Most people who know me say I’m the epitome of fashion. I always insist on the finest brands, usually designer. Look in my closet and you’ll find Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Coach, and the like.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate true fashion. And I certainly don’t condone buying illegal knock-offs. I just don’t have a strong appreciation for the pricetag. When I visited China a few years ago, you couldn’t walk 3 feet without being offered some deal on some “designer” handbag. So I indulged. I have to admit it made me feel slightly special.
Then I returned to the lovely United States and started really paying attention to the real deal. And I noticed a few differences. My Coach bag had the letter ‘G’ instead of the letter ‘C’. My Prada bag was pleather instead of leather. And my Mont Blanc pen? It ran out of ink before I even got home. From a distance, I suppose I looked designer. The reality is that I like quality and I like bargains. So I compromise and only buy when both seem just right (hence my obsession with TJ Maxx and Marshall’s).
Ever known people just like that?
I’ll be the first to admit I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in rural Maryland where we seemed to live an idyllic life. It was anything but. We lived in a nice house with a nice yard. From a distance, I’m sure we were the envy of the neighborhood. I became acutely aware of this when I was visiting a friend’s house in the community. I thought their kitchen sink was really cool because it was white. My friend’s mother said, “we don’t have a stainless steel sink like the rich houses.” Her comment was lost on me at the time. But clearly the perception was that because we lived in a big house (by 1970’s standards), we must be rich!
Now I feel like people live for that kind of judgment. They wear it like a badge of honor. I live in a big house. I drive a fancy car. I have Chanel sunglasses and a Gucci bag. I must be important, rich, famous, or all of the above.
I live in a very transient neighborhood now. You see families with kids of all ages who are still making their way in the world. You see retired couples settling down for the next chapter. And you see a lot of out-of-state license plates. People make their way to the Triangle (also known as Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) in hopes of a better house, job, and quality of life. And what they leave behind is their old life.
I find that many people here tend to reinvent themselves. They talk of how they chose their new large house because they were downsizing. Or they talk about the life of luxury they left behind. Yet when you drive by their houses at night, you see empty rooms, devoid of furnishings. You see temporary shades in the windows 3 years after moving in. It’s as if people buy these houses in the hopes that buying the illusion of wealth will somehow make it come true.
So why do other people feel the need to portray themselves as something they aren’t? I suspect there is jealousy. Perhaps there is insecurity. I sense that seeing other people’s successes (no matter how they are measured) are a reminder of what someone doesn’t have. But why pretend to be something you aren’t?
Now excuse me, while I go take my Chameleon XLE for a spin.
(I was desperately hoping to insert one of my all-time favorite SNL commercial parodies here. Apparently, it’s nowhere to be found on the internet – either legally or illegally. Trust me, I tried. In the clip, the late great Phil Hartman, a comic genius, shows us a luxury car that masquerades as a beater. The best I could do was find the script so you’ll have to use that little thingy called imagination).
Spokesman V/O: If you’re a luxury car owner, there’s something you should know. Luxury sedans are stolen at the rate of four per minute.
[ show couple walking to curb from restaurant; his car is nowhere to be found ]
Man: My brand new BMW! I just got this car two days ago!
[ Spokesman enters foreground ]
Spokesman: Frightening, isn’t it? Suddenly, the idea of buying a car for the cache of a hood ornament seems outdated. In the 90’s, you don’t need a car to tell the world you’re wealthy; you need a car to tell the world you’re smart.
[ show luxury car under wraps, as a breeze sends the cloth flying to reveal a junky-looking vehicle underneath ]
Spokesman: Introducing the Chameleon XLE for 1993. Finally, a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car.
Inside, the Chameloen XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more.
Authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl. While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, “Hey, not worth the trouble.” This is craftsmanship no one will steal. GThis is engineering for the inner-city driving experience.
[ Spokesman places marble at the top of hood, which rolls forward into a hole at the bootm of the hood ]
Spokesman: Every inch of the Chameleon XLE is a pinnacle of urban design.
There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard.
A broken taillight repaired with duct tape. Standard.
Retractable antenna. Standard.
The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88. All standard.
A car thief takes one look at this, and keeps right on walking. Of course, it’s equipped with an automatic alarm system – but do you really think you’ll need it?
[ Spokesman turns on alarm, which renders the car even more useless ]
Spokesman: The Chameleon XLE. They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it.