Are Weddings Really Just One Big Show of Class Aspirations?


It definitely feels that way

by Zen Cho

I recently had this total brainwave about my bachelorette party. I’d read all the wedding literature, heard all the complaints by friends of demanding brides, and I wanted to be helpful.

Me: “You guys, I’ve got the best idea for a bachelorette ever. (Dramatic pause.) Lord of the Rings movie marathon! You guys can come over to my place and we’ll roll out the sofa bed. We’ll bake! And skip the Eowyn soup scene!”

Friends: (Blank stare.)

Me: “It’s a great idea!”

Friends: “No.”

Bridesmaid S: “You can do a Lord of the Rings marathon any time.”

Me: “You cannot do it any time. You need at least nine uninterrupted hours.”

Friends: “Oh, what about an afternoon tea party?”

S: “That would be nice!”

Me: “You can do an afternoon tea party any time!”

I was bewildered. Admittedly nine hours of Hugo Weaving talking really slowly might not be everyone’s cuppa, but I became friends with S at age seventeen when she remarked on the One Ring replica I was wearing around my neck (yeah, I was totally that kind of loser). So what was the problem?

The answer only came to me when I was complaining about the lukewarm response to my idea and a friend said, “It’s because a movie marathon doesn’t have the connotations of luxury that an afternoon tea does.”

Oh. Right. There it is again.

Here are some words people like to use to describe weddings, plucked from a wedding forum:

  • Elegant
  • Glamorous
  • Sophisticated
  • Classy

These are all words that are associated with having lots of money, or being of a high social class (a position usually occupied and defined by people with lots of money). I’m still trying to parse the links between class and weddings—they’re complicated, not least because weddings are the ideal vehicle for the expression of class aspirations. Especially in this age of hyper-personalized, customizable weddings, the event isn’t so much an expression of who the couple and their community are—it’s an expression of who they want to be. And class aspirations will often differ within that community, whether because of generational differences or differences in life circumstances.

looking cheap is a serious offense

I ran headfirst into this when I was discussing the Malaysian wedding venue with my parents. I wanted a house in a jungle. I had lurid visions of waking up on the day of my wedding and batting away mosquitoes to admire the green velvet of the old-growth forest rolling out before my window. It would be beautiful—simple—different.

“Zen, the relatives are not going to want to drive up a mountain so they can visit some ulu (remote) place in the jungle,” said my parents patiently. “They’ll be coming from the kampung (village) already. They’re used to jungle!”

“Here is not like England,” my dad explained. “In Malaysia you cannot have a wedding in a sawmill. People can’t accept it.”

“The English wedding is in a restaurant in the mill, Dad,” I said. “It’s not an operational mill.”

But I saw his point. My parents want to show our extended family a good time. Which means air-conditioning, recessed lighting, tablecloths, a multiple-course meal. You know, fanciness. My parents are fairly unshowy people in ordinary life—my mom never met a mostly finished jar of peanut butter she couldn’t wring some more peanut butter from—but God forbid we look cheap on an occasion like my wedding.

does nice = grand?

And it wasn’t just my parents or extended family whose idea of “nice” equaled “grand.” I found myself caught up in arguments with my closest friends, of my age and socioeconomic background, about the benefits of wood paneling in an equatorial climate. It felt as if everybody wanted to be an elf, when I just wanted to be a hobbit.

But you know, who’s to say my vision of the day didn’t come from a desire to assert my class status? The house in the jungle might not have been much cheaper than a fancy hotel ballroom. There’s something about wanting to appear not to have spent much money, no matter the cost. It’s like those shabby chic rustic vintage weddings you see in WIC-y wedding literature which are actually terrifically expensive, or like designer jeans sold pre-ripped. Isn’t it an indication that I’m really aspiring to be of a class which is so privileged it considers conspicuous displays of wealth vulgar? What’s “vulgar” if not a word loaded with class-based disapproval?

Or Maybe, It’s People First

Of course, it’s possible to go in circles for ages if you start thinking like this. I found it helped to focus on the, well, practical side of things. What we actually needed from a wedding venue, in light of the event we were hosting: a place where hot food could be prepared and served, which would be accessible for our guests, where people would feel comfortable. In other words it helped me to refocus my aims in planning around the kind of experience I wanted my guests to have, rather than on what I wanted it to say about me.

If I’m going to be all people-focused about this, that means I’ll give up my movie marathon if my friends aren’t keen on it. They want to plan something different, so I’ll let them. Unless their plan is to lock me up in a closet while they all go off to eat scones at the Ritz, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it.

If they change their minds, though, I’ll be waiting with a bag of Doritos. My extended edition DVDs aren’t going anywhere.

Zen Cho

Zen Cho is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. Her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown (Ace/Macmillan), about magic, intrigue, and politics in Regency London, won a British Fantasy Award and was a Locus Awards finalist. She lives in London.

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  • jem

    Yesssssss I’m starting to realize (over a year into our engagement and two weeks until our wedding) that a lot of the conflicts I’ve been having with my FMIL are rooted in our class differences. She keeps fretting that we aren’t doing things “properly” and in her mind, proper = conspicuous consumption. I’m guilty of the “conspicuous consumption = vulgar” prejudice, and this has definitely led to some misunderstandings and frustrations on both sides. Finding compromise usually means me letting in some WIC-y stuff that I had originally deemed “below” me.

    I really like what Zen said about focusing on people’s comfort vs. what I wanted the wedding to say about me. Reading this makes me realize that this is what my fiancé has been trying to drill in to my head for… months. 😳

    • As a old money WASP family (who long ago lost the money, but the values stick), marrying into a Jewish immigrant family (who more recently made money, but the values stick), I had to do a lot of working on this, and thinking about the language and value judgements.

      What I would call conspicuous consumption (because my values are: acting like you have nothing to prove), they would call showing that they’ve made it, after arriving here with nothing. Both of those ways of performing culture have everything to do with family history and family class history. Once I was able to remove value judgements from them and add some understanding, it really helped.

      • jem

        The removing value judgments part is such hard work! I can (sometimes) recognize how I’m performing class/how that’s affecting my attitudes but the work of letting go of the value judgments– omg that requires so much unpacking! Think this might be one of those life-long projects

      • AhhHowDoesDisqusWork

        I relate to and appreciate this. I come from a farming-immigrant family that regarded consumerism as a race they could never win, so better abstain (“there are only 2 things worth spending money on, land and education”) and married into a family that values conspicuous consumption as a way to show that they’ve made it. What I really struggle with, is the fact that they *haven’t* made it and are in a lot of debt and really quite a financially precarious position. It’s really difficult for me to balance trying to appreciate their culture with the knowledge that I will likely have to support them in retirement bc of the choices they’ve made.

      • Jessica

        Conspicuous consumption can also be a way of “buying” some privilege that other people have acquired through race and class. My husband’s first car was a BMW and I haaaated it haha, partly because it seemed like such a flashy choice. But he and his dad went shopping for it together, before he started his master’s program in the US. It was VERY important to his dad that his son had a car that 1) signaled he was an important person 2) was reliable, since his parents wouldn’t be around to help with repairs. Basically, it was a way of trying to compensate for racial discrimination and the lack of family/friend networks of support in the US.

        • Yael

          Your comment reminded me of The Blind Side (the book). Lewis describes all the things that Leigh Anne Tuoy (Michael Ohr’s guardian) did to teach Michael how to fit into their world, like taking him to an Italian restaurant and ordering everything on the menu so he could see what it was and learn how to eat it. Lecturing him about US jewelry manufacturers (I disagree with her assessment that Tiffany’s is the best, but she’s right that it will impress most people). And so on.

    • Yael

      I am also guilty of the “conspicuous consumption = vulgar” prejudice. I know exactly where it comes from – my mom and thus my grandparents. As I think about it, they weren’t even against conspicuous consumption – their house looked like an art gallery – they were against the “wrong” kind of consumption. Hand-carved furniture and antiquities picked up overseas for dirt cheap? Cool. Having brand-name whatever? Nah.

      • idkmybffjill

        I love how that name-brand can apply SPECIFICALLY to labels as well. In my family many of the women would certainly carry a designer bag, but NEVER one that prominently displayed the brand. (So like, a lovely leather coach bag but not one of the ones with Cs everywhere). it’s confusing!

        • Violet

          This exactly. Back in high school I showed my aunt a Coach wristlet I bought with money from my retail job. It was a huge splurge for me. She was like, “Oh, nice! It doesn’t have the Cs all over it.” Oh…kay?

          • laddibugg

            I just feel like logos are me paying for you to advertise. LOL.

          • GotMarried!

            My husband agrees with you on this, which makes it pretty challenging when I start looking for polos for him. I get it you don’t want to be free advertising, but does this have to be your line in the sand? (hint: yes, yes it does for him)

          • My mother’s rule when i was a kid was “never wear anything with a logo unless you’re being paid to advertise it” (also, never wear animal print). It’s useful in terms of not being tempted to buy anything designer, but it carries it’s own class privilege in that it also puts you offer cheaper brands as well. I struggle even to buy geeky t-shirts, because displaying an interest in a thing feels like advertising it, and it gets all tangled up in “fake geek girl” narratives too, and I end up wanting a pair of cat eye glasses but being unable to buy them because (a) what if they say something about me that I’ll prove untrue as soon as I open my mouth and (b) they’re tortoiseshell so count as animal print.

          • AbFab

            Oh my goodness same! She didn’t verbalize it exactly like that, but I never wore the GAP sweatshirts that my classmates did for that exact reason. School logos were an exception to the rule – though as I went to parochial schools, I guess we were paying for the privilege to wear those in a different way? Weird stuff. Tortoiseshell is barely an animal print though, and geek girls come in lots of varieties – rock those glasses if they’re calling to you!

          • quiet000001

            Tortoiseshell is a neutral, not an animal print! (That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.)

        • AhhHowDoesDisqusWork

          I noticed this with our registry. My family made handmade gifts. My in laws bought all the le creuset and complained that there weren’t enough “fancy” choices and our friends bought the *really* fancy stuff by small designers that doesn’t have a *brand name*

          • jem

            The registry was such a minefield for us!

          • GotMarried!

            Yes! My experiences said the registry was to allow our families to buy us the frivolities (for me, China was important). Where as his family culture apparently wants to buy us practical things we “need”. For us, two early-mid 30’s professionals who had long since paid off our student loans, we didn’t “need” anything. As a result, we received one kitchen-aid mixer attachment and checks/cash from his side of the family. Which worked out well … I bought our China and was able to use an employee discount to make the gifts go further than the would have otherwise. But every time I have to purchase gifts for his family its a challenge to step outside myself and buy what THEY would want. For example, once I bought (among other items) a $10 iron from a registry.

          • SuzieQ

            Ironically, my immediate family has reached a point of comfort and stability where we don’t *want* anything we don’t already have. Consequently, we get *need* things like socks and irons and new kitchen spoons for Christmas and are pleased because 1) now I can get rid of the perfectly functional but slightly worn looking old ones 2) I wouldn’t have bought them for myself because what I have is perfectly functional and 3) you saved me a shopping trip.

            It is the wealthy version of the “got socks for Christmas and grateful” I guess?

          • Lisa

            I’m there with you. I would much rather get a replacement non-stick pan for Christmas than the knick-knacks my MIL purchases for the same amount!

