You can go to school, but you can't buy class
May 30, 2009 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in who/what/where of people with money that act with class.

I saw posts for classy behavior, but I am curious about examples of people or groups that have a lot of money, but act with class. I guess it depends on how you define class. I can tell you what I don't think is classy, in my opinion. People who have a lot of money but are dripping head to toe with obvious name brands screaming at you (Chanel bag, Ed Hardy shirt).

I am also interested in stereotypes of groups considered classy or non-classy. For instance (and I could be wrong), the NY Times had this article on the Real Housewives of New Jersey yesterday. I've heard a lot of Italian-American groups who do not like the portrayal of "Italians with money" on TV (RHoNJ, Sopranos) b/c the general ppublic does not consider them to be classy.

For instance, is the stereotype of the Persians of Los Angeles considered classy? Or are they known to be only people who throw up the Persian palaces? How about rich Jewish people in New York? Chaldeans in California and Michigan?

Any examples of people in those groups with classy or non-classy behavior would be greatly appreciated. Apologies if this is chat-filter. I am just trying to get a sense of what gives certain groups that have money certain stereotypes.
posted by paperlanterns to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's the groups that do not attract notice that you seek. These people go places where the public is not allowed - private clubs, for example. The more public, the less classy in general. Paul Fussell's book Class is a snark but the foundation of truth that makes humor work is easily detected there.
posted by jet_silver at 3:08 PM on May 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

Not sure I understand your question. On the one hand, you are

curious about examples of people or groups that have a lot of money, but act with class.

On the other hand, you are

trying to get a sense of what gives certain groups that have money certain stereotypes.

These are two totally separate inquiries, aren't they? You want examples of wealthy people who acted in very undersated, "classy" ways ... and also you are wondering the source of stereotypes concerning ethnic groups with money?
posted by jayder at 3:21 PM on May 30, 2009

The novels of Louis Auchincloss.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2009

Or, if you prefer, the novels of Wendell Berry.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:34 PM on May 30, 2009

I assumes that it's played up for television, but if you watch Top Gear, the three presenters each have a different persona to contrast with each other, and the presenter James May would be an example of what you're looking for.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:35 PM on May 30, 2009

This question reminds me of Whit Stillman's films, Metropolitan and Barcelona. Both feature "classy" people who fit a amalgam of stereotypes (mostly "urban haute bourgeoisie"), but still aren't the crass annoyances of The Merry Wives of Manhattan.
posted by rabbitsnake at 3:47 PM on May 30, 2009

Rich people who have class behave much like less-rich people who have class. They don't flaunt their money, they don't judge others or choose their friends based on wealth, and they live inconspicuously, often frugally. You'll find them everywhere, but you likely won't be able to pick them out as wealthy.

See The Millionaire Next Door.
posted by decathecting at 3:56 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Older WASP families drive Volvos or whatever and not Bentleys because their car doesn't define their social status - it's already inherent because of who they are and the relationships they have. They show up to the country club wearing an old polo shirt instead of designer golf clothes because acceptance in their group is so solid that exterior signifiers are not necessary, and that not needing exterior signifiers is its own (more powerful) signifier.

Groups with an unstable or recent hierarchy, on the other hand, will require easily identifying markers to differentiate themselves. The "rich New Jersey Italians" you mention would have to dress up because otherwise, in others' eyes, they could just be anybody.
posted by Spacelegoman at 3:56 PM on May 30, 2009 [10 favorites]

I work with and personally know lots of folks who are, as you put it, people with money.

Contrary to what many might think, a large number of people with money live below their means. Way below their means.

That self-control, this denial of whim and restraint from impulse is, by pretty much any definition of the word, class.
posted by Mutant at 4:03 PM on May 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

I happen to know a very wealthy couple, a friends of friends situation. I don't travel in wealthy circles at all but these people weren't always wealthy and we travelled in the same quite impoverished circles back in the day. They have donated millions to causes important to them: some medical research, some arts and culture, some humanitarian. We were having dinner together and I asked, "What requests make you get out your cheque book?"

The lady said it was when the request was able to make a personal connection with her. She gave as an example that she was asked to provide seed funding for a particular event. The event and the group organizing it were important to her, but she asked the group, "Do you really want my help or do you just want my money?" The group asked for her help and she called her friend, World Famous Performer, usually booked years in advance, and asked if WFP would drop everything and perform for free at a benefit, the organizers of which could then sell tickets for $$$. WFP dropped everything and performed. The group raised a ton of money and also raised its profile/image/capacity etc. as a result of being associated with WFP, which had far more influence than if the lady had just written cheque, although she also wrote a large cheque.

I read of another hugely wealthy family (we're talking billions, not millions) who keep a staff of 10 PR flacks employed to keep their name out of the papers. This family ponied up about a million for a major installation in our city but did it through creating a run-of-the-mill foundation and funding it through that foundation. Only a handful of people closest to the Powers-That-Be knew where the money really came from. (This was about 25 years ago and is no longer such a secret, which is how I happen to know about it.)

Maybe that's not the information you're looking for, but I think both examples are classy.
posted by angiep at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Fussell recommendation is a good one--some of the examples are dated, of course, but he does a good job of covering the fine details and layers of signifiers and whatnot.

I'll admit, though, that I'm not really sure what you're asking, other than 'I would like to talk about social class.' Would it be possible to clarify, or to narrow the range of your question, a little?
posted by box at 4:33 PM on May 30, 2009

I am interested in who/what/where of people with money who act with class. (I corrected that for you).

