Privilege Blog

Saturday Morning at 9:17am

The hostess of the humble bungalow left the following much appreciated comment to my post about the Minimalist Luxury Credo.

“#5 is puzzling me. I am still digesting. How does one “make someone feel bad” about not being able to have something?
We have choices and why would someone “choose to feel bad” ?”

My 5th point in that credo being,

“Never make anyone else feel bad for what they can’t have. Because, if you pare away everything unnecessary, courtesy has to make the cut.”

Other commenters felt this ought to be point #1.

I have thought about it ever since.

Why? I call this blog Privilege. Not without understanding the ramifications. (The – dash is only an artifact of my inability to customize title spacing and something I would gladly eliminate.) I believe that privilege requires me to live in gratitude and appreciation. As you might imagine, I don’t succeed anywhere near as often as I would like. No one could say that virtuous intent is my most salient characteristic.

Still. Fancy little black dresses. A generous present giver who affords them. In the wearing of fancy goods, maybe I ought to consider the feelings of those who see me. Those with soft hearts, that is. I cannot be the keeper of all the hearts of strangers. I cannot watch out for the hearts of those I’m fighting, as in the way of the corporate world. I will not watch out for the hearts of those trying to make amends for their own distress through dominance.

But I can watch out for the hearts of my friends, and my family, and those I would like to bring into that circle.

The same, in some ways, is true for physical attributes. Despite complaints and shopping protests, despite a few years of an eating disorder in my 20’s, my weight is not a real problem. Partly a result of privilege. My family ate well for generations. My mother spent her real intellect and considerable time cooking so that my father’s heart would be protected from high triglycerides. We ate stir-fried broccoli and parchment steamed fish for comfort food. Now, despite my lost job, I can afford to shop at Whole Foods. Privilege.

Sure, there’s choice. Sure, I worked hard over the years. Sure, I keep eating broccoli, live modestly in some ways, and save for the things I care about. But, I feel deep in my heart, it’s privilege.

I understand that others might feel differently. Use different parameters. I’m not making a blanket statement. Let no one take this as a condemnation of other thought systems.

But me, for this week, I’m trying something out. Every day I will get up, and consider what I wear in light of, “How will this make people feel?” Rather than how will I feel. Rather than how will I look. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, or self-improvement programs. Perhaps a first.

An experiment. And, in the way of experiments, who knows if there’s anything to be learned?

19 Responses

  1. I'm glad that you wrote more about this subject because I was intrigued with your point #5.
    I've don't think that I've ever stopped to think about how other people would feel about the way that I was dressed except my husband back in the days when I had to project an older conservative image in front of his clients and colleagues.
    While I would never knowingly dress in a way that would cause anyone to be embarrassed or uncomfortable, other than that I dress for myself, not other people.

  2. Loved this post (per the norm) and feel all warm and cozy after reading it. Keep on being you- I think that you're a good person with a good heart and are just living your life as you see fit- a life which I do believe includes putting out "good."

    keep it up



  3. Thank you LPC! I feel I understand much better what you are saying in #5. I have never really thought too much about how clothing or accessories might cause a negative reaction. Although having just said that, I had an experience in San Francisco at The Metropolitan Club where I did have a negative (although constructive!) reaction observing the garments and accessories of a well heeled privileged crowd. I have not forgotten it and it did send me shopping!
    I am very observant, quality does stand out. The fabric, cut, style, seams and stitching. Costly details that are synonymous with a life of privilege.

  4. L, I enjoyed yoour continuing exploration of #5. I don't accept that anyone "makes" another feel anything. (And if someone says "you made me…", I don't buy that, either.)

    At the same sighting of your dress, one person's response might be delight, another's, discomfort. You would not have "made" either feel that.

    You might be the dynamite, but *they* hold the detonator. At the same time, I understand and revere your caring for those close to you.

  5. Although I think there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to dress (crocs are for gardening, not for church), how I react to what someone wears is my choice. How I react to what someone does is my choice. (I.e., my husband's parents' have decided to feel "abandoned" because we are not going there for Christmas. That is their choice. We are not in charge of their feelings.)

    So yes. Duchesse has made the point very well. You might wear a ripped t-shirt and dirty jeans to a friend's formal dinner as the dynamite (although you wouldn't), but the friend doesn't have to light the match.

    For the record, I am always happy to see someone well groomed, beautifully dressed and happy with how she looks. A little envious, because I think, Wow! How does she do it? What's her secret? But then I give her a thumbs up and a smile. Effort and success should be rewarded. We are all better off when the total beauty of the world increases.

