not objective truth, means you're being judgmental. I don't think it is-- it is a good deal for some people-- but paying lip service to the "relative" nature of class and then saying "but seriously, L.L. Bean can't be considered expensive just because its not dirt cheap" is a little contradictory.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:18 PM on October 30, 2013


Nonetheless, people always bring up the "old money" thing, like being rich-but-not-showing-it is the height of moral continence, and incongruity (rapping about Versace, being temporarily jobless but owning an iPhone) is morally suspect. I mean, I wish I had a lot of money so I could be all discreet and magnanimous with it too, but idk.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:21 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


But they *are* showing it. Just not in their clothing. If you have enough money to be one of those names that builds a hospital wing or a new library at your alma mater or thanked as a supporter of a PBS program, you're not being discreet at all. It's just that at that price point, how much you spend on your jeans is kind of irrelevant.
posted by ambrosia at 6:29 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


but paying lip service to the "relative" nature of class and then saying "but seriously, L.L. Bean can't be considered expensive just because its not dirt cheap" is a little contradictory.

This is obviously aimed at me (despite your putting words I never said in quotes), so here's what I said, in my own actual words:

Expense is always relative, but if you're talking about anyone genuinely middle class or above, L.L. Bean is mid-range. It's not true that something is "expensive" just because it's not the cheapest thing you can find. That kind of thinking is part and parcel of the shaming of poor people for spending money that we're talking about. I also don't really like the tendency of some conversations on the internet about poverty to toss the experiences of the middle class in with the rich because they're not exemplary of the poorest of the poor. Someone making a middle class salary is likely struggling with money issues in a lot of ways, but they can probably afford $35 for a pair of jeans

The first sentence lays out, pretty clearly, that I am talking about middle class people. Sentences four and five, similarly, are explicitly about middle class people.

Sentences two and three are the ones that I guess you're referring to. Obviously we disagree about whether or not the word expensive contains a value judgment, but I basically never hear it without that judgment, at least implicitly, so I stand by that claim. If I mention how much I spend on something to someone and they say "that's expensive," I hear a judgment that I am wrong for spending that much money on it. That's my concern. The excessive judgment of how other people spend their money is a huge part of what this thread is about, and I think that dropping the threshold on what we call "expensive" as low as it will go is part of that. It lets us bring as many people as possible in the sphere of people that we can judge.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:36 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This whole conversation is fascinating. I too, think L.L. Bean is expensive. I know the pain of counting my checking account to the penny, and then making mistakes when getting a windfall, wanting to buy gifts for people, etc.

One thing that sticks in my mind, is when I was a temp at a big company in Chicago, we got gift certificates to a fancy day spa. In my family, we never got mani/pedi's: that was just not done. You did it yourself. I went to the spa, and they groused at me for not bringing my spa shoes. Then they gave me a pair of thin rubber flip flops. I was mortified, that I didn't know that I was supposed to bring my own. And here I was only anxious about trying to figure out how to tip and how much.

Another time, my husband and I were at a popular place in the city, and I was talking to some people at the bar. It had started to rain, so we were talking about rain coats. I mentioned that I had gotten a nice one at Kohl's, and they all drew back and hissed as is I'd bitten them. They were all lawyers, and perhaps not uber rich, but it was like I'd said a dirty word.

And I know about richies who dress in L.L. Bean and slum around. Lots in the bank, but don't show it.

I guess I grew up middle class, we had nice houses and lots of food and birthday presents, etc. And since then I have been up and down... so easy to get a great job in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and now it's like, eh, give us your fingerprints and we'll get back to you in 10 years, how dare you apply. So I've learned to appreciate less. And I've found that I just don't care what others think of me anymore. I have a nice place to live, I have heat (a big deal in the Northern Hemisphere), I have warm clothes, lovely food to eat, cats, and all the chocolate I could ever want. So I guess I'm not poor after all. Despite my ugly purse.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:38 PM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


We gotta take that with a grain of salt too though, it isn't like they are rocking LL Bean flannels at the Governors Ball or something.

Anyone sneak up and look at the old money super rich people's labels? I am willing to bet they are wearing a pricey LL Bean analog like Orvis or something we don't even know about.

Super rich are sneaky that way, wearing expensive stuff that looks like LL Bean, because that is what LL Bean based their clothes on.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:40 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the topic of designer labels, The Onion circa 2000 hits the nail on the head.
posted by dr_dank at 6:40 PM on October 30, 2013


I was mortified, that I didn't know that I was supposed to bring my own. And here I was only anxious about trying to figure out how to tip and how much.

This is another interesting point about feeling like you don't have the status markers/don't belong; I wouldn't know that I was supposed to bring shower shoes either, but that's because I've been to spas and never had to do it which means that I'm in the privileged position of being comfortable enough not to get anxious about that; if they fussed at me about it, I'd just kind of shrug it off because I'm comfortable with being there, again, because of privilege. Being aware that you don't know the rules can be just as hazardous as not knowing them because it means you are constantly criticizing yourself for mistakes that you may not even actually have made.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:43 PM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Being aware that you don't know the rules can be just as hazardous as not knowing them because it means you are constantly criticizing yourself for mistakes that you may not even actually have made.

I know that. When I was making soap, my rich in-laws from NYC (lived in fancy NJ city) visited. They looked up and down at our little rental house. Then they said they might need some soap, so I brought some out.

"Oh. Um. Well, we might get some for our vacation house, later. But we don't need any right now."

Then they called us from the car and suggested we open a wine and cheese shop. When we didn't have enough money to buy wine and cheese. La.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:54 PM on October 30, 2013


It's amazing how long one's concept of "expensive" lasts.

Affording decent clothing hasn't been an issue for me within memory, but I left the house wearing around $150 of clothing today (belt, shoes and jacket included, $32 without) and I have a trouble conceiving of spending more than that. My wife laughs at me for my inability to bring myself to spend more on "normal" day-to-day clothes. It's just a long-lasting remnant of childhood.

(Yes, I know by some people's standards this is still "expensive".)

Mrs. Pterodactyl: I only recently realized that it wasn't universal for any guy to be able to attend formal events comfortably (for myself, and for other attendees) wearing a $160 outfit all-in.
posted by Neuffy at 6:54 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I figure there's a price to pay for keeping up with the Joneses and I'm not willing to pay that price. Because they are some stressed out monkeys.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:05 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always sort of scoff at people's recommendations of L.L. Bean because they just don't apply to me. I don't know exactly where I fall on the socioeconomic scale (it's complicated), but I just couldn't see myself wearing those clothes for any of the things I do. They've always seemed like clothes for 45 year old suburban upper middle class white men, to me.

I opened a new tab and went to llbean.com while typing this. The front page image is of a couple on some kind of hike or something. They're wearing brightly colored puffy vests/jackets, fleeces, trail shoes, and some kind of technical pants. They're carrying techy/sporty backpacks.

I could use approximately zero of these things in my daily life as a youngish woman in a big city and a creative field who desperately needs to seem cool and with it and somehow both professional and a little bit sexy at the same time, but who is also drastically underpaid. I don't hike, at least not often enough to own a separate hiking wardrobe.

So, like... why would I shop at L.L. Bean? How is L.L. Bean the sensible middle class choice? I appreciate that their things are well-made, but what's the point of well-made if I can't actually use anything they make?

There's a reason fast fashion exists. It's very easy to just go to one store, which is conveniently located in a place I'm actually likely to go, buy a bunch of stuff that is specifically branded to people in exactly my situation, and know that it's going to work. Even if it's not going to last forever. Even if it's status symbol-ish or frivolous or makes me look like a fashion victim. Better to be a fashion victim than to accidentally dress like my grandmother* or the cleaning lady.

*There's actually this jacket on llbean.com that I really like, called the "Barn Coat", which seems potentially really cool in that timeless rugged tomboy "I give not a single fuck" way, but I dunno, what's the cut like? The only photo has a frumpy looking model wearing it in the squarest fashion possible, so who knows what I'm actually going to look like wearing it. So I probably won't spend $80 to see if it's what I want when I could spend $50 to get exactly what I want at H&M.
posted by Sara C. at 7:13 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


L.L. Bean is for people who can afford to have a separate camp wardrobe. If you don't know what a camp is, you can't afford the clothes. See?

It's like people who don't know that you need madras shorts and loafers with no socks as a summer wardrobe. If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

And camp means, "luxury home in an enclave with a private road," for those who aren't in the know. "I'm up to camp." Yes. On the waterfront. And you tell everyone who is a native that they simply *must* give to the water conservation society before you drive back home in your giant SUV.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:23 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


no one has suggested, so far as I can see, that very poor people should be shopping at L.L. Bean, just that the very rich do, despite being able to afford much more expensive clothes. Coming in and saying "but L.L. Bean is expensive" misses the point that initially we were talking about people who can afford to pay a ton more for clothes than you do at L.L. Bean.

What's missing here is that rich people have L.L. Bean stuff in addition to their other clothes.

L.L. Bean is for hikes, camping, mucking out the stable, messing around on boats.

You don't wear L.L. Bean to work. Or probably even to the supermarket, unless you're talking about the supermarket near your summer home.

If you're rich, you have an entirely separate wardrobe of clothes just for doing potentially grubby pastimes. That wardrobe comes from L.L. Bean.
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 PM on October 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Jinx, Marie Mon Dieu!
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jinx, Sara C. LOL.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:32 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I plan to wear my LL Bean attire when I go apple picking, go pumpkin picking, buy Christmas trees, plant herb gardens in window boxes, go to the dog park to look at french bulldogs, leaf peep, go near Connecticut, watch shows about tools.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:33 PM on October 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


I owe you a Coke.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:35 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, I owe YOU a coke!
posted by Sara C. at 7:36 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I swear, I was typing Jinx and then I saw your jinx so that is some freaky jinx stuff.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:38 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


You don't wear L.L. Bean to work. Or probably even to the supermarket, unless you're talking about the supermarket near your summer home.

This is not my experience with the kind of affluent New Englanders who we're talking about(I have no idea if people in other parts of the country care about L.L. Bean at all). L.L. Bean makes casual clothes, sure, so you don't wear them to work, but you absolutely do wear them to the grocery store, walking the dog, running errands, etc. Some of their stuff is technical hiking gear, and Bean boots are clearly a season/situational article of clothing, but the vast majority of what they sell is just pants and shirts and such, like everyone wears, every day. You do probably need to have a separate work wardrobe, but L.L. Bean could absolutely be the backbone of a person's casual wardrobe. I have plenty of stuff from them, and that's how I use it.

I will say that this might be different for women than men. Their women's clothes never look as good to me, and they tend to belong to a totally different style than how most women I know dress, which is why I'm not surprised it's not to your taste. For men, though? The kind of "sweater, shirt, jeans" look that L.L. Bean is selling isn't restricted to the Maine woods.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:45 PM on October 30, 2013


So, like... why would I shop at L.L. Bean? How is L.L. Bean the sensible middle class choice? I appreciate that their things are well-made, but what's the point of well-made if I can't actually use anything they make?

"The sensible middle class choice" falls into a slight trap. L. L. Bean is a sensible middle class choice, in the context of the current discussion, in that the clothes aren't cheap but will last a while. They are very much not a fashion-forward middle class choice (Banana Republic? The Gap?), and googling around while reading this thread made it clear that the company knows that it's missing folks who want more modern cuts. (Hence their creation of the somewhat-more-expensive signature line.)

