“Status.” According to the both the Encarta dictionary and Dictionary.com, this word deals with the following:
3. Present Condition or Standing.
The word originates in the late 1600’s as a variation of stare which means “to stand.” In the current American culture, the comprehension of the meaning of “status” is all of the above definitions intertwined. To most Americans, status equals the present condition of being wealthy, which would then go on to improve one’s social standing, rank, or prestige. The more status one has, the higher their standing. When I was a teen, I too believed that having a pair of Levi Jeans (my mom made all of my clothes) would improve my status, especially in the dating world. I never convinced my mom of this until I went on to college. This awareness of what “status” is or is not, is something that most Americans have bought into with little challenge. To have status, one has to have money and in order to “keep up with the Jones’,” Americans have often “bought” themselves into mounds of debt (that they may never repay), just to obtain some sort of “status” among their peers.
Americans however, are not the only country that demonstrates a focus on status as a sign of wealth and/or social standing. Those in the United Kingdom go gaga over those in royalty, who are some of the wealthiest people in the world. Britons appear enthusiastic about the royal family whether they are in the good graces of the people or not. Some believe that the royals cost the country too much money, thus impacting the overall economy. Others believe that the royals bring in enough tourist money in the long run to even things out. According to slate.com, the royal household releases a detailed list of its expenses to the taxpayers each year. Last year, the royal family antics cost only 62 pence per person. Whatever the cost, those who favor the monarchy are reveling in an increase in consumer spending during April, 2011 when the Prince of Wales married Miss Kate Middleton. The wedding, estimated by some to cost several million pounds, was paid for privately by the royal family. Experts estimated a £620 million economy-wide windfall due to consumer frenzy centered on the wedding. It seems that the desire for a little “status” is shared by both Americans and Britons as they spend money in order to have some trinket that brings about feelings of being included in the royal family celebrations.
The Royal Wedding was indeed a royal celebration. It was also fodder for the press not long after the royal couple, HRH Prince William and Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, was engaged on November 25, 2010. Speculations about the bride’s dress, what the Queen would wear, and who would be invited to the wedding were cast in print all over the world. One of the more fascinating topics for those of us in the US was the hats that would be worn by the women of society for the occasion. The hats that those of society wear in the UK fascinate us because women’s hats in America are usually relegated to beach or garden wear. Only some African American women continue the tradition of wearing hats when they attend church, stemming from the African tradition that survived the slavery trade to adorn the head for all worship celebrations. In the UK however, a woman’s hat denotes not only their sense of style or tradition, but the hat is a “status” symbol.
According to painted vases from the fifth-century BCE, Greek women were more likely to wear their hair on top of the head secured by a bandeau or net caul. Into the Middle Ages, wealthy women wore draped veils, hoods, or wimples (a cloth covering for a woman’s head) due to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians that women must cover their heads while praying, With the dawn of Renaissance humanism in the fifteenth-century came capitalism that was stimulated by overseas trade. Those of affluence began to appreciate all clothing as an art form, sitting for portraits while sporting extravagant styles. This influenced all of Western fashion as individuals who aspired to affluence and privilege enjoyed by the nobles, began to acquire clothing and hats, not just for functional reasons, but whimsicality. They truly believed that by dressing as a noble, they could then become a noble.
“Hats have long denoted status,” says Oriole Cullen, curator of a Victoria & Albert Museum hat exhibit that has been to both Australia and to New York. “Up until the 1950s, a woman wasn’t even considered properly dressed unless she was wearing a hat and gloves.” Cullen goes on to say that the rebellious times in the 60’s with its variety of hair styles and the cramped confines of the modern automobile, encouraged a steady decline in hat wearing and in hat sales. Women in Britain however, have managed to keep the tradition for centuries. The hats represent more than simply a fashion statement, according to royal biographer Robert Lacey. “Hats, you see, are obviously very significant items of clothing in a monarch,” Lacey said. “You could say when she (the Queen) is wearing a hat that she’s wearing a sort of crown substitute.” Perhaps that is one reason ladies (and gentlemen, too) wear hats in the United Kingdom during formal occasions – because they too would like to wear a crown of royalty. This traditional symbol of style and culture, much like the trinkets bought by millions to commemorate the Royal Wedding, seems to bring about emotions that say to the wearer, “If you dress like you have status, you will HAVE status.”
Chris Hedges, in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, writes that this delusion is called the “Law of Attraction.” This law argues that a person can visualize what they want and if they believe it, then they can achieve it. That sounds much like what I was taught as I grew up in small town America. Eventually however, reality set in and I was able to realize that wearing the right clothes, owning the right car, or living in the right house, was not the answer to happiness, wealth, or even status. Perhaps that is what Samantha Cameron, wife to British Prime Minister David Cameron, was thinking as she picked the outfit she would wear to the event of the decade, the Royal Wedding.
