Isn't she loverly?
May 11, 2011 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Recently I've become interested in behavioral indicators of class, gender, and status. In particular, I'm interested in what small behaviors would indicate a) femininity and b) higher social status.

The types of behaviors I'm thinking of are things like sitting with knees and ankles together when wearing a skirt or being able to walk gracefully in heels (for femininity) and the stereotype of lifting a cup with one's pinky out (for higher social class). What are other behaviors that would indicate someone being particularly feminine or high class? Think along the lines of "My Fair Lady". What would someone teach a modern-day Eliza Doolittle to do in order to pass as a particularly rich or feminine lady?

I've seen this question (which seemed to deal more with etiquette and relating to people in a "classy" way) and this question (which does get at some appearance-related aspects of this). This comment in particular addresses the type of thing I'm looking for. I'm more interested in the things you can tell from afar, without interacting directly with someone.

Conversely, if you have examples of behavior that indicate a lack of femininity or status, I'd like to hear those too.
posted by Fuego to Human Relations (78 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I CANNOT REMEMBER where I semi-recently read this, but supposedly uber-rich women will often have that kind of shellacked-looking hairdo from about 20 years ago. You know, like the pageboy-type cut with lots of fixative to keep it motionless? The best I can come up with as an example would be Nancy Pelosi. I need to go google this book now...hopefully I will have more to offer this thread later!
posted by deep thought sunstar at 4:31 PM on May 11, 2011

Wow, what a timely question -- I've recently started a new job where I'm surrounded by wealthy people - like, grew-up-wealthy, have never been poor, have traveled the world - and although I am intelligent and quick and all that, the differences are absolutely palpable.

Things like: chewing with your mouth closed, wiping your mouth (daintily) with your napkin, always making sure your lipstick looks fresh, smiling a LOT, being demure and quiet and somehow 'soft' -- these things will make even a butch Lesbian seem a lot more "feminine."

As in b33j's AskMe that you linked, I've noticed that LOTS of rich people sort of downplay their privileged lifestyles - so they might say something about "this fabulous bag that I got in the South of France" but they don't beat you over the head with "I'VE JUST COME BACK FROM FRANCE, PLEBIANS!!" the way someone with *less* class might do. This is also a function of the economy, currently.

I'm in Atlanta - and there are some obscenely wealthy people here, mixed in with all the rest of us. Obviously the products that you buy will say a lot, but I think you're talking more about breeding??
posted by polly_dactyl at 4:32 PM on May 11, 2011

I imagine this will depend a lot on what country you're talking about; it will also depend on where in that country, especially if it's as big as the U.S. Class status especially can be very regional, and further dependent on whether it's old money or new.
posted by rtha at 4:35 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Class status especially can be very regional, and further dependent on whether it's old money or new.

This should say class signifiers.
posted by rtha at 4:36 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to define class for this question to get answers you will find instructive. Because it is not at all as simple as financial resources; there are huge signals for old money vs. new money as well, and it is critical to understand that there are entire families of old money who no longer have any and that makes very little difference.

Generally, I would say that in the US accent is a signal. I know people think it's regional but there is a distinctive boarding school accent that makes people who have attended a specific group of top tier prep schools sound like Choate and Phillips Exeter are located somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic between Boston and Cambridge.

There are a lot of examples but really, I think how you define class is important to getting good answers here.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:36 PM on May 11, 2011

I'm interested in what small behaviors would indicate ... higher social status.

If by "higher social status" you mean being rich, then I really don't know about this comment you linked from the other thread.

Oh, and eschew all the faux-class things like only eating at the right restaurants and faking knowledge of wine. That's not class, that's being materialistic.

It's not what you eat, it's how you act while eating it.

When I was growing up, the people around me were well-off, but also very educated, civic-minded, socially progressive. So I grew up believing this, that "real" high-social-status people weren't materialistic snobs, that only poseurs/wanna-bes were judgmental and cared about things like that.

And then when I got older I met a whole lot of other kinds of rich people. Not particularly well-educated. Not particularly intellectual. And boy, DO they care about all sorts of things like that. They care about what labels you have on your clothes. They judge your car. They judge your phone. They judge your furniture. They judge where you go on vacation. They judge the up-to-dateness of your video game system.

So, if we're talking about markers, different kinds of people look for different markers. There are a lot of rich people who do take the aforementioned things as markers.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:43 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

My mother works at an affluent middle school in Southern California, and you can always tell who the truly rich kids are by how carelessly they treat their clothes and toys. These kids think nothing of losing their $85 Abercrombie sweatshirts or their Coach wallets. Even their iPods don't receive that much thought if lost. Why bother if your parents will just get you new stuff right away?
posted by patronuscharms at 4:45 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Leg crossing amongst men; if you're a wealthy man then leg crossing seems like the most normal thing in the world. Being self conscious about crossing one's legs in public is a sign of a working- or middle-class background. At a lower socioeconomic level, leg crossing is seem as fey or feminized.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:51 PM on May 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

I can't personally speak to trying to appear wealthy, but I am pretty good at looking feminine.

My main approach is aim for what I call polished. To me that means: clean, well-styled hair, enough makeup to accentuate, but not obscure your already nice features, tidy nails, whether manicured or just plain, clothes that flatter you and that you feel pretty wearing, and thoughtfully chosen accessories. I think that's the part that really ties things together. A well chosen bracelet or the right shoes can make a world of difference to an outfit.

I guess the common factor in all of these things is the thought and effort that goes into it. It shows that you have taken some time with your appearance. I'm often told I'm super girly for what I think amounts to my attention to detail.

As for being classy, someone in one of the previous threads said it perfectly. Be simple, be honest, and be kind. You will never go wrong with those.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:59 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm always baffled when "ladies" have to be sneaky smokers (hide behind the house, in the bathroom, etc.) while men smoke openly at events, picnics, etc. In certain circles it's seen as low-class for women, but not for men.
posted by troublewithwolves at 5:02 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hair and eyebrows say a whole lot about a woman's social/economic status. Getting regular salon cuts and waxings is an unspoken symbol of higher social status. This doesn't necessarily translate into being rich, per se, but it does say something about ones' commitment to economically prioritizing societal conceptions of femininity.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

The UK is absolutely obsessed with questions like this. Here are my sour and angry observations as an ex-working class kid who finally has one toe on the bottom rung of the middle-class ladder.

