Saturday, January 26, 2008

In which Miss Cavendish Channels Miss Manners

It’s a commonplace these days to be hyper-aware of the labels you’re wearing.

Consider these two exchanges between friends:

Friend One: “Love your sweater!”

Friend Two: “Thanks; it’s Marc Jacobs. Your sweater looks great too!”

Friend One: “Thanks; it’s Tory Burch.”

* * *

Friend One: “Love your sweater!”

Friend Two: “Thanks; it’s a hand-me-down from my cousin. Your sweater looks great too!”

Friend One: “Thanks; I got it at the thrift shop last week.”

Whether the clothing comes from a high-end designer or a local thrift shop, its wearer feels a compulsion to state its origin—to mark the wearer, if you will, in terms of purchase power: one who embraces spending or one who eschews it.

Both responses seem to me inappropriate, for rather than revealing the person’s style, they speak to her economic status, which codes as style or taste. Can one not respond to a compliment simply by saying “Thank you” and moving on in the conversation?

But the initial comment is equally inappropriate: why not compliment the person as a whole instead of breaking down her clothing, item by item, into a catalogue of labels?

An unfortunate and very public instance of this kind of exchange occurred not too long ago in the pages of the New York Times. Visiting a posh party, the Times reporter asked the host about his outfit. Said host knew exactly where each piece was from (jacket: Salzsburg) and informed the reporter that his shirt and shoes were “custom,” not off the rack.

Then the reporter asked the host’s daughter about her outfit. Quite appropriately, she told the reporter that her father picked it out for her—that was all she knew at age eight.

But the father knew the provenance of his daughter’s clothing in minute detail: that the dress was hand-smocked, that the shoes were from Paris, and stated all this as if it mattered. And in those two moments, wherein the father was attempting to prove that he could purchase style, he effectively disproved his thesis.

But the old adage stands: you can’t buy style—or taste.


Preppy Pink Crocodile said...

Oh you are so right on not being able to buy style and taste. Most of the Hollywood poptarts are a perfect example of this! I think a lot of it falls back on the family who raised you.

lisagh said...

Excellent observation. I wonder how you feel about sharing the origin of an item if only to let others know where they can get it too. Seems a grey area to me, but perhaps it's best to just keep it to ourselves.

miss cavendish said...

Hi Lisagh,

I think that the kind of sharing that I'm critiquing is the kind that's become automatic--a verbal tic, if you will--and expected.

To wit: the New York Times printed this morning that the E! channel was livid with the wonderful (Canadian!) actress Ellen Page last night at the SAGs because she couldn't tell them who designed her shoes. I'd love to see more emphasis on the person rather than her possessions.

That said, I'm all for girlfriends et al. helping each other out in the shopping department; I've certainly benefitted from others' savvy in this area. Case in point: Stephen Bonannos!

a. said...

And then there are those who THINK they have manners but really do not. The true colors always appear at some point or another.