The assumption that LLB is for folks who have a private "camp" isn't quite right. It's very much an old, established company with ties to the "preppy" style, but the price range is cheaper J. Crew and J. Press. In short, it allows folks who want to dress a bit outdoorsy but don't want to spend the money (though, again, see that Signature Line) to dress in a way that is identical to how folks with more money who also want that style happen to dress.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:49 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The upper class people i know wear LLbean the way i wear Old Navy. Or causal stuff from NYCo. My causal, out for errands stuff. Maybe weeknight dinner out at a mid range restaurant or pub.

(Although i do remember once i left home i had quite a while where I did not have work and casual clothes bc i could not afford them, they were ALL work and casual.)
posted by sio42 at 7:49 PM on October 30, 2013


Fashion nerd derail, most if not all if the WASPy prep fashions for women are pretty dire, workmanlike and matronly. A man can come out the right outlet sale feeling like he just committed a crime ( Guess who is never buying a t shirt EVER AGAIN? This guy.) but the women's ware is just .....frump city.
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 PM on October 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


I used to live in Freeport, and I have relatives who have "camps." So perhaps they don't buy L.L. Bean because it's beneath them. But it's still a bit expensive for most people on a working class budget. Their signature line doesn't really hold much water for the rest of us. A lot of us here don't buy L.L. Bean because of Linda Bean, who is a strict Republican and hates the gays and and it is not the price of the clothing, but what the money goes to that it represents.

I'm not sure you're hearing me: we will buy local and we will pay for quality clothing. But we dislike rich people who come here and tell us what to do with our environment and money.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:02 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


My biological father came from old, old, old money. Signed the constitution, have forts named after ancestors, founded banks, old money. My mother's family were immigrants. My father knocked my mother up in an era when they had to get married. My father's family did not accept my mother. Oh, they were polite, in that genteel sort of way that one is polite to the help, but not accepting. My father divorced my mother when the second child was also a girl. (He ran through a series of wives, all of whom had girls, all of whom he abandoned.)

My father did not believe that he should have to support female children, and so he spent 10x the amount on lawyers to avoid child support as he would have paid. Eventually, he was forced to pay $100 a month in child support.

I grew up very poor. Except for 3 weeks a year, when I got to see how the beautiful people live. Yachts and mansions and servants. Clay courts and live in chefs, stables and dressage classes. And then, the dream would end, and I'd be back to being the poor kid wearing hand me down uniforms and getting free lunch at the Catholic school.

I stopped going when I was 13. The cognitive dissonance was too much, but even in that brief exposure, I forever isolated myself from both universes. I was an outcast in the poor community because I had a "rich daddy and I didn't have to live like this if I didn't want to", and the 1% wanted nothing to do with my father's brown-skinned cast-off daughter of an immigrant.

For me; status things are anathema. I refuse to buy product that has obvious branding. I give car dealers the option of taking off their dealership branding and repainting, or a massive cash discount in compensation for being a billboard. I would no more buy a LV bag than I would splash "Juicy" across my ass. Why would anyone pay to advertise a product?

That said; I'm really glad I spent the vast majority of my career as a serious techie, because this nonsense about panty hose and silk shells, and non-braced teeth would have kept me out of a job these days, I tell you what.
posted by dejah420 at 8:15 PM on October 30, 2013 [17 favorites]


A lot of us here don't buy L.L. Bean because of Linda Bean, who is a strict Republican and hates the gays and and it is not the price of the clothing, but what the money goes to that it represents.

I'm not sure you're hearing me: we will buy local and we will pay for quality clothing. But we dislike rich people who come here and tell us what to do with our environment and money.


I think you're addressing me here. I was responding to the "camp" label because it seemed like a straw-portrait of LLB customers as just being the wealthy, which probably gets too much of a knee-jerk reaction from me. Linda Bean is news to me, and appears to be a new subject to this thread. She's certainly an important factor to think about in making your dollars speak to your politics. Since the discussion was about cost and style as ways of dictating purchase habits, I was only speaking to that. The politics of different fashion designers would be an interesting way to take this discussion, and one that might be worth exploring, but is not -I think- where the discussion has been. Out of curiosity, what are these equivalent, well-made lines that you're thinking of? Other brands would be welcome in the discussion.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 PM on October 30, 2013


I mean, I wish I had a lot of money so I could be all discreet and magnanimous with it too, but idk.

Not me! Who cares what a bunch of WASPs do?

I'd be head to toe designer and I'd get my nose fixed. I'd only drink Fiji water and cocktails and my car would be faster than everybody else's. Because what is money *for*?

Oh yeah, and I'd buy tons of lottery tickets just to be an asshole.

If I got bored and became like the old money folks I'd maybe eventually buy the government or found a bunch of fake think tanks or whatever. But like hell I'd ever be wearing LL Bean.

What would even be the upside? It's not like if I somehow lost all aesthetic taste and pranced onto someone's "camp" wearing LL Bean they'd get all confused. "Ooooh this random woman must be one of us because she also orders polar fleece clothes from a catalog!"
posted by rue72 at 8:27 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a lot of poor people know they're not going to rise to a higher economic class anytime soon, if ever. So when they do have a bit of cash in a society that encourages spending, they're going to spend. It may not be exactly as simple as that, but I get it. I also get the bit about wanting to signal that you fit in where you're going.

I remember how, in my first real job, when I was making squat (and I don't make much more now, but then I was making NOTHING as a receptionist), I bought a John Paul Gaultier skirt. I got it on sale at Century 21 for $150, marked down from $900. It's not like I wore the hell out of it all the time, but when I wore it, I felt awesome. I remember strolling into the ballroom at the Essex House on Central Park South for the first office Christmas party I ever went to as a bona fide employee of a company after uni (I worked for Hearst back then). The whole outfit, including the skirt, patent leather spike heels, a red silk top, a very nice clutch bag, and a camel hair coat probably added up to about $700 that I actually paid for, but had originally retailed for a lot more. I felt like a million bucks. I felt like an adult and that I could hold my own with these rich folks swanning about in their tuxes and cocktail dresses. I think I even had a cheery conversation with one of the Hearst grandsons, and didn't die of embarrassment or have any fear that just by looking at me, they'd KNOW of my extremely subpar background. In that Gaultier, no one knew I was "really" a poor ghetto bastard born in an unwed mothers hospital, and had been lucky enough to be pegged as "high IQ" at 4, and tracked as deserving of special education.

I could take advantage not only of the academics, but was also smart enough to learn at an early, early age that signifiers were important, even if I didn't know the word "signify" until I read some Jane Austen at 10 (I wonder what she'd think of this conversation, given her metier). I noted how people treated my aunt, with her loud polyester dresses from K-Mart, her wigs that were so obviously fake-hair wigs, her pleather bags, her air of total deference to her "betters".

I also noticed how my UMC schoolmates' mothers dressed and how they behaved and how they were treated by my teachers. The author said how her mother's attitude went hand-in-hand with the clothes, and the combination made her a force to be reckoned with. Totally, I saw that at school. So I get it. I don't wear anything by Ralph Lauren, but I give him a nod, because I understand a striver. And for those of you who think that's it's awful, I don't know what to tell you. Being poor with nothing to look forward to except being shit on by the rest of society, expected to have no pride or self-esteem, nay, being castigated for daring to have any pride or self esteem? Dammit, if it's buying a Gaultier skirt to make one feel good, would such people rather we slit their stuck-up throats than, oh my god, cheapen their brands? Yes, it's all ridiculous, but you can't teach people from the cradle on that comsumerism is king, constantly dangle things in their faces, and then not expect them to want or try to get these things, even if they are poor. That's just hypocritical, and rich people need to quit it.

I still have the coat, shoes and bag. I ruined the top. The skirt, alas, was "lost" at the dry cleaners 2 years later. How I got them to reimburse me is just like the UMC moms from my school would; I called the city ombudsman and his office demanded they pay me for my loss. I got $800.
posted by droplet at 8:33 PM on October 30, 2013 [21 favorites]


the vast majority of what they sell is just pants and shirts and such, like everyone wears, every day.

You know how people talk about privilege? And a lot of people are just like "ugh what is this ridiculous privilege nonsense you keep talking about?????"

This is privilege.

For a certain subset of well-off white suburbanites, LL Bean is everyday clothes.

For the rest of us, it's not.

The inability to see that not every single human being on the planet (or even every single human being in the USA) could just wear LL Bean all the time is kind of like people who can't see that privilege exists.
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fashion nerd derail, most if not all if the WASPy prep fashions for women are pretty dire, workmanlike and matronly. A man can come out the right outlet sale feeling like he just committed a crime ( Guess who is never buying a t shirt EVER AGAIN? This guy.) but the women's ware is just .....frump city.

Yeah, I keep getting romantical notions about things like this vest, and then I realize that I'll probably look like Martha Stewart in it and not at all like the sort of Jordan Baker esque sporty-classic tomboy image in my mind.

I blame this website.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 PM on October 30, 2013


Wow this is an eye-opening article. Thanks for posting this, parudox.

My parents had no fashion sense in fact they had the opposite. They actively discouraged the three of us kids from spending $ on clothes when we were growing up. My dad said anyone who bought clothes with a designer label was a fool. I (the son) wore some hand me downs from my sister believe it or not. To read about how some families buy clothes as a kind of cargo-cult ticket to social acceptance blows me away. But I can see now how it would arise if you're on the outside desperately trying to figure out the rules of the inside.

My mum cut our hair. Looking back at my photos (all the way into my twenties) those haircuts were terrifyingly awful. I was oblivious at the time.

But it didn't matter in the end. The other thing my parents believed was that you had to make it in some profession where looks did not matter as much as results. Math, science, accounting...

My Dad's rhetorical question would be: who gets hired? The kid with the funny haircut who can solve for x? Or the LL Bean dude who can't?
posted by storybored at 9:10 PM on October 30, 2013


Out of curiosity, what are these equivalent, well-made lines that you're thinking of? Other brands would be welcome in the discussion.

Off the top of my head -- Eddie Bauer (which I mentioned before, it's a little more in the overtly status conscious direction), Lands End seem like they're in the same general area for casual clothes. Or for the more "camp" oriented stuff (whether than means tents or lodges), Pendleton, Woolrich and other similarly storied, outdoorsy American companies. In the boating direction, there's always Sperry. Even Bass, which is the outlet store accessible entry level version of all of this.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:12 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


a straw-portrait of LLB customers as just being the wealthy

It's not that LLB customers are "just" the wealthy. No company can survive with the support of only the wealthy. That's the dirty secret of all this classism and "why do you spend your welfare check on status symbols" and all the rest. Even the luxury brands need middle class dollars in order to get by.

I used to work at Tiffany's. You know where they really make their money? Those $150 sterling silver chain link bracelets with the little heart that says Tiffany & Co. The vast majority of their sales are from middle class people and a couple rungs in each direction. Upper middle class girls get the "heart tag" bracelet for Christmas, or as a reward for getting straight A's. Lower middle class parents scrimp and save to get them for their daughters as a rite of passage (quinceanera, graduation, etc).

So nobody thinks that LL Bean is a brand exclusively for the wealthy. Because that doesn't exist. If Coach and Louis Vuitton and fucking Louboutin can't be exclusively for the wealthy, no way can LL Bean.