In the UK, feeling very guilty about having enough and arguing that first-world lifestyle expectations should be adjusted so that we learn to see it as normal to, e.g., sleep six to a room. (Ignoring such things as the effects of overcrowding on disease transmission, etc. or the psychological costs of lack of privacy.) Complaining that life was simpler before they could afford three computers instead of just one, etc. This is a sign of someone who has never actually been poor nor had to share one bed to a whole family. Everyone I know who talks this way is middle class.

Being very concerned about what you delicately call "lower-income" people or those from "council estates" or a "different social background", and being unable to view working-class people in anything other than an objectified way that assumes they are a) a monoculture with little or no variation between individuals, and that they b) operate at the animal level and aren't fully conscious or able to make lucid decisions and choices. So that when a working-class person talks back and challenges these assumptions, you explain to them that they really aren't working class, that working classness is a matter of culture and a whole set of complex cultural signals and that "it's complicated". People who talk to me this way are always middle class.

Finding working class people comical tends to be an upper middle class marker in my experience.

Please let me emphasize that I am in NO WAY saying or implying that most or all of the middle class people I have known have expressed such attitudes to me. What I am saying is that all the people who have expressed such attitudes to me have been middle class.
posted by tel3path at 5:11 PM on May 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

It presumably depends on region, but smoking is a class signifier. There will usually still be a few in professional circles, but it's the norm in working class circles.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:20 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Leg crossing amongst men

Not just whether you cross your legs, but how: closer to the knee looks richer.
posted by pullayup at 5:21 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Off the top of my head, three class markers on the East Coast of the US:

1. What sports they played growing up. Find an adult male who played hockey, lacrosse, or squash as a kid, and unless they're Native American/First Nations and played lacrosse, you have yourself somebody who grew up around people who were really, really rich even if the person you're talking to wasn't/isn't rich themselves. Lacrosse has gone "downmarket" in the past ten years, but it's still a marker among adults.

2. If somebody says, "Where did you go to school?" And the answer isn't a college or university, but a high school. You find this with kids who went to boarding schools like Exeter and Andover or places with developed private school cultures, like NYC, Washington DC, or Baltimore.

3. Same thing if somebody refers to "elementary school" (K-5) as being "lower school", or mentions "pre-first". It's another thing that crops up in the super-pricey private school culture.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:23 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

You might be interested in reading Paul Fussell's book about class in America.
posted by Lycaste at 5:28 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

you can always tell who the truly rich kids are by how carelessly they treat their clothes and toys.

The same thing is a staple of Hollywood movies. For example if two people each get out of an identical expensive car, the one who locks it, or who winds up the windows, or takes other precautions against damage to the car, looks less than the one who just walks away as if the value of the car means nothing to them.

Speaking of cars, class, and femininity, a familiar and practised ease to get out of a car, wearing heels and a skirt, gracefully and modestly?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:30 PM on May 11, 2011

Ah, yes, sports. I'd never known anyone who played tennis or water polo until I moved to the city. Small, poor public schools don't have tennis courts or swimming pools. The closest municipal pool was the next town over. I also had home ec and shop class, which you won't find in a snooty prep school. Those indicators might be more 'socio' than 'economic' though. I also think I have better manners than most of my class-peers. (I may not have gone to a private school, but I know well enough not to poke at something on my dinner plate and exclaim 'ew! what's this?!' at a black tie affair *cough cough* in-laws *cough*) Probably because my Mom's family is part British, and that sort of thing was emphasized.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:34 PM on May 11, 2011

Belief in things like astrology also seems far more prevalent in working class than in professional circles. Presumably that's related to education.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:44 PM on May 11, 2011

My mother waged a constant war against what she saw as my lack of femininity, so I can tell you about some behaviours she tried to encourage in me:

- taking small steps, even when not wearing high heels.
- shutting doors softly
- eating slowly
- wearing make-up (duh, but might as well mention it)
- not wearing damaged or stained clothing
- speaking softly and in a higher-pitched voice
- keeping legs together when sitting
- brushing one's skirt flat before sitting on it
- smiling (lips closed)
- standing partially side-on for photographs
- playing with/interacting with small children and babies.
- not ever letting my mouth fall open unless I was talking or putting food in it. (Actually she always said that made me look "unfeminine and lower class", so two for the price of one!)
- covering my mouth when yawning (likewise)
posted by lollusc at 5:53 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, and drinking wine or liqueurs instead of beer, port or whisky.
posted by lollusc at 5:54 PM on May 11, 2011

When you take a drink from a glass, don't "affix" the glass to your head so that you tilt your head+glass to move the drink into your mouth. Leave your head as it was and tip the glass.
If this doesn't actually physically work (eg the top of the rim hits your nose before the drink flows) then you're running before you can walk - you need to fix your posture before sweating the small stuff.
(I wouldn't see this observation as some kind of commandment, Thou Shalt Not Move Thine Head, just a note to not move it so much that you're losing a good deal of poise while drinking)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:57 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Femininity: not just loving chocolate and shoes, but finding a way to signify SQUEE I LOVE CHOCOLATE AND SHOES OMG LOL to passing strangers, perhaps by writing it across the chest in rhinestones.

Disclaimer: I hate shoes, so I have only 60 pairs.
posted by tel3path at 6:02 PM on May 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have noticed that people who are wealthy often tend to be rude.

Most of us just have to get along with each other in order to make life work smoothly.

People who are wealthy do not really have any motivation to be nice to anyone.

If they require human company, they can rent it on their terms.
posted by ovvl at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

you can always tell who the truly rich kids are by how carelessly they treat their clothes and toys.

I'm not really sure carelessly is the right word. It's perjorative, but what you're talking about isn't malicious or destructive. People who are raised in a household where there is always someone to launder your clothing, pick up your toys and park your car will think differently about those things than people who do not.

What you call carelessness I would call ease. It is a class signifier.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Trying too hard (while better than being sloppy or rude) is indicative that you were probably not raised in privilege, and certainly aren't there now.
posted by blargerz at 6:10 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is going to be regional, even in the US. In Virginia (and maybe parts of North Carolina and Maryland, too?), a strong non-rhotic accent is indicative of roots in the plantation class. In Richmond, where I grew up, certain neighborhoods have this accent and others, mere streets away, feature a more typical southern drawl.
posted by downing street memo at 6:13 PM on May 11, 2011

This is a little bit off your question, but the best insight I ever got into upper class manners was by reading all of Emily Post's 1922 edition of Etiquette on Bartleby. It explains the roots of lots of obscure upper class customs (evening dress, wedding gifts, clubs, etc.) Her explanation of the fundamentals of good behavior is the skeletal foundation of the WASP attitude.
posted by Diablevert at 6:35 PM on May 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

I was always taught, and generally this was more through modeling that formal instruction, that a lady is modest, both in her demeanor and her attire. She doesn't boast or make herself the center of attention. She speaks quietly in restaurants--any public place, really. She doesn't cause a scene. She doesn't curse (unless strongly provoked), and certainly not in public, for the shock value, or in front of children.

