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FFB: thoughts on social class, style and Kate Middleton

wills n kate true love

The theme for this month’s Feminist Fashion Blogger‘s themed post is social class, which is a topic that has always fascinated me. Hence the intro that has nothing to do with clothes.

I still find it hugely weird social class matters so much in the UK. Luxembourg/Germany where I am from obviously has social divisions, but they are more based on what ever job a person currently holds or what income they have, whereas in Britain this whole structure of behaviours and history and relationships and subtle subdivisions and secret meanings is built on that. The UK is a country where about 50% are in the top category of the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC), 57% consider themselves to be working class yet taking the piss out of chavs is a national past time. It’s mad, really. You could study class in the UK forever and still not fully untangle it, yet people just take it for granted and conduct their lives around it.

When I moved here in 1999, I was catapulted into a world where the whole class thing was even more important than in British life anyway. Scotland as a country pretty much sees itself as working class and there isn’t much of an upper class as a social force (the Conservative got 14% of the vote in the last election, if that is anything to go by), yet Edinburgh University where I studied is overrun with what are known as yahs (I think this is not a commonly known term?).

Basically privately educated, rich, posh accents, will speak at top volume regardless of environment, often baffling lack of intelligence or common sense yet always massive sense of entitlement, incredibly confident/good at bullshitting. Say ‘yah’ instead of yes, hence the name. See also rah which I think may be the favoured term at Durham uni. I’m using this here because being a yah is more than being upper class. It’s like a concentrated, conspicuous version of being upper class.

But to finally get to the ‘fashion’ point: Yahs are also identifiable by their clothes. When I was an undergrad, the yah style was pastel coloured rugby shirts, pashminas, long blonde slightly messy but very healthy hair. It was nothing to do with fashion, it was about showing your social position. The current yah style is epitomised by Kate and Pippa Middleton, i.e. still the amazingly healthy hair and plain, classic clothes typically worn by women 15 years older than them.

And I think this is why I can’t get behind this whole Kate Middleton style icon thing I see on all the blogs. I know literally dozens of girls who dress exactly like her. It’s just straightforward, 100% yah style. There is nothing interesting or special about the clothes at all, and presumably there isn’t meant to be. The style understated and restrained and the message is ‘I have no need to concern myself with fashion’.

So clothes are a marker of class, but they are only one of a huge range signifiers, and they need to be in tune with all the other aspects, or the result will be very jarring. Ms Cambridge in the grey dress below looks polished and classic. But she’s also incredibly pretty, her hair is shiny and immaculately done, yet natural, she is tall and so so skinny. Now picture Katie Price in that same outfit. It wouldn’t work at all, she’d look like a beauty girl at a department store make up counter. It’s not the dress, it’s how the dress merges with the person.

With apologies for rolling out the French social theorists, this made me think of Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital and his idea that every social class (and sub class) has it’s own aesthetic criteria, it’s own ‘its own artists and philosophers, newspapers and critics, just as it has its hairdresser, interior decorator, or tailor’. These aesthetic preferences aren’t consciously formed, but passed down in families, friendship groups and institutions and people are socialised into ‘their taste’ from such an early age that they don’t think about it. Things that aren’t in keeping with that taste are seen as unnatural and rejected.**

And I just wonder if maybe that somehow explains the huge popularity of Kate Middleton, which I still find highly confusing. I don’t think her appeal can really lie in being accessible (she’s far too pretty, and rich, and posh) or in being a fairytale princess (she’s far too safe anf her background is pretty mundane if very wealthy). For all the articles on where to buy her Issa dresses, I don’t think many people really want to emulate her clothes because on a normal, messy, non coiffed and chauffeured person they would really just look like standard business casual.

After mulling this over for ages, I think maybe people (subconsciously) like her because her style and taste and behavious is so utterly in line with what is expected in that position. There is no jarriness at all. She’s the perfect person to save the royal family’s reputation after the decades of loveless marriages, public racism, nazi uniforms and taped sex talk scandals. She won’t embarrass anyone and it won’t be an effort because she seems genuinely happy. Her job is to smile and wave and make small talk and she does it beautifully. It’s like she was born to do it.