However. When people talk about the thrifty rich people who are smart about money and shop at LL Bean "just like everyone else", what they don't realize is that said "thrifty" rich people are buying LL Bean sort of the same way I buy Goodwill. For expendable clothes that can get stained or wrinkled or only get one or two wearings a season. LL Bean isn't everyday clothes for the wealthy, it's your secondary wardrobe of weekend clothes to leave at "the cottage".

Meanwhile, the vast majority of LL Bean's actual take is middle class people who go there looking for nice things that are pretty affordable, but definitely still seen in the context of being Nice. You might wear LL Bean khakis to the office, whereas Mr. Moneybags only wears them for mucking around on the boat. THAT is what we're saying.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 PM on October 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah I forget the name for it, but "luxury brands" ( a completely meaningless term like 90% of the time) are encouraged to have cheaper items around that make up the bulk of the sales, not everyone can afford the 15,000 dollar necklace, but that simple silver pendant with the 20$ worth of combined labor and materials can help you feel like you're apart of the whole luxury brand experience and can Have A Nice Thing From A Nice Place. I think my silver keying was bought in this manner ( plus it has a pen, but I can say I own some Tiffany, even if it's a simple, mass produced object. We're a consumerist culture, these things matter.)

And of course this line of thinking leads to expensive underpants are aren't even cute and don't support anything, yeah.

Off the top of my head that only "luxury brand" I can think of with almost no price points in the middle class range is like, Hermes - cause I still think the bulk of thier stuff is hand painted.
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


LL Bean isn't everyday clothes for the wealthy, it's your secondary wardrobe of weekend clothes to leave at "the cottage".

Pretty much this. LLBean was the catalog when I was a young that I wished I could afford. I grew up so desperately poor - well, we've all heard it. Now I pull down six figures, and I have to pinch myself sometimes. I don't know how it happened, honestly.

Anyway, LL. Bean and Filson is too pricey, still. I wear mostly Duluth Trading Company or Carhartt. But... Only from the clearance rack. I never pay regular price. mostly DTC because it fits me better as a tall lanky dude

Old habits. They die hard.

My wife and I - we both grew up very poor and even though now we make amazingly good money... we still scrimp and save and hoard and we feel terribly guilty if we indulge just a little bit.

Like good poor people should, I suppose.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:36 PM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of poor people know they're not going to rise to a higher economic class anytime soon, if ever. So when they do have a bit of cash in a society that encourages spending, they're going to spend.

Yeah.

This.

The whole thread is pretty much sewn up right there.

I had this spelled out for me when I was dating a guy from a less well-off background than mine. I'm middle class, he's from a blue collar background. As we walked down the street one day, one of those Pimp My Ride modded out cars with the spoiler and the rims and the crazy stereo system drove by.

I made a dismissive comment, probably something like "Why waste that much money just on a car?" And my boyfriend pointed out to me that the people who have cars like that, well, they really take pride in them. And they know they're never going to own a house, or have anything else big and stable and meaningful to invest in. They're not going anywhere. Nothing's going to change for them. So put a sweet stereo in your car, and enjoy it. Depriving yourself isn't going to make you rich.

That was the last time I mocked a lower-class status symbol or pulled the whole "if only Those People understood how to be frugal" act.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 PM on October 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


There's also this background cultural thing, seen in this thread, from the old WASP prep guard- It Is Okay To Spend Money On Education, Travel, And This Pre-Approved List Of Hobbies. Anhing else is "tacky, wasteful and suspect." It mostly seems like a way of in group policing, you had to buy your furniture? And a NEW house? You didn't just get one when Aunt Ethel died? Oh dear, did you have buy your own silver as well?
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 PM on October 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Mr. Moneybags only wears them for mucking around on the boat.

Exactly. I had a job a few years back where my boss's everyday clothes were bespoke down to his shoes. I never saw him in any mass-market anything. His clothes were gorgeous, but it took a moment of looking at him in them the first time I met him to realize nothing he wore was retail or off the rack.

And at school as a kid, I only saw my classmates in LL Bean if they were heading to the family ski lodge up north after school was done for the week, and they had the coats and the blue wool sweaters with those white checks.

My Dad's rhetorical question would be: who gets hired? The kid with the funny haircut who can solve for x? Or the LL Bean dude who can't?

Well, to bring in the context of where the author was coming from, if you're poor and black with a mind to escape poverty, you know your brains aren't going to be "top of mind" for potential employers. If being both the one who can solve for x and wearing a decent outfit might be your ticket out, then you do what you gotta do! Unfortunately, being non-white can be held against you no matter how smart you are. It's the old "you've got to be 3 x as good as any white guy" thing that I'm sure black kids in aspirational families are taught at home even today, just as I was in the 80s.
posted by droplet at 9:41 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also god, trying to deals on "nice" things is just so fucking exhausting. The hours of my life spent rummaging through thrift store bins, Goodwills, flea markets, lawn sales, literal dumpsters, aaaagh. Don't tell me that being able to walk into any store I wanted to, point at something and have it purchased and DONE WITH without having to CSI: Salvation Army it for an hour didn't feel REALLY FUCKING GOOD.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 PM on October 30, 2013 [19 favorites]


(not even counting if you're a fashion nerd and go to like trunk shows and nothing is ever in your size or gender ugh ugh ugh)
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 PM on October 30, 2013


Never mind that, in some cultures and in some classes, licking the plate signifies not bad manners but enjoyment of the meal.

In which cultures is this the case? I have never come across this or heard about it.
posted by modernnomad at 9:52 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Off the top of my head that only "luxury brand" I can think of with almost no price points in the middle class range is like, Hermes - cause I still think the bulk of thier stuff is hand painted.

Maybe shoemakers? Lobb? Way beyond my ken, but if I had to take a shot in the dark...although upon looking Lobb is now owned by Hermes. So....
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:06 PM on October 30, 2013


It Is Okay To Spend Money On Education, Travel, And This Pre-Approved List Of Hobbies.

I also realized recently that there are all kinds of things that WASPs are allowed to spend like fucking STUPID amounts of money on, because they're subtle ways of saying you don't care about money.

Like the old European cars. Sure, driving an old car says "frugal". But driving an old Volvo, Saab, or Beemer is going to cost you a ton of money in maintenance. It's actually not frugal at all. You could take all that money you spent at mechanics and buy a working class person's idea of a really sweet ride, like a Mustang* or something.

Also, the education thing. Education is OK to be completely and totally non-frugal about. The vast majority of private schools are about segregation, not a better education. Especially once you get to the university level. There is just no reason at all to blow a quarter million dollars on sending your kid to a third-tier liberal arts school. They could get just as good an education at a state school.

Not to mention all the extras that wealthy parents don't blink an eye at, because they're vaguely connected to the college experience. I spent my freshman year at Emerson (which is where I discovered the thing about liberal arts schools), and you could always tell the kids who came from money because they had gorgeous apartments in the nicest parts of Boston. And this was first semester of Freshman year. At a school where the dorms were quaint historic mansions in the Back Bay. These same kids all had designer wardrobes, brand new computers, and whatever the cool version of every single thing was. They got Starbucks on the way to class every morning, had fake IDs, and they flew home on the weekends.

It sounds sensible and frugal to say you're willing to spend money on education. What that actually means, on the other hand, is neither sensible nor frugal.

*So recently I was watching a clip from the new Stephen Fry BBC documentary about queerness (possibly via Metafilter?), and I noticed they had Fry driving a white convertible Mustang around Los Angeles for that particular segment. This absolutely killed me, because Stephen Fry's whole brand is about being posh but quirky, whereas a white convertible Mustang is something an elderly lottery winner in West Virgina would give his granddaughter for her 16th birthday. But I guess it says "America" to the Brits? I dunno, I refuse to believe that is actually Stephen Fry's car.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 PM on October 30, 2013


Also MUJI seems to be expanding to occupy the space above Target as "Middle class, basic stylish things in dark to neutral colors that maybe you save up a little for." But you don;t seem to be able to buy from them online in the US yet.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 PM on October 30, 2013


It's shoes. Shoes are what let you know you're poor. If you have to wear the same pair every day, if you have to wear them after they're broken, if you have to wear them even though you know they smell bad, and you know you'll replace them with another shitty pair, because good shoes are too expensive, that's when you know you're poor.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 10:21 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


if you're poor and black with a mind to escape poverty, you know your brains aren't going to be "top of mind" for potential employers. If being both the one who can solve for x and wearing a decent outfit might be your ticket out, then you do what you gotta do!

There's also the fact that racial/ethnic signifiers exist.

There's a very specific "upwardly mobile African-American" look, for example. Clothes are preppy, maybe with a tinge of either retro or global-inspired accents. Women's hair is worn more natural (I don't know enough about black men's hairstyles to weigh in there), and great care is taken not to wear anything remotely hood/street/gangsta/"stereotypically black". But not too white, either. It's a look that says "hire me!", and it's definitely not cheap. It's also extremely self-conscious and painstakingly achieved. But has to look totally effortless at the same time.

Let's say you're African-American, and you have the choice of wearing that sort of thing to a job interview, or a more stereotypical "urban" style, or go the equivalent of the "my mom cuts my hair" route with cornrows and cheapo generic Walmart clothes.

What do you do? Do you do the frugal thing and then, when you don't get the job, just say "well that's OK at least I can solve for X and am really good at budgeting"?
posted by Sara C. at 10:27 PM on October 30, 2013


And if you opted for the "stereotypical urban" aesthetic, hey, you might not have that math job, but at least you're wearing clothes you really like that enable you to fit in with your community, and your hair and nails are looking right.

If you go Walmart Suit route, you get nothing.
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


(unintended thread side effect, wondering if I need a leather banded watch to go with my metal one for when I'm working outside OH GOD OH GOD I AM THE PROBLEM THEY HAVE COLONIZED ME OH GOD)
posted by The Whelk at 10:29 PM on October 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's OK I can't stop thinking about that Barn Coat and wondering if there is maybe an Urban Outfitters version that will at least drape nicely despite probably costing more.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on October 30, 2013


"Barn Coat" would appear to be the name of a style of coat, so I'd hit up the secondhand/wholesale/deep discount sites with the search term.

Outerwear is Forever.
posted by The Whelk at 10:32 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Barn JACKET gets more hits, FYI

/enabler.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Barn Coat looks awfully similar to a Barbour wax cotton jacket. They're quite pricey but you might find a good deal on a used coat on ebay.
posted by quosimosaur at 10:40 PM on October 30, 2013


See, the reason I asked Slap*Happy specifically about L.L. Bean is that I'd imagine people from old money are more likely to own a Barbour coat or a Belstaff jacket than something from L.L.Bean.
posted by quosimosaur at 10:44 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or some scarves found in a box at Housing Works that you can't wear anymore cause they make you look like the most recent version of Hannibal Lecter.
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, you have your Barbour coat, but then you have a supply of basically disposable shirts and pants and such from LL Bean.

Folks seem to be assuming that this is all or nothing, that either rich people are walking LL Bean ads, or rich people wear only tuxedos.

It's sort of like how I, as a broke ass motherfucker, have:

- The good quality name-brand jeans/pants I wear to work. Because malfunctioning pants are not an option.

- That one cardigan from Madewell I scored on sale a year and a half ago.