Ladies look to the comfort of others, and anticipate their needs when possible. They make light of their accomplishments (see being modest, above), and want to put others at ease. This is especially true of Southern ladies, at least in my experience. If you compliment a Northern lady, for example, she will often just smile and thank you. If you compliment a Southern woman, she is apt to disparage herself, "Oh, thank you, but I just threw this on, really." This goes along with putting others at ease. She wouldn't want you to feel awkward because you felt she had gone to trouble on your account.

I wasn't taught to take small steps. I *was* taught not to slump or trudge when in heels, but walk lightly. I don't know how to explain this, but if you see someone walking heavily in heels, trudging along? They are paying too much attention to their feet. It's the same way that, if you are modeling on a runway, you walk from the hip, not the knee, to get that smooth stride. Ladies...glide through life, I suppose!

When you are out in public and wearing a dress, you carefully cross your legs just above the knee, and slightly angle them, pointing your toes. Or, if you will be sitting awhile, you cross your ankles. Hands folded in your lap, if they aren't occupied. I find myself doing this in private just out of habit.

It was years before I wore a dress--not a see-through one or anything--without a slip or half slip and camisole under it in addition to bra and panties and stockings. In Florida! My mother still cannot believe that I routinely wear sundresses now with *shudder* bare legs.

And yes, I know this all sounds silly.
posted by misha at 6:41 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I grew up in a blue-collar family in Boston and work in one of the elite universities in town. When I first started working there, I was very conscious of feeling like an outsider. Some indicators of higher social status for me are:

-Sense of entitlement (I must speak to Mr. Wilson immediately!)
-Men with designer shoes, pleated pants, and dry-cleaned clothing
-Thinness, excessive athleticism, extreme competitiveness, and lots of talking about "healthy foods" and "bad foods"
-Walking with a sense of purpose
-In the Boston area, accent is an indicator of social status. If you have a thick accent, you are more likely to be judged as being lower class or uneducated.
-Starbucks instead of Dunkin Donuts

Lower social status:

-Men with sausage fingers
-Men like my father who wear Dickies, and by the way, he does cross his legs and smokes like a chimney. So, I disagree with the leg crossing being an indicator.
-Thick Boston accent
-use of "ain't" and excessive cursing

that's about all I've got
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:51 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I can't really add much to the femininity aspect of the discussion, but having grown up in the Deep South in a town where they still held cotillions and coming out parties and having resided in Westchester county lo these many years, the single biggest signifier of new vs. old money is how they treat "the help."

You will never, ever see an old money person raise their voice or otherwise demean a person working for them in any context. That is considered the ultimate (stereotypical) signifier of the of the (equally stereotypically insecurity) of the newly wealthy*

*For most values of newly wealthy of less than three generations of interest income only and for most values of non-psychotic old money, of which there are a non-trivial number.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:53 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went to a high school in New York that you might have seen in Manhattan. Two things strike me about the mostly very rich kids that went there:

a. No one wore bling. The preppies wore nice sweaters. The theatre kids wore Salvation Army. There was no point in competing in dress when the kid in the ripped jeans shared his name with a group of insurance companies.

b. We learned to use The Voice. The Voice is when your tone of voice assumes that people should and will listen to you. If you go around assuming that people will listen to you, they often will. They might resent you for it later, if what you say didn't warrant listening to. But instinctively people listen. I've never run across the Voice except in kids who went to top prep schools, and people who own companies.

The school is legendary in New York for its academics, but I imagine that learning the Voice, and learning to judge people without reference to their money, are both part of the value of admission.
posted by musofire at 6:54 PM on May 11, 2011 [19 favorites]

The richest people I know never ever mention money.

The women have excellent posture and teeth, the men not so much.
posted by mareli at 6:58 PM on May 11, 2011

found it!!

It doesn't have as much to do with femininity, but a LOT to do with class. Note: pretty much entirely US-centric. Entertaining, though.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 7:02 PM on May 11, 2011

By the way, lifting a cup with one's pinky out is not a signifier of a higher social class, regardless of the stereotype.


Nor was there any need for him to "mind his manners"; and for that too Alec Loding had given loud thanks. It seemed that, short of a first-class and very strict Nanny, there was no more rigorous training in the civilised consumption of food than was to be had at a first-class orphanage. "My God," Loding had said, "if I ever have any change from a round of drinks I'll send it to that caravanserai of yours, as a mark of my gratitude that you were not brought up in some genteel suburb. Gentility is practically ineradicable, my boy. And whatever else Pat Ashby might conceivably do, it is quite inconceivable that he should ever stick out his little finger when he drank."

-- Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar
posted by timeo danaos at 7:06 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

b. We learned to use The Voice. The Voice is when your tone of voice assumes that people should and will listen to you.

I am curious if you have an example of a person who uses this.
posted by blargerz at 7:07 PM on May 11, 2011

I guess you are looking specifically for indicators in the United states? because it varies significantly across cultures.
posted by bearette at 7:08 PM on May 11, 2011

It's not really about money in Britain. Good manners cost nothing, as my grandmother always used to say, and that's all about upbringing. People with true class - as opposed to being a member of a particular social class - know how to put people at ease in every setting and are as comfortable as chatting with the serving maid as talking to the Queen.

Accent isn't as important as it used to be, people play up strong regional accents now and middle class kids, like Jamie Oliver, adopt 'estuary English' to look hip. I'd agree that people who endlessly go on about the evils of consumerism and how having nice stuff is somehow evil are almost always rich kids slumming it for a few years in jeans they ripped themselves who've never actually wanted for anything.

In Britain it's incredibly gauche to talk about money and show off possessions in any way and in my experience someone with a £1,000 fridge never has anything in it. There is a certain underlying snobbishness though, the haughty Alan Clark quoted Michael Jopling in putting down self made Michael Heseltine by saying "The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture."

