I was driving around my town the other day, one of those upscale places where there are a lot of nice cars. I stopped at the local ice cream place and noticed an unusual car parked on the street in front of me. My husband pointed out that it was a Bentley, the Continental GT, a sporty version of that venerable brand. Apparently it’s the least expensive of the Bentley line, priced at $150,000.
From time to time, we also see the occasional Ferrari or Maserati (usually during the summer, rarely parked and much more expensive than the Bentley) and there are loads of BMWs and Mercedes (they’re parked all over the place). Almost every other car that I haven’t mentioned so far is late model and nice.
Such cars are emblems and increasingly the type of thing we use to delineate and display our status without showing the bank account. And not just the car, but where and even if it gets parked, marks the driver either as someone who is of such sufficient status that a scratch, ding or dent is no big deal or someone who isn’t. Homes are also emblems and clothes are, too. For women, the latest “it” bag or Jimmy Choos or Manolos are emblems. For men, a popular emblem is a wristwatch, which, at a certain level, must be Swiss (think Yo-Yo Ma and his Rolex). Sometimes it’s jewelry, big jewels (I call them “headlights”) – for both men and women, though often it’s the woman wearing the jewels and the man wearing the woman. Or maybe it’s vice-versa. All emblems.
Emblems can certainly be less precious and say even more about us than our level of success. Think about walking down the street with a Starbucks in hand or carrying the latest cell/PDA (iPhone anyone?). What about computers? Are you a Microsoft or Mac person? As a long-time Mac user, I can clearly remember early on when people who owned Macs were viewed as somehow lower-status, less technologically savvy, not to be taken seriously as business people as those who tussled with Windows. Perceptions change (and we Mac fans always knew they would).
Even the field you’re in is an emblem. Think about how you may view people who are in technology and wear jeans and T-shirts to work vs. how you view someone who is in a job that requires they dress in a suit and tie. Do you get your shoes shined? I was up at a New York law firm last week and the shoeshine person actually set up her stand in the hall. So some people do.
What’s on your iPod? Do you even have one? Is it rock, country, alternative, orchestral, opera? Maybe you enjoy them all.
Cars don’t do it for me. I drive a plain-vanilla Toyota Camry with a 4-cylinder engine, comfy, reliable and good on gas. I desperately need a new watch (have you seen the new TX line from Timex?). My engagement ring still has the small diamond that my husband could afford at the time. These are certainly also emblems that say something about me.
I do splurge on clothes and recently bought myself a gorgeous and very expensive Italian suit. I’m planning to wear it this week for the first time and really looking forward to that. What do I hope it communicates about me? Smart, chic, sophisticated, together and, of course, successful would do nicely.
How are you marked? What are your emblems of success?
Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com