What do you think? This was a difficult post to write hence the lack of a coherent argument. I kepts veering into my own personal history which I woluld rather not and was worried I was having too much of a personal go at poor Katie, which I really don’t mean to. She interests me only as a representative of yahness.

A roundup of the rest of this month’s themed posts can be found on the Feminist Fashion Bloggers blog.

Kate and Wills illustration via here. Kate Middleton picture from some tabloid website and Katie Price picture from some showbiz website.

** Apologies for the shoddy treatment of Bourdieu, sociology and cultural studies people. I haven’t read any actual Bourdieu, just about him, but I know there’s more of a point than that, but I wanted to keep it readable and relevant to fashion.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ceri 13 July 2011, 7:26 am

    An interesting post. I know what you mean about Yahs. I went to a public/ boarding school for sixth form and it was filled with Yahs. The girls call their parents Mummy and Daddy even though they are almost grown up and they called the local people who lived in the village plebs! The girls lived in jeans and v necked jumpers. Funnily enough when I asked my mum years ago what class we were she said working class. Although my parents are both doctors, they worked hard and so would put themsleves in a category.

    I think their is a new class system  in the UK of those who live off benefits, this can't really be described as working class perhaps this is where some of the chavs fit in. I definitely think each of the classes has its own sort of uniform although amongst all the people wearing the same sort of clothes there are always some doing their own thing. I agree that Kate Middleton needs to dress in an understated way for her role, she is very pretty and well groomed so this look works well for her. Funnily enough the understated way that she dresses only seems to increase the interest in her wardrobe. I would never copy her style though, it would look awful on me and I would get so bored.  

  • poet 13 July 2011, 8:00 am

    I don't really have a lot of insight into the British class system, nor have I concerned myself very much with the Kate Middleton hype, but what you write seems very plausible. I'm wondering if the Yah style is in any way parallel to the US preppie style…. Great writing of yours, I'm off to write my own post now 🙂

  • oranges_and_apples 13 July 2011, 8:21 am

    It's interesting this middle class people calling themselves working class
    thing. I don't get it at all. My dad is the youngest of 6, the son of a farm
    labourer and the first two go to university in the family. But he's a legal
    translator for the EU now, and it would never even occur to me to think of
    him as working class despite his background. I think it's partly that he
    really likes middle class things like theatre and high brow literature, but
    still. I've never spoken to him about it, just because class isn't a big
    thing in German/Luxembourg culture, class is pretty much assumed to be
    occupational group, and there isn't all this cultural baggage attached.

    I think the whole class structure is changing though, there isn't really
    very many people who would fit what working class traditionally refers to
    any more. But all these new categories are emerging, and we're more
    judgemental than ever. Like all those the only way is Essex people. They're
    rich, but culture wise they are living in a way that definitely invites
    snobbery/the visceral disgust Bourdieu was talking about. Or so I imagine
    from what I've read, I've never actually seen it.

  • oranges_and_apples 13 July 2011, 8:25 am

    I think it's similar, but then I don't really know much about US social
    divisions. I get the sense that US ones are more about money and less about
    history though. Easier to get into when you're rich.

  • Frocktasia 13 July 2011, 9:37 am

    Hi there,

    I’m originally from Sweden & I also think that people
    tend obsess more over class in the UK, especially in the hierarchical sense of
    the word.

    I do come from a working-class background myself but for me
    this is simply another way of saying that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in
    my mouth and that I hail from a long line of hardworking individuals, nothing
    more; class is a petty and often misleading way of categorising people.

    Personally I like to evaluate people on an individual level,
    on what their substance is, not their societal rank, job title or bank balance.

    In other words If they happen to be a benevolent banker or
    conscientious CEO (I’ve yet to come across one) that conduct themselves with
    not only their own interests at heart then I salute them but I will not bow to
    anyone simply because society stipulates that their box has been placed above
    mine, be they king, queen, pope or self-styled ruler with a God complex, I
    don’t care, they still have to prove themselves deserving of my respect or
    admiration before I will award it.