Femininity on the other hand is a very situational thing, British girls on a drunken hen night are the least 'ladylike' people you could imagine and the Balkan wars were less violent than my under 15 school hockey team. In more formal situations there's a certain stillness you have to master, like a film star, you don't look around for people, you draw them into looking at you.
posted by joannemullen at 7:12 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good teeth/expensive dental work is a big class signifier. Even in the U.S where people's teeth are healthier looking in general than in most other countries (due to fluoridated water) you can still tell who's got money, because they have straight, white, shiny teeth. Braces and veneers cost a lot of money and even people in the middle class have a hard time affording them.
posted by katyggls at 7:23 PM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I grew up lower-middle class with parents who grew up poor, I'm middle class now and live in a town that is mid-to upper middle class. I also have lots of contact with people in wealthy towns. Now that you know my background here is my take.

Oftentimes wealthy people just seem "casual", if that makes sense. Maybe they are just comfortable in their surroundings. The clothes fit better, the labels are muted and the styles are generally classic versus trendy.

Like it or not, the rich age better too. Maybe it's the result of surgery but a lot of middle-aged wealthier women look ten years younger. (My cynical wife calls them "Stepford Wives"). Compare them to the broken down people of Wal-Mart. Not having the stress of worrying about money and having time for the gym, spas, etc. really delays aging.

Oh and and old money people have good teeth. You can tell if a rich person grew up poor if you notice their teeth are crooked. No money = no braces.

Reading material too. I once worked with one of the biggest Assholes I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He also was rich (but he would have been an asshole no matter what his wealth). He was reading "The Economist". I commented on it and he said "My grandfather got me the subscription". My grandfather was a derelict, and may have been illiterate.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:30 PM on May 11, 2011

I'm in an interesting position in that I'm southern, I play in an orchestra, and everyone involved seems to be either a flat broke (but often well educated) artist type or a upper-middle to upper class patron. So I see a lot of both sides. I consider myself firmly in the middle class.

In the southeastern US, women of upper-middle class and upper class income typically spend a lot more money on clothes (which is kind of a duh statement, but the extent to which it's true is kind of amazing to me sometimes). It's not always dressier, although there is more of a tendency to wear dresses and skirts in casual settings than in the lower and lower-middle class. Nor is it always flashier. In fact, I would say that flashy is kind of a hallmark of new and/or uneducated money.

To rephrase, no matter how casually they're dressed, it's amazing the extent to which they obviously spent more money on their clothes. If they're wearing a t-shirt and jeans, the shirt is a lycra fitted shirt with cap sleeves and a scoop neck and the jeans are designer, and the whole thing cost 5X what someone of more moderate means would spend. And exercise clothes, which upper class women are FAR more likely to wear in public, are of an extremely stylish, expensive, name-brand-encrusted kind.

Upper class southern women are somewhat more likely to exercise and stay in shape, perhaps because they seem far less likely to work for a living (I don't know how it is in other regions, but the attitude of wealthy southern women toward having a job seems to approach that of English nobility of 100 years ago, i.e. it's considered disgraceful).

In particular, for whatever reason I don't know anyone around here who plays tennis who isn't pretty wealthy, and there's a lot more women playing than men. I don't know if it's lack of public courts, or what.

Church is usually Baptist or Methodist, preferably with the word "First" somewhere in the congregational name.

Southern men of means dress less "differently" than their less well-off peers, but of course they still buy more expensive brands. How well they take care of said clothes varies more; it's actually not always possible to tell whether a southern man is well off by his clothes. Also, oddly enough, wealthy southern men seem LESS prone to exercising (perhaps because they're working to support their stay-at-home wives).

Wealthy southern women often strike me as having better etiquette and being better educated than the less well-off; this doesn't necessarily mean they're nicer or more pleasant to be around. Many of them have refined passive-aggressive behavior to a fine art. Wealthy southern men seem to run a broader spectrum of being genteel and nice on one end to being complete assholes on the other. Generally the older the money, the nicer they (at least appear) to be.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:37 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Specifically related to political scenarios, but here in Canada (and specifically in Ottawa, where there are a lot of political types), a few markers stand out to me.

1) The well-to-do here tend to look through you rather than at you; you simply don't register on their radar unless you're a somebody.

2) Loudly talking about your job and name-dropping, if you're in your early 20s in Ottawa means you work in a Minister's office, and are therefore someone's niece, daughter, cousin or a relative of someone who is owed a favour. Girls like this are always turned out in the latest fashions, toned down only a little for the office. Their "game face" at the office always reminded me of a beauty contestant trying to win the title of Miss Congeniality at a beauty pageant - perky and happy to the point of looking fake. Guys who work in Ministers' offices tend to be incredibly arrogant and pushy, as though the Minister's status and power was somehow actually theirs, and the Minister is just borrowing it for a little while, don't you know.

3) Others have mentioned the helmet hair thing - a sure marker here of being someone's administrative assistant.

4) Where the middle class will all ape a particular fashion (I remember the winter it was pastel pashmina scarves over a black wool jacket - everyone seemed to be wearing this as a uniform) the really well-off do their own thing clothes-wise.

5) In contrast to the comment above about southern ladies putting others before themselves, here, the sign that you occupy a high position in Ottawa society is the extent to which others wait on you. The highest status arrive late and leave early (usually because they have somewhere else to be). This goes for women as well as men.

6) What sport you undertake is important too - downhill skiing marks you as solidly upwardly mobile, ambitious at work and in your social circles.

Maybe politicos are a unique bunch, I don't know.
posted by LN at 8:22 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Big House - interesting nonfiction book about a New England upperclass family through the 20th century.

The Preppy Handbook was a joke book in th 1980s about New England WASP culture - some fun things in there for your research.

seconding that New England WASP old money never talks about money, and if asked any kind of question that raises it, they will gently deflect the conversation. They also just assume either that everyone is in their class until proven otherwise (asking, where did you go to school), or that everyone will be at ease with them and interact on "equal terms" (ie without having any chip on their shoulder about class issues).

seconding also that in the US, teeth are a big class signifier and source of anxiety (even if you're wealthy and start having dental problems, the anxiety about it is partly that it will make you look lower class).

