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Forget Flashy Cars — These Status Symbols Of Old Seem Pretty Bizarre Today

Posted in OMG
at 2016.03.06
With 0 Comments

You can probably recognize status symbols when you see them. It could be the latest technological gadget, a high-end name splashed all over clothing or a bag, or maybe a flashy car that you can barely even drive. Whether you (literally) buy into them or actively turn up your nose at them, you know how to spot them from a mile away.

You might be bemoaning the modern world and its capitalist consumerism right about now, but don”t worry. Obsession with status is hardly something new. People have always been compelled to show everyone else just how awesome they are. Throughout history, status symbols have come and gone. Some of them have been pretty bizarre by our standards, at least. Yet back then, these were all the rage.

1. Board games

Board games

Having time to sit down and play a board game meant you were rich enough not to have to spend your life toiling in the fields. Board games were also used as diplomatic gifts between rulers, and many were created from expensive materials and had considerable detail.

2. Black teeth

Black teeth

The black teeth phenomenon is interesting because it pops up twice in history. It started in Japan as a method of preventing tooth decay by painting lacquer onto the teeth. It was seen as a sign of beauty and coming of age, and after the Edo period, it was reserved for royalty and aristocracy only. It”s still seen in some areas of Southeast Asia today.

3. Long, pointed shoes

Long, pointed shoes

Pointy-toed shoes were a thing a few years ago, but even the most severe styles had nothing on the crakow style of 15th century Europe. The points of these shoes got so long that they would sometimes need to be supported by bone to keep from getting in the way. Laws were passed that dictated lengths for the different social classes: peasants were allotted no more than six inch points, while nobility could wear two feet of shoe points. Of course, fashion usually trumped law.

4. Pineapples


Having a pineapple in Europe, where pineapples definitely do not grow, meant that you were wealthy enough to afford imported goods from far-away lands. People didn”t eat them; instead, they displayed them at parties so everyone could know how rich they were, and kept doing it until the pineapple began to rot. If you couldn”t afford to own one, you could actually rent one.

5. Sugar


Like pineapples, sugar became a symbol that people were able to buy imported delicacies. To show off their wealth, people started creating sugar sculptures called “subtleties” (which were typically not very subtle), like the white shapes seen in this painting. Desserts with tons of sugar were also invented around this time, some of which we still consider “fancy” today, like meringues and macarons. Interestingly, the sugar fad also led to a blackened teeth fad in Europe, as decayed teeth showed everyone just how much sugar you”d been consuming. People would rub soot and ink onto their teeth to achieve the effect.

6. Tulips


Tulips, imported from the Middle East, became a hit in the Netherlands in the 1600s, and are still associated with the country today. An entire trade sprung up around them, and incidentally, it almost drove the country into bankruptcy. Tulips take several years to grow from bulb to flower, so investments in bulbs could have either lucrative or devastating consequences.

7. Ruins


Everyone knows that ruins are mysterious and romantic, but they”re also usually stuck in one place. No matter. Rich people in the 18th and 19th centuries, when all things Gothic and Romantic ruled, had their own fake ruins built on their properties. They were known, aptly, as “follies,” like this castle here, which was built in the 18th century as a ruin. If people back then had Instagram, you know where all the selfies would be taken.

8. Hermits


Your crumbling ruins and faux-medieval aesthetic just wouldn”t be complete without the presence of a mystical old man. In the 18th century, aristocrats would hire men on as fake hermits to add atmosphere to their gardens. These men usually got room, board, and a stipend, and are thought to be the origin of modern garden gnomes.

9. AGA stoves

AGA stoves

These huge, Swedish-made stoves were the mark of status in English homes during the 20th century, and were a staple of upper-middle-class country homes. When they were released in the U.S. in the 1980s, their status symbol position was dropped, since now anyone (especially those “classless” Americans) could own one.

10. X-rays


When they first came out, X-rays were considered to be cutting-edge technology and a costly procedure. So naturally, they became fashionable. People would even get them just for fun and show, often in front of an audience. This was because no one had caught on yet to the radiation.

(via All Day)

Perhaps many years in the future, someone will write a snarky article about smartphones, Apple watches, conspicuously branded clothing, and everything we associate with wealth and popularity. Until then, I think we can agree that it”s a good thing statues of gnomes replaced actual people hanging around your yard. Now if people can just stop worshipping white truffle oil…

Here are even more facts about the past and present that will prove the world has always been a weird place:

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