    As regards to Kate ‘Yah-Yah’ Middleton…most of her style
    icon standing is derived simply from her status and much like Lady Di before
    her she is duty-bound to wear clothes befitting of that status…. poor thing! (I
    bet she goes wild behind closed doors though).

    Just as well she’s not a Plain Jane really cause the clothes
    themselves are in my opinion less than enthralling bar perhaps her wedding
    frock which I have to admit was really rather nice.

    Thanks for a great though provoking post.

    Take care luv,



  • Alexandra Thérèse 13 July 2011, 10:04 am

    Hmmm I don't really think you can class Kate Middleton as a yah to be honest – yes she went to a prestigious boarding school, comes from a wealthy background and attended St Andrew's, but the first line of the urban dictionary definition you linked to describes yahs as "An arrogant upper/upper-middle class lady/gent" and I don't really get the impression that Kate is arrogant, do you? Also, shouldn't the fact that she wears brands that aren't ridiculously high-end (eg. Reiss) be seen as her way of promoting fashion that is accessible to the masses? I think that really, she isn't too bothered about fashion and just wants to look the part, which let's face it – she always does! I agree that it was like she was born to become part of the Royal Family though, but at least she seems happy in her role. As to rahs, I wasn't too pleased to read in the UD definition that "Names often include: Alexandra". I'm sorry, but what?! Rahs may stereotypically wear Jack Wills etc., but surely there can't be stereotypical rah names?! Actually I find it pretty funny that I apparently have a rah name and didn't even know it – because I am definitely NOT a rah! 

  • oranges_and_apples 13 July 2011, 10:41 am

    I wouldn't take the urban dictionary thing too seriously, its obviously very
    negative rather than descriptive. Like kill all yahs! or whatever it says.
    KM seemed like a yah to me when I've heard her speak, and I get that sense
    if entitlement off her, though in the nicest possible way. She's clearly got
    no ambition to do anything in the world of real work. She was given a cushy
    job which she gave up to sit about and wait for Mr Will to propose. Normal
    people would not have the security to do that.

    As for names, I have a kind of yah name too – lots of of them at uni were
    called Francesca and would always ask me 'Franca – is that short for
    Francesca?'. Really quite annoying when -esca is just the italian ending for
    little. I wouldn't mind having a real yah name though – its just statistical
    association, it doesn't make you anything. Though I agree that Alexandra
    isn't a yah name in my experience.

  • Claire 13 July 2011, 10:57 am

    I think that this is a really fine analysis, actually.

  • Claire 13 July 2011, 12:21 pm

    Middle class people calling themselves working class? I think it's the "British self-deprecation", which in this case is actually guilt re: the awareness of privilege in disguise as a love of "authenticity".

    People in general are aware that "middle class" means comfortable, and there's a background panic about how that implies a sort of meaninglessness and a fear of being thought of as someone who didn't get where they were through hard work – but didn't get there by being inherently Of Noble Blood, a la the upper class. Saying "Oh, I'm working class, me" is a way of saying "I'm not like all those OTHER twats, who just rest on their bronze-medal laurels and aren't in touch with, like, STRUGGLE and the HONEST WORKING MAN and stuff. I'm real, I am.".

    This is my theory/assumption, anyway.

  • Power Femme 13 July 2011, 12:29 pm

    Nice post- I think your's overlaps with mine some (though you are way more focused and coherent!). I talk about how beauty is a social construction, and that how that social construction is shaped by a capitalist beauty industry, so therefore our very idea of beauty is classed. Seems like that is what's going on with Kate- we expect her to be these things, and project them on her. We are kind of convinced that she is perfection in terms of style, but that is what culture has told us  to think- beauty and money being one in the same. I do think she is lovely, but not extraordinary. Great stuff 🙂

  • Katie 13 July 2011, 2:14 pm

    My (British born and raised) grandmother always makes a point to let people know she came from the "right type of family" in England because social stature doesn't work the same way here in the US. She even tried to avoid having a postal address and wanted packages just addressed to the name of her house (yes, she names her homes) instead!

