The Birth of the Status Symbol

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It’s not known when mankind became obsessed with wealth and status, but it was probably not long after we settled into farming communities and began spying on the Joneses next door.

With much less need to hunt and gather, our ancestors had more time to make bigger, better or simply just decorative objects – like jewellery. And so the status symbol was born. Previous status symbols may seem strange to us, but I am sure years from now people will be mystified as to why we would spend so much on a watch, a car or a mobile phone!

Lawns

A well kept lawn would once have shown that you were very wealthy indeed. Lawns at the entrance to stately homes and buildings began in the Middle Ages in France and England. These green swathes of garden had, let’s face it, no real purpose and in the days before sprinklers and lawnmowers were incredibly expensive to maintain.

A large, well-tended lawn was a sign of wealth and importance, or at least self importance. Lawns as a status symbol seems to have stuck, with many of us carefully tending even the smallest scrap of green in our gardens – without ever even asking ourselves why we do so.

TV

Colour TV was trialled on BBC2 in 1967, overseen by the then controller of BBC2, David Attenborough. Deemed a success, colour programs were rolled out to BBC1 and ITV a year or so later.

The first colour TV sets would have cost about £250 in then-money, equivalent to £3170 today, so there was by no means a set in every household. You can buy a TV set today for £100 and they are considered a household essential. As is David Attenborough.

Sofas

Possibly the most beloved item of furniture in the house, where we go to read, watch TV, talk, argue, nibble nibbles and spill red wine, it’s hard to imagine life without them.

Although sofas have been enjoyed in the East and the Middle East for millennia, the stiff backed Europeans had nothing to do with such decadence until fairly recently. The earliest English sofas, from the late seventeenth century, feature high rigid backs, lightly padded seats and look likely to cause permanent back trouble. It was the French – of course it was the French – who brought sofa design forward, stuffing away until they created something us languorous lounge lizards would feel at happy with today. The first sofas would have been commissioned from furniture makers at great expense.

Pineapples

Many of the foods we enjoy today were of course harder to procure before refrigeration and reliable transport. As a result, they were more expensive.

Vastly so, and nothing illustrates this better than the barmy price of pineapples. During the seventeenth century pineapples would cost the equivalent of £5000 in today’s money. The fruit was the ultimate status symbol, used as a dinner table centrepiece to impress your guests. And tomorrow night’s guests, and so on, until the fruit was too rotten to countenance.

If an anxious socialite didn’t have £5000 to splurge on a single item of fruit, (or if they had a shred of sense) they could rent one.