            It’s interesting to look at this gift giving from a class perspective and how that translates generationally. My parents grew up in poverty and purchased gifts for us as children from very set lists of things we wanted or needed because that was the kind of gift giving they were used to. (My dad’s parents would tell the kids how much money they could spend on a present for each of the 11 children, and my dad, the oldest, would sit down with his siblings and a toy catalogue and help them figure out the final prices with tax.) As adults who have grown up comfortably upper middle class, for my husband and me that type of gift giving has translated into the same kind of upgrading that isn’t necessary but enriches our lives slightly on a day-to-day basis. We’re fortunate enough that we don’t need to ask for socks because we can afford decent ones, but we can stand to do upgrades that we might not shell the money out for ourselves.

          • SuzieQ

            Sounds like we share a similar economic history then.

          • CommaChick

            I heard that the members of the royal family in England give one another cheap, goofy gag gifts because they already have everything they could want or need. Apparently, no one told Princess Diana, and she felt really embarrassed on her first Christmas because she bought really expensive, fancy gifts for everyone.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Hahahaha, I kinda get this. I have a designer bag (purchased used, several years out of season, on Ebay, for a song, because I loved the color and nobody else had anything close I looked!), and I’m really pleased with the quality and functionality of it, but I also play mental gymnastics and tell myself that most people probably don’t even notice, because it doesn’t big Cs all over it. Whenever anybody comments on it, I tell them it was stupid cheap on Ebay (see above!) and show them how great the convertible strap is.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yessss same. Not in that particular case but I OFTEN explain away anything expensive I have. My mom is SHOCKED by that though. “Why would you ever tell anyone you got something on sale!”

          • Laura C

            My kid has a lot of high-end hand-me-downs and I *always* let people know that I did not buy the Bugaboo stroller, the adorable pants that definitely did not come from Carter’s or Baby Gap, the Chucks, etc etc etc. Although I have to admit after he outgrew the hand-me-down Chucks I bought him some new ones — and I’m not generally broadcasting that part.

          • Ilora

            Yes, I do this especially with baby stuff! I’m particularly aware of it since we are millennials and don’t own our home. It feels like every “frivolous” expense is further proof that millennials are ruining xyz with our mixed up priorities. So even though I’m honest that we did buy our Uppababy stroller, I also make sure everyone knows that our crib was a gift, his clothes were either hand-me-downs, gifts, or on sale, etc. And then proceed to feel super grateful that we’re one of the first of our friends to have kids, so most of the people we spend time with don’t automatically recognize certain products as being expensive (even though they were totally valid expenses…) but have my rationalizations ready to go at all times, just in case!

          • Katharine Parker

            Are you from the Midwest? I’m convinced no Midwesterner is capable of saying a simple, “thank you,” when they could say, “I used nine coupons and it was on sale–they paid me $11 to take it out of the store!” (I’m involved in this, too. :)

          • idkmybffjill

            I’m from Texas but I live in the midwest now (Chicago) – maybe I’ve picked it up from those around me!

            With our wedding in particular I felt like I was frantic to make sure everyone knew I didn’t spend a fortune – and my mom was like, “this looks like a million bucks! Why would we ever tell anyone anything different!”.

          • Engaged Chicago

            Literally. Just ditto this.

            Me = tell everyone what a deal I got!!
            My mom = AND look how expensive it looks!

            And I 100% agree w her 🤷🏻‍♀️

          • Lisa

            Ha, there is a certain glorification of thrifty-ness in the Midwest; spending as little as possible is definitely a virtue. Something I’ve had to overcome is that I don’t need to purchase something just because it’s super cheap. I haven’t saved any money if I buy a $10 skirt that I’m only going to wear once because it was on super clearance.

          • e.e.hersh

            Oh I hear you on this one. My mother absolutely cannot tell me about something she bought without naming every single discount that went into it. “Well, the whole store was 20% off and then I had a 25% off coupon and THEN I got another 15% off for using my card!” It has taken me years to try to get out from under this thinking.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Oh man yes!!! Whenever I go home at Christmastime to my parents’ middle class midwestern suburb, the thrift stores will be filled with Acura-driving housewives trying to pick up used $2 Mizzou sweatshirts for family members! Our regional cheapness is a glory to behold!

          • Becca

            I do the same thing, actually. Last year I got a designer bag for cheap when the nearby Macy’s was closing, and whenever someone compliments it I can’t help saying “Thanks! I got it on sale!”

        • Yael

          I totally get this one actually. I definitely associate some brands with quality and thus prefer to buy them, but don’t want labels all over what I’m wearing. My grandfather almost exclusively wore Brooks Brothers clothes, because they were (and are) excellent quality (my father inherited some of my grandfather’s clothes from decades ago and they still look great). But he would have considered something with the BB name slapped on it to look tacky. From the outside, it can look like brand consumption for the point of consumption, but for him it was definitely about consistent quality. I used to be the same way about JCrew, until their quality tanked. I loved that I could go into JCrew and know that I could find something that fit me and look good and would last for years without really needing to think about it.

          • Lexipedia

            Sigh, J.Crew was my source for work suits/dresses that a) reliably fit, and b) were expensive but not a fortune and would last for years.

          • Yael

            Yes! I love reading articles about JCrew’s decline because I love the venting. It’s cathartic.

          • Violet

            Doesn’t BB always have the Golden Fleece on everything, though? I feel like I can spot a BB shirt a mile away…

          • Yael

            They used to only put it on the polo shirts. They may have changed. The golden fleece is also (or at least used to be) a smaller logo than the polo player, and usually less colorful than the alligator (crocodile?) so I feel like it doesn’t stand out as much. But I haven’t been to BB in years, so I don’t know.

          • Violet

            Oh right, I think it’s only on polos and sports shirts, not dress shirts…

          • idkmybffjill

            I’m the same way too – I prefer an expensive item that I know will last, and which does not advertise. It’s just funny that I (and my family) can see two items from the same brand and see one as classy and the other tacky. I.E. – the consumption is the same, but there’s a judgement on how conspicuous it is, which is interesting.

  • Violet

    First of all: “You need at least nine uninterrupted hours.” I LOL’ed. I truly did.
    Secondly, this reminds me so much of the book Watching the English. It’s written by an English anthropologist who does a tongue-in-cheek assessment of her people. A theme that emerged is that the very wealthy are less concerned about everything being proper because almost by default, whatever they do is deemed proper. So who has mismatched furniture? The lower class and the upper class. Who is very concerned that their furniture is a matched set? The middle class. The lower class and upper class look similar in many ways, but for very different reasons. Upper class furniture doesn’t match because, oh, they’re all family heirlooms and antiques from over the years; the lower class’s doesn’t match because they can’t afford to buy all their pieces at once. I recall there was a section on weddings, and it’s exactly as Zen describes- there becomes this weird paradox where you have to have this elegant and lovely wedding, but not by trying too hard, because that would be a little “milk-in-first.”
    Anyway, awesome piece.

    • Lisa

      And if you’re watching the extended editions, it’s really more like 12!

      This book sounds fascinating and explains so much. I’m going to have to add it to my to-read list.

      • Violet

        It is so interesting! And totally applies to the US too. The US likes to pretend it doesn’t have a class issue because, you know, democracy, but duh, it totally does.

        • AP

          The newest season of the Revisionist History podcast has an episode about golf courses that examines class and wealth privilege in LA (and beyond.) It’s so good. Made me realize that a major distinction of the US class system vs European class systems is that because everyone here has bought into the bootstraps fantasy, there’s no vestigial sense of ‘noblesse oblige’ for the 1%, even though they are the recipients of ‘peerage’ in the form of generational wealth and connections (and golf club memberships!)

          • Violet

            Yes, exactly. Everyone in the US likes to think that if they’re rich, it’s based *purely* on merit, rather than acknowledging wealth accumulation from mortgage interest deductions, inheritance, family connections to alma maters, and on and on.
            I’ll check out that podcast!

          • AP

            It’s by Malcolm Gladwell! I didn’t really connect with the first season, but this second one is knocking it out of the park for me. Hope you like it!

          • jem

            This season is amaaaaaaaazing

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Ugh, I had such an irritating conversation with my boyfriend’s brother on this. He was like, “How do you know these rich people in mansions don’t work that much harder than you?” We were like, “Because there aren’t 80million hours in a week in which to do work!”

          • idkmybffjill

            I’m not mansion rich by ANY means, but I also think that’s funny because literally the higher up I move in my career the less hard I work. Sure I apply more expertise or whatever, but I generally attain more flexibility and have to do less tasks that are a pain.

          • toomanybooks

            YES I just commented the same thing! (Also not mansion-rich, more like tiny one bedroom that still feels too expensive to rent -rich)

          • SuzieQ

            In the legal field we call this “giving work to associates” or “asking the paralegal” a.k.a. “shit rolls downhill.”

          • idkmybffjill

            Yep! Exactly.

          • BSM

            Yes! And srsly, mortgage deductions, access to more debt vehicles at better interest rates, more leisure time to hunt for deals or chase down customer service when stuff I buy gets fucked up, etc., etc., etc.

          • idkmybffjill

            Absolutely.

            It’s one of those things that also applies to a minimalist lifestyle…. like one has to have enough money to purchase high quality things in order to live minimally.

          • toomanybooks

            I also kind of feel like the more money you make, the easier your job is – on some levels. Like when I moved from retail to a desk job I was like “um, not only am I making a lot more money, and I have health care now, but also I get to sit down in a comfy desk chair all day, and people just bring snacks for everyone sometimes, and I don’t have to talk to condescending customers, and I’m doing work that I like?!?!” It was crazy to me how exponentially better the desk job was than my previous job.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            It’s sooo true. And just the respect issue. At my retail jobs both bosses and customers treated me like I was dumb and horrible. Now I get paid more AND treated better.

            ETA: And why on earth are retail bosses so controlling of bodily needs? I’d take this job just for the bathroom breaks and unlimited water.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Also, with my recent promotion at a desk job, I’m able to sit and comment on this site. Before, I had to do tasks the whole day. Case in point.

          • R

            And often more autonomy and flexibility as you move up, which makes a job FAR less oppressive/makes it a lot easier to manage.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes yes yes! We are very much on the same page :).

          • SuzieQ

            Unfortunately, I cannot upvote more than once…..

          • laddibugg

            Sometimes, but not always. My fiance is an apprentice plumber, and is basically starting out at what took me close to a decade to make, and will make more way more if he sticks at it. His job is physically much harder than my desk job, though I think mine is emotionally–I mean he can talk crap at work, I have to sit and play nice. That

          • toomanybooks

            Oh yes, I definitely want to make it clear that I’m not making a blanket statement “lol the more money you make the less you work!” and there are definitely different fields with different experiences!

          • NotMotherTheresa

            That’s a really complicated one, with so many variables!

            Some white collar jobs pay well and are ~reasonably~ pleasant. Some pay well, but involve lots of soul killing 80 hour work weeks and insane amounts of stress. Some don’t pay very well, but are either fun/interesting/rewarding/easy. And some involve a lot of crap for very little pay.

            Blue collar jobs/service industry jobs pretty much run the same gamut, albeit (generally) in the form of physical rather then mental labor. The cousin who makes $40 an hour as a short haul trucker has a pretty easy job relative to what he’s being paid. The crop dusters making $150k a year are being paid super well per hour, but there’s a VERY real chance they’ll never live to see 40. And the guy working the overnight shift at McDonalds is just doing a lot of work for little money.

            Honestly, as far as I can tell, there’s almost no link between how much a job pays and how crappy the job itself is.

          • Violet

            Agree that there’s so much variability. I will say that my uncle’s a short-haul trucker, not very old, and his back and knees are already shot. So I dunno.