Some body language signs of femininity - these are sort of exaggerated, ones that I would recommend trying out if you were (eg) a man trying to pass as a woman.

arms/hands stay within your personal space, gestures with the hands are more tentative/measured - do not reach out decisively, eg for door handle, but walk further up to it and keep the angle of your arm closer to your body than a man would

stereotypically feminine gestures (eg "oh my heavens!", put your hand to your chest, when shocked), though gently, not overdone

cover your mouth partly if you're opening your mouth or making any uncontrolled movements with it (eg if crying or shocked)

hands in lap is exaggeratedly submissive; at least no elbows on the table

walking and sweeping into a seat as if wearing a skirt, even if wearing pants.

smile slightly or have a placating look as your default expression; definitely NOT furrowed/knitted brows; smile or laugh at jokes

generally make a facial response to any attempt at interaction including simple eye contact (it's your job to socially validate people, so you can't just ignore or not respond or it comes across as severe)

drop your eyes/look downward to break eye-contact

sitting with knees and even feet together

hide all body functions as much as possible - farting, sneezing, coughing, burping, etc - either with a covering hand, a effort to mute them, saying "pardon me", leaving the room

classical ballet movements are exaggeratedly feminine, so if you learn them they are good guides. Audrey Hepburn is actually a good guide to a lot of this too - watch her body language in her movies, how she holds her hands in idle moments, the angle of her jaw, how far her elbows get from her body, that sort of thing.

(if you adopted all these it would be overselling it, but these are some of the body-language cues that send a message of a certain kind of femininity)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I worked in an uppercrust country club once.

New money is flashy and extremely concerned about externals. Old money doesn't give a rip.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:57 PM on May 11, 2011

In Chinese culture (yes, broad I know) it seems to be a marker of femininity to drag your shoes on the floor a bit when walking.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 9:03 PM on May 11, 2011

Getting regular salon cuts and waxings is an unspoken symbol of higher social status
Tha'ts either new money or upwardly mobile urban young professional. Old money never waxes and gets the same hair cut as she had in college.

Ruby K. Payne is pretty good about class signifiers, if a bit flat-footed.

Diana Vreeland
is excellent about a certain strata of NYC monied femininity, but her taste is light years away from New England.

The Preppy Handbook (first version) is very close to most of the usual markers--sports, schools, clubs, etc.

I think teeth were a class marker about 25 years ago, but most people get their kids braces if they have even a toe-hold on the middle class. (Veneers? Maybe in LA.)

And "the smaller the ball, the preppier the sport". Handball and squash rule this.

Ladies don't chew gum, smoke on the street, talk with their mouths full, and all that other stuff. But upper-class feminity isn't squeamish--getting right in and mucking about with the new puppies, the rose garden or foie gras is the done thing. I think lower-class women are far more likely to be prissy about mess and bodily functions.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:37 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

They also just assume either that everyone is in their class until proven otherwise (asking, where did you go to school), or that everyone will be at ease with them and interact on "equal terms" (ie without having any chip on their shoulder about class issues).
This was the thing that took me aback the most about old money East Coast types. They honestly don't understand themselves as being a class. They're just a bunch of people who hang out together because their families have known each other a long time. The Social Registry is a list of people in their social circle. Probably, the rest of us have lists of people in our bowling leagues or book clubs or whatever, so why are we so hung up about their list of people who go to the same parties as them? They appear to be genuinely confused when people suggest that their institutions are elitist. They're not the only people who go to the beach in the summer, and their cabins on the Cape aren't at all fancy, so why is it a big deal that the people who have cabins nearby are the descendants of people who their great-great-grandparents met when they were all running railroads and banks in the 19th century? It's really no different from the fact that when my mom goes to visit her hometown, she hangs out with the grandchildren of the people who were dock workers alongside my great-grandfather.

Because they refuse to see themselves as a class, they can't deal with social climbers at all. Trying to get into their circle suggests that they're elite, and they refuse to admit they're elite. If you don't care about their status or can do a really good job pretending not to care about their status, there's a chance they'll accept you. But if you seem to be impressed by them and want in for that reason, they'll shut you out in a way that is simultaneously ruthless and polite.
posted by craichead at 9:45 PM on May 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

upper-class feminity isn't squeamish--getting right in and mucking about with the new puppies, the rose garden or foie gras is the done thing.

They honestly don't understand themselves as being a class.

I agree with both of these completely, re: New England old money.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:05 PM on May 11, 2011

I grew up in a well-off New York family and I probably went to the same school as musofire and the surest way to get outed as being "NR" (nouveau riche) was being rude to waiters.
posted by Asparagirl at 2:10 AM on May 12, 2011

I've been thinking about this question and My Fair Lady and the thing is, while the game was being played for the benefit of the audience because theatre is an artificial construct, the actual object of the game was to get Eliza to pass as privileged not to the audience but to her faux-peers. The first tas is easyl the second, much more difficult.

Some of the answers in this thread are actually answering the question how can you tell people have money? which is a very different question than how can you tell people are of a specific social class?

After a lot of thought, I suspect what you really want to know is, in the baldest form, this:

If you grew up old money, when you meet new people, what indicates to you that the people you are meeting are from the same background?

Because a lot of this shit is subtle and coded and the "tells" are more about an absence of things than their presence. It is hard to define but you know it when you see it.

I have also been thinking for some reason about Donald Trump. Christ knows the man has more money than God. His dad was relatively wealthy and Donald grew up with a lot of privilege before making buckets of cash, but his grandfather was a German immigrant. Trump may own Manhattan and be able to buy himself on to quite a few boards, but he will never be a DuPont (darling,) and you would never, ever mistake him for one.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:45 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a very open and speculative question. I like it!

As a Brit, I could bang on about the class aspect of this for hours, but I won't. I'll just throw out a couple of observations.

1. Speaking well. If you form good, complete sentences in your speech, you enunciate clearly and articulate your ideas well, you sound your consonants and project your voice with confidence, people will tend to assume you have some class status. In Britain this effect is strengthened hugely if you also have a southern/BBC accent.

2. A sense of unconsidered entitlement often accompanies higher social status. I just completed a month working as a Census Collector and was assigned to two very socially disparate areas. One was a rough council estate; the other was a set of riverside "luxury" apartments. I got far more attitude and dismissiveness from the latter than I did from the former, and I also got for more late returns or outright refusals to complete the census (even though it is a legal requirement in the UK). There was a strong sense that I was an irritating little busybody having the gall to impinge upon the oh-so-valuable time and busy, thrusting, important lifestyles of these wealthy and/or well-connected apartment dwellers. There's a sort of innate arrogance and superciliousness there.
posted by Decani at 4:48 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Feminity and high class, in my mind, are revealed through how a lady conducts herself in word and in how she carries herself. Good posture (shoulders back, eyes facing forward, arms not swinging), a gliding gait, and a relaxed, friendly expression to face to greet the world all add up to a feminine way of carrying oneself. Speaking quietly, forgoing use of slang and curse words, and listening attentively in polite conversation as opposed to rambling on and on mindlessly have been passed along to me by my mother as lady-like behaviors.