- Sensible closed toe shoes for work, mostly from DSW.

- Cheapo junky cute flats and sandals from fast fashion places.

- A bunch of random Forever 21 junk that people incessantly compliment me on despite the fact that it cost $13.99 at the mall.

- Button down shirts from practical places like Banana Republic and Uniqlo.

- T-shirts from American Apparel.

- Even more random thrift store stuff that gets the job done as needed. Especially for grubby stuff and things I was wearing to my coffee shop job.

So I have a range of clothes from things a homeless person would turn down to things that are at the upper levels of midrange. The same way, a rich person has "stuff I picked up for like nothing at the LL Bean Outlet" and also designer or even bespoke clothes. And owning one doesn't really mean more than the other. Owning a Boat & Tote bag for schlepping groceries doesn't make you frugal any more than owning an Hermes scarf makes you Little Miss Moneybags. There's a range, and everything is a status symbol/cultural signifier in its own way.
posted by Sara C. at 10:59 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is obviously aimed at me (despite your putting words I never said in quotes)

Boo fuckin' hoo. My point was that this:

It's not true that something is "expensive" just because it's not the cheapest thing you can find. That kind of thinking is part and parcel of the shaming of poor people for spending money that we're talking about.

is completely incoherent to me as someone who's been poor throughout their life, and I find your lecturing to me about what I should or shouldn't say about poor people to avoid condescending to them really fucking irritating in light of the fact that I am poor, and everybody in this thread is lecturing like anyone on Metafilter must "actually" be middle class, or they'd be sitting in the yard near the old broken down beater on blocks drinking a brew and mumbling something inconsequential and maybe bigoted.

I mean, people are actually saying that the article is just another instance of an intellectual condescending to poors and not understanding what's really good for them, when she was in fact poor, and is writing about herself. Why is there this extreme cognitive dissonance about an ex-poor person now being an intellectual, like we have to treat her like two different people (one of whom is oppressing the other I guess)?

So maybe I'm angry-typing a little bit here but if you're a poor person (from a socioeconomic background of poverty) who went off to college and learned all the new rules about how to be and act middle class and feel somehow like you're forever estranged from the person you used to be entirely because of the hugely constitutive nature of class, then yeah it's annoying to be told you literally are patronizing yourself because you do not understand a thing that you are.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:05 PM on October 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


This thread is way more fascinating than the actual article. Who would have guessed that the real issue surrounding poor people's spending habits is L.L. Bean.

There's a very specific "upwardly mobile African-American" look, for example. Clothes are preppy, maybe with a tinge of either retro or global-inspired accents. Women's hair is worn more natural (I don't know enough about black men's hairstyles to weigh in there), and great care is taken not to wear anything remotely hood/street/gangsta/"stereotypically black". But not too white, either. It's a look that says "hire me!", and it's definitely not cheap. It's also extremely self-conscious and painstakingly achieved. But has to look totally effortless at the same time.

What you're describing is a very middle/upper middle class African American look. Think "real life version of a Huxtable kid". It's not so much upwardly mobile as it is "self defined". You don't dress "street" because you don't have to. You don't dress "white" because again, you don't have to. You can get the job based on your education, connections, skills, etc. They're wearing what they think looks good.

One thing I've learned in my life hopping across the various socioeconomic rungs is that people mostly look to impress and fit in with the people around them. Rich people, even the old money ones, spend on status items just as much as anyone else. Their status items are more likely to be a house or a boat or super expensive hobby.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:22 PM on October 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd rather wear my assorted collection of tarty clothing than LL Bean, no matter how 'acceptable' that might make me look. I don't want to look non-descript and wanting to do so is a weird kind of idea to me. It's just so....middle class to want to conform in your clothing choices or 'pass' socially. People might hate my mode of dress, but I'm comfortable enough in my abilities to engage people beyond my appearance not to care, and at least they very rarely ignore me or forget me. I agree that clothing is absolutely a type of performance and I'd rather go over the top and play the clown than languish in the back lines of the chorus, wondering if it is because I got something 'wrong' with my outfit.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 11:37 PM on October 30, 2013


Ok, this L.L. Bean thing. It started with this:
Do you know what kind of clothes they wear?

Mail-order L.L. Bean.

Luxury items are designed soley to take more money from the lower and middle classes than could otherwise be commanded. So you have these social markers, that actually mark the opposite. If you have a $2000 handbag, people outside your social class aren't going to think "Wow, she must be rich!"

They're going to think, "Wow, poor people can't be trusted with money!" Even people in your social stratum aren't going to be fooled - you still have to work two jobs and walk a mile to the discount market to do your shopping, and everyone knows it. The truly rich will be spending a lot more than two grand on a handbag if they want to splurge, and can tell at a glance if it's a $2k bag, or an $8k bag.
In light of the article in the FPP, I interpreted this comment as saying the poor person who buys a $2500 handbag to improve their status is actually deluded and those above them in status are just mocking them. I saw this as countering the claim in the article that buying expensive things when you are poor can actually benefit you.

I'm not sure that when people do buy really expensive items or luxury markers they are trying to fit in with old money or the super-rich. I would guess that most poor people rarely encounter the super-rich unless they work for them. So the L.L. Bean thing was a total derail from my point of view and kind of confusing. The hiring manager who cares if you're wearing a shell or a tank top is probably middle-class or aspiring to be, not old money. It is the middle class and the aspirationals who've achieved a little success that we poors are much more likely to run into when we have to deal with people in positions of authority or judgment over us.

I'm not exactly sure why the $2500 handbag purchaser should have become a stand-in for poor people. I am in agreement with those who doubt that this is a standard issue big ticket purchase for a poor woman. More like $100!

But she probably bought the bag because it was fly and she lives in New York City where people rock designer labels everywhere (or at least it seemed when I visited), and not to fit in with wealthy people from Boston or where-ever old money is from.

Yesterday I thought I wore a middle-class outfit. I only thought about it because of this thread. I think my thrifted blazer was appropriate though I'm questionable on the pants because they were from Walmart. And those were a splurge purchase but back to the point. I thought I was doing alright and then I noticed that I didn't have on any socks with my sneakers. I could not decide if not wearing socks is poor or not! I hate socks and I also know I will never not be poor, but what if I was really trying? The agony of it!

But...if it is really so that I don't have to wear stockings anymore to be classy...my day, nay, my year, is made.
posted by Danila at 11:55 PM on October 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love clothes threads the most on Metafilter because every other thread you think everyone is totally out there, the fucking bleeding edges of the bell curves. Some people rocking like handcrafted victorian reproductions and some people decked out in something nigh on rags because fuck the man and some people wearing like Mardi Gras costumes all years round then a clothes thread hapoens you find out everyone is wearing LL Bean.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:55 PM on October 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm wearing a jacket based on a TV character I'm not sure I come out of this okay
posted by The Whelk at 11:58 PM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Danila, agreed.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:59 PM on October 30, 2013


Anyone who doesn't think wealthy people have $2500 handbags is stupid.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I meant that in the best possible way. It is pretty endearing. Everyone is lost and alone in the world, wearing LL Bean in solitude until they come to metafilter.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:01 AM on October 31, 2013


he hiring manager who cares if you're wearing a shell or a tank top is probably middle-class or aspiring to be, not old money. It is the middle class and the aspirationals who've achieved a little success that we poors are much more likely to run into when we have to deal with people in positions of authority or judgment over us.

Because it's more important that the classes fight amongst themselves and are the best/worst gatekeepers. I thought that was the thing, your lower middle class hiring manager is going to be way more critical of someone even slightly further down that they have some measure of power over then their super rich boss they will never meet. So people reach for status symbols and then are punished for not having the "right" ones, cause that shit goes back to forever. Sell out and police your class neighbors to protect your Betters.
posted by The Whelk at 12:02 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, the other thing I have been thinking about all day is all the comments about how poor people make big ticket purchases because of consumerism. I don't necessarily disagree but...I have a whole stream of thoughts related to this. I think I'm a bad poor. I'm trying to figure this out.

I like the John Cheese article, but I always thought it was about people who aren't poor anymore but still have habits as if they were. But I am still poor, and..this is hard to say in light of this thread and what people think...but whenever I get a big chunk of money, like a couple thousand dollars, I always spend it all. A significant portion always goes towards either bills if I'm behind (always...) or to help family members. But some of it definitely goes towards me getting stuff for myself.

What I never do is save any of the money. I plan every dollar I'm going to spend, leave a little for an emergency within the next few weeks (inevitable), and spend it. It's great! But now I'm wondering if it's because I'm under a consumerist spell. So I'm wondering what I should do instead.

If I try to save it for a rainy day, well rainy days are all the time and especially the last week of every month. Like most people in this situation I have a routine for how I deal with the lack in my budget as the month goes on. Taking a lot of my big check and saving it doesn't make sense to me. Like, for example, I could save it and then use it to pay my bills on time for a little while. But then it would run out and I'd go back to being behind again because I simply don't make enough money to pay my bills. So what it would feel like is that I could have got something that would bring me true joy and last (like the little nexus 7 I bought with my last big check) or I could save it for a little while and not see any real benefit. Is it saving for a rainy day if it always rains, or are you just pro-rating it or what???

When other poor people buy big tvs with their EITC refunds (usually..again, these are not $3500 tvs or whatever people are thinking, more like $700 or so) or x-boxes, I personally understand that because I know that's not why they are poor, unless that $700 really could have bought an education...Should I have a problem with it?
posted by Danila at 12:17 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes, you have your Barbour coat

I'm just letting you people know that a Barbour quilted jacket is the coat du jour among the street heroin dealers down on Marsh Lane.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:15 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Probably because you can cut a hole in the poacher's pocket and keep your stash in the lining.

I would guess.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:13 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fashion derail and LL Bean pros-and-cons discussion seems...kind of in poor taste? Like talking about how much food you had to throw away from your big party while walking by a soup kitchen, or something. Dunno. Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, and not even "good" over-sensitive.
posted by maxwelton at 2:40 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yep, and the narrative about how sartorially savvy some people are is a little wearing, too, as is the Barbour jacket derail.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 2:49 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


but whenever I get a big chunk of money, like a couple thousand dollars, I always spend it all. A significant portion always goes towards either bills if I'm behind (always...) or to help family members. But some of it definitely goes towards me getting stuff for myself.

One thing that hasn't come up in this conversation much is the concept of pent-up demand. I grew up working-class and have been student-poor for a lot of my adult life, and I do the same thing when I come into money because it just feels like there's just so much stuff I honestly "need" (quotes because most of this still falls under first-world problems). Some examples of things I've blown my money on whenever I get lump sums include: Almost all of that is stuff that I would have just spent the money on as part of a normal budget if I had the cash flow: clothing, maintenance, occasional replacement of household goods, personal care, etc (and noting your concern about the tablet or the TV, I think that should include some degree of entertainment-investment, especially since I'm usually too poor to go out for fun and netflix streaming IS my entertainment budget most months). But when we're poor, all that stuff gets put off until the next time we get a big chunk of money, so of course we spend it all when we get it. We were going to have to make up that shortfall eventually.

Sure, some of my spending is definitely ill-considered or frivolous (I always waste too much on etsy costume jewelry, cheap used books, minor electronics), and I always spend a week afterwards consumed with self-loathing for my poor money management. But really, when I add it up, I spent the bulk of that money on predictable expenses that middle-class people budget for regularly but which I can only afford when I get a sudden windfall.