          • Guest

            I hear you, but I think that idea is often added by people who devalue intellectual and emotional labor, so it bothers me.

          • Violet

            Totally. It’s called compound interest, and they don’t call it “passive income” for no reason.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            No kidding. I call them for what they are, the landed gentry. We may not talk about our suitors in terms of pounds per year; but a lot about that class is the same as it was in the Jane Austin novels.

          • e.e.hersh

            I truly feel that this misconception is behind many of the political woes in our country (i.e. our president). People at every level think that the rich worked harder and/or are smarter and better than those that don’t make a lot of money. There is simply no acknowledgement in this country that wealth is handed down to the deserving and the dolts alike.

          • Violet

            We think we’re a true meritocracy, so therefore, if you’re poor, it’s because of your (lack of) merits. It’s a mess.

      • Jess

        I was just opening up my goodreads page to add it…

      • Angela’s Back

        So true. My sister and I used to do a stay-up-all-night-with-snacks to marathon the extended editions, it was most excellent :D

    • Abs

      Ha that book explained so much to me when I was living in England. And also led to some rather unproductive attempts at conversation with my English then-boyfriend:

      Me: So this book says that English people don’t like to talk about class.
      Boyfriend: *looks hunted*
      Me: But they’re thinking about it ALL THE TIME. Are YOU thinking about it all the time?
      Boyfriend: Can we please not talk about this?

      • Violet

        Hahaa: “Can we please not talk about this?”

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      This is fascinating.

    • toomanybooks

      Also – like, anything Julian Fellowes (the creator of Downton Abbey) does is about this. I’ve read his two novels and they are very much about class in England. He suggests that because he had – I think it was an upper-class mother and a father who was less so – he was in a position to view the upper class but also study from the perspective of an outsider. I liked his books (and obvi a lot of his screen stuff – Downton, Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, etc).

      • Please don’t take Downton Abbey to be an accurate depiction of class dynamics in England!! Of course there are elements that ring true, but it’s very much how the aristocracy would *like* to think of themselves (Fellowes is a baron). It’s propaganda for the idea that everything’s better when there’s a clear hierarchy and everyone knows their place, and that it’s fine for a certain class of people (who, by no coincidence at all, are in government now) to control everything because they can be trusted to be benevolent to those below them. If you enjoy that period and want something a bit less upper-class-propaganda-y, try The Shooting Party (1985 film by Alan Bridges, based on novel by Isabel Colegate). And for close observation of class in the UK, anything by Alan Bennett.

      • Katie

        maybe irrelevant to the whole discussion, but I LOVED his novels! Wish he’d written more, oh well… There’s always hope.

    • Watching the English by Kate Fox is an amazing book. Just stuff like whether you fold your napkin or crumple it (and whether it’s a napkin or serviette) are class signifiers. And sitting outside the front of your house! You are either very upper class or very lower class to sit outside the front, like you want to talk to people. Middle class people keep the front incredibly neat, but by stealth, because you don’t want your neighbours to think you care that it looks neat. Also, I cringed for Kate when she had to queue jump to record people’s reactions, because oh that is so painful.

      • Violet

        The trend of the upper and lower classes having more in common (with regard to their behavior) with each other than the middle class was fascinating! Americans hate line cutting too (there’s a whole Big Bang episode about it, for example), so I’m confused why the Brits keep claiming a queuing obsession for themselves. ; )

        • Queue test! You enter a bank. There are four teller windows. Each has a customer at it, but there are no other customers queuing. Where do you stand?
          Someone cuts in front of you in a line. Do you:
          (a) politely inform them of their mistake
          (b) angrily inform them of their mistake
          (c) silently seethe
          (d) silently pity them, since clearly they have some incredibly pressing need to be in front of you and must be mortified that social norms prevent them from explaining it to you.

          • Violet

            Ooo, fun!
            1. My bank is set up like this, so it’s a perfect question. There’s a spot in the middle of all four lines where the person waits.
            2. Definitely c.

          • 1 Correct! Between windows 2 and 3 (or at the 0 space, if the windows stretch away from you). One queue for all four windows :) Feet planted apart, head moving noticeably to indicating you are watching all four windows at once, any bags or paperwork in your hands to show you are ready to move as soon as a window becomes free (but not before the teller has waved you over, of course!).
            2. Incorrect. D. Line jumping is such a social no no it could only possibly be done under extreme circumstances, so you should feel sorry for the person forced to do it. Unless they’re not British, in which case they probably didn’t understand the rules, and C is appropriate. Whatever you do, never talk to strangers!

            Watching the English opens with queue jumping (also bumping into people and not saying sorry) and Kate Fox found most people are just too baffled by the fact you did it to object. I imagine the fact she was probably cringing as she did it helped, though – if you look like you haven’t even noticed you’re more likely to get a stronger reaction.

          • Violet

            Aha, so the key difference is in how we interpret cutters. You’re saying the Brits feel sympathy because this poor person must be forced into the terrible breech of etiquette, while I think I can speak for lots of Americans when I say we just get angry because this person knows they’re being an entitled jerk and are doing it anyway. While we might talk to strangers in other situations, lots of people avoid talking to strangers who appear jerk-like (also see: manspreaders on the subway) because if they’re already behaving so rudely and comfortable violating social norms, who knows how they’ll react when confronted? I’ve seen people confront cutters before, but it typically involves the person doing the confronting being pretty physically imposing. At 5’5, I wouldn’t try it.

  • lamarsh

    Obviously not the point of this article, but when I was 18, my friends and I did an extended editions LOTR marathon (which started at 9 am and finished around midnight, because breaks were necessary), and I have had zero interest in ever watching any of them again since that day (I’m now 30). I couldn’t even see the Hobbit movies. So, maybe for the best they didn’t agree to a movie marathon??

    • Angela’s Back

      You’re not missing anything, the Hobbit movies just aren’t as good/personally, they’re actively terrible, although Luke Evans is hot for the two movies he’s in.

      • Violet

        I only saw the first Hobbit movie. I think Peter Jackson missed the overall point/tone of that book. Which was to be fun. Not full of self-importance and drama.

        • Angela’s Back

          agreed x1000000000

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          I also saw it in 2D, and it was clear the movie was shot for the 3D audience.

          • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

            It made me feel motion sick! I couldn’t deal.

      • penguin

        I enjoyed the Hobbit movies. I don’t think they are as good as the Lord of the Rings movies, and I don’t think the Hobbit needed to be split into that many films, but I had a good time watching them.

        • Angela’s Back

          I think that’s the biggest single problem for me, it should have been at most two movies but when he expanded to three there was just so much stocking stuffing that I couldn’t get into it. But I’m glad you get enjoyment from them! I wanted to and I just couldn’t get there.

          • penguin

            Any time Benedict Cumberbatch said “smeowg” instead of “smog” for Smaug it took me right out of the movie haha.

          • Angela’s Back

            Right?? My dad read The Hobbit to my sister and I when we were kids and it’s like I don’t care if Tolkien meant for it to be smauwg, in the minds of basically every kid who ever read that book, it’s smohg and that’s how I want it to be said!

    • penguin

      I think I’d burn out on the movies watching them in a marathon too – even one movie that is 3+ hours feels like a marathon.

      • lamarsh

        It was sooooooo long. And I am admittedly a person that can watch 5 eps of bravo reality shows in a row, so I feel like it wasn’t just that I don’t like sitting around.

      • AP

        My parents do marathons every now and then with Star Wars, LOTR, the Matrix. It ruined those series for me when I lived with them. It’s just too long for that much plot and all the characters. It feels like work to concentrate on just that for a whole day or weekend.

    • Vanessa

      Lol, my fiance & I do this annually sometime in the first week of the year – that weekend after the holidays are really truly over & no one wants to hang out, we watch LOTR, or Star Wars or Jason Bourne or several Harry Potter films… and it hasn’t ruined any of them for me.

      • Lisa

        Husband and I also do something similar. Our pseudo-southern town just cannot with snow so there’s usually at least two or three days a year where the whole place shuts down–those have become our nerdy marathon days (LOTR, Firefly, Star Wars, etc.).

      • lamarsh

        See, I have definitely marathon-ed Star Wars and too many TV shows to count and really enjoyed it, I think there was just something specific about the extended edition LOTR that was too much for me. (And I was a person who would see them at midnight when they originally came out, so I did really like them at one point, haha.)

        • Alli

          I can sit through all of the LOTR movies back to back. I cannot do the extended editions, I’ll immediately fall asleep and wake up to an added scene I don’t remember and just be confused.

          • lamarsh

            Editors exist for a reason!

        • Vanessa

          That’s fair!

      • Jess

        Crass, but I’ve only done movie marathons with a significant other, and I think the reason it works is that we take breaks for sex.

        I could see it work really well for ones you’ve seen over and over too, so you could do running commentary.

      • I think the key to doing a LOTR movie marathon is that you can also do other things while it is running. I.e. when we do it at my cousins house, they have a big open plan living room/kitchen, so we spend a lot of time also getting snacks/making meals.
        But also we comment over them so much. We are not the sort of people who keep quiet during movies (at least when we are not watching them in theatres).

  • Abs

    This is totally spot on, but also…isn’t it just a more obvious version of how most people make consumption choices all the time? it’s easier to analyze your own thought process when wedding planning, because it’s a group activity that goes on for an extended period of time, but I feel like every time I buy anything I’m trying for a very specific “high quality but not showy” aesthetic that is 100% a class performance. Because that’s basically what “taste” or “style” is.

    I don’t think there’s any escaping this, and as Zen says, focusing on more practical factors when relevant is key. But beyond that I’m torn–is it okay for me to buy my clothes with a particular class performance in mind, as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing? Is it okay for me to notice the performances of others? Given that I’m not sure how to stop doing either of those things, does it really matter whether I’m self-aware or not?

    • Violet

      I totally wonder this, too. I’m not going to buy anything differently based on class distinctions alone. Is my awareness any kind of positive thing? Sometimes it just makes me feel yucky for noticing class differences. Like noticing differences instantly becomes judging.

      • yeah, I think the goal is to understand as much as you can, and NOT judge. Possibly because I grew up in a mix of middle class/ lower middle class/ working class/ poor (IE, not at all at all homogeneous), I’ve been noticing this stuff forever. I think often if people grow up in a more homogeneous class setting, noticing comes later in adulthood. My big jump was starting to understand why different people act the way they do, and removing judgement from the equation.

        But if you’re in a non homogeneous situation, you’re going to notice class. You have eyes, you know?

        • Violet

          Right, it’s sort of like how reading is automatic if you can read. You can’t NOT read the sign, you know? Where I’m stuck is if I notice someone is doing something, wearing something, eating something etc. in a lower class way, doesn’t that feel like an automatic judgment? Are we to just say, “No, it’s not lower, just different?” Because that feels a little untrue.

          • jem

            Pierre Bourdieu has some really good (dense) work on social class & taste, if this has lit a fire for you

          • Jess

            More goodreads adding. Thanks!

          • Violet

            Thanks! (I enjoy dense.)

          • Laura C

            Cosign on Bourdieu and if you’re interested in conspicuous consumption might as well go back to the guy who first used the term: Thorstein Veblen. (Much less dense than Bourdieu, actually.)

