Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Costume

Recently I was chatting with a friend who is the parent of a pre-schooler. His child attends an expensive Montessori that his employer happens to pay for. My friend and his wife despite their affluence are middle-class at heart and don't feel comfortable flaunting their prosperity. Quite often they find themselves in their daughter's school surrounded by rich, well-dressed parents who view them somewhat superciliously. They are treated like outsiders in the clique of rich, fashion forward parents.

I am able to relate to their experience based on my own at J's school. The women wear and carry only designer labels and look like they spent a bomb on their perfect hairstyles and manicures. I am brand label averse and definitely not a slave to fashion. I get the sense that I am being socially rejected. It may be completely unrelated, it has also taken me a while to gain the attention of the teachers.

My friend thought we should just save ourselves the trouble and get a "costume" for school. If all it takes to be accepted are a few designer duds, might as well do it and blend in - we were not necessarily compromising on our values by doing so. There is a certain social signaling going on there which we cannot participate in because we are dressed all wrong.


I asked him if that would not mean setting the wrong example for our kids - they might want to do what it took to fit in as well. How do you help them parse the difference between intent and action. After all blending in is always the path of least resistance. It has taken me all of three years at J's school to be taken seriously and without Prada, Gucci et al to help me out. It proved to be an invaluable learning experience and can only help me help J navigate the cliques of cool kids that she will need to deal with in a few years.

Was watching this interesting video on the
psychology of wearing designer knock-offs and I wondered if the parent cliques my friend and I were talking about had some of these knock-off wearers as well. What if people played the part in costume like he was suggesting. The idea would then be too beat the fashionistas at their game by taking the cheap route while pretending to blend in - the cheating here is happening at many different levels.

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