This all becomes especially costly if you're trying to be upwardly mobile in any way; then you have to invest in middle-class signifiers to become accepted in that new position before you've accrued any of the benefits. Those markers can be regular haircuts, dental work, silk shells, makeup, shoes, handbags - it depends on the context, and I've never gotten it exactly right on the first try. In the long run, shelling out for a haircut or a silk shell will still benefit me if it it allows me to appear that I belong in that social stratum instead of sticking out like a sore thumb, even if I feel like a horrible spendthrift after I spend all the money. It just turns out that the only time I can afford to make any of those investments is when I get a windfall.
posted by dialetheia at 3:20 AM on October 31, 2013 [15 favorites]


Yep, and the narrative about how sartorially savvy some people are is a little wearing, too, as is the Barbour jacket derail.

Yeah, sorry about that. I'm guessing that was aimed at my comments. I brought it up because Slap*Happy asserted that old money doesn't signal with material goods based on a handful of, possibly erroneous, anecdotes. The point that I failed to make (but others made up thread) is that old money is just signalling with a different code book.
posted by quosimosaur at 3:36 AM on October 31, 2013


Tell me Lord, if you please, by what right or title does a villein eat beef… And goose, of which they have plenty? And this troubles God. God suffers from it and I do too. For they are a sorry lot, these villeins who eat fat goose! Should they eat fish? Rather let them eat thistles and briars, thorns and straw and hay on Sunday and peapods on weekdays. They should keep watch without sleep and have trouble always; that is how villeins should live. Yet each day they are full and drunk on the best wines, and in fine clothes. The great expenditures of villeins comes at a high cost, for it is this that destroys and runs the world. It is they who spoil the common welfare. From the villein comes all unhappiness. Should they eat meat? Rather should they chew grass on the heath with the horned cattle and go naked on all fours …

from "Le Despit au villain"
posted by Area Man at 4:16 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


See, the reason I asked Slap*Happy specifically about L.L. Bean is that I'd imagine people from old money are more likely to own a Barbour coat or a Belstaff jacket than something from L.L.Bean.

L.L. Bean barn coat is everywhere during the Newport Film Festival, which happens in February, the other favorite is Woolrich. There's one clothier who was open during the winter downtown before the national chains moved in, and they sold Woolrich outerwear. Still do. If one of the rich locals is interested in price-no-object performance outerwear, they're typically into Helly Hansen, because the professional boating crowd hereabouts is all over that stuff, and they'd be the one set of people who they'd want to impress with their clothing. I think this is the only reason why HH sells the "rigging coat" - it's a barn coat made out of waterproof synthetics, basically.

On the other hand, I did once see a guy wearing a honest-to-god cape during a rainy spring afternoon. He wore it with a broad-brimmed stetson, which shows you how little they actually think about this stuff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:53 AM on October 31, 2013


Fashion nerd derail, most if not all if the WASPy prep fashions for women are pretty dire, workmanlike and matronly. A man can come out the right outlet sale feeling like he just committed a crime ( Guess who is never buying a t shirt EVER AGAIN? This guy.) but the women's ware is just .....frump city.

I think for women the ultimate status symbol is not needing to look even a little sexy. You have to be really rich and powerful to get away with thumbing your nose at the woman's primary duty to be visually appealing to strangers and yet still move within mainstream society, work, date, marry, and thrive, as a relatively conventional heterosexual woman.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:00 AM on October 31, 2013 [21 favorites]


Like the old European cars. Sure, driving an old car says "frugal". But driving an old Volvo, Saab, or Beemer is going to cost you a ton of money in maintenance. It's actually not frugal at all. You could take all that money you spent at mechanics and buy a working class person's idea of a really sweet ride, like a Mustang* or something.

What? No. Keep a mid90s/00s Mustang long enough and put the kind of mileage on it that old Saabs and Volvos often have and it will be even worse. Those cars literally go to pieces. I'd suggest that kind of instinct is actually one of the pitfalls discussed above and in the previous post.

And, at least with Saab, years have much less to do with it than mileage. And at any mileage, the "classic" Saabs are in fact much cheaper to keep up than the GM era Saabs. The active members of Saab forums are manifestly not rich people. Many are working class, and maintain on their own cars. Same goes for many (most?) drivers of the old "Brick" style Volvos. (I'm unfamiliar with the culture of the owners of old BMWs.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:32 AM on October 31, 2013


Self-selected sample. If they were rich, they wouldn't need to hang out on vintage-Saab forums, they'd just have a guy that fixed their car (probably be a guy with a shop that specialized in European cars, or even on vintage European cars, or Scandinavian cars or something).
posted by box at 5:38 AM on October 31, 2013


What? No. Keep a mid90s/00s Mustang long enough and put the kind of mileage on it that old Saabs and Volvos often have and it will be even worse.

Yeah, I sort of thought the whole status signifier with Mustangs (and sports cars in general, I guess) is that they're kind of crap if your priority is reliable and cheap transportation--they get poor mileage, they require more involved maintenance, etc. What you're saying if you drive one of those is that you can afford to buy a car based on more than if it'll get you from point A to point B reliably, in the same way that buying a big house is saying that you've moved far beyond worrying about the basics of having a shelter (and being able to maintain it). Having the luxury to express personal aesthetics and preferences in your basic needs is a status marker.
posted by kagredon at 5:42 AM on October 31, 2013


Self-selected sample. If they were rich, they wouldn't need to hang out on vintage-Saab forums, they'd just have a guy that fixed their car (probably be a guy with a shop that specialized in European cars, or even on vintage European cars, or Scandinavian cars or something).

Perhaps. But since I'm not handy, I'm a classic Saab owner who has to have someone fix my car for anything not dead simple, and I'm still on those forums, and I'm not rich. And there are manifestly affluent people on those forums -- they're just outnumbered by people of modest means.

My family had a Saab 900 ('87) when I was a kid, and my attachment to the model is why I ultimately replaced it. So I was familiar with who was driving them then (and taking them in for service), and I am familiar with who is driving them now. Similarly, the Saab shops I go to know that many of their clients don't have a ton of money to spend, and value these cars because they can last forever.

People who bought Saabs new when they were trendy and stuck with them through all the depreciation and kept them up as status-symbol daily drivers for city commuting often needed to be wealthy. That's simply not your typical classic Saab owner anymore.

But this is kind of a derail, and I should stop.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:45 AM on October 31, 2013


So the L.L. Bean thing was a total derail from my point of view and kind of confusing.

To revisit this, L.L. Bean isn't the point. (Subarus and Toyota Corolas aren't the point, either.)

The point is that buying "luxury items" to denote status is fucking pointless, and a lie, and just a marketing gimmick aimed at getting people who can't afford it to overspend.

Some aspirational luxury items are worth the premium - iDevices, big screen TV's (we're in a golden age of children's educational television, and a golden age of adult TV drama and comedy) - but most are incredibly problematic, while not actually being emblematic of wealth or success. It's a hollow cargo cult. This is compounded by incredible social pressures to buy them anyway (see the above comments about a famous rapper declaring he could never love a woman who didn't wear Dolce Gabana) on the one side, and the incredible social pressure to have society punish them for making "foolish" purchases on the other. It's a tragic farce designed to keep them poor, and needs to be addressed.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:45 AM on October 31, 2013


Having the luxury to express personal aesthetics and preferences in your basic needs is a status marker.

This I agree with, for the most part. And I think it's an elegant encapsulation, too.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:46 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some aspirational luxury items are worth the premium

including Allen Edmonds.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:47 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're right, snuff, about all of it (by the way, I have an old car that I mostly work on myself, but I don't think that people like you and me are typical), including the derail part. We should start a Mefi old-vehicle meetup.
posted by box at 5:56 AM on October 31, 2013


This excerpt has stuck with me ever since I read it:

"Francie is entitled to one cup each meal like the rest. If it makes her feel better to throw it way rather than to drink it, all right. I think it's good that people like us can waste something once in a while and get the feeling of how it would be have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging." - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
posted by like_neon at 6:20 AM on October 31, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think for women the ultimate status symbol is not needing to look even a little sexy. You have to be really rich and powerful to get away with thumbing your nose at the woman's primary duty to be visually appealing to strangers and yet still move within mainstream society, work, date, marry, and thrive, as a relatively conventional heterosexual woman.

This thread has been fascinating not so much for the subject itself, as well as the (unconscious) American cultural assumptions made in it. This is a case in point, because here in the Netherlands there are whole classes of women who have consciously checked out of looking sexy or smartly dressed, but rather dress for comfort so much so that there's a bit of a backlash against it.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:32 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


[A couple of comments; maybe we cut out the arguing over whether a specific brand is a status symbol for poor people, and also not derail with suggestions that rap lyrics are the way to determine this?]
posted by taz at 6:37 AM on October 31, 2013


The point is that buying "luxury items" to denote status is fucking pointless, and a lie, and just a marketing gimmick aimed at getting people who can't afford it to overspend.

But the point of TFA was that the middle class people to whom the poor people are trying to prove themselves don't know that, and the poor people know that they don't know that. The poor have learned that the middle class people who are in charge of approving their loans or responding to their police complaints or hiring them for jobs all watch out for those very luxury items, and would be turning them away if they didn't have them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on October 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


The point that I failed to make (but others made up thread) is that old money is just signalling with a different code book.

Oh, no, you made it - I just don't understand what Old Money has to do with a discussion about a pissing match between the poor and the middle class so I'm just not sure why you introduced that point in the first place. It's like if we were having a discussion about the struggles between dogs and their trainers, and you came in talking about cat behavior.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


One thing that hasn't come up in this conversation much is the concept of pent-up demand. I grew up working-class and have been student-poor for a lot of my adult life, and I do the same thing when I come into money because it just feels like there's just so much stuff I honestly "need"

Yeah, that's definitely true. I grew up either poor or working class, depending on how you determine it, but these days I think I'm middle class (though where on that spectrum I can never figure out.) But at the same time, I know I definitely spend differently than, say, my husband, who grew up middle class. I tip more extravagantly, spend more money on experiences rather than things, and will sometimes buy stuff just for the joy of splurging. I intellectually know I should be shoving everything as fast as I can into stocks, but emotionally the feeling of having been poor stays with you. I am not sure it ever really leaves you. For example, I find myself, even now, even when I have just checked my bank balance and seen that it is more than I could have a worry about, even when I am buying something that costs twenty dollars, freezing up for just a moment as the person runs my card, in case it will be declined - even though that hasn't happened in ten years or more. And I think that extends to your consumption habits. But if you can channel the consumption into something more positive - like class signifiers, that still feel splurgy but are useful, I think it's a net good.
posted by corb at 6:47 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


The poor have learned that the middle class people who are in charge of approving their loans or responding to their police complaints or hiring them for jobs all watch out for those very luxury items, and would be turning them away if they didn't have them.

Yup, the two issues are congruous - this falls under the "incredible social pressure" part of the equation. There's also the flip side - where they're judged poorly anyhow by the same people who demand to be impressed.

I just don't understand what Old Money has to do with a discussion about a pissing match between the poor and the middle class

It means the middle class have some vicious double standards going on when using luxury items as a class marker they need to be made aware of, and be made aware of the trap they put lower class people in when feeding into the luxury brand bullshit.

