THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
Today, you can find various signs of wealth by scrolling through the Instagrams of the rich and famous. Some of us may strive to have their latest status symbols to keep up. Admittedly, some of these symbols baffle me. I don’t know who would want to pay hundreds of dollars for these hideous shoes. And, I can’t imagine buying a romper for men. If my mom had kept all of her “belt bags” (glorified fanny packs) from the early 90s, she would be so hip right now. I can only imagine in a decade from now that we’ll look back and think about how much money we wasted on these perceived status symbols.
So, I thought today we’d look at eleven of the weirdest status symbols over the years and have a good laugh at what people blew their money on.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the pineapple was a major status symbol. While pineapples are common today, having a pineapple in the 1700s was the symbol of wealth and power.
Up until Columbus sailed into the New World, Europeans were unfamiliar with pineapples. However, when Columbus returned with pineapples from his voyage, aristocratic Europeans instantly fell in love with the sweet fruit. Although the European aristocrats loved the taste and texture, they had difficulty properly farming the fruit, causing the demand for the fruit to skyrocket. Accordingly, South America had to export these fruits, but it came at a price. A single pineapple costed what is now over $8,000 today.
Not wanting to eat the fruit before they showed their friends and family, owners of pineapples would prominently display the fruit on their mantles for months. Oftentimes, it would rot before they had a chance to even taste it. However, entrepreneurial pineapple owners would sometimes rent out their pineapple for an evening to those who couldn’t afford one of their own.
2. Being Fat Was In
If you wanted to exhibit your wealth without saying a word a few hundred years ago, being obese was the clearest way to do so.
Today, it is the opposite. Most wealthy people are thin and toned because they have personal trainers or gym memberships. While being in shape is typically the desired look today, being that way back then indicated that you either did manual labor or that you didn’t have enough food to eat.
If you were overweight, that meant that you were rich enough for someone to do the manual labor for you and that you had the funds to eat plentifully. It’s no wonder that in that time, many overweight rich people suffered from gout and probably boredom.
3. Being White-Collared (Literally)
Have you ever seen a portrait of a Tudor nobleman from the 16th or 17th century and wondered why he had such a large white collar and cuff? During this time, shirts were seen as a way to keep the body clean and more effective than taking a bath.
What better way to showcase your wealth than with pristine white collars and cuffs that emphasize the lack of dirt on them?
More importantly, these wealthy Tudors could tout that they had clean bodies and minds by the cleanliness of their outer garments.
Today, it seems a bit silly to go wild over flowers. However, that was the case in the 17th century, when Holland went crazy over tulips and nearly bankrupted the country, in what is now considered the first speculative bubble.
Holland in the 17th century was the center of the East Indies trade, where one voyage could yield a 400% return on investment. Merchants would display their newfound wealth with lavish gardens on their estates. During this time, people began to treasure tulips due to their intense petal colors and short supply. In fact, the amount of time it takes to bloom from the seed takes around 4-6 years.
Like anything with constrained supply, the tulip quickly was bidded up in the speculative market, costing nearly 10x the annual income of a skilled craftsworker and changing hands as often as 10x a day.
However, the bottom fell out of the tulip market when buyers in Haarlem (outside of Amsterdam) began to stop showing up for bulb auctions. Some speculate that they stopped because of the bubonic plague outbreak. In turn, the first speculative bubble finally burst.
5. Board Games
While I love playing board games for cheap entertainment, I don’t normally think of board games as being a luxury item. However, back in the ancient Near East, board games were the ultimate status symbol.
Having a board game meant that one you were rich enough to have leisure time to play. In addition, it meant that you had enough money to pay someone to craft these games for you.
Board games were at one time given as gifts to diplomats and aristocrats as a way to curry favor and show off their importance to others. While we may scoff today, they served as an important negotiating tool back in the day.
6. White Wedding Cakes
We take sugar for granted today. However, sugar was once rare and expensive. When sugar first started becoming available in Europe, brown sugar was most common but still expensive.
However, back in the 16th century in England, in order to showcase your wealth, you would buy triple-refined white sugar, the most expensive and most difficult to produce sugar of its time. This type of sugar was typically used for cakes for special occasions, like weddings. The goal was to have a pure white wedding cake, to match the chastity and purity of the bride.
7. Black Teeth
Yes, black teeth. If you ate all that sugar, you might have had some cavities. Thus, your pearly whites may have undergone some discoloration. In fact, having blackened teeth in Asia was a indicator of status for the wealthy in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia for hundreds of years.
They regarded black teeth as beautiful. Married women and even generals on battlefields would lacquer their teeth through a process called Ohaguro, which interestingly enough, would seal their teeth from decay.
8. Buying a Hermit
Both English and German nobles thought no estate was complete without adding a “hermit”. A hermit was actually a hired actor. His role was to be poorly groomed, to preach to guests visiting the estate, and to scare the guests who were walking around during a party.
Nothing says rich like having a paid actor on your payroll.
9. Baby Shoes That Match Daddy’s
Some guys run to the store to buy their baby boys their first pairs of Baby Jordans. Meanwhile, others realize that their newborns might outgrow them before they even take a step.
Truthfully, we aren’t the first ones to spend frivolously on shoes for our children. The Romans created baby shoes that were miniature versions of Roman soldier boots. These boots showcased expensive materials, such as iron studs on the soles, leather tongues cut in elaborate patterns, and their matching socks denoted the status of the child in Rome.
Nothing says Daddy’s boy like a matching pair of Roman soldier boots.
10. X-Ray Machine
During the 20th century, Americans (our parents and grandparents) became obsessed with ability to take selfies of their bones anytime that they wanted. Some shoe stores even purchased X-ray machines to draw people in with a free x-ray of their feet so that they would purchase a pair of shoes afterwards.
Owning your own personal x-ray machine became the ultimate status symbol. Throwing an X-ray party made you the hit of the neighborhood.
11. Unwrapping Mummies
During the 19th century in England, wealthy Victorians became obsessed with ancient Egypt. One of the weirder things that they would do is purchase Egyptian mummies for unwrapping parties. These parties would peak once they began to unravel the mummy for all the guests to observe.
I’m not sure I would want to attend one of those parties, but that’s just me.