When clothes lose their ability to signal social status, the only way forward is virtue signaling.
I had a boyfriend in Portland, Oregon back in 2010 who got a bunch of Indian casino money each month. He desperately wanted to think of himself as working class.
I did not have any such money and stood for 8 hour shifts in high heels doing people's makeup (back when MAC 'strongly encouraged' high heels).
Anyway, the man went out of his way to buy a vintage Toyota, all the very, very best 'working gear' (his job was doing cocaine in the middle of the day and watching pornography) and of course, Carhartt boots. His justification for all this was
'it'll last a lifetime. I'm not fancy. Unlike you, I'm not superficial.'
The effort this man went to to pretend he was poor was way more work than actually being poor.
Anyway, nothing bad ever happened to him because every wrong turn he ever made was cushioned by money. But he sure was insufferable.
A colleague who saw me with Howard Zinn's History of America asked me why I was reading it and I replied so I could know what the enemy was thinking. Which is also why I, too, subscribe to and read The Nation. Always worth a laugh, I hasten to add their writers are not really the enemy, but misguided souls, good writers usually, and have the knack for getting their work into print. I just wish they'd bring someone with the point of view and wit of Christopher Hitchens back.
I really like the term “luxury beliefs” for all this. Perhaps there’s a natural outgrowth of economic conditions to the luxury signifiers. Luxury clothes tend to cover more of your body, like suits as opposed to shorts, because the extra fabric costs more. So in an agrarian economy, rich people were literally showing off the wool or cotton raised by their peasants / slaves. In a knowledge economy, your ideas and beliefs are what signify your status.
On a semi-related note, I had a friend who told me he would never hire someone as a software developer if they wore a suit to their job interview. He said it would tell him that they weren’t good enough at coding and needed to overcompensate. I’ve only ever interviewed one developer who wore a suit to their interview. I hired him and he turned out to be brilliant. It’s a strange quirk that in my industry I have to convince people that not everyone in a suit is dumb.
Lucky for me, I look generally disheveled and unkempt.
Footnote 2 -- I love it. The whole essay is eloquent and right on target, but footnote 2, priceless.
>You may be wondering why someone like me would read the wokest legacy news publication out there. I read The Nation very often. For me, there’s a certain charm to reading the opinions of those you may not agree with.
There's also the more practical point that keeping up with "the lingo" is more or less a requirement in certain professional and social environments if you like having a job, health insurance, and nonzero social credits.
I do agree that being able to read and engage with opinions you disagree with is a civic virtue and preferable to the usual alternative (using george carlin words to accuse your opponents of being eugenicists on twitter). Unfortunately for me, the charm of reading bad woke takes* was somewhat outweighed by the charm of not wanting to throw my computer out the nearest window, and both computers and windows are expensive.
*This is not to suggest that non-wokes are incapable of making bad takes, some ridonkulously so. Having said that, the difference is that the average bad non-woke take is likely to just get roasted on twitter and youtube while the average bad woke take has a nonzero chance of being legitimized and implemented by the professional stratum of society.
I loathe these type of people, and yet I loved Portland when I lived there during my music days, I think Williamsburg and Park Slope are great places to spend the day, and my single favorite city in the US to visit is Minneapolis. 🤷♂️ Life’s funny that way!
Outstanding writing, as always.
Another banger, comrade. Fetterman hasn't been seen in weeks after checking into the hospital, while his wife abandoned him. According to Progressives, it's ableist to expect a Senator or President to have a functioning brain.
I'm late to the comments, but this is a fantastic piece.
"If Latinx was a popular term, it would no longer hold elite status. By using a word so garish and offensive to the average Latino, elite Latinos are able to signal their status by just changing a single syllable."
I think this contributes to the invention and reinvention of preferred terms. The rich used to move on to different "preferred" clothing lines once the rabble started joining in. Similarly, once some critical mass of regular Joes and Jills start using terms like "African American" then it's ripe for a "reboot." Now we're back to "black" as the approved term. So it goes.
Also - thank you for sharing the link re: socioeconomic status of "wokes." Jives with my "lived experience" (ha) but far better to have some data.
I'm assuming you're familiar with Rob Henderson's work around this concept (i.e, "luxury beliefs") - although you tease out the idea a little more.
My take of Fetterman was that, whether or not it was built "for purpose" or leaning into his existing fashion/style choices, he was aiming to be the Liberal Trump. He obviously decided that Trump's appeal was about his support for the common man and the fact he did not "fit the part" of a typical politician. It struck me that Fetterman was trying to channel Trump's appeal through a Liberal prism.
Tom Wolfe taught the masses that, while bohos may affect proletarian funkiness, they would be mortified to be mistaken for actual proles.
For that matter, it cannot be underscored enough that woke does nothing to change the way the economic pie is sliced.
To give an example, if multinationals would stop putting up barriers to their workers unionizing, this would result in a transfer of concrete, material wealth to cats and also to black and brown (and white) working class people, which would affect those cats and people more than all the sensitivity training and pronouns in corporate email signatures ever invented.
Which is precisely why they won't do it.
I'm doing manual subsistence work most of the day and I can clearly understand why rich people dress in branded work wear: Because it's great. It's more functional and comfortable than any other clothes. I mostly wear off-brand clothes but I received a used jacket and hoodie from more expensive work-wear brands as gifts half a year ago and they are my best clothes. I often think that if I ever get well-off, I will always buy such clothes because they are the best. And why would rich people want anything less than the best?
Great essay. I will quibble a little bit about bringing up Fetterman growing up rich. I’m not saying you are doing this but I am seeing a trend of people just assuming that someone from a privileged background can’t sincerely advocate for the working class. There were a whole slew of stories about “is Rishi Sunak too rich to care about us?” Thing is- FDR did more for working people than any other president and he came from almost unimaginable wealth. Judge people by their actions not their background.
> As outward markers of social status such as clothing have now become unreliable indicators of class, expect virtue signaling to rise even further. Perhaps we should go back to the days when rich people were obviously rich just by looking at them. At least then they wouldn’t have to virtue signal all these policies that actively harm poor people.
> Bring back robber baron outfits.
We can't. Clothing is now so cheap that even the poor could afford robber baron outfits if they came back into fashion. Thus they can no longer serve as a status marker.