This message seems to have run face first into middle-brow fashion advice and class envy based on L.L.-freakin'-Bean so I'm going to drop it now.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:56 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I seriously doubt Allen Edmonds qualifies as a class marker for anyone not already firmly lodged in the middle class.

They would certainly be an outlier. However, there's an interesting Congolese subculture of dandies, the sapeurs of Congo, who spend a disproportionate amount of money on Western style formal clothing. wiki
posted by quosimosaur at 6:58 AM on October 31, 2013


Question: Did anyone actually verify that the woman who bought the $2,500 handbag and the man who bought the $350 belt were poor? Or are we just operating under that assumption? I know the guy had a part-time job in order to pay for the belt, but that is pretty common among teenagers, no? In college my little brother worked partly to pay for the designer sneakers he wanted because my parents wouldn't buy them. He could do this because my parents were supporting him in other ways. He's white and while my mom thought the money could be spent better elsewhere I've never heard him castigated across multiple media outlets for daring to want to wear fancy shoes.
posted by schroedinger at 7:09 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Empress Callipygos: My point (one that I've been making very poorly) is that all classes are playing the same game but from any single perspective it looks like the other classes are doing it wrong.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:11 AM on October 31, 2013


Slightly tangentially but one of the good things about LL Bean to any folks is that the lifetime guarantee on their stuff means that you can get a paid of LL Bean boots at a thrift store or a backpack and (technically, and a maybe on the ethical angle) get them repaired or replaced basically forever. So they have different cachet in a number of different strata.

Another thing you'd never know if you or your family/friends never had enough money to buy it new! I've only ever gotten it as castoffs or thrift store/rummage sale specials, and none of those sources tell you about the guarantee. So, when it finally wore out beyond repair, it went into the ragbag or the trash.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:19 AM on October 31, 2013


It means the middle class have some vicious double standards going on when using luxury items as a class marker they need to be made aware of, and be made aware of the trap they put lower class people in when feeding into the luxury brand bullshit.

And "making them aware of this trap" is exactly what TFA was trying to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:40 AM on October 31, 2013


Question: Did anyone actually verify that the woman who bought the $2,500 handbag and the man who bought the $350 belt were poor? Or are we just operating under that assumption

I didn't link that as evidence poor people buy $2500 purses, I linked it to show Barneys has random people it assumes shouldn't be able to afford those items arrested. So where are poor people buying these 2500 purses? Likely they aren't and it is just a myth.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:48 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


dialetheia, what you've described is exactly what I do when I get a chunk of money. Or at least, what I try to do. Although I don't agree with putting "need" in quotes though I understand why you did it. All the things we need!

I've had getting my hair done on my big check wishlist for two years now and still haven't done it because I feel frivolous about pulling the trigger, even though I know from experience the hairdresser could give me a style that makes me look a lot better, will last longer (like, months) and requires less maintenance. But I still take 4-7 hours a week to do my own hair (black, natural, wooly, arm-hurting) using eggs and honey for conditioner out of my kitchen (food stamps!) and dollar store hair gel. And then I feel proud of myself for being so thrifty while hating every minute of the long slog to mini twists.

This same process plays out for so, so SO many things. Acknowledgement that a certain purchase would tangibly improve some aspect of my life (e.g. new and better shoes to replace the ones with the holes), paralysis over actually making the purchase (because I don't need it because I've been living without it this long), and either making the purchase anyway with guilt over not saving the money, just buying cheap shoes again, or not making the purchase and continuing with the struggle.
posted by Danila at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


The point is that buying "luxury items" to denote status is fucking pointless, and a lie

Of course not. That's absolutely untrue.

For the people who buy them, they absolutely have a point.

I mean, look. I'm a child of the middle class living a "liberal arts poor" lifestyle. I drive a 15 year old Honda, buy all my clothes at fast fashion places and thrift stores (or sometimes more upscale brands on sale/at TJ Maxx), live in a downscale neighborhood, don't have a TV, blah blah blah. I have the privilege to say "luxury items are pointless, why waste money on that garbage?" Because nobody is going to forget I'm a white girl from a middle class background.

I already have all the status markers I'm ever going to need. People know I went to college as soon as I open my mouth.

So it's easy for me to live my NPR Frugal lifestyle and judge other people for their handbags or whatever. I don't need a handbag to remind anyone (including myself) that I belong.

Also, even if it's not about signaling things to others (though it totally is), again, as has been stated in the thread already, if you're scraping by but are not well-off, and saving this money is not going to spell the difference between just scraping by and class mobility, why not buy yourself a purse if that's what you want to do with your money? Depriving yourself of the things you want is not going to make you rich.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on October 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


Did anyone actually verify that the woman who bought the $2,500 handbag and the man who bought the $350 belt were poor? Or are we just operating under that assumption?

My guess is that it's a race thing.

A black person who doesn't look obviously rich* walks into a high end store and buys and expensive item.

Suddenly, they are POOR. What are those POOR people doing buying $2000 designer accessories?! How dare they?

Meanwhile, the black kid's white counterpart is over in the women's section, using the savings from her part time job to buy an equally expensive and impractical handbag, and nobody blinks. Because white girls who don't look like a Kennedy aren't immediately assumed to be on welfare.

*Oh, and if the black person looks rich? They are probably a drug dealer or something, or even if we're not willing to go there, well, the expression "new money" is probably going to come up. There's actually an expression for this among racist whites in the south that I won't type here. It even includes the N word! How quaint!
posted by Sara C. at 8:52 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also to go back to The Whelk's fashion nerd place for a sec, the best part about this whole Black Kid Buys Fancy Belt At Barney's conversation is the fact that, in the 60s, Barney's was downscale, like the back in the day NYC equivalent of Kohl's or Marshall's. When the original owner's son got involved in the business, he convinced his father to make the move to luxury brands.

I'm pretty sure the whole Menken's Department Store subplot in the first season of Mad Men is a direct reference to Barney's.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think Conspire made a great comment above, but, I'm not sure if he meant he felt the urge to dress differently because he is an ethnic minority or because he is low-income, or both. Because speaking for myself, maybe I'm just socially clueless and deaf to these various signals he is talking about, but I'm Asian and I've never once felt the need to change outfits multiple times a day or fine-tune my dress.

I think that's okay! Just because we're both Asian doesn't mean that we need to have the same experiences for our respective and shared racial background to be mutually valid. Our race is merely one descriptor amongst many that influence our lives, and it may influence our lives in different ways or different weights from day to day. That society often insists that our experiences in regards to race be congruent for our race to be valid is a form of covert racism - it depersonalizes us and strips away all aspects of our humanity to a single factor.

But since you're curious about why I might need to change clothes a few times a day, here's a brief narrative of why I might have to change clothes so often. I construct this as a narrative through events that have happened to me, but obviously these events don't usually take place in the same day - I'm not usually this busy! But on the other hand - sometimes I am. Sometimes people tell me that they're "not into fashion", and my instinctual reaction is "how can you not be into fashion?" But that reveals my own biases and lifestyle. I assume that everyone needs to cling tightly to any advantages that they get, like I do. But in reality, it's quite a fussy advantage. It takes a lot of work and time and forethought and preparation - and in the end, its results aren't even that measurable and easily perceived. But for me, because I have so few advantages, I need to hold onto what I can get. I'm always only barely passing, only barely reaching the minimum required to be treated like a serviceable human being. This is why the concept of not caring about fashion is so foreign to me - I've only very rarely had the privilege to be able to toss away or use my advantages for convenience, and sometimes, I need to remind myself that there are people out there who do have the luxury to do so on a constant, everyday basis.
posted by Conspire at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


I didn't link that as evidence poor people buy $2500 purses, I linked it to show Barneys has random people it assumes shouldn't be able to afford those items arrested. So where are poor people buying these 2500 purses? Likely they aren't and it is just a myth.

Yes, that was my point. Whole arguments were constructed in this thread and elsewhere around the phenomenon of poor people buying $2500 purses, when in fact the news articles did not involve any poor people buying luxury goods. It simply involved Black people buying luxury goods. I think this essay on poverty and status markers in response to that Tweet is fantastic. But the fact that tweet was made and the discussion about luxury goods and poverty arose at all says a lot about how all the status symbols in the world will not overcome people's assumptions about what Black people are and are not.
posted by schroedinger at 9:46 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I find it especially rich because the whole controversy arose when Barney's shopworkers could not believe a Black person could afford their goods. Apparently despite having the money in their hands to purchase these products, the general response was Black customers may have had the physical cash, but were poor enough that they should be spending it on something else.

(note: I am not saying this is the overall message of this thread, but the assumption has definitely popped up here and has been discussed extensively elsewhere)
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


It just shows how race and class are so wrapped up in this country. I mean, for the vast majority of the period that there were slaves here, they were black, ergo, what constituted "the lowest class" was heavily racialized. No one wants to be in the lowest class, ergo, no one wants to be black. We may as well call it what it is, right? If black people had come to this country on their own free will and labored for themselves, it'd be different now, and the author's mom wouldn't have had to go through the stupid rigmarole of clothing just to be taken seriously. And that family actually had some land a a little money!

Actual poor, working class and middle class white people have been easily manipulated into believing and doing what richer white folks wanted them to because their whiteness as signifiers was and is being used against them as well as people of color to varying degrees.

If those kids at Barney's had the dough, then they were good to go, but if black equals low class in the minds of so many people, then what? How do we make the country realize that "black" doesn't equal "low class"?
posted by droplet at 10:29 AM on October 31, 2013


It is actually worse. Barneys assumed they were criminals, not just poor.

I been Boycotting Milano's every since they searched Forest Whitaker, and I love Milano's heros. Fuck Barneys.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:34 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do we make the country realize that "black" doesn't equal "low class"?

I don't know. I've seen comments in Kanye threads about how he "came from poverty" or whatever - Kanye West was raised middle class in the suburbs. His mother was a college professor. But still people are like black, rapper, must have come from the "mean streets" of somewhere.
posted by sweetkid at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


must have come from the "mean streets" of somewhere.

Yeah I gotta confess I've said that. I have some justification though.

Based on the lyrics from Champion "And I ain't saying we was from the projects But every time I wanna layaway or deposit My dad'd say 'when you see clothes, close your eyelids' " I figured they were not well off.

And in Crack Music, "This that inspiration for the Moes and the Folks man" in other words the Black P. Stones and the Black Disciples gangs, so I figure he at least knew the mean streets were.

Last think I every say about Kanye I swear.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:54 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


My guess is that it's a race thing.

A black person who doesn't look obviously rich* walks into a high end store and buys and expensive item.

Suddenly, they are POOR. What are those POOR people doing buying $2000 designer accessories?! How dare they?

If the store clerk even sells it to them. The richest woman on the planet has been turned down at high-end fashion stores because she happens to be black.
posted by Ndwright at 11:50 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


A lot of stuff in the linked articles and in this thread are reminding me of Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty, where she talks about the hidden rules of each socioeconomic class, and how the other levels misunderstand those rules. Very interesting.
posted by timepiece at 11:55 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Re Kanye and rappers who are thought to be from the 'hood but are actually not so much, I guess there's Drake, whose upper-middle class background (and bar mitzvah) plus child TV star background are well known, but he's Canadian. Yolo.]

"Imagine not having the self-esteem to shop L.L. Bean."

