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Paul fussell's "class"  

post #1 of 55
Thread Starter 
At the behest of several members here, I recently picked up a copy of Paul Fussell's Class. I thought it was a pretty poor book--wholly unsubstantiated, biased, and untestable. This wouldn't have passed for acceptable sociologic method even two-hundred years ago. But academic gripes aside, Fussel makes some interesting points concerning clothing. He says:
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"[L]aboring to present yourself scrupulously clean and neat suggests that you're worried about status slippage and that you care terribly what your audience thinks, both low signs. The perfect shirt collar, the too neatly tied necktie knot, the anxious over attention to dry cleaning--all betray the wimp. Or the nasty nice. The deployment of the male bowtie is an illustration. If neatly tied, centered, and balanced, the effect is middle-class. When tied askew, as if carelessly or incompetently, the effect is upper-middle or even, if sufficiently inept, upper. [. . .] "Too careful means low--at least middle-class, perhaps prole. 'Dear boy, you're almost too well dressed to be a gentleman,' Neil Mackwood, author of Debrett's In and Out (1980), imagines an upper-class person addressing someone in the middle class, as if the speaker were implying that the addressee is not a gent but a model, a floorwalker, or an actor."
It's a mark of the middle class to be concerned about this passage, but I still take issue with these claims. Is it really lower class to be well-dressed? Do you associate messiness with the Rockefellers, Pews, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, and Vanderbilts? I can see a new and neat Men's Wearhouse suit looking middle-class--but can't envision the same from Kiton, etc.. Your insights are appreciated.
post #2 of 55
Quote:
At the behest of several members here, I recently picked up a copy of Paul Fussell's Class. I thought it was a pretty poor book--wholly unsubstantiated, biased, and untestable. This wouldn't have passed for acceptable sociologic method even two-hundred years ago. But academic gripes aside, Fussel makes some interesting points concerning clothing. He says:
Quote:
"[L]aboring to present yourself scrupulously clean and neat suggests that you're worried about status slippage and that you care terribly what your audience thinks, both low signs. The perfect shirt collar, the too neatly tied necktie knot, the anxious over attention to dry cleaning--all betray the wimp. Or the nasty nice. The deployment of the male bowtie is an illustration. If neatly tied, centered, and balanced, the effect is middle-class. When tied askew, as if carelessly or incompetently, the effect is upper-middle or even, if sufficiently inept, upper. [. . .] "Too careful means low--at least middle-class, perhaps prole. 'Dear boy, you're almost too well dressed to be a gentleman,' Neil Mackwood, author of Debrett's In and Out (1980), imagines an upper-class person addressing someone in the middle class, as if the speaker were implying that the addressee is not a gent but a model, a floorwalker, or an actor."
It's a mark of the middle class to be concerned about this passage, but I still take issue with these claims. Is it really lower class to be well-dressed? Do you associate messiness with the Rockefellers, Pews, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, and Vanderbilts? I can see a new and neat Men's Wearhouse suit looking middle-class--but can't envision the same from Kiton, etc.. Your insights are appreciated.
Problem 1. Badly dressed can be either upper class (who are very secure of themselves) or lower class. Problem 2. Fussell does not consider the fact that some people may have an interest in clothes. Therefore, even the upper class or the lower class who appreciate fine clothes will dress well. It is a good book, and I find the predictions stunningly accurate. Low class people do practice defensive optimism all the time, and they like to affirm their own existence by "reading" their books/notes to themselves (in whispers) in the library which annyos the hell out of me. Clothes that don't fit (too loose, tight). Clothes that are trendy in a "demeaning way". Clothes made with polyester. Clothes that expose belly buttons. And they drink soda, not water, all the time. They do have their positive qualities though, but I'm not in the mood tonight
post #3 of 55
It is an interesting book, for what it is. In my view, I put the book in the same category as The Preppy Handbook as it's essentially a guidebook for middles and upper-middles on how to look/live like they are a notch above: -- how to dress (don't try too hard - i.e., don't overdress for occasions as overdressing suggests insecurity (Fussell would probably say "class" insecurity)). I may be wrong, but I think that's his message -- dress for the situation and err on the side of underdressing. -- what to drive. In a gross overgeneralization that is characteristic of the entire book, he suggests that most high-end cars such as Mercedes are evidence of someone middle class trying to appear higher class. -- where to live. In the city and in "old" suburbs are where old money live. -- Etc. Read the book. It's really very amusing.