Speaking and writing without affection, slang, dropped g's, twangs and with good grammar are signs of class. Of course, many people with money are not classy. Nonetheless, were someone to portray a higher-up-on-the-food-chain person they would likely do it by employing proper speech.

Britney Spears speaks in a classless manner.

Helen Mirren speaks in a classy manner.

Tony Soprano = classless (though monied)

Morgan Freeman = classy

It is'll never hear an executive in a blue chip company speaking like Rocky. Well, you might..but it is still pretty rare.
posted by naplesyellow at 4:35 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ann Landers on class
posted by easilyamused at 4:36 PM on May 30, 2009

I grew up in an area reputed at the time to have the largest concentration of millionaires in the US. They were mostly European immigrants or their children who could buy farming land and managed it well. Their farms were their lives, but they contrbuted to and took part in civic organizations and local politics. they were in no way distant from the lives of the rest of us - shopped in the same stores and belonged to the same clubs. No grandiose estates or out of control life styles. they will always represent "class" for me. that was a long time ago, but some of them still live that way.
posted by path at 5:08 PM on May 30, 2009

A term you might want to familiarize yourself with is something called noblesse oblige.
posted by trotter at 5:45 PM on May 30, 2009

Years ago I worked at a country club in Raleigh (said club was where debutantes were picked for the state of NC-at least at that time.)

What I learned was this: In general, "old money" was classy, understated and a pleasure to wait on. "New money" was a total pain in the patootie, flashy, and into conspicuous consumption. Of course there were exceptions on both sides, but most of the time, the stereotypes held true. Oh, the hilarity when I would work wedding receptions for when "old money" married "new money".....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:59 PM on May 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

The more money you have the less need to "show it off."

Like they say, people in L.A. "drive" their money; folks in N.Y. "wear" theirs. In New England people "hide" their money!
posted by ericb at 6:38 PM on May 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here in New England an old beat-up woody station-wagon on the Vineyard is a status symbol. An Escalade in the Hamptons is gauche.
posted by ericb at 6:40 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Class = pedigree + education +/- engagement with one's family/community.

Whether "dripping in gold" or worn-out and threadbare, let there be a history of past or present "elegance in one's bearing" ...and in some (many?) cases indications of eccentricity. Cases in point: Grey Gardens, Katherine Hepburn, etc.
posted by ericb at 6:57 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jay Gatsby. Classless. A poseur.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Classy. "Dress in white" -- written by Zelda in the 1920's.
posted by ericb at 7:02 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, 5th Earl of Ickenham and Reginald Jeeves from novels written the oft referenced P.G. Wodehouse.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 7:32 PM on May 30, 2009

Seconding Fussell's "Class." Best book on the subject bar none.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 PM on May 30, 2009

I know a lot of wealthy people through work (multi-millionaires, not billionaires). Most of them are people I would describe as classy. Mind you, I work in a field where conspicuous display of wealth would not be well accepted.

Example: one of Australia's wealthiest families. They are 'old money'. Without exception every family member I've met is courteous no matter who they are speaking to. They'll always ask how I am when they talk to me, and will actually listen to what I say. They will courteously consider all requests for assistance (like a request to speak at events) and if they can't do it they will recommend someone else. The younger members of the family drive "nice" but normal cars, not flash pricey ones, and have jobs rather than live off trust funds. They are all active in some kind of public, philanthropic or charitable work. It's their courtesy and thoughtfulness, and the lack of any flaunting of their wealth, that makes me think they have class.

Someone once remarked to me of one of the elders of this family that "with all that money, you'd think she'd wear different outfits and jewellery sometimes!" The lady in question has one very beautiful, although not flashy, necklace she wears all the time and does often appear in the same outfits - but she obviously feels they're suitable and flattering for public events, and she looks very well in them. She doesn't need to flaunt her wealth. She has class.

On the other hand, I worked once for a family business which would be be "new money". The parents and three adult children all lived together in the same house, and would all drive to the same workplace at the same time - but in five separate cars (a Bentley, a Merc, a BMW, and a couple of flash little sports cars). The daughter boasted that she never wore the same thing in public more than twice, and that her father had had to rip out the spa room to create a bigger walk-in wardrobe for her. The mother was paranoid that her employees were stealing from her - nobody was supposed to be alone in the store room unless they nicked a few pens or a ream of paper. They were rude and abrupt, and treated their employees like children with ridiculous rules because they were convinced everyone was out to get them. They did not have class.

Classy people, in my thinking, may have money or may not. In general, I think someone has class if they are courteous, considerate, thoughtful, reasonable, and think about their own actions and words and the effects they will have on others and on the world in general.
posted by andraste at 2:36 AM on May 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

ericb: "Jay Gatsby. Classless. A poseur.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Classy. "Dress in white" -- written by Zelda in the 1920's.

I would definitely recommend The Great Gatsby as a book that deals with this very issue. Nick, the narrator, would definitely be an example of someone with money (or at least comes from wealth) with class as you define it. At the beginning of the novel we are also supposed to include Daisy and Tom Buchanan in this category, with Gatsby in the other category (people of low class with money). Daisy's (and to a lesser extent, Nick's) disdain for Gatsby's extravagant and gaudy parties perfectly illustrates the concept.
posted by katyggls at 7:52 AM on May 31, 2009

Class to me is not separating people into groups with rules for behavior that are meant to put other people down or make them feel as not part of "the club."
posted by Pax at 7:10 AM on June 1, 2009

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