Sunday, April 7, 2024

Brand Names Are For The Poor

Rich people don't need to advertise they are rich.

We were walking on the bike path the other day and found a pair of sunglasses that someone had set on a tree stump.  Apparently, someone had dropped them and a helpful Samaritan put them on the tree stump so if the person came back to look for them, they would find them.  I examined them for any identifying information (Zenni helpfully engraves your phone number on the temple) but saw that they were just non-prescription sunglasses with interlocking "G's" on the temples.  Gucci?

Funny thing, but on the way back we saw an old lady snatch them up and said, "Oh, you found your glasses!" and she gave us a guilty look and said "Uh, yea..." which told me she swiped them.  This is why the lost-and-found is a better place for this kind of thing than a tree stump.  But I digress.

It got me to thinking about brand names and why someone would pay extra for little logos on some inexpensive sunglasses.  I recall the clerks at the Patent Office had glasses with HUGE "D&G" gold letters on the side - along with other "designer" gear - all on a GS-2 salary.  I guess if you are living with Mom and Dad and your only expense in life is car payments, then you can blow the rest of it on bling.

It seems the poor and lower-middle-class are obsessed with brand names more than the upper classes.  The "strivers" seek the trappings of wealth and in the process, squander the real thing.  People put themselves in financial stress to have fancy things, and I know this because I've done it. And while it is nice to have fancy things, often the satisfaction is fleeting and in some cases, it can backfire as people will resent you for apparent flaunting of wealth.

It is funny, though, but if you meet really rich people, they don't have brand names plastered all over their possessions.  Their shoes don't say "NIKE" in bold letters or a colored trademarked swoop.  They don't wear clothes with the name of the "designer" in foot-high letters.  Their handbags don't have the initials of the "designer" all over them.  Rather, they wear fine things - and you can tell, too.  The clothes fit perfectly, likely because they were tailored. Their handbags just look expensive - fine leather, no corners cut, precision hardware.  They don't need a designer's name on it - they already know they are rich by dint of spending thousands (tens of thousands) on a handbag.

You can just tell.  When Mark worked at the winery and people would come from New York City or from Europe, he could tell right away.  Their clothes were just a bit different.  Even wearing blue jeans (and no, not fake-distressed torn ones - that's trash taste) you could just tell.  No logos or brand names adorned the pockets, no trademarked rivets or buttons, but they just looked expensive.

The same is true for other aspects of wealth.  The "striver" middle-class guy who thinks he is wealthy because he owns a small construction company, buys a "look-at-me!" mini-mansion in a neighborhood of similar mini-mansions.   The very rich live in real mansions in gated neighborhoods you can't get into.   They don't want to flaunt their wealth to the lower classes.  They want to enjoy their fabulous house in peace and quiet.

Across the channel from us is St. Simon's Island -  host to a plethora of look-at-me mini-mansions that sell for a million dollars or less.  When you ask residents where they are from, they reply, "THE island!" as if it was some exclusive retreat and not merely an upper-middle-class housing development.  When they say this to me, I reply, "Oh, you live on Sea Island?" and they get flustered, because that's the gated island where homes sell in the millions and residents keep their private jets at the airport.  That right there is the real difference between wanna-be wealth and real wealth.

And I suspect that the residents of Sea Island don't call it "THE island" or even advertise the fact they live there.  They don't need our validation or envy.  They already know they won.

So, what's the point?  Well, the very rich often got very rich by selling fake wealth to us plebes. I noted before that the poor are more likely to buy brand-name products, from laundry detergent to fancy cars to designer clothing.  The middle class shopped at Sears when I was a kid - buying practical things at moderate prices.  The middle class bought Chevrolets, and maybe upgraded to a Pontiac or an Oldsmobile when they got older.

The poor buys designer labels and would rather drive a secondhand Cadillac than a brand-new Chevy.  The very rich?   They drive cars where you say, "Gee, what kind of car is that?  Never seen one of them!" and you can't tell what it is, because it doesn't have logos and names plastered all over it.  One of the latest trends in ultra-rich transport is the under-the-radar transit van.  These are black high-top vans (Mercedes Sprinter, etc.) with black-tinted windows, luxury interiors and even a bathroom and bar.  Sort of like the stretch limousine of the 1970s, but less conspicuous and much more roomy.  And of course, they are chauffeur-driven.

As part of the lower classes, we squander our only real chance of accumulating real wealth by spending it on apparent wealth, trying to impress people we don't even know by showing off our brand name bling.  And we all do it, too - yes, me as well.

The very wealthy didn't "take away" our money, we gave it to them with our blubbering thanks.  And if you doubt this, bear in mind the richest guy in the world isn't Elon Musk, but Bernard Arnault, who you may never have heard of, but owns some of the most famous fashion labels in the world.

Every time you buy a designer label, you put a penny in his pocket.  Or a dollar.  Or ten dollars.