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.
9 thoughts on “Is Someone Co-Opting Our Culture?”
Do you think that what we choose to wear is primarily to either
1) fit in or portray we wish to
2) show that we do not wish to fit in
Sometimes I think it can be simplified to this. It’s interesting to consider the thought patterns behind the choices,
VERY few are actually unaware of what they are putting on, although many may claim to be.
Good article. Ralph and his brother Jerry deserve some credit for keeping ivy style alive during the 80’s after Brooks Brothers was sold to Marks and Spencer.
Which is why I no longer buy RL. The quality leaves much to be desired (compared to a few decades ago), manufacturing is outsourced to countries with questionable human rights, the inflated logos on certain shirts,…all of which nicely reflects American capitalism. No thank you. I’d rather promote the third amateur football league of Ouagadougou (I’m not sure it exists). As a workable alternative, I support my local tailor.
Good choice with the local tailor. Thank you, sir. – BGT
I hope you are doing well. Ralph Lauren’s business has chartered so much territory around the world in a brief period of time that his work ethic has helped to butress the reputation of the products as classic, traditional and authetic. I remember in the early to mid 1990s, how present Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger were in major department stores. In my estimation, Hilfiger seemed to anchor the nautical theme, whereas Lauren tended to have a wider appeal: in the colder months the collections seemed a reflection of classic countrywear in Western Europe. They seem to take inspiration from around the world now, and it is consistently presented in a way that indicates a great deal of thought, research and ethics.
The American man’s sentiments that you’ve quoted here bring more depth to the authenticity of established and storied institutions. You are absolutely correct. As individuals we are responsible for taking time to nuture and evaluate new realtionships in all corners of our lives, despite the pedigree or background of the individuals with whom these relationships are formed. I don’t think that undermines the respect or perceived value of any club, school, or member based society.
Thank you, William. Well said. – BGT
This was posted in Business Insider today and it touches on some of the points in your post.
I agree with your article and am watching my young niece and nephews adopt a “dark academia” preppy look but not necessarily Old Money values. Upon graduation, each is receiving a copy of one of your books.
I do have a question about one comment in the text. What exactly is meant by this: “The second thing I’ll notice is if you speak like me.” Was this OMG referring to a particular accent, tone, or pattern that sets ‘authentics’ apart from ‘posers’ in his or your opinion? I am curious.
Simone FM Spinner, OMG in Colorado
Hi Simone, thank you for spreading the word to the younger generation. I’m honored you’d give my books to your family members.
In response to your question, I would say diction, grammar, and vocabulary are key. Accents will vary, from the tight Long Island Lockjaw to the smooth Virginia drawl. However, the pronunciation, proper grammar, and an articulate vocabulary are telling. You don’t have to sound like you slept on a thesaurus, but it’s obvious when someone has a light on in the attic…and the words to express themselves clearly. – BGT