          • quiet000001

            I was talking to a friend who did tutoring in school, and he only realized some of his privilege when he was helping a kid in grade school with reading and realized that the kid couldn’t practice reading at home unless he loaned him books because there was literally nothing at home to read other than maybe some food packaging. My friend’s experience growing up was that everyone’s home had at least one bookshelf full of books, so it was a real eye-opening moment.-

        • rg223

          Hmm, I disagree – I remember from sociology/class study that most people notice class if you’re in the “lower” class, but if you’re in the “higher” class, you’re kind of blind to how the lower class experience and you think everyone is the same class as you. This has absolutely played out in my own life in a variety of situations. I agree that it’s easier to notice class when it’s non-homogeneous though.

          • Amy March

            So higher class people don’t notice class differences? That sounds so strange to me and not at all in line with any of my experience.

          • rg223

            Yeah, I suppose I’m talking more about “class privilege” than “class differences,” if that makes sense.

            ETA: @Amandalikeshummus said this elsewhere in the thread and it’s very similar to what I’m talking about: “In my sociology class, we discussed that basically most people consider themselves middle class. The professor had had a previous class anonymously give him a paper with the class they considered themselves and their family’s income. Almost everyone considered themselves middle class, even the private-jet-type-wealth people. It showed that class isn’t just money and that it’s more about perceived normal.”

          • Amy March

            Oh yeah completely different and makes much more sense!

          • Katharine Parker

            I don’t think that the upper classes are blind to class, but I do think, traditionally, one of the privileges of being upper class is security in one’s class status and an ability to ignore one’s own privilege. So being like, “why are people worried about college loans? Your parents will pay for it” or “I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t have a passport; I love going to the Maldives when I need a break from it all” or “what is a weekend?”

          • rg223

            Just to clarify, I don’t mean upper classes are “blind to class,” they are blind to the *experience* of the lower class. It’s because of that blindness that we hear comments like “They could afford health insurance if they stopped buying iPhones.”

          • Katharine Parker

            Got it! And time for my favorite tweet, from @leyawn: “i’m the person republicans are talking about. i own a hundred iphones and my body is dying. i refuse to buy healthcare. get me another phone”

          • Arie

            I agree. And also that the experience of growing up lower class is something that’s constantly reinforced from both sides. It’s enforced with distinctions from higher classes-
            my experience was being aware from a very young age that I was in a different class (at friends houses, at school, etc). But also there’s deep awareness of it from your own class. When I started to move out of the lower class I received a lot of anger & judgement of the “oh you think you’re too good for us now?” variety. It’s not to say that upper & middle class folk aren’t aware of differences, but I guess I’d be surprised if they were constantly enforced in the same way. But maybe that’s my own class performance acting up!

          • R

            I’ve gotten clueless comments like this from a friend who just didn’t seem to get it — “My dad said the worst thing a person can do is take out student loans;” “I didn’t know how much I had in my checking account, and I checked, and it was $17,000;” “I don’t understand why anyone would have chosen not to study abroad when they were in college.” All of this said to someone with a lot of student loans, living paycheck to paycheck at the time, and who didn’t study abroad in college because of the extra expense…

          • Lexipedia

            Ugh, I know – especially when it’s paid for by someone else.

            But while I also understand that I have friends/family who are super proud that they worked their way through college without debt, that’s not an option for everyone. Some people, regardless of their frugality and work ethic, have to take out loans for reasons that are not irresponsible. I have student debt, not a ton, but it would’ve been close to impossible for me to work my way through grad school without loans due to course load/COL in the only city that had my program/and required practicum hours. Not everybody has the option of part-time, or to live at home or with a million roommates, work two jobs, etc. that are always recommended as ways to graduate debt-free. I’m a little annoyed whenever I’m told that “there are always options’ to prevent students from having to take out loans, and that there is some sort of virtue in not needing to.
            /end rant

          • Katharine Parker

            Debt should not be value laden. Be responsible about debt, sure, but student loans, mortgages, business loans, etc. are a necessary part of life, and people shouldn’t have to apologize for making those decisions.

            (This is distinct from a conversation about the way those loans are administered and regulated, to be sure.)

          • Lexipedia

            I think that a big part of this whole conversation has been about money as a “value laden” thing. Many comments in this thread have been about fear that how they choose to spend their money on wedding things will be judged by guests or others as worthy or not-worthy based on that individual’s personal experience of class/privilege/history.

            I think it’s notable that I haven’t seen any commenters respond with stories about how they went to somebody else’s wedding that was too [insert negative judgement word here] and are going to tell us about it. I wonder if that’s because of the types of privilege that likely reflect much of APW’s readership, or because this judgement just doesn’t happen as much as we all worry it does?

          • Ilora

            In my personal experience it’s a combination of the people who are doing the judging not being APW types of people (they just wouldn’t stick around even if they found one or two pieces that they liked), and the fact that they’re self aware enough to not want to be seen as judging. So they’ll be polite enough to your face but you’ll hear about their opinion afterwards from a friend of a friend etc, or it will slip out when they’re talking to you about someone else but they’d never say anything like that about you to your face.

          • Violet

            Just speaking for myself, I was raised that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That would apply to the question you’re specifically asking about but more generally as well. So yeah, do I sometimes think an aspect of someone’s wedding is uncomfortable, not my taste, etc.? Sure, but why talk about it? It would be pointless and mean.

          • Violet

            Hard agree. Debt is a tool, like how money is a tool. Debt just means you accessed credit. Now, what you ultimately do with the credit you accessed, and for how cheaply you accessed it (ie, interest rate) all factor in to whether it was a good idea to take the debt on. But not all debt is bad, and certainly not all people who use credit as a means to an end are bad.
            What really gets me is how unequal access to credit is. People like to look down on individuals who take out high interest loans, but that is usually the only credit available to them. Very few people live their lives without ever using any kind of credit (whether a credit card, loan, mortgage, etc.) so I think it’s terribly privileged to look down on people who are doing what everyone else is doing, just that the system is stacked against them from being able to do it more easily/cheaply/fairly.

          • quiet000001

            I have an uncle who was vehemently against debt and so didn’t have credit cards, etc. Then he wanted to get a mortgage (which is not the same as credit card debt so it is okay by his standards) and he couldn’t because he had no credit history. He literally had to go out and get credit cards for a year or so and pay them off so he’d have a credit history and credit score for the bank.

            I imagine there are other people who are less well off in a similar situation – to benefit from some things (mortgages, better interest rates, etc.) you basically HAVE to be participating in the system, even if you have to start in less favorable conditions.

            Plus, lots of financial experts will straight up tell you to be careful about credit card debt, and then turn around and say you should make big purchases on a card for the added consumer protection. And you know, if you aren’t that well off but can just about afford a washing machine or something, you really benefit from the protections if anything goes wrong. But you’re in the same bracket that people look down on and judge harshly for even having a credit card in the first place.

            It’s pretty messed up as a system.

          • laddibugg

            I hope that $17K was in an interest bearing account!

          • AP

            Or that time I was part of a tour of an Early Head Start facility, and a representative from a major women-focused charitable foundation in our state who was also on that tour was *appalled* when she learned that some women go back to work two weeks after giving brith. She got alllll the side-eye from the rest of us.

          • laddibugg

            I’m appalled that some women have to go back after two weeks. It just shouldn’t be that way in the United States, not when other countries offer paid leave.

          • AP

            Oh yeah, I’m appalled by the reality of it, but that’s why Early Head Start EXISTS. She was appalled because she was hearing about it for the first time.

          • Lexipedia

            Yes – I think there’s a difference between being appalled that people have to, like expressing that it’s an awful thing, and being appalled that “oh my goodness, there are people who do not have the same privilege as I do – I cannot imagine!”

          • AP

            Exactly. She even said something like “I could never have left my baby at 2 weeks.”

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Response: “Could you have then let your baby live on the streets with no food? Cause that’s the alternative to working.” At least she knows now.

          • Sarah E

            My mom sees this often. As a personal trainer who works out of a private gym, many of her clients consider themselves middle class when their tax bracket says otherwise. And they don’t have a clue that my mom lives on very very simple means.

          • laddibugg

            I have had discussions where I realized that sometimes lower income people think that everyone gets what they get. No, not every pregnant woman and child gets WIC, no, I am not eligible for daycare assistance and that’s why my mom watches our kid. No, I can’t apply to live where you do because my income is above the (low) max.

    • jem

      I mean, it’s not like you can “escape” class. I think being aware of what’s happening is useful (and could help you save yourself from that $95 face oil you suddenly need to have because you saw it on cup of jo), and can help develop empathy/understanding with others. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a moral issue.

    • AhhHowDoesDisqusWork

      “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism”

    • I mean, I don’t think you can avoid class performance. If you gave that up, you’d be doing some other class performance. (There is a very specific privileged class performance of refusing to perform class, if you ask me, so you know, it’s a snake eating it’s tail.)

      The goal in my eyes is to see it for what it is, and not judge. Because there is a lot of judging of working class folks. (“ugh, why do people get their nails done if they are broke?” TL;DR, a lot of good reasons.) And less of that is always great. But we can’t save ourselves from performance of culture.

      • Amandalikeshummus

        Ugh, judging of working class people’s decision. Sometimes people just want a creature comfort, and that’s a nice thing.

        I was once eating lunch with someone I didn’t know well who basically said. “My grandparents paid for my education through grad school; but those people with debt, what is wrong with them? If I had debt, I wouldn’t even buy a T-shirt if I was in debt.” (the t-shirt part really is a direct quote).

        What I really wanted to say:
        1. You are so removed from this situation that you cannot even try to put yourselves in their shoes.
        2. How else are they going to get a t-shirt if they don’t buy it? Clothes don’t last forever, and they are a necessity. Maybe you have so many that you’ve never seen them wear out, but they do.
        3. Even if it was a luxury, why do you deserve comforts and they don’t? They have fewer opportunities for them than you, so why not let them indulge, especially when it won’t actually affect them in the long term? Buying a house you can’t afford is a bad idea for sure; but a $20 t-shirt? Come on.

        I just sort of sat there amazed that those thoughts existed.

        • Yael

          Wow.

        • SuzieQ

          *coffavocadotoastcoff*

          (I don’t actually eat avocado, but you know what I mean)

        • quiet000001

          I once ended up entirely derailing a 45 min college class arguing with another student about why poor people “don’t just buy a carton of eggs and a loaf of bread for food” because she just could not understand that the kind of odd diet that college students sometimes adopt as part of being a college student is a very different thing if it is the way you have to live all the time.

          (I mean, in my college experiences yes people were pinching pennies, but there was also a game element to it in who could do the most entertaining thing with ramen or cook the most using only an electric kettle, most of us weren’t worried about literally starving or not being able to feed kids. What you will do as part of a crazy 4 year college lifestyle and what you can tolerate as an ‘adult’ trying to cope with life are… not the same thing.)

          To say nothing of practical issues like food deserts and free time to cook and access to appliances and so on and so forth. (We did have the predictable foray into ‘for vegetables they can just grow their own!’)

          Luckily the professor of said class just let us go at it. (He agreed with me but I think felt it better for that kind of challenge to be coming from another student than from a professor, in terms of actually getting people to think about their assumptions.)

    • Ella

      If you have the means, then make your consumption as ethical as possible. I.e. avoid exploiting people (through low pay and terrible conditions) and animals. I agree with Meg that you can’t avoid class performance, but “I paid $80 for this T-shirt that someone got paid 3c to make” is definitely avoidable, and I think inexcusable.

  • Capybara

    This is reminding me quite a bit of the sociology class I took on a whim in college. We did a long unit on “cultural capital”: the knowledge, skills, habits and aesthetics that distinguish the upper class. One reading was an essay on how Las Vegas (unbearably gaudy by upper class standards) draws lower-middle-class patrons with the lure of “false cultural capital,” for example Caesar’s Palace with its reproduction artworks. The upper middle class goes to museums to see the originals. The upper class owns the originals.

