These shoes were made for walking…

It was my son’s birthday party at the weekend. While my friend and I were standing surveying the kids racing round in a fug of sticky sweat and plastic balls, the aforementioned friend asked: “Who’s the mum with the Gucci trainers on?” I wouldn’t know a pair of Gucci trainers if I fell over them, or rather fell over in them, so I was told what to look for, identified the mum in question and then went back to the kitchen. This conversation was followed just minutes later by my mum asking ‘Whose is the Kipling purse?” It turned out to belong to my friend, the one who had espied the Gucci trainers. By this stage I was beginning to feel as though I was being tested, and found wanting on my status-brand awareness.

I do have a certain brand ‘blindness’ with clothes, and the same ignorance when it comes to cars. I recognise people in cars only once I’ve seen the car colour and actually seen the person I know behind the wheel. I’ve always thought that uninterested approach to cars came from growing up in a family that didn’t have one. So, I was never ‘programmed’ from an early age to make status judgements about people based on the car they drive. And my descriptions of what they look like are similarly limited: for example my mum’s is ‘shiny and black’ (haven’t a clue about the make), ours is silver and has an F in the reg plate. If pressed I’d struggle to remember the rest of it. Oh, and there’s a scrape on the rearside bumper after the gatepost got in the way. But don’t tell hubs!

In many ways brands now augment the class system in Britain. What brands you wear, or drive, or decorate your house with, become a short-cut for demonstrating your membership, or not, of a particular ‘tribe’.

So, whether she knew it or not, the mum at the party was demonstrating with her trainers that she’s a member of the Gucci trainer tribe, and that will have various other subtle connotations such as about what sort of car we can, as a result, infer that she drives, or postcode that she lives in. My friend picked up on this signal, and judging from the way she mentioned the trainers, had assumed Gucci-trainer mum was one step up from her in the pecking order. This despite the fact my friend is studying for a PhD. So far, so irrational in terms of ‘judging’ someone’s worth.

Even when I was younger and more self-conscious about image I was never into clothing brands. First and foremost I have always chosen footwear on the basis of can I walk or cycle in it, and how comfortable is it? Appearances come after wearability. I’m always quite pleased that growing up carless has left these subtle impressions on me. After all if you don’t have a car, you have to walk or cycle, and so practical footwear is a must.

But, before I come across as being all ascetic and holier than thou, my upbringing, involved a mum who liked to move house and decorate, a lot, and who always lived in a succession of nice three-bed semis. Well my mum had a sister, who lived in a very big, detached Arts and Crafts house, with an enormous garden, and a dishwasher (the dishwasher is important, it was the thing my mum most coveted). As a result, my mum was always quite subtly neurotic about what houses say about your status. My dad, however, grew up in what could politely be called quite slummy rented accommodation, near the docks. His parents never owned a house. I’ve become something of a mix of the two in terms of housing. I know that making judgements about what people are like based on what postcode they live in is ridiculous (dad), but I do love big, old houses, with nice gardens (mum) and can’t help thinking that their inhabitants must be ‘better than me’ (mum again). Yet, I live next to two sprawling council estates, round the corner from where my  dad’s parents rented their flat, and am proud of living where I do (dad) but the little voice in my head says that I will be found wanting for not living in the sort of house that ‘says’ things about my status in the world.

So, it would seem that few of us is immune to the siren call of status, and it does appear to be something that’s bred into us at a young age and once we’re programmed to think a certain way it’s very difficult to change. I want my son to grow up to make assessments of people based on what they’re like as people, but in today’s status-driven world, it’s not always easy.

Five antidotes to status issues:

  1. Look objectively at the item in questions, for example, the Gucci trainers. Do you genuinely think that just by wearing them it makes you a better person? Base your perceptions on greater depth, not shallow judgements.
  2. Try not to judge others. If  you judge others, then they may judge you in return. What actually matters about the people you want to make friendships with? If they are nice, caring, generous, funny, warm people, does it really matter that they don’t wear the ‘right’ tribal attire?
  3. Someone may have a big car, a big life or a big house, but you aren’t privvy to the amount of debt they may have got themselves into to create that image. Personal debt levels in the UK are at record highs again. It’s a bubble, burst it.
  4. Remember that it’s big businesses and advertisers that sell status baubles. Do you really want to be told what you should and shouldn’t value about your life and your friends by people who just want to make money regardless of the cost to society?
  5. Status is a bit of a first world issue. There are millions of people, who through no fault of their own, don’t have access to clean water, medicine or decent housing. Does it really matter that much to own a pair of trainers when you look at it in that context. Just be grateful if you have a home, food and people who love you.

#gucci #parenting #status #statusanxiety #modernlife

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