  6. Hmmm, you have obviously touched a nerve in many. It's interesting. I think, on the whole, we are certainly responsible for how we react and feel about things. But to go so far as to say we have no ability to "make" someone feel anything, is, I think, a bit extreme. We do have an effect on others and we are often aware of it. Especially, as you say, the ones close to our hearts.
    I think we can have "things of privelege" and one person might flaunt them in some subtle way that makes people feel bad. Another might have or wear the exact same thing, and yet others don't feel bad. Am I making any sense here? Somehow I think you know what I mean. I applaud your even broaching the subject.

  7. Hmmm.. I actually agree with the Duchesse- I don't believe we can make anyone feel anything. If that were the case we would have a lot of responsibility hanging on our shoulders. One of the big issues in my life is people pleasing. I am trying to stop people pleasing and simply live my own life- I think this goes hand in hand. Looking forward to the results of your experiment…

  8. My mother told me never to "lord it over someone" as they might feel bad.
    I enjoyed hand me downs from my cousin in Montreal. She grew up in a family of considerable affluence. One winter I received a wool coat with a mink collar. Mom had furs and she loved wearing them so when I got this I waltzed around showing off to friends. Mom said I was behaving like the "Queen of Sheba" and to stop it. I also got a poodle skirt from the same cousin and when mom had her back turned I twirled around and flaunted it. (I secretly enjoyed having something my friends did not have) So it is with guilt that I post this comment LPC.
    You have struck a cord here. Let us know what you are wearing as you experiment with dressing for others, and what are the reactions that you get from this refined and understated attire.

  9. If I may be controversial, I think one of the reasons there is real resistance to your argument is because more people than anyone is likely to admit DO dress considering other people's feelings; but with the express purpose of making them feel lesser. I think a lot of our class-based social cues about clothing/jewelery/etc. are all about asserting ourselves in relation to others (it means nothing to be "upper class" if there's no one you're above). My fabulous LBD is MEANT to tell you that I'm better than you. I think what's interesting about what you're saying is that you want to appreciate and be grateful for what you have without making it about distinguishing yourself from others–this is about ethics. It's challenging, when this is the system you're coming from. I am enjoying reading about your negotiation of this.

  10. How does all of this fit in with social signaling? There can't really be an "us" without a "them" or less considerately, "not our kind". If one dresses in a way that signals one is part of an exclusive group, does that automatically put down those who aren't members?

  11. Gosh, how can you possibly know how your clothes "make" people feel? Seems like a lot of projection. ("Oh, my beautiful and expensive clothes must make others feel bad about themselves.")

  12. Thank you all for commenting. I too am of the philosophical school that no one can "make" anyone else feel any particular way. That said, it's a way of thinking that works in some circles, for some situations, better than in others. Not everyone or every culture holds that feelings are a choice.

    Frequently style performs class signaling. Lord knows the High WASPs have been masters of this. How anyone reacts to class signaling will vary on that person's class, emotional makeup, culture, psychology, etc. I am 100% sure that I will not wind up with an answer. Certainly not a statement about what one "should" do. I'm just experimenting with reactions, mine and the people I'm interacting with.

    I am conducting an experiment to see, IF I assumed my dress had an impact, WOULD it change my behavior? And then, to see does that changed behavior seem to matter at all? I suspect the only issue of note will be in my own thought processes.

    ('Til now, I had never articulated any of this "how does it make others feel?" stuff. Never even thought it, really, except wanting others to feel I was something or other.)

    So far I have worn gold zippered flats to buy a Christmas tree. The guys seemed much more affected by whether I smiled and got out of the way of their chain saw than by my shoes:). More updates to follow.

  13. Actually, I'm more taken aback that you have a life requiring a LBD, because it made me realize my life doesn't require one.

    And then I wondered what that said about me.


  14. This is a terrific philosophical question, and I'm not sure what my stance is, which I like!

  15. Love the post (as usual).Although we have no control over anyone else's feelings, how we dress conveys alot.And that is why we dress the way we do. When you get older, your skirts get a little longer, necklines get higher.We want to be respected. So, although we dont create feelings, we create our outward image.

  16. At first I thought that I dress regardless of the company…I'm arrogant like that. But on further reflection…it's not at all true. I tend to always take into account the crowd, location, peers, employees. It's just the polite thing to do really. I'm a fur addict, but I never wear one when I'm with my vegan friend. So, I guess I'm not as shallow as I initially thought.

  17. But however are you supposed to know how your clothes will make others feel? I mean, it's obvious with the extremes – legsandboobs dresses to church, tracksuit bottoms and crocs to a fancy dinner but with the less obvious, every day kind of clothes, how do you know how your dark straight leg jeans, stripy Gap tshirt and shrunken woollen cardigan (today's outfit of choice) are going to make anyone feel? How do you even begin to consider such a thing and adjust your outfit accordingly?

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