    • Amandalikeshummus

      That’s a very interesting look at Las Vegas. In my sociology class, we discussed that basically most people consider themselves middle class. The professor had had a previous class anonymously give him a paper with the class they considered themselves and their family’s income. Almost everyone considered themselves middle class, even the private-jet-type-wealth people.

      It showed that class isn’t just money and that it’s more about perceived normal. “Everyone else around me has a private jet or cuts coupons or whatever, so that must be middle class.” So when we are class striving, we are seeking to really fit in, even though we sometimes we don’t really have a holistic picture of what that means.

      • Capybara

        That explains how politicians across the spectrum are able to say convincingly that they’re pro-middle-class!

    • Eh

      That’s interesting about Las Vegas. My MIL/FIL, who have working class income but live a middle class life (and have piles of debt as proof), love Las Vegas and have been 5 times in the 6 years I have known them.

      On the other hand, I have no interest in going to Las Vegas and I’m middle class/middle class.

      • Laura C

        Las Vegas is wonderful exactly because of the people-watching. Because your MIL/FIL with their class situation are there vacationing next to the vulgar rich and everything in between, all of these different people from different class and cultural places sharing a space and acting out their views of vacation/luxury/fun in it. Women with the most amazing (in the sense of expensive and excellent) breast implants you’ve ever seen and the clothes to show them off next to families in slogan t-shirts and fanny packs next to bachelorette parties. Last time we were there we had the baby so we were going to dinner early, and on the one hand there were older couples clearly dressed up for date night and on the other hand the bachelorette parties were just leaving the pool in their flip flops and sarongs. We saw women in what I think of as mother-of-the-bride dresses and women trying to look like a Kardashian. It’s just mesmerizing.

        Also there are really good restaurants.

      • Ilora

        A bit of a tangent but we have friends who have gone to Las Vegas several times because they can afford it, whereas certain other trips they can’t. Specifically, their round trip flights to Las Vegas are cheaper than it would be for us to take a round trip flight from Western Canada (where we live) to Eastern Canada (where my extended family lives).

        • Eh

          We live in Eastern Canada. The flights to Las Vegas are probably still less than flying to BC (my sister lives in BC so I travel there when I can). My inlaws complain though about how expensive it is to go to Las Vegas. The last time they went (March), the flights and the hotel package were paid for (my MIL won the trip), but they added on shows. They wanted to extend the trip (which was two nights) an extra night and they said it was too expensive.

          • Ilora

            That must be irritating to listen to. We have other friends who complain regularly about their debt but also go on multiple big vacations a year and I can barely contain the eye rolls.

          • Eh

            It is irritating! Since March they have been to Las Vegas, Washington DC, and a two week road trip out East. They come home from these trips and complain about how much things cost and how they will have to cut back for a bit to pay off their credit cards.

            On top of that, they feel they have a vested interest in our finances because they can’t afford us to come ask them for money (which if we asked, they would feel obligated to help). They gave us (we asked for nothing) $10K for our wedding and then after our wedding complained that they gave their sons too much money in recent years (both got married – $10K, and graduated – $5k, plus my BIL/SIL had a baby in a two year period). They project their financial issues on us, when we save up for trips and large purchases.

  • Vanessa

    I’m having a very different experience, but one that still sends home the message that class is complicated. For both my family thinks we are having an extravagant wedding. My parents are essentially worried that their families will think we think we’re better than them, that we’re “too good” for the type of wedding that they see as the norm. To our friends, we are having a “rustic” wedding, not in the pinterest-y aesthetic, but in the “cabins that are not luxury hotel rooms, ceremony on loose dirt and gravel in the woods” way. I’m terribly worried about how my family will react to my friends – my family tends to be the people who defensively treat people with more money than them as if the more affluent folks must be bad people, opportunistic, conniving, think-they’re-better-than-us snobs. It’s so complicated, my parents drilled into me my whole life that getting an education and a better job than what they have was The Most Important Thing and now that I have, they seem to resent me for it.

    Also, kind of unrelated – if you wanna have a LOTR marathon for your bach party, you should. Maybe they wouldn’t pick it for themselves, but if you’re not asking them to do something truly objectionable, then they should be excited to do what you’re excited to do, or at least do a better job of pretending.

    • Violet

      Class is already complicated, and people coming together from different classes can definitely highlight it. My mom grew up a little financially precarious but ultimately had markers of a middle class family (her mother graduated college, for example, and they owned their own home). So she definitely has a “upper class people aren’t better than me” mentality, and looks down on wealth (while not fully being able to acknowledge the privilege she’s had due to her family of origin). Meanwhile my spouse grew up in a lower class, so he sees nothing wrong with striving to earn as much money as possible, get into elite clubs if that’s how networking is done, wanting to own property, make investments, etc. Because they love each other, they’ve come to see how you can have a different view of another class without it being the be all end all. But they do still have funny moments together when my mom will say something sort of disparaging about someone she knows with more money than her, and my spouse is like, “Man, if I should BE so lucky!”

      • Vanessa

        And it’s so funny, in my family it’s the opposite – my mom grew up poor, like everybody slept in the same room poor and she’s way more hard core on the “they think they’re better than me” than my dad, who grew up more working/middle. But then you add in rural vs urban/suburban and Protestant vs Catholic and the water gets muddy pretty quickly. I’m glad your mom and your spouse have been able to separate themselves from it enough to appreciate each others’ perspectives…I seriously doubt my parents will ever get to that point with my fiance & I.

        • Violet

          It’s definitely been an evolution. They both share a love of learning and education more broadly, so after they connected on that value, it became a lens through which they could explore other ideas together. They’re also both good listeners and are able to amend their previously-held opinions if presented information in a way that makes sense to them.
          For example, my mom just came back from a conference she attended for fun on one of her favorite black authors. She was like, “Violet, you’d be so proud of me. I finally get now why there are still such issues, even though slavery technically ended a while ago. De facto slavery has been going on for generations! Like being denied mortgages!” And I was like, “Yup, glad you decided to join the party, Mom.”

        • NotMotherTheresa

          Oh man, seriously, there so many variables beyond JUST money!

          My husband’s family comes from relatively old money. Both of his parents grew up what I’d call Rural Wealthy (as in, nobody had any education, but they were part of the established local families, and had large farms). When husband was growing up, his family thought nothing of taking trips to Hawaii or spending $1,000 per kid at Christmas. On the other hand, I come from a verrrry long line of educated people who’ve never really done much with their lives, so despite five or six generations of college graduates, nobody has ever made it past the (financial) lower middle class.

          And yet, despite having always had far more money than my parents, it’s the husband’s parents who get in a tizzy about all of the “fancy people” who “think they’re better than us”.

          • Guest

            I think you are associating money with success/meaningfulness here: they never did much with their lives do they never climbed higher. I don’t equate earning with success in the way. This is an important class difference, I think.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            I certainly don’t view money and success/meaningfulness as one and the same, but in the case of my immediate family, I’m not sure anyone ever achieved a single one out of the three!
            My cousin with a PhD from Yale who teaches art at a community college? She doesn’t have any money, but her job is meaningful, and she’s definitely upper middle class despite her empty bank account.
            On the other hand, I come from a line of suburbanites with tract houses and boring lower management jobs. Our educations have given us a bit of cultural capital (which is an immense privilege), but beyond that, pretty much everything about our lives screams lower middle class.

    • Anne

      I think part of the challenge is that deviating from the wedding norm (or what WIC presents as the norm) highlights these tensions more than just going with some default, because you feel pressure to explain your motivations more explicitly – it just gets tiring. Your wedding sounds amazing, FWIW, and if people are having a good time they won’t have time to react to what they don’t know.

  • Katharine Parker

    I’m in agreement that our lives are riddled with class markers, and weddings are a moment that foregrounds class. My husband and I come from very similar class backgrounds, and it does make things easier–we agree on lots of things (what should a wedding be like, what kind of vacation to take, which apartment to rent) because we’re like-minded, but some of that definitely comes from those shared values.

    I’m forever interested in class differences, though. I always remember a guy I knew in college who would make a point if he took off his jacket to make sure everyone saw the Gucci label inside. He wasn’t a bad person, but he needed us to know that he was rich. I didn’t own anything by Gucci to do this with, anyway, but that conspicuous consumption was super foreign to me.

    • Kara E

      And that’s not just a wealth thing. I know some ultra-wealthy people who would consider that just as gauche as I do. It’s also interesting that most of the people I know with money (and at this point, i’d probably include my family), got there (or stayed there) in part by real frugality – perhaps so that we can spend money on the things we really care about ..

      Another thing with class markers: little kid birthday parties! Holy cats!

      • Katharine Parker

        Oh, yeah, wealth does not correspond to class. They’re two distinct things.

        I would say, though, frugality is one type of value, and not one that all wealthy people share. My parents don’t spend money carelessly, but thrift for its own sake is not a value I was taught.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Frugality can also be unevenly applied. My mom wouldn’t buy me chicken lunchmeat because it was an extra $2/lb, and that’s ridiculous. She won’t buy a $100 pair of boots that will last forever, because she can buy $30 boots at Payless and that seems like a much better deal. She has no taste for expensive jewelry, and loves her inexpensive and colorful baubles way more than gold and diamonds. Holy hell, can she rack up a great sale on clothing, layering her coupons with a store sale. But she just bought a luxury car, because for whatever reason, that’s where she feels like paying more is worth it.

      • SuzieQ

        The thing for me about little kid birthday parties is the conspicuous labor. “I spent 57.92 unpaid hours diligently and lovingly crafting this thing that serves zero function because it is cute and goes with my theme to show that I am a good mom and I love my kid and I am not less of a mom because I have a full time job and use daycare.” Also my kid is turn 2, won’t remember this, and this is clearly for the other parents.

        Now, if your kid was 12 or 15 or 21, okay, they’ll remember that. But two? Give yourself a break, your two year old thinks you walk on water. That is enough.

        • Alli

          Yes, the theme-ing of little kids birthday parties is getting out of control, if what I see on pinterest these days is at all true. Does every snack have to be part of the theme? A water bottle can just be a water bottle, it doesn’t need a snowflake pattern taped to it with a sign that says “Melted Snowmen” The kids don’t care! They’ll drink the water when they’re thirsty!

          • Lexipedia

            Yeah – if you told small child-me that my waterbottle was “Melted Snowmen” I’d be very concerned about drinking it! The poor snowmen that we had killed and then cruelly trapped in plastic (or if it’s a highly-themed party, potentially glass) bottles…

          • Violet

            If I gotta see another food that was made to look like something else, I’m gonna keel over. That was my only request for my shower: Please, no food that is shaped/dyed/arranged to look like not-food.

        • Violet

          Some working parents I know feel a terrible amount of guilt about not seeing their kids as much as they’d like. Monday through Thursday they might be lucky to get home in time for the bedtime routine. So I guess I can understand them wanting to go all out when they can. It’s not necessarily something I see myself doing (my birthday parties growing up were all pretty low key and I still had a blast because it was my birthday!), but I do get it.

    • Amandalikeshummus

      Reading APW was the only way I learned how much easier it does make things. It’s such an invisible aspect if you’re not navigating it.