Here are some ways of conducting oneself in accordance with higher social status that have been drilled into my mind by my well-meaning mother--
-Never leaving the house with wet hair, wrinkled or soiled clothing, or chipped nail polish
-Taking good care of skin and hair removal issues
-Always having a bit of mascara, blush, and lipstick on your face to polish your appearance
-Keeping nails and hair trimmed and styled, body toned by eating properly, and having an impeccably fitting wardrobe that's tailored as necessary
-Not having old or beat up personal property on display (e.g. an unwashed car with dinged up doors, a torn handbag, worn out sneakers)
-Never discussing money in public
-Never making a scene in public (e.g. raising your voice, scowling, spanking a child)

Cool question, Fuego!
posted by sunnychef88 at 5:21 AM on May 12, 2011

Church is usually Baptist or Methodist, preferably with the word "First" somewhere in the congregational name.

Au contraire, the Episcopal Church are what you are looking for in a church-as-class-marker. This link on income and religious denomination is interesting (and quotes the old joke "Methodists are Baptists who can read"), but there's definitely more to it than just income levels. There are definitely well-off Baptists out there, but the stereotype of a Baptist woman in my mind is sort of flashy (probably wearing a big diamond cross or something- think Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side), whereas an Episcopalian woman is more preppy. Also see the prevalence of Episcopalian prep schools, particularly in the South.

Nthing the above advice that ladies and "nice people" don't chew gum in public. For everything else, you really should just read The Preppy Handbook (old version only, please!) because it'll do a much better job than we can.
posted by naoko at 6:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Really wealthy people will never wear anything with a highly visible brand logo. Conversely, people who do wear a big Gucci (or whatever) belt buckle are usually striving to appear higher class than they are.

Nat. Geo. documentary on stress shows a pretty clear correlation between certain types of physical appearance and status. Pretty depressing stuff that, especially if you have a body like mine.

This interview with Princes William and Harry is full of tells to their ridiculously wealthy upbringing. Their nonchalance about their wealth and the way they get caught flat footed when forced to consider their position is fairly significant.
posted by Locobot at 6:20 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Really wealthy people will never wear anything with a highly visible brand logo. Conversely, people who do wear a big Gucci (or whatever) belt buckle are usually striving to appear higher class than they are.

Oh, seconding this. The only initials you need are you own (and for more about monogramming, once again, the The Preppy Handbook's got your back) - Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and the like, even if real, are for climbers.
posted by naoko at 6:36 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

1- My father, passed down from his father, HATES the word "ain't". It's low class, according to him.

2- Class and money are two separate things. Neither requires the other.

2b- The mention of Trump is an apt one. There is a guy with no class, and who fundamentally misunderstands what class is.

3- In the US, in my experience, the higher the class, the less likely someone is to show extremes of emotion. Not in a "repressed" kind of way, but in a private-versus-public way.

3b- Similarly, no "bling" of any kind. Might be driving a $70,000 automobile and wearing $20,000 in gold, but you'd never notice it. Just looks nice.

4- "Things" are well cared for. Anything that needs to be ironed, is. Clothing is "substantial" (IE, generally heavier fabrics, and well-tailored), and there is less skin showing than average. Cars are washed. Homes are meticulously clean. Everything in good repair, generally.

5- Carrying less stuff.

6- No white limousines, especially in the evening.

7- As for gender-specific markers, pretty much the same: there is no overt "proving up" of one's gender. Voice, enunciation and posture are big indicators. No slurring, no use of vernacular, posture is good but not "showey". (IE, no Jenny McCarthy-style chest thrusting, men walking around looking like they are carrying luggage.) The idea that a lady of class speaks softly and is primarily charged with the comfort of others is an anachronism of an other time, I think. And was probably never actually an indicator of real class, but of class-reaching and social domination. Males and females of the (behavioral) upper classes I think are equally apt to be mindful of their guests comfort, and generally will have similar confident (but not strident) mannerisms.

7b- But at the same time, they also respect a guest's non-helplessness. They aren't going around supplicating themselves and asking people if they "need anything" every 15 minutes.

7c- The best word I can think of that indicates someone with class is that they dress in clothes that are "flattering". They don't *hide* their features, but neither do they allow them to show through inappropriately. (As with politics, it's not the thing, it is the conspiracy. You almost always look worse hiding something than just ignoring it.) Compare and contrast: fat guy in a suit. First guy's pants are too small and he has the dunlap syndrome with his gut all hanging out. Then his tie is never going to be the right length. Contrast with the guy whose pants fit properly (for a suit) and the proportions are all correct. Who looks classier?

7d- Cribbing from something I heard Mr. Blackwell say once, classy people wear clothing that is fashionable without necessarily being "in fashion". They are never seen wearing outdated clothing, because they don't buy things that can go out of date. More or less.

8- Behavior toward others is another one. Class is the honest and genuine belief that everyone else is a fully capable and valid member of society. Assumptions aren't made about others, whether negative or positive. If you invite someone to tennis or skiing, someone with class would ask them if they need any of the accoutrements of the activity, and then help them figure out how to get what they need. Someone with less class would make an assumption about their invitee: "well, of *course* everyone knows you mustn't wear dark colors whilst playing tennis" or "I'm sure you don't have appropriate attire, so here is a tennis outfit *I* picked out for you."

9- Much of it can be broken down to not showing off, and planning ahead. And having the ability to do so.
posted by gjc at 6:48 AM on May 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

To expand on what LobsterMitten said about personal space: Men ride bicycles with their elbows sticking out; women hold their elbows close to their body. In general, men are about taking up lots of space to appear larger, and women are about taking up less space and being unobtrusive. My uneducated guess is that this is about cavewomen keeping babies hidden from danger, while cavemen were trying to both scare off predators, and appear to be better protectors to potential mates.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:41 AM on May 12, 2011

Do you mean status in the sense of alpha male or female, or status in the sense of class?