    We didn't have Yahs, but I grew up in one of the richest parts of New England. There, everyone can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower (damn, that must have been a giant ship) and the aesthetic is very similar to the one you described: thin, long hair, simple clothing, classic jewelry, etc. (even more austere than the "preppie" style Poet described). I've never subscribed that that style, but I hadn't considered why. I suspect I would look out of place, and I KNOW I would feel out of place, but is it because of my own socioeconomic level (military brat, which was as low as you could go by the standards of the communities surrounding our base) or my own personal preferences? And how many of those preferences have been shaped by my socioeconomic level?

  • Helen 13 July 2011, 2:17 pm

    This is a really interesting post Franca! I don't really find Kate Middleton a 'style icon' at all, because her style is pretty much the same as any well groomed, well educated and well off woman in her position. Yes, she always looks well presented but nothing special. 

    Class is such a strange issue. As my Mum is Spanish, I don't see it as much from her side but my Dad's family are very working class, factory workers, etc. Scott's family is the same and although his Mum has a degree and he is studying for his PhD and we are quite 'comfortable' and can afford luxuries, he still says that he is working class because of his background. It's like people from working class backgrounds don't want to be seen as becoming 'posher' I think. But on the otherside they like the luxuries that go along with it. I think there are so many streams even within the 3 classes! Like when people say that Kate Middleton is a 'commoner' because her family are 'new money' and not 'old money'. Just because her family have earnt their money and not inherited it, they are not as high in the upper class circles. 

  • Rhiannelouise 13 July 2011, 2:26 pm

    Great post. I haven't really got caught up in the hype about her either (apart from her gorgeous hair!) and it might just be for these very reasons and I'm definitely aware of the Yah's lol – Princess Diana herself was a sloane in the 80's and Yah's are called modern sloanes now apparently…

    The funny thing about this whole situation is that Kate Middleton was still considered a commoner within the British class system which I find amazing… but I think thats part of the bigger plan to reconnect the Royals and save their reputation as you said – she is on the borderline between royalty and everyone else which is why the understated look works so well for her – she is appealing to everyone without being an unapproachable snob.

  • Rad 13 July 2011, 3:02 pm

    Excellent analysis.  I don't know why I just didn't really care for Kate Middleton myself.  I harbor no ill will.  I think she's beautiful and tasteful, but I don't consider her as interesting as other British "style icons" we see in the press such as Alexa Chung (is she a multiracial yah gone hip?), Keira Knightley, Kate Moss, or Beth Ditto.  I don't know much about British social class, except from living in central London for 2 months and having a good friend from the UK have taught me. 
    I guess I understand Kate's accessibility and appeal to be different in the US than the UK.  Most Americans aren't in tune with what's approripate for upper
    class Brits (many consider Victoria Beckham to be the British upper
    class' poster girl).  There are vast differences in class identification between the US and the UK.  In the US, everyone is middle-class.  Even my students, of which 75% qualify for need based federal financial aid (with household incomes below $45,000, which does not go far in NYC), consider themselves middle class, even if their parents are not college educated.  At the same time, a college professor at a top University (and doctor wife) wrote an article moaning about his economic precariousness should Obama get rid of the Bush era tax cuts last year fall, just because he made more than $250,000 annually (many economic analysts estimated his income to be around $400,000), suggesting that like others, he too was just another middle class American.  Because we have a such a vast and expansive understanding of what is middle class and therefore "just like us," perhaps many do see Kate as being like them, and like the fairytale "commoner gone royal" story.
    I respectually disagree with an earlier commenter who stated that class is a stupid way to divide people.  It's probably the dominant way in which we are already divided.  Class consciousness, not to get too Marxist, and its overlap or failure to overlap with socioeconomic positions, can lead to such fascinating and often unpredictable outcomes.