The Royal Wedding invitation instructs lady attendees to wear a hat, and men to wear suitcoats with tails. Samantha Cameron was the only invited guest not to wear a hat for the wedding. She did not even wear one of the fashionable “Fascinators” that some of the younger ladies such as Princesses Beatrice and Victoria Beckham sported. No. She chose instead to wear a rather 1980’s style jeweled hair clip. To some in Great Britain, you would have thought her decision was treason! Twitter was aflutter with comments about the hatless woman.
• “Samantha Cameron without a hat = treason”, said one user, siobhankirby86;
• “There’s always one trying 2 be difficult and cause a stir at these Royal occasions *COUGH! Samantha Cameron…was it so hard 2 wear a hat?!” remarked @ShaZZyBaBBy;
• Another is even more passionate. mmmmAsh tweeted: “I hope a pigeon c**** on Samantha Cameron for not wearing a hat.”
Wow. Some people take this hat thing way too seriously. It does beg the question however, as to why Mrs. Cameron chose to NOT wear a hat to the royal occasion.
Samantha Cameron was born into high society. She is the eldest daughter of Sir Reginald Adrian Berkeley Sheffield, 8th Baronet (a landowner and a thrice descendant of King Charles II of England) and his first wife Annabel Lucy Veronica Jones. She grew up in sprawling houses with lots of land and went to private schools until she attended college at the University of West England where she studied fine arts. At the age of 40, she is the youngest first lady of the prime ministry for more than 50 years. She is mother to three living children, a 2-day a week consultant to a stationary business (where she was creative director before assuming the duties of the wife of a prime minister), and she serves as an ambassador for the Save the Children Foundation. It appears that Mrs. Cameron fits in smashingly with the society that she has always been a part of, as well as within her duties as the wife of a prime minister. Why then, did she break with the traditions of that same society during an event as highly publicized as the Royal Wedding?
It seems that Samantha has a bit of a rebel streak. While in college, the girl from high society became friends with the musician Tricky, an English musician and actor who encourages an intertwining of societies in his musical assimilation of rock and hip hop, high art and pop culture. Around that same time she also had a dolphin tattooed on her ankle. In May of 2010, she caused controversy by insisting that her male full-time driver, a taxpayer-funded people-carrier from the Caribbean, be replaced with a female. The controversy was stirred because some believe there was racial motivation involved. She explained the situation away by stating that she would feel more comfortable with a woman taking her children to and from school. Could it have been a little of this rebellious streak rearing up that caused Samantha Cameron to choose to not wear a hat to the Royal Wedding? Absolutely. But I think there may be more going on.
In a Canvas8 report on May 12, 2011, Alex Gordon discusses the changes that are occurring in Great Britain. Gordon states, “The event was less about the Royal Family
and the wedding, and more about Britain’s ‘fairness’, ‘sharedness’ and ‘alikeness’. The excitement of the crowd was as much about a relief that this is what Britishness might
be, as it was about the spectacle of the day.” Gordon goes on to explain that the British are beginning to see the royalty and other British icons as more accessible and open, rather than through the traditional air of formality, distance, and closed-ness. He gives the example of HRH William wearing his collar open and his sleeves rolled up – both signifying an open, expressive, informal, and accessible person who is connected to the world, not aloof and superior to it. A person who rolls up his sleeves is understood as someone who gets out among the people and is hardworking, as opposed to a member of the leisure class. Gordon surmises that HRH William would be the kind of person that the British population would have voted for as head of state if such an election had been held. HRH William, and now his new bride Kate, represent a reinvention of what it means to be British – one who can hold on to the traditions of the past but at the same time move forward into a future not weighted down by those traditions.
We may never really know why Samantha Cameron decided to wear a hair clip instead of a hat. But I believe that it had to do more with this “new” Britishness than with style. Here is a woman who has grown up in a society that was steeped in traditions, class, and status. Here is a woman who has access to whatever she wants. And yet, she wore a simple hair clip to a traditional event that called for something more – more elegant, more expensive, more suitable for a woman of status and society. (By the way, she also wore a pair of $60 shoes instead of ones that could have cost 10 times as much!) It almost seems as if she is embracing this open, accessible, and informal way of living; as if she is embracing what she sees going on in the real world around her as she serves with the prime minster, as the first lady on Downing Street. Even at the her age of 40, over 10 years older than either William or Kate, Samantha Cameron seems to have a wisdom about her that defines the qualities that the people in Great Britain want in a leader. It has little to do with the status of wealth, class, rank, or prestige and more to do with present standing – a person who is able to stand as a leader among the people, as an example for others to emulate. Not as one standing over another; instead, as one who stands beside. Perhaps this woman of “status” has finally come to understand that humanity can no longer continue to hold the delusional belief that happiness, status, and leadership qualities come from wealth and owning more things, but instead through being accessible, open, and in real relationships with others. (I wonder if the death of her six year old first born son played a part in this understanding.) I commend Mrs. Cameron for communicating volumes via her simple hair clip. May others, who are caught up in the weighty traditions of the past, be as willing to step forward with a “new thing” that will encourage a more open and expressive dialogue in our world as we redefine what status really should be.
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