post #4 of 55
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At the behest of several members here, I recently picked up a copy of Paul Fussell's Class. I thought it was a pretty poor book--wholly unsubstantiated, biased, and untestable. This wouldn't have passed for acceptable sociologic method even two-hundred years ago. But academic gripes aside, Fussel makes some interesting points concerning clothing. He says:
Quote:
"[L]aboring to present yourself scrupulously clean and neat suggests that you're worried about status slippage and that you care terribly what your audience thinks, both low signs. The perfect shirt collar, the too neatly tied necktie knot, the anxious over attention to dry cleaning--all betray the wimp. Or the nasty nice. The deployment of the male bowtie is an illustration. If neatly tied, centered, and balanced, the effect is middle-class. When tied askew, as if carelessly or incompetently, the effect is upper-middle or even, if sufficiently inept, upper. [. . .] "Too careful means low--at least middle-class, perhaps prole. 'Dear boy, you're almost too well dressed to be a gentleman,' Neil Mackwood, author of Debrett's In and Out (1980), imagines an upper-class person addressing someone in the middle class, as if the speaker were implying that the addressee is not a gent but a model, a floorwalker, or an actor."
It's a mark of the middle class to be concerned about this passage, but I still take issue with these claims. Is it really lower class to be well-dressed? Do you associate messiness with the Rockefellers, Pews, DuPonts, Mellons, Fords, and Vanderbilts? I can see a new and neat Men's Wearhouse suit looking middle-class--but can't envision the same from Kiton, etc.. Your insights are appreciated.
Problem 1. Badly dressed can be either upper class (who are very secure of themselves) or lower class. Problem 2. Fussell does not consider the fact that some people may have an interest in clothes. Therefore, even the upper class or the lower class who appreciate fine clothes will dress well. It is a good book, and I find the predictions stunningly accurate. Low class people do practice defensive optimism all the time, and they like to affirm their own existence by "reading" their books/notes to themselves (in whispers) in the library which annyos the hell out of me. Clothes that don't fit (too loose, tight). Clothes that are trendy in a "demeaning way". Clothes made with polyester. Clothes that expose belly buttons. And they drink soda, not water, all the time. They do have their positive qualities though, but I'm not in the mood tonight
What about a combination of drinks? Whilst too much soft drink's will hardly help a person become the perfect picture of health, moderate soda drinking will not deter one's health too much, i.e. perhaps one can of soda per day, max (I must admit, as a person whom works for a B2B computer company and sits at the computer all day, I quite often break this rule ). Of course, throughout the day I also drink about a gallon of water, orange juice, and on occasion alcohol. Which is something which also when not taken into moderation leads to not only deterred health, but other wonderful changes in personality. If the middle beverage downfall of the middle class is soda, then surely the beverage downfall of the upper class is Grey Goose . Regarding your other point: well, people are people; money is only one factor of separation. If you take two upper class people with completely different backgrounds, they will act differently. For their education / environment is completely different. Every person has "defensive optimism" regarding one topic or another, a defense of which they practice all the time. It is human nature to act defensively (and optimistic, just ask every executive who violates SEC insider trading rules, if they feel optimistic that they won't get caught). Before branding someone a plebian they must show themselves that they in fact are one. (Aw, hell even I don't fully believe that one, some people are just plebs.) Jon.
post #5 of 55
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In my view, I put the book in the same category as The Preppy Handbook as it's essentially a guidebook for middles and upper-middles on how to look/live like they are a notch above...