  • Anne @ The Frump Factor 13 July 2011, 3:09 pm

    I do think they're somewhat similar.  Kate M.'s style (and mystique) remind me of the Kennedy women here in the U.S.  (Interestingly — here, everybody calls themselves "middle class."  That's considered the non-threatening "norm" — not too snooty but not low-status, either.  Everybody from working class to high-end professionals will use this phrase).

  • Autumn 13 July 2011, 3:38 pm

     Excellent thinking points here! (I'm from the States and so like you my base in looking at the UK class system is as an outsider.) I love what you wrote about how class signifiers must fit in with the overall class image, or else they betray an unintended image.

  • RelatableStyle 13 July 2011, 3:54 pm

    You might be right, it is her perfection that draws people in, combined with genuine happiness in her current situation. She might not be approachable (even if she looks the part) but she sure seems likeable, as does William. Her clothes fit her, suit her, make her look great. This is what a lot of style bloggers (as opposed to fashion bloggers who often think she's boring) are drawn to.

    Apart from that, I noticed that a lot of people confused about her style icon status seem to live in the UK. And with what you said it absolutely makes sense, you all see those people, may it be Yahs, Rahs or Sloane Rangers, in your daily lives and you know what's behind the dress code. Me, as a German, I had no idea (as you can imagine ^^), all I see is a pretty girl in pretty clothes. And I like it 🙂 I wouldn't buy the exact same things but I am inspired to take what's working on her and make it work for me. So she's at least a role model, clothes-wise. Ok, she could stand to gain some weight. I preferred her a little less twiggy. On the other hand, given her position, the number of people (and yellow press) watching her wedding and now her stomach, I understand why she's so thin right now. I just hope she'll gain a pound or two in the future 😉

    Relatable Style

  • The Waves 13 July 2011, 6:11 pm

    Great, thoughtful post, Franca. I lived in London for 4 years and I was utterly confused about the whole notion of social class just like you. I think you've done a good job dissecting it. In the US, it is funny how everyone wants to desperately label themselves working class. If you speak French, you are as good as a European aristocrat.

    When I was growing up in Finland, social classes didn't seem to exist. You were either from a family of money (often from the Swedish minority) or from the working class. Income-related divisions have sort of exploded recently, with fast, tabloid-type media and the success Nokia brought along in the 1990s. There is now a Louis Vuitton-carrying stereotype in Finland, associated with a particularly wealthy city next to Helsinki, but to be honest I don't know if it has anything to do with actual social class. People have just become more sensitive to income. It shows that Finland is a young state.

  • Elly 13 July 2011, 7:24 pm

    This is really interesting, Franca.  As an American, I've certainly seen the hype over Kate and her new "style icon" status, but didn't have the reference point of a whole group of young British folks who dress similarly… seems like there are some relationships between the Yahs and the Preps in the US (at least New England Preps, the type I'm most familiar with)… a particular dress code (including the pastel polos), privately educated, meant to show that they're from money/class (in particular from old money/class) — as you say, "a concentrated, conspicuous version of being upper class."  And interesting point that by Kate being part of an "appropriate" class, and showing that class through its expected style, she can be seen as a style icon… not because she's doing anything daring or bold or fascinating or out-of-the-box but because she's fitting into her new role so well (= so "appropriately").  Lots of food for thought here…

  • Suzzanna Amanzio 13 July 2011, 8:16 pm

    Being from the states. I don't know much about British Social class divisions. Though I did study abroad in London – I don't think I was blatantly confronted with  class issues (that or in being a 20 something young student I didn't notice). Anyway – this idea of Yah style(as Poet stated in a comment) is very similar to "prepsters" and the preppy/upper class in the states and by upper class I mean old blue bloods – mostly of the New England set. People who attend prep schools, and whose parents own homes on the cape. People like my parents… though I think that "preppy style" is something an elite set clings to to reflect their social standing. It is not a refection of personal style, or something really to emulate as an outsider to that group/subset. As someone who grew up in the middle of all that New England-ness, it was something to rebel against.  I do not understand the Kate Middleton hype- but it is perhaps as you said , that she (and her style) fit  her role perfectly.

