We’ve spoken frequently about the importance of awareness as we adopt and maintain an Old Money way of life (I’m hesitant to use the term ‘lifestyle’ as that term seems to denote something less substantial and more surface.)
One of the things we can be aware of is the way that advertisers constantly look for cultural trends in fashion, music, television, or literature and co-opt those trends. In short, they take something people have embraced, hijack it, and use it to sell products.
If the music in the television commercial is hip, the product must be hip. If the message and image in the magazine ad is environmentally friendly, then the company promoted in the ad must be environmentally friendly. If the celebrity pitching a service are energetic, attractive, and ‘in the know’, then you’ll be energetic, attractive, and ‘in the know’ by using the promoted service.
The same thing happened with the Old Money culture when Ralph Lauren introduced his Polo line of clothing in 1968. He captured the idea of family lineage, tradition, privilege, and exclusivity and injected it into the brand DNA of his clothing line.
Brooks Brothers and J Press may have been providing the similar products prior to his arrival, but Ralph Lauren sold the dream (his words, actually). His phenomenal success was not due to marketing alone: his products were (and are) well-designed and made to last. You can wear a sweater from the 80s with a jacket from the spring/summer 2020 collection and nothing will look amiss.
He has also managed to stay contemporary, releasing more ‘urban’ versions of his brand. Still, for me and millions of other people, Ralph Lauren means preppy, traditional, well-made clothing that’s not going out of style any time soon.
And I’m fine with what he’s done and how he’s done it. The awareness we have to maintain, as I’ve said before, is to remember that our culture is about values. Yes, it’s about dressing a certain way, but it’s more about behaving a certain way. And in the final analysis, that ‘certain way’ can be boiled down to ‘doing the right thing’, even when it’s inconvenient or downright painful.
We have to remember this for two reasons: the first reason is so we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that a material possessions define us. They may reflect or subtly acknowledge priorities and values, but there’s no logo for integrity, family, education, and living within your means, generation after generation. A tennis sweater and khakis does not make someone Old Money.
The second reason we have to remain aware is so we don’t get fooled by others. When people or products package themselves with our ‘cultural markers’ i.e. the old Volvo station wagon, the penny loafers, the button down shirt, etc, that doesn’t mean a damn thing. That is, often literally, window dressing.
Of course, Ralph Lauren sweaters and vintage copies of The Official Preppy Handbook are hardly going to force us off the road and into the abyss. Still, we should be vigilant when it comes to our values and how they’re leveraged, both in terms of mass marketing and on a more personal level.
I was recently discussing this issue with an American OMG here in Paris. His comments were gruff but articulate: “The first thing I’ll notice is if you dress like me. The second thing I’ll notice is if you speak like me. The third thing I’ll notice is if you have manners. The last thing I’ll be able to know for sure is if you think like me. Do you believe what I believe? Not in terms of politics, but philosophy, really. Are you a straight shooter?
“Just getting your ticket punched is not going to cut it. You may be an alumni of a good school or a member at a good club. Credentials may help you can get in and get by with some people, but not with me. So pardon me if I take my time with getting to know you.”
Mr. Congeniality he’s not, but I think his ‘standoffishness’ is something for us all to consider, if not emulate. Especially when someone wears the right clothes, says the right things…and then tries to sell us something.
Don’t let the culture be co-opted. Preserve it.