Appearance & Fashion
Our bodies come pre-wired to connect. They (we) are on high alert and ready to respond and build connections. But with billions of people milling around us, how do we increase the odds that we can find real connections?
Fashion is the primary communicator of class. It has always been that way. In many ways, it is the purpose of fashion – a visual display of who is in what station in life.
Beyond the basics (ie: blizzard protection), we humans have choices. This color or that color? Long coat or jacket? Immediately we enter the realm of judgment. And a huge factor in what we choose is the message we send – the thought of, “How will people see – and judge – me?” We all want to belong and to be liked.
Culture comes barreling in to set up decision-making criteria for us. It shows us finely groomed men in tailored suits wearing expensive watches – in front of expensive cars. The message is, “I have my act together. I am financially independent. I am king of the jungle.” Women wear dramatic and somewhat revealing fashion, hair that flows, red lips, diamonds sprinkled everywhere – in front of the luxury car. The message? Surprisingly these messages can be for men who want to be in the company of a woman like the one in the ad. It says, “Drive this car – this very expensive car – and look who will come your way.”
These sorts of ads are selling status, giving everyone an understanding of what exclusivity looks like. If you want to belong, here’s what you need to do.
Fashion guidance works the very same way. Madison Avenue masterfully presents image after image of status or wealth to promote high-end brands. Fashion runways and magazines tell the story. Consumers who are already in that class – or aspire to be, notice everything – the body type, the fit, the fabrics, accessories, the hair, the make-up – the brands. Page after page.
Those who ‘know’ then recognize those same details in those around them. The group’s members constantly reinforce their compliance to evolving group standards. Their active social network keeps demand high and relegates last year’s trends to the back of the closet or to Goodwill.
Marketers also flood media with images intended for middle class consumers, offering brands that may reference high-end trends in more accessible ways. New colors, patterns or fabrics this year? Hints of military? Different fit? People in the middle class aren’t in a position to abandon last year’s fashion – just yet. They are more likely to add a piece or two, perhaps for special occasions.
For this group, the brand itself can be the statement. So small logos or brand identifiers are common and important. Peers judge not just on the trendiness and quality of their clothes but also on the depth of one’s closet. Not repeating items – having a week’s long rotation or more – can be important.
Working class people obviously have fewer resources and fewer choices. They are more likely to have a few garments they wear repeatedly – perhaps even wearing them out. Discount centers and second hand shops provide access to affordable but not necessarily fashionable or even well-constructed clothing. Overstated and dominating brand knock-offs are in abundance – Gucci in 8” gold lettering. These can provide a message to the upper classes that, “See, I have good taste, too.”
When people step into a class or status above their own, they know the stakes. They may overspend, and perhaps not wisely, for those occasions. The higher status members can tell; they can always tell. But the gesture and effort is appreciated.
The Pampered Look
A routine of spa treatments, facials, trimmed brows, massages, manicures and pedicures contributes to a nearly flawless look. Perfect grooming – hair that is colored with care and cut with precision in a clear contemporary style. All takes time and money. All done by professionals.
This all shows. For those who want to be accepted into a higher status, there are at-home versions – but the difference is clear.
Children from the upper classes have access to better health care, which includes tools such as orthotic shoes, orthodontic treatments and support for a variety of other irregularities often not covered by insurance. Lower class families go without.
Many in the upper classes work with trainers and coaches to develop personal gym and yoga routines. This all takes time and money, neither of which are abundant for those in the working class.
As adults, plastic surgery and botox treatments are beyond what most working class people can afford. Access to a healthy diet and lifestyle can also be a challenge. All of these physical advantages have a noticeable cumulative effect.
Jewelry & Accessories
This goes without saying. Almost everyone wears jewelry. The difference is easy to spot. In many middle and upper class families, jewelry is handed down through generations, a reflection of established membership in a class.
Costume jewelry gives people the opportunity to show style and fun without breaking the bank.
In all classes there is pressure for men to buy expensive jewelry for the women in their lives. Wearable evidence of love. Even when women are financially independent and can buy their own, the demand is still there.
A key difference between the classes is the interest and ability to purchase – and even collect – art.
Homes are larger – wall space is abundant – and art is on display. Many of the world’s masterpieces are privately owned, even if they are on display in museums and galleries. Often members of the upper classes have an extensive knowledge of all of the arts and thus serve as benefactors and supporters. Art is an investment, not just in value, but in establishing oneself as an arbiter of good taste. This is reminiscent of the patronage systems of long ago.
For middle class people, fine art is accessible (and sought out) in museums. An appreciation for individual local artists and styles is a way members of this class establish their unique taste and individuality. Often homes will have original work, antiques and pottery displayed in an overall interior design and color scheme. Furniture choices, bedding patterns and table settings all make statements.
Driving through different class neighborhoods you quickly spot the difference in investment. Tree-lined approaches, high walls, seasonal sprays of color show you the high status expectations. Landscaping with shrubs, formal front entrances and lawns suggest middle class. Of course working class people’s housing rarely affords them much, if any, front yard space.