  • RK 13 July 2011, 8:39 pm

    Thanks for this commentary! I only spent a short time in Britain (~2 months) for a summer term abroad, but I did get the sense that social class boundaries were more entrenched than what I had encountered in North America, and the way people spoke really MATTERED. 

    I also find your comment about imagining Katie Price wearing Kate Middleton's clothes (only to signify something completely different) very interesting. Which makes me wonder: is there a certain body type for the upper class?  

    And finally, your post also made me think of Tom and Lorenzo's (from http://www.tomandlorenzo.com) analysis of Middleton (whom they affectionately call "Cathy Cambridge) – they said in one post that in a way, Middleton's style is way more analogous to Queen Elizabeth's than Diana's, because she tends to go for simple things with almost no design element to them at all. 

  • For Those About To Shop 13 July 2011, 9:46 pm

    Well-considered post on class in the UK! My dad is from England and he often laments the class system there. North America may not have a class system but they are obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder and acquiring things to improve their "status". It's almost worse when you are taught that you can be whatever you want (meritocracy) because it is all based around acquiring material things. I'm on the spiritual path myself and it perplexes me how much North Americans worship money-making as though it's a religion.

  • Laura 13 July 2011, 10:51 pm

    "Commoner" is not the same as common, though; it doesn't mean lower-class, just that she is not of royal blood 🙂

  • Jacqueline 13 July 2011, 11:17 pm

    Well I am always happy to see a blog post that mentions Bourdieu, especially as I once wrote a lengthy essay about the problems of access to art galleries across the social spectrum, which took Bourdieu's essay as it's starting point. Now if you manage to quote Peter Burger in the next post, that would really make my day ;-).
    I must admit, I'm highly relieved that I am not the only one who doesn't really get the 'Kate as style icon' thing, yes, she does dress 'nicely', she's well turned out and I think it probably befits her status as a royal. It's nice and safe but, it doesn't really make me think 'ohhh I really want to dress like that'. Your comments about the public liking her style because it is very in keeping with what they expect from a royal are, I suspect, spot on.
    And yes, can't deny it, us Brits do have a peculiar obsession with class, I suspect that the 'I'm working class, me' stance stems from a time in the not too distant industrial past when to be working class meant getting your hands dirty. To claim to be working class is like a badge that proclaims to the world that you're not 'lazy' because you do a 'proper' job. And, yes, it IS odd that we have clung onto this notion for so long.

  • Maria 14 July 2011, 4:03 pm

    I think they're similar but also re: what you mentioned in the brackets- I think this is where they are VERY different. The rahs or yahs are certainly not considered middle class, neither by themselves nor others.

  • Rochelle 15 July 2011, 12:19 am

    Very, very interesting post and topic. Social class in America is different from that in the UK. It also seems to be quite different depending on where you are in the US. The east coast has a vastly different take on it than the west coast does. For the most part education and income dictate class more than history does, with the exception of the northeast. 

  • madam0wl a.k.a Sandra 15 July 2011, 7:50 am

    Interesting about the "yahs" – they sound a lot like sorority girls in the states.  Only for some bizarre reason, the sorority girls, when I was a TA in grad school at least, were totally in to looking like they just rolled out of bed, as in, actual PJ pants (posh brand of course) in class, except with the wealthy looking hair / makeup / tans, etc. all stuffed under some posh brand baseball cap, bleh.

    I found the thing about being socialized into one's taste very interesting too.  Did I get my aesthetic preferences / sense of style from my family?  Possibly!  I certainly grew up not worrying about 'home decor' nor fretting about clutter about the house… 🙂

    Also interesting to think about the upper upper class, the bred-to-be-royalty and/or equivalent (maybe born-into-money), may have no concern for fashion, or want to portray that stance.  It seems to be the people a step or two below that, the upper middle class ?, are the ones that clamor for the labels and all the latest trendiest stuff and probably are spending more on (and worrying about) portraying a wealthy 'stylish' look then they really should be.  