Assuming you mean the former, I think high status people will be the centre of something. Watch a group of people at a bar or pub and you can see who's the centre of the group. They're the highest status. They not neccessarily the loudest person. Do people listen when they talk? High status.

I play this game in large meetings when I'm trying to work out who the money man or woman is as they will make the decision. They tend not to talk much but when they do, a subject is closed. High status.

If you mean class, from a UK perspective, the upper classes are quite rare and often scruffy and swear a lot. Appearances can be quite deceiving. Accent is quite a clear marker in the over 40s, those under 40 its more blurred. First names are frequently class signifiers, girls name ending in y, not posh- if you can find a copy, the Sloane Ranger handbook is a go to guide (UK version of the Preppy handbook) as is a book called Watching the English. The Sloane Ranger handbook's heroine is Princess Diana who I think is a cracking example. Lots of eyelash fluttering.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 7:59 AM on May 12, 2011

Thanks for all the answers so far. There's some really good ones here, just what I was looking for. I find it interesting that people seized upon the "high class/status" part of the question so much more than the femininity part--the second part of the question was more of an afterthought for me. By status or "high class" I didn't necessarily mean money (despite using "rich" in my question), but more of someone who is conducts themselves with a refined manner, like someone who went to finishing school or was brought up in a cultured way.

I'm also more interested in the things you can tell without interacting with this person at all (so, not things like the topic of conversation or how much they tip). I've certainly had the experience of seeing someone in a public space and having him/her stand out to me because he/she seems so well-comported but I really wanted to put my finger on what specifically it was that made someone like that stand out from the crowd.

Again, thanks for the answers, keep them coming!
posted by Fuego at 8:30 AM on May 12, 2011

I was going to mention Fussell's idea that the more layers of clothes you wear (e.g., sweater around the neck over two polo shirts), the higher your class.

Seriously, though, wearing clothes with words more than a half-inch high on them is a signifier of lower class.

A soft voice is a high-class signifier, and also feminine. Cursing is non-feminine. Wearing soft fabrics and impractical shoes is feminine. (Is this the kind of stuff?)

They take leisure seriously. I mean, who cheers at a two-hour sailboat race?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:54 AM on May 12, 2011

Caveat: It's been five plus years since I read Fussell's book. But the gist of what I remember is that anxiety over social standing is a middle class phenomenon. The lower and upper classes know where they stand, are fine with it, and don't have to prove themselves to anyone. One example Fussell gives is that upper class people don't mind if there are holes in the elbows of their sweaters; they buy quality and use things until they're worn out. Conspicuous consumption is for proles.

As far as femininity is concerned, I found a website with some pretty good advice geared toward male-to-female transsexuals: Don't be a guy in a dress.
posted by Mera at 9:08 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I must second (third?) the layering of clothes for ladies. Though my family didn't have anything close to wealth when I was growing up, my mother always wanted us to behave and present ourselves with "class." When I moved to southern California, I had a fair amount of anxiety adjusting to the fact that no one wears pantyhose or slips or camisoles. So. much. skin.! A dressy outfit was not complete for my mother unless you had considered what shade pantyhose you would wear, what length slip, and whether you needed a camisole/different bra.
posted by thisness at 9:15 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Class is not related to money. Class is: being at ease in every situation, always anticipating the needs of others (but not in a hovering way), knowing the select few occasions to speak your mind, always letting others speak. You can tell that someone is 'classy' because their clothes, while not necessarily expensive, will always fit. Their hair will look good and their shoes/handbag/belt will be quality. Their skin will be good and their teeth will be nice. They will appear classic and will not be dressed trendily. I disagree about bags not having logos, but the logos will not be huge or printed all over the bag...e.g. tacky versus not tacky.

Think casual Liv Tyler versus casual Kelly Brook, or Emma Watson versus Kelly Brook (Emma left, Kelly middle). They are photographed at the same event, but Emma looks classy and Kelly does not. I'm not trying to snark, because they are both very attractive in their own ways. Also, look at Dakota Fanning versus Vanessa Hudgens. They are dressed in similar fashionable styles. While Fanning is photographed at night and Hudgens during a more casual day, you can get a sense of how one can easily tell class differences apart even with similarly wealthy people. Here is Blake Lively in the same style; she does look beautiful, but she does not look classy. She understands classic lines, though--but I have a feeling that she is 'new rich'. Finally, here is an easy one: Katie Price. Just from clothing, I can tell that Kelly Brook and Katie Price are from about the same social class. Kelly is trying to scale up, but Katie is not. Again, no snark intended--you did ask!

p.s. I just verified all of my guesses by looking at Wikipedia pages, and I was pretty close to accurate with all of them. Kelly, Vanessa, and Katie were raised by working-class parents (firefighter, scaffolder, builder, cook). Blake was middle class-ish and raised by two actor/teacher parents. Dakota was raised by a tennis player and a minor league baseball player (now an electronics salesman?), Emma was raised by lawyers, and Liv Tyler's grandmother founded the Protocol School of Washington.
posted by 200burritos at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

One thing I think is interesting is the subclass of sort of vaguely self-made entrepreneurial rich people, the way they are super distinct from old money/born rich folk. Sort of more the "Bobos in Paradise" thing alluded to above--sporty and outdoorsy, the kind to do yoga and wear jogging pants and anoraks and always carry a water bottle and talk about yeah, healthy foods. As opposed to more gender-divided prissy old money. I'm always fascinated by that subgroup.

Also, what's that quote? Something like "lower class people thing class is determined by money/income level, middle class by occupation, and truly upper class by manners."
posted by ifjuly at 11:01 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Loose powder rather than heavy foundation (or even pressed powder) is generally a sign of upper-class femininity, and it would definitely be one of the things that you can't quite put your finger on when you're out in public.

Another piece of the puzzle is that feminine women of class wear undergarments that fit them absolutely perfectly. No underwear lines and no boob spilling over the top of the bra. Even larger women won't be "bulgy" or "lumpy" in the same way they would be if they wore undergarments from Target. Foundation garments to smooth things are a must. (And by "larger" I mean size 8 and up. Even normally sized women wear foundation garments.)

Something else you are picking up on is that ladies wear shoes that are well fitting and comfortable. Out in public, this lets you look more pulled together because you're not shifting from foot to foot to take the pressure off. You are able to stand naturally and comfortably for long periods of time without tiring. (Also note that women of higher class will generally have more well defined calf muscles from standing in shoes.)