Sort of like online style forums. I would assume those in the true upper class 1) wouldn't care how to dress better or 2) would already know. (And why would someone be in a library? I would think the upper class would simply buy the books they need...) AlanC (from a stunningly middle-class background)
post #6 of 55
Who the hell cares? Caring so much about class is just plain crass. End of story.
post #7 of 55
I don't see it quite so much as a class distinction - as another pointed out some dress well because they are into clothes, some studiously work at it to make the impression. I guess I fell into the latter category first as a young guy int he tech sales world - I bought Brioni and later Oxxford because I felt out of place in the boardrooms and that gave me the the boost to feel like I belonged there. ...but I grew up thinking of Dillard's as the 'expensive' store with the really good stuff. Now since I am in the business my 8 year old has picked up enough that she assumes a sweater will be cashmere, puts down leather goods at Neimans and asks me to find something like it but better for her in Florence and get her a new Easter dress in Milan. Class? Nahhhhh she just learned the evils of polyester at a tender age. ...but one day she will make some man very poor :-)
post #8 of 55
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(And why would someone be in a library? I would think the upper class would simply buy the books they need...)
The upper class, as I understand, do not spend money like there is no tomorrow even though they can afford to do so. The key is to spend money with grace. Going to a library for a book is a lot classier than buying one from half.com. For starters, you actually need to know how to use a library.
post #9 of 55
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(And why would someone be in a library? I would think the upper class would simply buy the books they need...)
The upper class, as I understand, do not spend money like there is no tomorrow even though they can afford to do so. The key is to spend money with grace. Going to a library for a book is a lot classier than buying one from half.com.
Quite. There is a leisurely pleasure in finding a book, finding a quite corner and perusing it. Jon.
post #10 of 55
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(And why would someone be in a library? I would think the upper class would simply buy the books they need...)
For starters, you actually need to know how to use a library.
But from what I've read intelligence is only a "consolation" for the middle class. That observation seems to be more true all the time.
post #11 of 55
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But from what I've read intelligence is only a "consolation" for the middle class. That observation seems to be more true all the time.
I believe I said (in jest) that intelligence is a consolation for the poor. I didn't say that there is anything wrong with someone being upper class and intelligent. And using the library, like using the right fork, is not intelligence. I have the sense that you don't like me, but that's okay.
post #12 of 55
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Hackney: You have also written about American class, which is not something Americans are very much aware of. Fussell: I'll tell you why I did that. Most Americans, in their sweet innocence, think that class has to do with money. But a glance at Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley will indicate that it has very little to do with money. It has to do with taste and style, and it has to do with the development of those features by acts of character. That was one of my points: to try to separate class from mercantilism or commercialism
Remember something about Fussell - he always writes as a cynic. His main goal is to tear down the artificial conventions of the post WW2 boom (as well as the gross misrepresentation of our involvement in the war itself) and, as a self-described skeptic/minimalist, the Anglophilian class system in America as defined by income. His writing reflects the opinions of someone who has seen, first-hand, Humanity at it's worst and it's subsequent reactions too that. You have to at least give him credit for his consistent disillusionment with the world.
post #13 of 55
Found the book to be an often hilarious and astute code to understanding American culture.  Rider put it well. (I read it years ago, but still retain a thing or two.)  To bring up two things he says about clothes that are helpful for the forum: 1. the smaller the gap between one's finest and one's everyday, the higher the class, with the exception of waiters and pianists, and 2. the prole gap is evidence of a poorly fitting jacket (Flusser even picks this up in his last book).   I believe he would say being interested in clothes is itself middle class.  Most of the things bandied about here -- high end labels, MTM, etc. -- would be upper middle class spending its money on what it considers to be high class.  Making an impression is the job of middle-classes.  High classes needn't worry because their future is essentially assured without effort. For those who've spent a little time around genuinely high class, it's pretty far from that Ralph Lauren halcyon vision of it.  The vodka is usually not Grey Goose, but is Gordons (if lucky) or a house label.  Whichever is cheapest.  You bet the high-class would use a library rather than spending a lot on books.  A tailor rather close to the English royal family told me he believes Prince William wears cast-off clothes (i.e., only hand-me-downs) and nothing bespoke because he's not old enough to spend money on.  Ever been to the Maidstone or Metropolitan Clubs?  Dank and dingy.   Upper classes are old money and they're old money because they don't spend it on expensive things.  When they do spend it, they expect it'll last years and years (hence, the classic preppy wardrobe and the 1975 Mercedes).