  • Veshoevius 15 July 2011, 2:10 pm

    Franca this is a brilliant post!  I should have written something for this as an Australian landing in England, like you I found the whole class thing absolutely bewildering. Studying at Cambridge meant I got more than enough exposure to the rah crowd for my liking to remove any kind of romantic sheen off them and the lofty place they seem to have in this society. And the sycophantic fuss being made over Kate Middleton and her frankly dull and conservative wardrobe bores me to no end.  Style icon? Pah! The poor girl probably has everything including her hemline length dictated to her.  I'm glad a few people like you, Desiree from Pull Your Socks up and the journalist Tanya Gold are coming out and asking what all the fuss is about.

  • StyleSample 15 July 2011, 7:30 pm

    Great post–I have discussions (read: arguments) about American social and class structure with my boyfriend often, usually as it relates to race and political beliefs. They're all intertwined, for sure.

    I think much of class structure here in the US is derived from that of the UK. I've never been all that impressed by Kate's style, but I can see where people feel some sort of aspirational kinship because she makes the type of life she leads–posh & sophisticated, at the HIGHEST level of social class and highly RESPECTED–seem easy and natural, as though we're all one Reiss dress away from duchess-hood.

  • Fashionpearlsofwisdom 16 July 2011, 9:49 am

    I think people want to emulate Kates style because she is the latest 'celeb' who is accessible – her clothes are affordable, just like Kate Moss, Siena Miller and those gone before them. I really dont think they consider class. 

  • Cynthia 16 July 2011, 7:04 pm

    Well, here it doesn't really matter if you're rich until you're REALLY rich.  I'm a high-end professional, in a sense, and I'm probably in the top 10% of US income earners, but it is in no way enough to take me out of the life of work, or even to ensure that I won't go hungry in my old age or broke the first time a really big medical bill comes up.  There are only a very small few people in the US for whom money is truly not an object.  Even if my wage is nicer than some, I still have to grub for it daily.

    I'm pretty sure that's why everyone calls themselves middle class.  We know how precarious our situations are, even if we're a dual income couple with a $250K annual income and a nice house.  All that could be lost in a minute.  You're not truly rich until you don't have to worry about random misfortune.

    And as for the other end of the spectrum no one wants to identify with the poor, because Americans, at this point in history, are ruthless as wolves about anyone who can't make it "by their own bootstraps" (especially if those persons happen to be non-Caucasian in their persuasion).  It's almost as if poverty is a moral issue and if you fall in it automatically makes you a bad person. Calvinism (in which wealth is a sign of God's love) took hold very, very deeply here and some of our current fights about money are tied right to that.

  • Mim McDonald 17 July 2011, 7:02 am

    That's because class has as much to do with where you're from as where you are. I have what might be a middle-class job (magazine journo) and went to university, but like your dad I was the first in my family to go to university and I do think of myself as working class. I never had music lessons. The only foreign holidays I had was one school exchange (and I think we had about three family hoildays in my life). This sets me apart from a lot of the people I encounter – I'm a lot more aware of middle-class privilege, which many of them take for granted. My cultural references are still, in many ways, working class ones. That's how you can be positioned within the middle class but still feel, at your core, working class.

  • Olivia 18 July 2011, 3:57 pm

    This is such a great article. You brought up some really interesting points, some of which had never occurred to me before. What you wrote about Kate Middleton is completely true, in my opinion. And I think a lot of other readers and writers are starting to realize how blasé she can be.

  • Intrinsically Florrie 19 July 2011, 7:27 pm

    I still call my parents Mummy and Daddy. *shrugs* This is probably down to the years I've spent at home ill making us incredibly close. I don't always refer to them as that to others though.

    At the debutante etiquette day we were firmly told 'yah' was not as good as 'yes'!

    Class is a funny issue and not easy to define but I think you tackled it well. I challenge anyone to fit me into one box as far as class goes. My style, income, hertiage, behaviour, hobbies, accent, friendship group and goodness knows what else all contradict.