Upper class feminine women do not fuss with their clothes, hair, makeup or nails in public. Partially because higher quality means they don't need as much fussing with, and partially because it's just not done. Both of those things contribute to the "well-comported" impression you get.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

200burritos--the problem with using celebrities as examples is stylists. I doubt that these people are dressing themselves. Liv Tyler's mom was a groupie, no matter what her grandparents did.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2011

Decani--aren't people on the council estate more likely to have to deal with the government and its representatives more often than people in the luxury dwellings, and are used to having to be on the "good side" of officials with clipboards?

Which is a good point about how people deal with authority figures, based on social class and such.

I think gender differences (femininity and masculinity markers) are more often sharply divided at lower economic levels, to generalize. Higher heels, higher skirts, lower necklines, etc. and upper strata are more comfortable with a certain amount of androgyny.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:56 AM on May 12, 2011

They are dressing themselves when they are out and about, though! Liv Tyler's mom may have been a groupie, but that doesn't change what her family is. Plus, celebrities do have veto power. If a stylist ever attempted to dress me like Katie Price in the photo I provided, I'd say NO. Anyways, I may have analyzed it a little too closely, but I still feel that the photos I provided give a really good example of classy versus not.
posted by 200burritos at 12:36 PM on May 12, 2011

Regarding food, I've heard it said that lower class people are concerned about having enough food, middle class people are concerned with food that tastes good, and upper class people are concerned with food that looks good.
posted by lizbunny at 3:02 PM on May 12, 2011

-Men with designer shoes, pleated pants, and dry-cleaned clothing

I just saw this and found it very interesting. There is a class signifier (that seems to be born out of the Puritanical Northeast) of expensive clothes, yes, but worn down to the bone. You simply buy the best and use them until they fall apart - there are some photos floating around of Prince Charles' shoes which are very expensive but old and covered in patches. Similarly, a story going around about how Michael Bloomberg only owns two pairs of work shoes (and they're both loafers! The horror!).
posted by backseatpilot at 6:07 AM on May 13, 2011

> I think gender differences (femininity and masculinity markers) are more often sharply divided at lower economic levels, to generalize. Higher heels, higher skirts, lower necklines, etc. and upper strata are more comfortable with a certain amount of androgyny.

Again, I think that "rich=androgyny" is true in the upper-middle--that outdoorsy go-getting rich type is remarkably androgynous--but the super rich old money and the blue collar working class are both divided traditionally, albeit in different ways (a little more on the sexy end of things lower, and more prim n' proper old skool in the higher). All that old money Boston style, the floral blowsy dresses and hats and things and the cigars and brandy and smoking rooms with leather furniture and whatever, and distinguished facial hair...aiee.
posted by ifjuly at 7:53 AM on May 13, 2011

A feminine woman does not bounce or trudge heavily down the stairs. She gently lowers her foot to the next stair and transfers her weight to that foot. There are no boobies or other body parts flopping, and you don't hear her feet clomping.

She also probably doesn't use the words "boobies", "flopping" or "clomping", which may explain why I flunked the Staircase Walking 101 Seminar during Rush Week at my sorority in college.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:53 AM on May 13, 2011

Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction dissects the class structure of 1960s french society in a totally anal and amazing way. The period and culture might seem off but actually a lot of his observations are still relevant, I really recommend it.
posted by doobiedoo at 4:36 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is a class signifier (that seems to be born out of the Puritanical Northeast) of expensive clothes, yes, but worn down to the bone. You simply buy the best and use them until they fall apart

When I think of the old money people I have known, this is very true. They are insouciant about holes in the elbows of their years-old cable knit cardigans, scuffs on their Topsiders, and frayed edges on their canvas tennis bags. Also, the matriarch of the family may not be at all polished and made up. She will certainly be clean, but her hair may be whacked short and utilitarian, and not at all feminine. The furniture is high quality but threadbare. No socks in the summer, possibly. They may strongly identify with a summer home they have.
posted by Ellemeno at 1:04 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personalized cream-colored or other muted tone stationery. Thank you notes.
posted by Ellemeno at 1:06 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Feminine: Walk/stand with your inner wrists and forearms facing forward.
This causes, and can be emphasised by rolling your shoulders back.

In contrast, to look really ooog, ooog, male! Have the backs of your forearms facing forward, and roll your shoulders forward a bit. Walk slightly wider, like you're giving your junk more room.

But primarily, focus on the wrists, and notice all the other parts of your body that automatically fall into line - if you ask people to walk with feminine-facing arms, then usually their head goes up more, hips sashay more, footsteps fall closer to the center line, basically a whole bunch of little signals that flow on.

(I've discussed this with drag queens, and girls drag kinging for the night).
posted by Elysum at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

They also just assume either that everyone is in their class until proven otherwise (asking, where did you go to school), or that everyone will be at ease with them and interact on "equal terms" (ie without having any chip on their shoulder about class issues).

Being from the Boston area, I agree with this. I grew up in a town that has one of those old prep schools and I always know if someone is upper class because when I tell them where I grew up, they ask me if (or just assume that) I went to that school (I didn't).

Another thing that seemed like a class indicator when I was a teenager in New England: straight, thick, shiny hair on girls. This was even mentioned once on The Gilmore Girls (which, incidentally, is riddled with jokes and plot points around the intricacies of New England class markers): the main character, Rory, is assured by a "black sheep" daughter of a Harvard family that she will get in there because she has "Harvard hair."

One more thing: attitude towards where one goes to college. Not just the particular school, but the geography. I went to college 1200 miles from my hometown. People at my (blue collar) summer job after I graduated from high school seemed baffled that I was going so far away when there are so many good schools in Boston. I often got the question "what are you going there for?" because people assumed, not surprisingly, that there must be some special thing I was going so far to study. People from upper class backgrounds never seemed surprised I was going away or asked me if there was a particular reason I chose that school.

Having lived in the midwest and the northwest, I think class really does work differently in New England than it does in the rest of the US. Here in WA, for instance, almost everyone goes to public universities, because they're so good and there are very few private schools in the NW. There also isn't the whole prep-school system.
posted by lunasol at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personalized cream-colored or other muted tone stationery. Thank you notes.

Crane stationery in particular is where it's at - plus, stationery is another place to put your monogram. And thank you notes are just a lovely, ladylike thing in general.
posted by naoko at 10:38 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

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