  • toomanybooks

    Oh my gosh, I’m a nerd and all for marathoning fantasy (/science fiction) franchises in general, but a Lord of the Rings marathon (with extended edition DVDs!!) is the most exhausting thing I could imagine. I’d even extend that sentiment to just watching ONE of the movies! They are very long and slow-paced! But I think there is a balance to be struck between doing what your friends think a bachelorette party is “supposed” to be and doing this. Maybe they’re just trying to make sure the celebration feels special or feels like a bachelorette party (though that doesn’t mean you have to take them at their first suggestion).

    Afternoon tea doesn’t have to be expensive – it could be, like, the cheapest thing. If you DIY, tea does not cost very much and a simple homemade or storebought dessert (muffins? Cake? Cupcakes? Pastries?) does not have to either. Depending on where you live, there could definitely be affordable options for afternoon tea in a restaurant who does it up. My college town had an adorable place that offered the most blissfully delicious meal of an afternoon tea (tiny sandwiches and pastries, scones and jam, a pot of tea of your choice with the cutest selection of flavors) for something like $18. If you’re into that sort of thing. (Which it sounds like the author isn’t, and that’s fine!)

    I’m glad the author acknowledged within the post that it’s also just as much of a competition to look like you spent the LEAST money and had a super chill low-key “different” wedding. And that you have to think about your guests – a wedding at a house in the middle of the jungle sounds cool, but the idea of guests trying to get to a super remote location while getting devoured by mosquitos does not. I thought a wedding in the woods would be really cool, until I realized that I could not actually find an affordable real venue (no matter how nontraditional) in the middle of the woods that was anywhere near a metro stop or the city, and as someone without a car (and a bunch of people flying in) I didn’t want to force people into a $50 Uber situation or something. And that would just be to get to said woods, before wandering through the trees in the dark, because obviously a cool forest wedding would have to be at nighttime so I could have fairy lights. (This is not the wedding I ended up having at all, lol.)

    I think when you’re planning a wedding, you can be trying so hard not to spend the money you’ve been warned about that you sometimes get into that wedding fog of not knowing what’s reasonable for guests and what’s not (see: what I believe was Maddie’s argument with her mother over having chairs at her wedding/reception – which I can TOTALLY UNDERSTAND). And it can feel like you’re pulled between “I don’t want to fall into the trap of conspicuous consumption and the WIC!” and “okay, but do remember that you will have real guests who need to be able to get to your venue, and be reasonably comfortable. Not necessarily 5 star hotel comfortable, but reasonably so.”

    And as for whether weddings are a display of class aspiration as the title asks… yes, yes, absolutely yes, and I’m not saying that in a disgusted tone (on the internet in typed words lol). Having the full wedding that is what people generally come to expect of a wedding (ceremony, reception, cocktail hour, full dinner and cake, open bar, fancy venue, etc etc) tends to be kind of a crazy financial burden “for one party” as people say, unless you’re super well off, which is why historically only the rich did it this way if I’m not mistaken (I think I remember reading about this in the original APW book). I watched the Adam Ruins Everything about weddings, fully expecting it to be the usual cliched douchey take-down of how much money people spend for no reason, with misogynist undertones, blah blah blah – and it surprised me by actually being more about class and people being pressured to marry like the rich. Interesting to check out or keep in mind for this discussion!

    But to be clear, I want to live like an English aristocrat on a castle estate in my ideal world, and did my wedding reflect that? Yes. Did I want to show everyone a lesbian wedding that was Super Classy And Fairytale-like? Yes. (Part of my motivation was definitely stemming from being gay and wanting to show our family and friends a really good gay wedding.) We still searched for the most affordable options for everything and overall I’m really proud of the wedding we put on and satisfied with what we spent. And honestly I have FULL transparency about wanting to be luxurious, lol.

    • Jane

      This great comment reminds me that we are all waiting for that essay you’re going to submit to APW/ the Compact.

      • Yael

        Yes!

      • toomanybooks

        Aww shucks! Gotta get on it :)

  • Alexandra

    Exactly right: keep going back to the core value of extending generous hospitality to your guests. You’re not showing off, you’re providing a party with food for the purpose of celebrating your community on the first day of your marriage.

  • SuzieQ

    Of course weddings are about class aspirations. Meg even talks about it in her book, most of our grandparents and great grandparents were married at home in the parlor or in their local church and then Princess Diana’s royal wedding changed the vogue for the 80’s. But even more, if you look to weddings in their ancestral origins as a financial or status move to create family ties and alliances, what better time to show off your wealth than when you are showing how desirable and powerful your family is as an ally? The wedding traditions we have inherited are not about love at all. Companionate marriages are a relatively modern phenomenon only a couple hundred years old.

    Frankly, every part of a wedding is showing off. A big sparkly ring? Showing off. A floor-length white dress? You know you aren’t wearing that thing again. Serving a meal to an average of 125ish people? Crazy expensive. Deciding you don’t want those things because it is “vulgar” while having dental insurance, that is just showing off a different way.

    And that is okay. That won’t make it any less meaningful for you or the people who love you.

    • boboddy

      Wait, sorry, I don’t get the dental insurance comment… What does that mean?

      • Sarah E

        I think it’s “while having a high enough income to afford a bill for something that’s expensive and not commonly an option for a lot of people”

        • boboddy

          Ah, that makes sense. My dental insurance is free through my work and not at all related to my income — minimum-wage employees have it as well. So while I recognize it is a privilege, it just seemed like an odd example to represent wealth or presence of disposable income. I wasn’t sure if I was missing something!

      • wannabee

        This analogy doesn’t track…unless I’m missing that people are like Instagramming their dental insurance cards? Having dental insurance is a privilege that not everyone has, but it is not analogous to balling out on a fancy wedding dress. For one thing, most people will use their teeth more than once…a wedding dress is not a benefit that comes with some forms of employment…

    • The wedding traditions we have inherited are not about love at all. Companionate marriages are a relatively modern phenomenon only a couple hundred years old.

      Ooh ooh! (waves hand in the air like the overexcited nerdy pupil in history class)

      This belief is in itself a signifier of the class aspects of marriage, because it was only ever really true for middle and upper class couples (and, in some circumstances, couples in very religious communities). The weddings that leave the most impact on the historical record, whether through written accounts, images, or physical objects, are the expensive ones, and our view of history is filtered through that lens even though it’s so warped. Working class couples have always had the ‘luxury’ of marrying for love. And of divorcing for love, and living in sin for love, and sharing their homes with other ‘spinsters’ or ‘bachelors’ for love.

      It’s like people claiming more people were virgins on their wedding night historically. If you step away from the wedding narrative that’s based on the weddings that leave the most objects and look instead at marriage and birth records, it’s very obvious that the majority of working class people weren’t virgins on their wedding nights (unless the normal length of a medieval pregnancy was six months!). But even though those people make up the majority of the population, their voices aren’t heard in the historical record, so people think pre-marital sex is a recent phenomenon.

      The majority of humanity are not and never have been upper class, and the majority have married for love, but have always been sold this idea that using a wedding to show of wealth and status is “traditional” even though it’s not their tradition. The idea that weddings were historically about status and alliances is an aspect of historical erasure that is used to justify the way weddings are, but that in itself is a kind of tradition – we’ve spent hundreds of years telling each other “aren’t we lucky to marry for companionship, unlike our ancestors”.

      • Violet

        Woah, so interesting!

      • SuzieQ

        You’re completely right, but here is my question: How many of those lower and middle class marriages were occasioned with A Wedding TM as we mean it?

        • I think that mainly depends on how you’re defining A Wedding TM, and also getting more specific about era and area. A couple wearing their best clothes, holding a religious ceremony with legal implications, followed by a fancy meal for everyone involved, followed by a piss up party is what’s defined A Wedding TM for centuries, whether you were rural poor in the C16th or urban poor in the C19th (main difference for urban poor is you wouldn’t have had cooking facilities, so you’d have had the meal at a local chop house / pub, whereas rural poor were much more likely to cook for themselves but might need to skip the party to get the cows in before dark). A lot of the traditions associated with US weddings – like showers and rehearsals and brunches – have their roots in the mid twentieth century, and are of an era that’s already championing itself as being about love matches (whether it actually was or not!).

          Up until the C19th in the UK the only way to get legally married was in the Church of England (or Catholic church pre-reformation) so if you weren’t CoE you couldn’t get legally married, which complicates the narrative. There’s a lot of weddings going on that leave no trace on the record because in the eyes of the law they weren’t legal – common law was never a legal thing in the UK, but if you lived as married people weren’t going to question it unless something scandalous came up. This changes in the nineteenth century when civil marriages are introduced and other religions are allowed to register to perform them (between the marriage act of 1753 and the act of 1836 you have this weird point where if you were Jewish or Quaker your marriage was neither legal nor illegal). This is partly because of a shift in religious attitudes in the Victorian period, but it’s also a very pragmatic reaction to the way ownership of objects had changed. Your average Georgian peasant owned ten things (clothes you were wearing, best clothes, your personal spoon, bed, sheets, maybe some sort of cupboard if you were super fancy), while your average Victorian peasant owned hundreds. Multiple outfits! Plates! Enough cutlery people didn’t need to carry their own with them everywhere! Furniture to store all the stuff in! And rooms to store the furniture in… Married couples stopped living with their parents and started moving into their own places, because they needed somewhere to keep all the stuff. Knowing who someone was legally married to made it much easier for the widow/er to retain ownership of their partner’s things. It’s also the point at which weddings really start morphing into being about stuff as well, with gifts and new clothes and class aspirations.

          So, tl:dr, the structure of a wedding of the rural or urban poor in the C18th or earlier would have been recognisable to us, with ceremony, wedding breakfast and reception in varying proportions, but the emphasis gradually shifts over the course of the C19th for all classes in terms of the intersection between consumer culture and weddings. You don’t have to bring your own spoon with you any more!

  • Lexipedia

    I’m getting the feeling that FMIL might be feeling anxious about whether their more distant family members might judge our wedding. FI and I are from similar backgrounds, but that line stops with our immediate families. Both sets of parents “made it” compared to their siblings, and then had children who have lifestyles that look even more different (graduate degrees, travel, moving far away from home). My mom’s family is close, and we see each other all the time, so it’s not a secret or anything. FI’s family is not close, hasn’t seen each other in years, and I think she’s worried that they might feel like we’re having a “snobby” wedding if they decide to come. We would never see it as overly luxurious because we’re not having steak and lobster, not having a formal dress code, not getting married in a really opulent or expensive venue, but I know that we have a difference of opinion on what “fancy” means. Because their extended family sees each other rarely, I worry that FMIL is concerned about our wedding as a display of how we are different – in a way the family sees as bad.

    I’m not quite sure what to do with this, but this article is a good reminder that I should think even more carefully about our choices.

    • Laura C

      This is where the highly specific valences of class and cultural taste can be so important and hard to think through. You know, lots of working-class people have fairly big, “fancy”-feeling weddings, but often in different ways and for different values of “Fancy.” And one possibility is that people who don’t have money to spend don’t see everywhere in your wedding that money is being spent if it doesn’t meet their norms for fanciness. If that makes sense.

      • Lexipedia

        Oh absolutely – there is totally an information gap here too. I’ve never met any of these people, and FMIL hasn’t said anything directly to me about this (or would even if I asked her outright). You are totally right in the highly specific valences of class and cultural taste, and FI isn’t being the most helpful because he doesn’t have close relationships with these people either.