I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about whether I was sufficiently poor to be "poor" or not, I just know I'm not poor anymore and other people were poorer than me.

I know I wasn't as savvy as Ms. Cottom's family and it took me longer to figure out how to carry off the visual version of code-switching. I probably missed some opportunities.

One of the things this article doesn't explore much but hints at, probably because it's not a book (which I would very much like to read), is what happens next. What happens when you don't have only one good outfit anymore and have some kind of financial stability or a career that was previously unattainable, or an educational qualification that will Shut Mouths and Open Doors. Maybe you make it known to people who excluded you (like the mother who made the shop assistant cry, or Oprah style you let it slip in an international interview), maybe you exclude others (like women who take on strange sorority-like rules about what other women can be admitted to the career).

Even though I am now part of a certain world, it's hard not to feel like Marge Simpson in her remade Chanel suit. In certain stores I have to remind myself that (a) it's okay for me to be in there, and (b) eff that shop assistant judging/ignoring me who is not exactly the Queen of England. I worry that People Know I should not actually be shopping there, that there is some remaining 'tell' that I haven't learned yet because it took me so long to get the first part, and that if I move towards the sale rack too quickly the jig will be up and the smell of poverty will waft by. There are stores I would like to go to but have never been to because the odds are it will be an uncomfortable experience -- though mostly one in my own head. The irony of luxury shopping symbolizing acute discomfort.

And I sort of admire people from classes that "shouldn't" be in those stores who DGAF.

A few years ago I ended up living in shared accommodation in a different country where we had a mandatory domestic worker included in our rent (long story). My roommates who had very different views on disposable income would "tip" her in groceries because they viewed her probable low wages to mean poor and therefore hungry.

As someone who had worked cleaning jobs for very low wages, I didn't participate in this because (a) as a person of limited means it was very likely that our cleaner had a much better idea of where to shop for groceries than a bunch of privileged people and if she did need cash for food could better allocate the money herself and (b) I remembered how much of a luxury disposable income was and how good it felt to suddenly have the cash to spend on something that I wanted that I hadn't budgeted for. So I gave her cash instead.

I remember she hugged me for a long time when I moved out. And I hope she got her hair done or went out and had fun on the weekend, because she deserved to be happy and feel good, but honestly what she did with the money is none of my business.
posted by skermunkil at 12:45 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I love when people make a point of sneering about how they're maybe not "poor enough for the poor club," like it's a contest and they're being excluded from the in-group. I assure you, people who talk about being poor are doing so for their own reasons, not to pick on you.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:02 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother is a doctor and used to sometimes wear my old chorus/theater performance t-shirts (Middle School Holiday Spooktacular! etc) with jeans and sneakers to the mall and I never felt like she cared at all if people thought she couldn't afford stuff because we are brown. It would never occur to her to dress up for a salesperson (not be rude to them, either). We could afford it. End of story.

She grew up sort of intellectual/bohemian middle class in India (small town doctor's kid) and we were/are upper middle class in the US.
posted by sweetkid at 1:06 PM on October 31, 2013


As someone who had worked cleaning jobs for very low wages, I didn't participate in this because (a) as a person of limited means it was very likely that our cleaner had a much better idea of where to shop for groceries than a bunch of privileged people and if she did need cash for food could better allocate the money herself and (b) I remembered how much of a luxury disposable income was and how good it felt to suddenly have the cash to spend on something that I wanted that I hadn't budgeted for. So I gave her cash instead.

Good for you. Giving people money, rather than stuff or money to use for specific purposes, has been fairly well demonstrated to be the best way to deal with poverty, because poor people know as well as anyone else what they need and are capable of buying it. The assumption that people in poverty don't know what they need or will "waste" the money if we don't tightly restrict what they use it for (food stamps) is a serious flaw in the American approach to poverty.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:09 PM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


My roommates who had very different views on disposable income would "tip" her in groceries because they viewed her probable low wages to mean poor and therefore hungry.

Ugh, that is so condescending.
posted by sweetkid at 1:13 PM on October 31, 2013


Food stamps are more useful than cash, not because people will intentionally waste the money, but because money can be demanded or taken, while food stamps are less of a movable good. Your shitty husband can't pay the bar tab in food stamps, so it lets you get some food for your kids.
posted by corb at 1:15 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


My roommates who had very different views on disposable income would "tip" her in groceries because they viewed her probable low wages to mean poor and therefore hungry.

Did you have the kind of relationship with your roommates where you could tell them that cash would be more appreciated? I ask because I could envision, like, 22-year-old me doing something like this, partly because I literally didn't know better and partly because I had never had any kind of cleaning service and partly because giving money seemed sort of crass, and I am the type of person who totally appreciates being told stuff like that, but I also recognize that one does not necessarily have the kind of social relationship with people where you feel comfortable saying it.

I mean, I give people money now.
posted by Frowner at 1:23 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a psychological mechanism at work here that can be summed up as needing a small bit of absolute certainty in a chaotic world. Picture every single decision, from smallest to the largest, being a compromise of one sort or another. And then there's one little thing, perhaps something as negligible as cufflinks, but carrying with it a platonic ideal of assuredness and build-on-a-rock-not-sand type of feeling.
posted by rainy at 1:24 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


...because giving money seemed sort of crass...

Ok, I actually have to ask: what aspect of American values or culture or whatever dictates the uneasiness people have around giving cash? I've really never been able to understand it, and it was never a thing where I lived and with the people I grew up with. Until I actually started meeting people from all over the country, I had no idea that cash was so taboo.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Money is thought to be thoughtless, and gifts are supposed to be thoughtful, is how I always parsed it.
posted by The Whelk at 1:37 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


(also some weird lets-pretend-money-doesnt-mater-we're-all-doing-fine taboo)
posted by The Whelk at 1:37 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there's that weird cultural thing that I just DO NOT GET where supposedly some unnecessary/nonuseful tchotchke that someone "picked out especially for you" is somehow a better gift than useful, valuable, fungible cash, especially for people with needs that are in no way met by $stuff.

(Yes, I understand that some people handmake/craft gifts because they cannot afford to give cash. That is not the situation with which I am taking issue. I am talking about the "aunt becky got you another cat figurine that cost $200 because one time when you were 6 you said "ooh a kitty!" and therefore for the next 50 years you will only receive cat figurines" situation.)
posted by elizardbits at 1:43 PM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Food stamps are more useful than cash, not because people will intentionally waste the money, but because money can be demanded or taken, while food stamps are less of a movable good. Your shitty husband can't pay the bar tab in food stamps, so it lets you get some food for your kids.

Yeah, but you also can't pay for a new fan belt in food stamps, or for a sitter for your kids, or work out something with your neighbor where you buy food in bulk and divvy it up (if you want to stick to just food-budgeting situations.) And since it's a periodically fixed, use-it-or-lose-it amount, you essentially have no leeway in your budgeting month-to-month. Cash is liquid.
posted by kagredon at 1:45 PM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also there's that bizarre gift card loophole where somehow a gift card is okay because ... you picked the store where they now have to shop? Or the restaurant they now have to eat at?

I think the epitome of my confusion was when an ex's aunt, who had never met me and would never see me again, got me a $25 Visa gift card for Christmas. I mean, I'm not going to turn my nose up at twenty-five bucks but, come on, even she must have felt the absurdity of the situation when making that purchase.
posted by griphus at 1:52 PM on October 31, 2013


One time for my birthday when I was living in europe my mom's super douchey passive aggressive boyfriend gave me a $25 personal check, knowing full well that to deposit it abroad would cost me $30.
posted by elizardbits at 1:54 PM on October 31, 2013


Money is thought to be thoughtless, and gifts are supposed to be thoughtful, is how I always parsed it.

I think there's that. It's also that watching people open presents is part of the ritual of the gift giving holidays and watching someone get cash is kind of dull. I think that's why it's usually done through a card. I actually get cash fairly often from relatives, now that I reflect on it, but it's usually a small gift, and then a card with some money in it or a gift card. It's never just a check.

My wife's grandfather used to give his son a Christmas present every year of paying for his heating oil for the year. That gift took the form of a little toy oil truck that he put in a box for my father-in-law to open. He'd open the box, take out the toy truck, thank his father profusely, and then hand it back to him so that they could do the whole thing next year. The ritual was very important and honestly kind of charming. He also gave the grandchildren money every year, but that took the bizarre form of what were called "the envelopes." Each envelope contained a check (from him), a Visa gift card (from my wife's grandmother), and a single scratch-off ticket. If the lottery ticket was a winner, he'd give you the money, and then go turn in the ticket himself. The result was that every grandchild's biggest present every year was cash, but there was a lot done to hide that fact.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:58 PM on October 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


One time for my birthday when I was living in europe my mom's super douchey passive aggressive boyfriend gave me a $25 personal check, knowing full well that to deposit it abroad would cost me $30.

I'm not sure now. Is that thoughtless, because it's cash, or thoughtful, because really that particular gift did take some consideration and was tailored specifically for your circumstances?
posted by jeather at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have had the "cash is bad" philosophy explained to me as a Protestant/ Catholic divide. When I got married, my Protestant stock husband was shocked that people from my side of the family just put checks in envelopes. Apparently for them, money was tacky and crass and unholy.
posted by corb at 2:46 PM on October 31, 2013


I don't know about all this gift vs. gift card vs. cash business, but to me, if I'm tipping someone I've hired to do a job, that's a different thing from all of the above. A tip is money, not a bunch of bananas or a sack of rice or a cupcake or a starbucks card or a religious pamphlet. That's why we call it a tip.

I mean, a tin of home baked cookies or a bottle of wine or whatever nice/festive food is a perfectly appropriate gift for a cleaning person, like, at holidays or for their birthday.

But it's not a tip. A tip is money.

(Re terrible gifts, I'll never forget the year my boss' Christmas gift was a free month of Netflix. Ummmm, this is the fucking film industry. Everybody in this office already has Netflix. Even if you look at it as picking up our Netflix tab for the month... nope.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:59 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I happen to come from a "money as a gift is crass" family. Yes, we are Protestant. The way I had it explained to me growing up was that giving money is boring and not really in the spirit of the thing.

One year after we were all older, my mom and stepdad switched to money in the form of those Amex gift cards that are basically cash. They were right. It was boring.

That said, anytime I get a gift card as a gift I like to stockpile it for when I'm broke. Then I can indulge in a little retail therapy (or get a frappucino, or go to dinner, or whatever) without feeling guilty about it. I got a $50 movie theater gift card which I saved up until I was unemployed, and then I used it to see all the Oscar-nominated movies this winter. That was a great gift.
posted by Sara C. at 4:04 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I happen to come from a "money as a gift is crass" family.

This is definitely my family too, some vague atheist New England WASP tradition. Cash, in my family, was a thing that adults give children or parents give their (adult) children and not something that you'd give to a friend. It was sort of a "Uh... I don't know what you'd like" present and so it made sense as a thing from grandma or a thing from an aunt you don't see much. It was thought of as just basically not-thoughful

Tipping folks (cleaning lady, guy who did fixit stuff, I don't know) would be either cash or gift cards or a nice bottle of wine or something if you knew it was something that would be appreciated. I'm not mentioning this to be like "So this is how to do it!" but just that in my culture I would feel that if I were giving someone cash it would be patronizing because cash is a thing that adults give to children, where I'm from. I also grew up in the country where there is a lot more barter economy stuff going on and cash is a little more secondary to tangible "Here is some food" "Here is a piece of furniture you need" "Here is help winterizing your place" sorts of things. It's easier to have your finger on the pulse of what people are likely to actually need when there are not very many people.