    I think Kate's worn a few nice dresses recently but as Ceri said I'd get bored and want to accessorize them in a more fun and less matchy way.

    Florrie x

  • Cookie 19 July 2011, 8:22 pm

    This is fascinating looking at it from an American perspective. I honestly had no idea there was such a thing as yahs. Also, I just assumed people liked Kate because she's pretty, and seems like the type of girl you'd like to bring home to mommy and daddy.

  • oranges_and_apples 10 October 2011, 7:26 am

    I think it's similar, but then I don't really know much about US social
    divisions. I get the sense that US ones are more about money and less about
    history though. Easier to get into when you're rich.

  • lvb 13 October 2011, 9:48 pm

    I find Kate common in manner and DRESS , she's very stiff, very unsure,  hair twisting, hair swooping-fidgiting, muddleing hems, slightly off-tailored clothes, that don't have that pristine look of being well tailored, disembarking cars awkwardly all GIVE HER AWAY that she's middleclass, working class background. She always just seems to be apeing the real Aristocratic girls she wanted to become a part of, but she's always just slighty off (the aristo-game) to the keen eye (but I think that's why Pr.William wanted her, HE WAS REBELLING, TRYING TO SHOW EVERYONE HE WAS GOING TO HAVE A COMMONER Bride, who doesn't know the real rules of Aristocracy and who was not to the manner and servents born, without the triple barrelled names. Pr. William marrying Kate is HIS VERSION OF SLUMMING IT, no matter how much the press proclaims the supposed wealth of her family. She's a girl from a working class family in Berks, who has to keep that party-favor internet income coming in every month to pay their bills. She has no trust fund, no dowry, like Diana.
     When Pr.William first DECIDED TO ASK Kate out, she was wearing something Katie Price would have worn, a sheer see through lingerie dress with ribbons and her hair was wild, frizzie big with a thin braid dangling. Pr.William thinks of Kate as his way of slumming it. imo Kate would have ever naturally been accepted into the circle of Aristocrats around Prince William if she had not dated him, because she was simply NOT of their class, she was NOT naturally included in his circle structure of horse riding,Estate private party aristos. That is one reason Kate will almost ALWAYS be written up as a Socialclimber and common. The Middleton's were not aristos they did not have artisto friends, they were working class , HARD working class people who's mother wanted to send her children to posh schools, but even though Kate had been  at posh schools for years prior to PW, she was NEVER allowed access to any of the Aristocratic events or parties until Prince William reached out and touched her, pulling her INTO that group, because Kate had no long generational lineage or even business contacts with Aristos(such as Holly Branson, an example of new-money shildren who were given access to the Aristo-circle without dating into it like Kate had to do for access. The Middleton's are working class who made money, but the doors only opened when Kate met William at school, until then Kate was still just a girl who's parents owned a middleclass-business, who wanted contact with the Aristocrats. Kate had no real aristo friends, until PW STARTED DATING HER. She had one friend who kept her on the fringes, but she was not allowed across the hallowed Aristocratic circle until she started dating Pr.William. And if you look at her attire prior to Prince William, she wore jeans, sweater's, sometimes cowboy hats and she was a lot heavier. She only seems to ape what she THINKS proper Aristo girls will wear, it's like she's never authentic because she's copying the aristo girls, it does not come naturally to her and people who know fashion can sense it. Even her wedding dress was a dull copy of beautiful Princess Grace's dress. Kate has no real authentic taste of her own, that is why she will never have the pancahe of Jackie Kennedy or Diana.  IMO Kate is a middlelass girl from a workingclass family who is desperately afriad to be exposed as such not so much by the press but by the Aristocrats she has now joined through marriage, so she will always go for the dull choice. Diana and Jackie on ther otherhand were authentically part of the real Aristocracy so they were trailblazers, authentic trendsetters. Diana and Jackie and Grace created  fashion starting points, for women. Whereas with Kate, I can go in any mall or office building in middle america and see a girl dressed similar or better wore. Kate's fashion is forgettable.

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