        Like, definitions of “fancy” are totally important here, and I suspect that some of the things that we’ve chosen to spend extra money on would be invisible without our specific cultural context – independent caterer with local ingredients and products, supporting a heritage project with our choice of venue, choosing our vendors to be progressive and social-justice oriented, etc. But we won’t have a giant cake, or flashy decor, or a bling-y dress, all of which are likely cheaper than our upgraded vendors that align with our values. However, I’m still concerned that we will be judged as overly bougie by one section of our guest list, while seen as inadequate by another – and when these people are relatives or family friends of FI’s that I don’t know then the anxiety increases.

        Ugh. I have just accepted that there is no way to 100% win at wedding planning.

        • Laura C

          Ha! There really isn’t. Although the way you win is if everyone is willing to take your wedding on its terms and try to be there for you and have fun no matter. Even if it’s not the wedding they would have planned.

          And in this case, if you don’t even know if they’re people who’d want a blingy (if not expensive) dress and giant cake or people who’d think that was too fancy and want a backyard barbecue, you can’t even really try to make decisions that would make them comfortable.

          • Lexipedia

            Nope. All I’ve got to go on for one of his cousins specifically is the fact that FI went to her wedding five years ago, which was very much a jeans and t-shirts BBQ, and her husband’s latest Facebook posts that range from criticisms of snobby liberal elitists who love crooked-Hillary, and comments about building a wall.

            I pray they won’t come, but I’m slightly less worried about these specific opinions. Other members of his extended family seem very nice and less scary to me. Those are the ones I worry about the judgement from.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          I just want to sign on to the information gap thing. I’ve realize from this conversation that the people I’m most worried about upsetting or disappointing or whatever are the people I don’t know well. The ones I do know, I trust to give us the benefit of the doubt and relax and roll with whatever we do.

          • Lexipedia

            Yep. If members of my own family with a different cultural background think we’re bougie because of farm-to-table catering – whatever. They know me, so it isn’t a shock, and they love me anyway. If FI’s cousins with a different cultural background, who he hasn’t seen in years and doesn’t know well, think we’re snobby for consumption choices I feel waaaaaaaaay worse.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            I get that there’s a certain amount of privilege one must have in order to make a farm-to-table choice. But I also don’t like how some people think it must be about class signalling, when it’s likely an ethical/environmental consumer decision.

          • Katharine Parker

            Class signaling and ethical/environmental decisions aren’t mutually exclusive. Often, the latter is the former.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Clearly. And they are often linked. But sometimes it’s a way to use your privilege for good. I prefer to pay more for food that was picked by people making more. I have the ability to do that. I don’t do it to throw shade at those who can’t.

          • Katharine Parker

            I’m not criticizing the intent behind the ethical/environmental decisions. I’m all for conscientious consumption (ask me about my sustainable fishing CSA), but you can’t opt out of something being a class marker.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            I think we are agreeing and using different language. haha. I guess what I’m challenging is when people assume it must be ALL about showing off (both money and holier-than-thou-ness), when it can be different intent. Like in my above, “about class signalling”=consciously and purposefully signalling class.

  • Sarah E

    Coincidentally, there’s a great post about class and minimalism over on Reading My Tea Leaves today. Another great meditation on where the chips fall re: consumption and class. http://www.readingmytealeaves.com/2017/08/life-in-a-tiny-apartment-minimalism.html

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    I may bookmark this discussion to come back to over the next year or so as we plan and prepare for our wedding. I came from a more comfortable background, and PADude’s family is solidly blue collar. My parents are contributing a bunch of money to our wedding budget, and he feels weird about accepting it, because his family can’t afford to contribute anything. I want him to understand that it’s not a big deal, that my family just loves in money sometimes and nobody questions the love of or for his family, but yes, it’s a big deal to him, and I don’t always know what to do about that. We attended his coworker’s wedding last year at the local fairgrounds, and some people wore jeans, and we ate turkey in gravy and canned yellow corn at folding tables and chairs. It was super fun! We had a great time, and so did everybody there! And it made me realize that 1) it’s not what I want from my wedding, because I’ve always envisioned something fancier, and 2) damn, I hope his coworker friends don’t feel wildly uncomfortable at our wedding.

    • SuzieQ

      You’re worried about his coworker feeling wildly uncomfortable. I’m worried about my family feeling wildly uncomfortable. I’m looking for a “clean, fresh, elegant” vibe as the appropriate balance between my class aspirations (looking at you law school) and my extended family’s class reality.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        I mean, I do worry about our families. I think I don’t worry *as much* about it because we spend time with both sides of the family and they’ve met each other on a few occasions, and we’ve been together long enough to have dealt with our families’ differences somewhat already. We’ve been through enough as a family to understand that we all love each other and we are, in fact, family, no matter what. But I should probably check in with him and make sure I’m not brushing aside anything that he’s still concerned about on the family front. We have had a few ongoing discussions about how much weddings can cost, what we really want out of ours, and how much we’re willing to pay for it.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Oh man, the balance between class aspirations and class reality sure is a fun one! My wedding was “relaxed preppy” for that very reason…the Nantucket reds and and country club setting (hopefully) said “I have done at least moderately well in life”, but the chicken strips and cans of Michelob said “It’s cool that you wore jeans, Uncle Jimbo. I’m just glad you could make it.”

  • Pingback: Are Weddings Really Just One Big Show of Class Aspirations? | Wedding Adviser()

  • NolaJael

    This came out in the food choices at our super low key DIY wedding. Husband and I had decided to grill burgers (ourselves, no caterers). My mother *really* wanted to grill salmon, on the theory that a) it’s not that hard, b) we’re grilling anyway and c) it’s significantly “fancier” and wedding-ish. But husband and I weren’t 100% sure that all the meat-and-potatoes guests on his side would be cool with salmon. Husband was worried that they would be intimidated or irritated *even if there was a non-salmon option.* To this day my mother doesn’t understand why we didn’t just let her grill salmon at the wedding, but c’est la vie.

    • Amy March

      Lol at it’s not that hard- no one else struggled mightily with fish sticking to the grill? Majorly complicating the process!

      • NolaJael

        Ha! Grill to my mother means “steam while wrapped in foil.” You’re right, truly grilling salmon is way harder than it looks!

      • Katharine Parker

        Cedar boards are key in grilling salmon! But yes, this is a bigger project than burgers.

      • Kara E

        Clean grill + oil the hot grill. Definitely works better for us with skin-on cuts (and salmon always seems to work best for us*) – you just wind up with some of the skin staying stuck. [And I should see whether fresh Sockeye is still on sale at the market this week – total splurge, but so yummy.]

        *though I will say we’ve never tried with other thick cut fish, just too expensive to not have turn out well!

        • Jess

          This method works great for swordfish, shark, and tuna, too. Especially if you do an oil based marinade on the meat.

          Although if you’re in a community/rental grill like we are, you better get a grill mat, because everything is sticking to it no matter what you do.

    • EF

      no joke, i just travelled with my BFF to a very cheap country here in the EU, and ordered salmon at a restaurant. it came out a salmon steak, with a large piece of bone in the middle and the fish on both sides? I looked at it and almost cried, I had no idea what to do, I didn’t even know salmon could come like that.
      Bless the BFF who leaned across the table and showed me how to pull salmon off the bone. I made a joke about our different backgrounds and it was fine, but man, once in a while I wish I could feel like I belong in the world.

  • NolaJael

    Moving to the South from the Midwest was a huge culture shock for me in terms of what baseline “nice” was and how old money works (guys – they still have debutante balls in the 21st century where you get your white-gloved picture in the paper). I’ve told this story before, but my first Southern boyfriend invited me to a wedding of a coworker and never mentioned a dress code. I was literally the only female guest in a non-floor length dress and flats. I was mortified. He got a stern talking to and I never went anywhere with him again with explicit conversations about expected dress norms.

    • SuzieQ

      I dated a guy from the south once. Let’s just say there are some regional differences between Alabama and California….

    • Laura C

      That’s fascinating because my first experience of southern weddings was like “that’s it? that’s the wedding? a ceremony and then some chips outside the church?” Or “all they had was finger sandwiches and you’re all talking about how lavish the food was?” Which is about food, not clothes, I realize, but I would say the clothes were more…church-chic. Heels definitely but no dress length requirements outside of not showing so much leg the pastor would be offended. Which goes to show that there are class/culture differences even within regions.

      But your story is giving me flashbacks to a similar experience with clothes: my then-boyfriend (now husband) told me to meet him at his friend’s parents’ house for a barbecue. I arrived in barbecue-appropriate clothes with some homemade brownies on a paper plate. It was a catered affair at which the hostess was wearing perfectly pleated white slacks and a gold sweater. You had best believe that this friend’s wedding some years later was one for which I thought VERY carefully about what I wore,
      to both wedding and rehearsal dinner, and was glad I did since we ended up seated at the rehearsal dinner with the groom’s wealthy Republican aunts and uncles.

      • NolaJael

        I guess I should have specified “New Orleans” rather than southern. I have been to some church-picnic level southern events too, and those are different in their own way. :)

        • Laura C

          I should have gotten that from your name! :)

      • Katharine Parker

        This is why dress codes are helpful! Being underdressed is awful (overdressed sucks, too, but I’m more comfortable being a bit too fancy than otherwise). My dad told me a story recently about arriving at a party when he was in his 20s and realizing everyone else was in black tie. I was like, so you went home to change? And he said, of course!

        • Laura C

          My mother is the rare person who would rather be underdressed than overdressed. She has this horror of ostentation that comes from someplace very specific in her class background that I can’t quite parse even though as a family of sociology PhDs we talk about class ALLLL the time. But she will very often warn me against the possibility of being overdressed when to me I am very clearly right on target plus would rather be over than under.

          • Lisa

            See, I subscribe to Coco Chanel’s philosophy “It’s always better to be slightly underdressed.” I’d rather show up in a really rocking slightly more casual outfit than be overdressed. (My baseline casual is more elevated than most people’s though from years of running with professional opera singers so I’ve never ended up in a situation where I was truly uncomfortable.)

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Hahaha. Being a singer definitely gives one a different perspective. I don’t dress up to go to the opera cause I’m like, “I’m not the one performing. I’m wearing jeans.” On the other hand, I’ve definitely worn around shoes with holes in them so that I could afford a ballgown.

          • Lisa

            There’s definitely a certain incentive to dress more formally when you (and your voice) are the product you’re selling. I knew some teachers who wouldn’t allow women into their studios unless they were wearing a dress and heels! Mine wasn’t like that, but I do have quite the collection of heels and fancy tote bags from undergrad that now languish in my closet.

          • Amandalikeshummus

            Ugh, I knew of teachers like that. Not my game. It’s interesting to see who buys into that game, too. I knew a singer who was worried about buying a new audition dress because all the local companies had already seen the one she had. She said, “They are going to look at me and think, ‘That girl is POOR.'”

            I was like, “You’re a singer. They already know you’re poor.” Also, they don’t remember your dress.

          • Lisa

            Lol to buying a new dress for one audition! I’ve been wearing the same three dresses (and one pantsuit) for years to audition for the same people. The only time I’ve ever had comments about it was when the outfit matched what was in my headshots.

          • Laura C

            I think if you can be casual but chic and elegant and it’s a scenario with no overt dress code, that’s probably right. But it’s also a big if! And part of my beef with my mom’s view of this is that I think she tends to prefer to be underdressed while also underestimating how dressy one should be, so she’s adjusting downward twice.

            My favorite was an Indian woman I met at a party who said “if I’m not sure what to wear, I just wear a sari, and Americans don’t really know how dressy I am so no one can say it’s wrong.”

          • Lisa

            I love it! What a clever woman.