post #14 of 55
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Upper classes are old money and they're old money because they don't spend it on expensive things. When they do spend it, they expect it'll last years and years (hence, the classic preppy wardrobe and the 1975 Mercedes).
This is exactly right. In my experience, they fly economy, drive crappy (by any standard.) cars and wear old clothing. I recently discovered that virtually all of the vehicles sold by my local Ferrari dealership are sold to leasing companies. This is another manifestation of the principle that those who are truly wealthy tend not to flaunt it, whereas those who are without true wealth will go out of their way to appear wealthy.
post #15 of 55
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Found the book to be an often hilarious and astute code to understanding American culture. Rider put it well. (I read it years ago, but still retain a thing or two.) To bring up two things he says about clothes that are helpful for the forum: 1. the smaller the gap between one's finest and one's everyday, the higher the class, with the exception of waiters and pianists, and 2. the prole gap is evidence of a poorly fitting jacket (Flusser even picks this up in his last book). I believe he would say being interested in clothes is itself middle class. Most of the things bandied about here -- high end labels, MTM, etc. -- would be upper middle class spending its money on what it considers to be high class. Making an impression is the job of middle-classes. High classes needn't worry because their future is essentially assured without effort. For those who've spent a little time around genuinely high class, it's pretty far from that Ralph Lauren halcyon vision of it. The vodka is usually not Grey Goose, but is Gordons (if lucky) or a house label. Whichever is cheapest. You bet the high-class would use a library rather than spending a lot on books. A tailor rather close to the English royal family told me he believes Prince William wears cast-off clothes (i.e., only hand-me-downs) and nothing bespoke because he's not old enough to spend money on. Ever been to the Maidstone or Metropolitan Clubs? Dank and dingy. Upper classes are old money and they're old money because they don't spend it on expensive things. When they do spend it, they expect it'll last years and years (hence, the classic preppy wardrobe and the 1975 Mercedes).
Well, it all depends where you bought the Grey Goose, nes pas? I bought a few large bottles in St. Martin (Dutch side) for $11.80 each. Purchasing the cheapest drink at a restaurant / bar is not a sign of class difference, it is a sign of cheapness. If money is truly not an issue, something as trivial as the cost of a drink would, and should not fall into your perception. The cost of a house on the other hand, would constitute a purchase of rather large (no pun intended) sums of money that might raise the attention of any patrician. It goes without saying that a person should purchase things, which constitute quality as well as longevity. Of course, most items that share the two aforementioned attributes also share a third one: relatively high cost (mosey, of course being the relative variable). That being said, I cannot fathom most of HRH Prince William clothes being non-bespoke / MTM (or the like), or at the very least his suits / formal attire is not. Again, the cost of clothes is really a passing thought. If HRH Prince William needs 3 suits, they go to (his fathers, I presume {or is he only enough to find another company for him to provide his patronage to?}) his usual tailor and order 3 suits; it is as easy as that. I would surely be a very inconsequential, senseless waste of time for the Royal family to take time to ponder the costs of the Prince's clothes. Jon. P.S. I'm sure they don't have to worry if their clothes are fused or canvassed, hand or machine stitched; something tells me the tailors in Savile Row (especially the ones that the Royal family go to) know what they are doing, this is just a hunch though.
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