But I'm sort of out in left field here because I grew up wearing LL Bean stuff for the most part, in rural-suburban Massachusetts and my parents both grew up in that "We have a small place on the Vineyard" culture (one Jewish, one WASpy) which they sort of left when they moved to rural Mass. and "dropped out" of fancier life to be boho-types and I grew up a lot more hippie than either of them (though I didn't know that at the time) and then my parents split up and went very different directions. We did not have a camp or a cottage. So I mostly grew up confused and learning a lot of this stuff by rote so it's interesting to me to read a lot of the things people have to say about stuff that is both a lot like and a lot not like the things I know.
posted by jessamyn at 6:12 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know if it's Protestant/Catholic; I'm Catholic, and grew up upper-middle class, and you just don't give cash. One of the major points of gift-giving is that I thought about you and came up with something that would delight you (or at least show that I remember at least one random fact about you from one of our prior interactions). Whereas giving cash is like, well, you either already have your own cash, so my gift is dumb, or I'm implying you need my charity, which is awkward. (Adults giving cash to children is okay, that is either giving them fun spending money or giving them savings for college. Parents giving cash to adult children is also okay.)

If I give you a gift card, that says, "I TRIED to think of something charming but in the end I panicked and couldn't come up with anything but AT LEAST I KNOW YOU LIKE STARBUCKS." So it's at least a little more thoughtful than cash.

I'm profoundly uncomfortable with honeymoon registries for pretty much exactly this reason; when I pick out something from your registry of housewares, it's like, "This pot in some fashion expresses our relationship! It is not at all about how I scanned the Crate & Barrel website for something in my price range and then clicked a button!" When you send money to a honeymoon registry, it's like, "Here, have some cash." I always DO it because I know that's what people want, but I feel like I'm being super-rude the whole time and I always have to work up to it for like three days before I can click the same damn button. (The honeymoon registries that let you pretend your cash is paying for specific things are MUCH BETTER because then I can pretend that imaginarily buying you dinner one night on your honeymoon is profoundly expressive of our relationship!)

My big family does big Christmases, and this traditionally involves every sibling and inlaw buying a present for each other sibling and inlaw, which gets progressively harder as people get older, need less stuff, and you use up all your good ideas. Last year, I had commented on facebook ONE TIME about how I liked watching the birds from my window, and my family all independently pounced on this as the new hobby they were going to assign me, and all, without discussing it with one another, bought me bird-watching-related presents. I got binoculars, a ceramic birdhouse, CDs of birdcalls, multiple books on birding, the movie "The Big Year," all kinds of things, and everyone was just shaking with laughter by the end of it. The upshot of this is twofold: Um, I guess I go birdwatching now? And this year we're each picking one name out of a hat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:55 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think cash is only a thoughtless gift (or seen as a thoughtless gift) if people assume that you -- as either the person giving or receiving -- have cash laying around. Yeah, if cash is really accessible to you then it's sort of thoughtless.

But if someone knew you worked hard for that money or if it represented some kind of labor/sacrifice on your part to get it for them, then I think it stops seeming thoughtless and starts "feeling" like a gift (to both parties). Same thing when you receive money that you really need -- it's more like this person is giving you the present of saving you from labor/sacrifice that you'd otherwise have to do (and can therefore be really touching) than it is like they're just digging around in their purse and throwing you what comes to hand.

My mom goes overboard in terms of sheer number of presents she gives people, and I tend to do the same (and with lots of fancy wrapping and tissue paper in the box, etc etc etc). But honestly, the best present she ever gave me was a cash transfer into my bank account when I needed it, and the present that was most rewarding for me to give her was a stack of twenty dollar bills when she needed it. I have had similar experiences with a couple of my friends. I don't think it's so much about money/cash per se, it's more that gift-giving is feels amazing when you get to give what the other person needs most and/or when someone takes the trouble to figure out/listen to what you need most and gives it to you. That's a real expression of love.

Vice versa, I see tipping as an expression of reciprocity. So, I do some work for you, and you give me money -- that works fine. But as someone who has given and received a lot of non-money tips in the past, I don't have a problem with them. When I was a building super, the tenants gave me tons and tons and tons of food, and I loved it. For one, because they were cash-poor, too, and any amount that they could give me that would have been meaningful would have given them such a financial hit that it would have been all out of proportion. So I would have felt terrible taking cash. And second, because the food (and other favors) were things that would have either taken a lot of time/effort for me to do for myself (which I didn't have the time or energy for because I'd just been busting my ass for the building!) or things that I actually could not have done at all. They were giving me the gift of eating a home-cooked meal, for example, without having to shop for and cook it -- that was actually fantastic! I'd rather receive food that I can now sit here and enjoy than receive the opportunity to buy and prepare food, because it's nice to have someone do a chore for you, even if I could get the food for cheaper than the person buying it for me. And third, it was also sort of a bonding experience.

I don't know how applicable that is to other people and other contexts, maybe not that applicable. I will say that at one restaurant where I worked, this table of young boys left a nice chocolate bar as a tip, and the waiter loved it, so it's not *just* me. Not to say that everyone should just go leaving chocolate instead of money all the time! Obviously, cash is king in most transactions. But I just mean that I don't think giving/receiving food is condescending, I think it's actually a kind, equalizing gesture to share food, even if you're just sharing it in the sense of "this is the housekeeper's portion of the grocery run."
posted by rue72 at 12:03 AM on November 1, 2013


A few years ago I ended up living in shared accommodation in a different country where we had a mandatory domestic worker included in our rent (long story). My roommates who had very different views on disposable income would "tip" her in groceries because they viewed her probable low wages to mean poor and therefore hungry.


One of the most fun things I do with my privledge as a white middle to upper middle class traveller is that I usually find nice local places to eat in countries that I visit and I love giving big tips that are more like paying the developed world price for the meal I just ate. I have a nice lunch in a restaurant for the equivalent of $3 and leave the equivalent of $10 on the table that kind of money just isn't as important to me as it would be for the owner of the restaurant. I think that $10 is a fair price for lunch and will happily pay it. My uncle who has retired to Thailand is similar. He likes eating at the local restaurants and usually leaves the cost of the meal as his tip and knows it is very appreciated by the owners. If I lived in a place with a maid I would probably tip them like I would a westerner and give them a nice end of year tip of like $300 or so. Imagine how big of a difference you could make in someones life by doing what would just be considered normal.

My girlfriends Dad went travelling in Egypt to Luxxor and Aswan and made friends with the local taxi drivers. He hired a guy to take him from Luxxor to Aswan and had a person guide for the day. They guy knew some people in Aswan so he got to go on a boat tour and eat in a nice restaurant and the wrhole thing cost him maybe £60. Had a blast ate good food and got brought to places that a tourist normally wouldn't go. Also all of that money helped out in the local economy much moreso than the £80 bus trip to Aswan arranged through Thompsons would have meant to the local economy. They were hurting before all of the new troubles began and I am sure they are hurting even worse now. I would really like for Egypt to stabilise so we could go visit there, but I wouldn't dare head there for a few years until it is much more stable.
posted by koolkat at 4:51 AM on November 1, 2013


I was brought up in the "cash is a thoughtless gift" school (raised Protestant, if that matters), and I well remember the epiphany that snapped me out of it.

I was at a really low point in my life. I didn't want to celebrate my birthday at all, in fact, my life situation was so dire that I felt insulted that a relative wanted to celebrate anything about it. I didn't want a giant cake when I couldn't afford three square meals. I didn't want balloons and streamers when I didn't know how I was going to refill my prescriptions (especially the insulin to cover the giant cake). And then, the pièce de résistance, the present: A box. Of scented soaps.

I thought I did an admirable job of covering with big smiles and thank-yous. I've had acting classes. I grew up in a family where hiding your true emotions was a necessary survival skill. But she saw through me, and she was livid. The lecture started off with an angry, "It's the thought that counts!" and ended with a tearful, "I just wanted to get you something you'd never go out and get for yourself."

My unspoken response (that I played in my head while repeating, "I'm so sorry, it's all lovely, I just don't feel very well,") started with a bitter "If it's the thought that counts, why didn't you put even one single moment's thought into what *I* might acutually want or need?" and ended with an exasperated, "Didn't it occcur to you that there might be a REASON I wouldn't buy this for myself?"

My compunction against cash gifts disappeared in a heartbeat. I do go the gift card route with people I know well, because it's a way of saying, "I know you and what you enjoy doing, and I'd like to take you out to do it if I could." And it's good for people like the mail carrier and the apartment manager, who I'm told aren't supposed to accept cash.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Meant to add: I don't ALWAYS give cash gifts or gift cards, especially at weddings, because I simply can't afford to. I'm a good shopper and seamstress, and I can usually find a great discount for something on the registry at another store, or make something really nice. My feeling is that giving a fraction of the usual amount of cash at a wedding would be just as much of an insult as a box of scented soaps, although as a spinster I could be totally off-base on that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:59 AM on November 1, 2013


> I was brought up in the "cash is a thoughtless gift" school (raised Protestant, if that matters),
> and I well remember the epiphany that snapped me out of it.

It's actually quite hard to choose a gift for someone which that person would really want or really need unless you know him/her very well indeed. Or unless you ask.

Someone who knew because of close involvement: My former supervisor, who did exactly the same work I did then, picked up a walking-around screwdriver for himself (very compact, only two interchangeable bits, phillips with large and small end and flat with large and small end, and a very strong magnet in the shaft. Really remarkably strong. Your screw does not, ever! suddenly fall off and disappear down into the works.) He liked it enough to give one as a seasonal gift to all the techs he supervised. It instantly became my most-carried portable tool and I still have it a decade later and they'll pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Someone who knew because they asked: my son, before my last birthday. I said more than ANYTHING ANYTHING ANYTHING I wanted a 3x0 Rapidograph. That's what he gave me and I use it all the time. Since he's grown up and doesn't live here any more, and so isn't around to see me reach for my old 3x0 in the vain hope that this time it may work, and then hear me mutter "nope, damn, hopelessly clogged, wish I could find another one" I doubt he would have come up with that particular greatly appreciated gift on his own. But I don't need any more ties.)

As for money as a gift, if you've actually put thought and consideration into deciding that cash is the best thing to give because it's most likely to be used where it's needed, then hey presto it isn't thoughtless any more!
posted by jfuller at 6:31 AM on November 1, 2013


If you're poor, if you grow up going to school with poor kids, your understanding of what non-poor life is like is based on tv and ads, how are you supposed to know how to dress for a better job, a successful loan, entry to a better college? Status symbols are supposed to indicate that you're in the right group; no wonder people want them.
posted by theora55 at 10:09 PM on November 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite meme is people who have no concept of what being really poor is like pontificating on how those who are really poor should cope. The enormous number of erroneous assumptions they make are usually too many to correct in a brief conversation and their prejudices guarantee they will never invest the time to learn.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:54 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite meme is people who have no concept of what being really poor is like pontificating on how those who are really poor should cope.

Perhaps it is time to revisit the FPP about scalzi's essay, "Being Poor."

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:40 PM on November 4, 2013


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