            And you’re right about the dress code. I know myself and my style and what I can get away with in a setting where I don’t have an explicit guideline. It’s very individual.

        • NolaJael

          During the law school / immediate post-graduation period I left multiple events in tears because I was underdressed. It was a steep learning curve as someone who had been surrounded by college-educated-but-buy-used-cars people my whole life.

          • Anne

            Oh god that sounds terrible. And that sort of thing helps explain why my lawyer parents have spent my entire young adulthood trying to buy me more formal professional attire. Which I never, ever wear, as a scientist on the west coast.

            More recently though, I’ve been thinking about how the “wear whatever you want” culture here has its own built-in judgments too. Many of my outfit decisions depend on how much I need to look like a “serious scientist” that day vs more feminine clothes that I actually like. I think there’s also subtle judgment passed on overdressed people, because of the implication that they either are newcomers to the field or they wasted time thinking about clothing that they could have spent thinking about science.

          • AhhHowDoesDisqusWork

            Amen to this. The hardest problems in software engineering are naming things, off by one errors and figuring out what to wear when you’re the only woman on the team.

          • boboddy

            Wow, yes, fellow female scientist on the west coast. My wardrobe changes based on if I have meetings that day (and with who), and these meetings can drive the dressiness either up or down. I realized I subconsciously stopped painting my nails and wearing make-up because I didn’t want to look like I cared too much about my looks. Presentations are the hardest, because I am trying to find the line between well-dressed/cleaned-up and too fashion/appearance-focused.

          • Lexipedia

            The west cost STEM style thing is haaaaaaaard. As a professional on the other side of the country I default to a pencil skirt and blouse as my “I don’t know how dressy this meeting is” outfit. But, I also work “tech-adjacent” and so have lots of Bay Area meetings that I have to dress down/less femininely for. Total disconnect.

        • Lexipedia

          My grad school director made a regular point of commenting if your clothing was inappropriate (which meant not dressy enough) for the situation and implying that you should leave the event and change. This terrified all of her students and meant that lockers regularly stored a business-formal outfit.

      • Amandalikeshummus

        Regular parties definitely have their unstated rules as well! My bf always likes to bring something to a party. So, we were invited to a fundraising party at a private residence. He thought, “It’s so nice to host this at their home. I’ll bring some wine.” We show up and it’s catered, in a home with a catering-friendly kitchen. The host and bartender were like, “Ohhh… thank you…” It was also winter and I was in snow boots because I was coming from work, and the host definitely gave me side eye.

      • Jess

        And R wonders why I’m so concerned every time we go to an event about what I should be wearing… (this. This is why)

      • YummieYummie

        As someone from the deep south who was forced into a poofy white strapless number for her debutante ball, I can say that there is a clear monetary divide in southern weddings. Every wedding I’ve been to can fit into either the “elegant gala” or “church picnic” category, depending on which side of the family the wedding was. For example, one of the weddings on my mom’s side was a black tie affair in a loft downtown with a live jazz band, endless hors d’oveurs (so many mini crab cakes!), open bar all night, and a cake that my cousin later confessed to me cost over a freaking grand! On my dad’s side, my niece’s wedding was in the family church, just like all the other weddings on that side, with a small reception at a nearby rec center.

        My fiance is from New England, and still doesn’t quite get this dynamic or why I tell him to pack a polo and a pair of dress pants anytime we’re going to my grandmother’s house.

        • NotMotherTheresa

          Yesss!!! Having grown up in a middle class, midwestern town, the south still blows my mind in regards to how little middle ground there seems to be with regards to weddings. It’s very much either cake and punch in the church basement, or it’s some insanely lavish $100k+ affair.
          Where are the B-list Marriott ballroom receptions with baked chicken and mediocre DJs?!?! Where are the five bridesmaids in $100 David’s Bridal satin dresses?!?! Where are the bridal showers where every guest shows up with a set or two of Fiestaware?!?!

          • Guest

            I’ve seen those middle of the tied weddings and showers you’re looking for in Kentucky, which is another indication that KY isn’t really the South, I guess.

          • NotMotherTheresa

            Northern Kentucky, by chance?

            Kentucky is weird. I feel like western KY, Appalachian KY, and northern Kentucky are basically three different planets. (Not from Kentucky, but between having family at one of end of the state and living an hour from the other end’s border, I’ve definitely had a bit of experience with it!)

  • Fushigidane

    My mom wanted to do my shower at a tea place because it sounded fancy but then decided people would complain there wasn’t enough food. Definitely think she judged venues based on the name. Her favorite one was called “The Manor” and she definitely wanted everything to look expensive.
    My bridesmaids were super chill. We went out for karaoke and then had sleepover and watched Disney movies.

  • Karen Abitz Heinig

    No, I don’t think it’s about class differences. It’s about the fact that if people are going to take time out of their lives to attend a wedding, you should make it worth their while and that equals comfortable, fun and nice. It doesn’t have to be over the top luxurious but please give some thought to the attendees including older ones such as grandma. Sure weddings can and should have the personal touch of the couple but it’s narcissistic to think that it’s all about you and what you want blah blah blah. If you just care about yourselves, then by all means, elope in Europe (which is the sort of thing more and more people are doing).

    • Amandalikeshummus

      But the definition of “comfortable, fun, and nice” varies by class, and that is what this piece is tackling.

    • Jennifer

      The people who take the time out of their lives to celebrate you are doing so because they love you. While I agree with properly wanting to host your guests, that could be a picnic by the lake on a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday night at a downtown hotel with endless appetizers and a $1000 cake. The point of the article (at least what I took from it) is to discuss the need of some to show that they have “made it” which goes beyond just properly hosting and can lead to tension with others involved who don’t have that need.

  • Rebecca

    When it came time to plan our wedding, DH and I found a really nice venue for a shockingly affordable price, and honestly our wedding probably looked more expensive than it actually was. My parents didn’t really care what we did as long as we were happy, but my MIL became OBSESSED with the wedding. Thinking back on it now, that probably had something to do with her own class aspirations. She loved showing off the venue and kept trying to get us to invite random people we didn’t know or care about. DH was the first person on her side of the family to have a “traditional” wedding (his cousin was married twice, both small casual affairs, and sadly both ended in divorce/separation) so I feel like she was using our wedding as a way to show off. Like, “Look how successful my son is! Look how great my family is! Look how great I look!” I also think there might’ve been some subconscious competition with her partner’s side of the family: they’re all pretty wealthy, and the two most recent weddings on that side were big fancy affairs. The whole thing was just very off-putting.

    Also, I have to say it’s very neat to see Zen Cho writing a piece for APW! I’m starting Sorcerer to the Crown so that’s a cool coincidence :)

  • EF

    haven’t read all the comments, but i really, REALLY want to see a discussion on wedding gifts. the grand $ spent on gifts we received? about $400, at a wedding of 77 people. we were happy and grateful, but it’s REALLY hard to hear ‘oh hey look at this nice place setting!’ ‘oh i really must have a kitchenaid!’ ‘oh we got the downpayment for our house from cash at the wedding’ constantly. this just isn’t the case for a lot of people.

    privileged people reinforcing privilege isn’t romantic. it’s just another form of oppression.

    • Jess

      This is a really important discussion.

      My mom uses gifts as a class signifier – including asking me in detail about who got us what for our wedding (I… did not answer except about gifts I felt were really touching or meaningful). She and my dad both made a class jump, and being able to give certain things is a way for her to feel like she’s made it, but she also uses it to judge other people in a way I find really uncomfortable.

      I really agree that being given high-$ gifts definitely gives an additional leg up to people who started a few rungs higher – not having to buy plates or pots and pans or a downpayment (!) means money that can be spent on transportation or job training or invested to make even more money.

    • NotMotherTheresa

      Oh man, yes!!! And the ‘pay for your plate’ mentality in some circles only makes this worse…like, no judgment, but you know who LEAST needs a $500 wedding gift? People who can spend $250 a head on their wedding!
      (Again, I’m not saying that as a slight towards anyone–I am THRILLED for people who have the resources to throw those types of weddings, as well as for guests who have the kind of money to write $500 checks for a third cousin’s wedding. But at the same time, that norm totally exacerbates inequality, since it means that the people receiving the $10 wedding gifts are often the ones who could have ~really~ benefitted from that $500 check, while the ones ACTUALLY getting the $500 checks are the ones with great incomes and/or parents who can help them out on other things, too.)

    • Guest

      I basically agree with you, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that people with a lot of respect should not give large gifts because it is oppression. They should be giving a ton of money to those outside their circle–absolutely–and working towards equity. But that doesn’t mean they can’t give generously to their cousins or whatever.

  • Staria

    Ohhhh I struggled so much with my partner’s ideas, because he valued ‘cheap’ and didn’t care how it looked, and I valued ‘comfort, practical’ and was willing to research how to get what I wanted on a budget… but ultimately paid more for it. And I didn’t want everything to be fancy, but I wanted SOME things to be ‘nice’. Happily we did both end up with things and a day/party we loved, after a lot (a lot a lot) of arguments and negotiating. One big thing that did end up helping me – we both valued good food but my partner was somehow unwilling to pay for it and so was his family (which was weird because his mum dropped a bundle on his sister’s wedding’s catering). It was really awkward for me but my mum reassured me that wanting good food was a good choice as our (large extended) family loved to eat and share lots of food and that ended up being the one big thing I asked my parents for financial support with.

  • Shawna

    Just fist-bumping you for being the kind of person who wore a One Ring replica for an extended period of time. I was definitely that nerd too. :)

  • Jennifer

    I get this so much (including the desire for the LotR marathons because I’ve both been there and done that multiple times and it’s always awesome). I’m Nigerian and, if there’s one thing to know about Nigerians before you ever attend one of their parties, they like to GET DOWN. Their parties will go on into the wee hours of the night. When I was pregnant my mom insisted on throwing me a baby shower that didn’t start until 4pm. I finally checked out at 10pm and the dancing was still going on downstairs. My sister told me the last person didn’t leave until 2am.

    They go over the top in celebrations and my perception is that it is a class thing. What better way to show you’ve made it then a wedding in a fancy hotel with the bride wearing a dress that cost more than the birth of my child.

    But that’s not me. I’ve always been really low key and I’m truly not trying to be false braggy about that. I don’t like being the center of attention. I also associate conspicuous consumption with vulgarity. I wanted a daytime brunch wedding with a super casual vibe. I bought my wedding dress off eBay. I got my cake from Market Street. I may not have a bouquet. My mother is horrified. She doesn’t want to look cheap. She compares my wedding to the weddings of all the daughters of her friends. I’m the oldest and my brother is kind of a screw up and I think my wedding is a way to show me off and redeem herself as a mother in her friends’ eyes after the crap my brother has pulled.

    And even internally I have battled with myself over how I want our wedding to go. I have a job that pays well and, even though my fiancé and I are paying for the wedding ourselves, I have a significant savings that I could use to have a WIC approved wedding. But I REALLY don’t want to blow my savings on a party, even my wedding, especially when we want to buy a house next year. But then there’s a little voice that nags me – “What if everyone thinks you’re cheap? What if you don’t look good in front of your future in laws? What if your parent’s friends smile and congratulate you to your face and then go home and pity the obviously pauper state that you are in?” Ugh I have nightmares about this.

  • BSharp

    So I clicked because the topic is near & dear to my heart, and at the end of nodding along realized who it was written by–I am so excited to see a post by Zen Cho. I loved Sorcerer to the Crown! Best wishes for your wedding and your marriage, and please keep writing.