Status symbols and people who love to show them off have existed throughout history. In the recent past, things like automobiles, cordless phones, color televisions, etc., started as status symbols but lost their appeal once they became readily available.
We’re going back even further to show surprising social position and economic status indicators that are very different from what any of us would have thought of.
Tea has a rich history as a status symbol, particularly in 18th and 19th century Britain. Tea was an expensive and rare commodity imported from China and India during this time.
The cost of tea made it a luxury that only the wealthiest members of society could afford. It became a symbol of social status and refinement, and how it was prepared and served added to its exclusivity.
Tea drinking became a way for people to display their wealth and sophistication. Tea parties were often lavish affairs, with expensive porcelain tea sets, silver spoons, and dainty pastries.
Today, while tea is more widely available and affordable, it still holds a special place in many cultures and continues to be associated with hospitality, refinement, and status.
The ancient Maya civilization of Central America is well-known for its advancements in agriculture, mathematics, and astronomy. However, they were also known for their unique beauty practices, which were signs of high status and beauty.
To denote nobility and set their children apart, wealthy Mayans used to induce crossed eyes artificially and bound their infants’ heads to flatten their foreheads. They did this to create a permanent, lifetime sign of noble status. The practice was believed to make individuals more attractive and distinguished and, therefore, more respected in society. The Maya people also had a fascination with teeth. Warriors used to file their teeth to sharp points and fill them with precious stones to stand out and look fierce.
In Imperial China, foot binding was a common practice among wealthy women. The feet of young girls would be tightly bound to prevent them from growing, resulting in tiny, delicate feet that were considered a symbol of beauty and status. However, foot binding was incredibly painful, often leading to lifelong health problems.
Before the invention of the printing press, owning a large collection of books was a symbol of wealth and scholarship. During the Middle Ages, books were copied by hand by scribes, and it was a time-consuming and expensive process. Only the wealthiest individuals, such as nobles and religious leaders, could afford to commission hand-copied books. Possessing a library of these books was a sign of prestige and education.
As the printing press was invented, books became more accessible to the general public. The production of books became cheaper and faster, and they were no longer limited to a privileged few. The spread of literacy and education also contributed to the widespread availability of books. As a result, possessing a private library became less rarefied as a status symbol.
Pineapple was once a highly prized status symbol in Europe and North America. The fruit was first discovered in South America and was brought back to Europe by explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. Due to its rarity and exotic nature, it quickly became associated with wealth and luxury.
In the 18th century, pineapples were imported to North America, and it became a trend to display them prominently at dinner parties and social events. Each pineapple could cost thousands of dollars, so people even rented them for parties if they couldn’t afford one.
Pineapples symbolized hospitality, and offering one to guests was seen as a sign of affluence and generosity. Pineapple motifs became popular in art and architecture, and the fruit remains a beloved symbol of hospitality and luxury today.
In ancient China, silk clothing was a status symbol reserved for the wealthy and elite. Silk was expensive and difficult to produce, and the wearing of silk was restricted to the upper classes. In fact, there were even laws that regulated who could wear silk and how much they could wear.
In the 16th century, live birds were a status symbol for the wealthy in Europe. Wealthy men would keep birds in their hats, and the more exotic and rare the bird, the higher the man’s social standing.
In the 18th century, the height of a woman’s hair was a sign of her social status. Women used pads, wires, and other means to create towering hairstyles that sometimes reached up to three feet tall. These hairstyles were often adorned with feathers, flowers, and even live birds. Wealthy women would spend hours styling their hair, with some even sleeping sitting up to preserve the intricate hairdos.
During the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, powdered wigs were a sign of wealth and refinement. The wigs were made of human hair and often treated with powder to make them look whiter. The more elaborate and ornate the wig, the higher the wearer’s social status.
In the 16th century, the wealthy in Japan would have their teeth replaced with gold to signal their social status. It was believed that the practice of gold teeth signified wealth and power, as gold was an expensive and rare commodity.
In the mid-20th century, mink eyelashes were a status symbol for Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy. Women would have real mink fur glued to their eyelashes for a luxurious and dramatic look.
These 10 weird things from history may seem bizarre and even disturbing to modern eyes, but they serve as a reminder of the extreme measures people have taken to signal their wealth and power. Today, we may no longer create towering hairstyles or rent pineapples, but it is clear people will continue to find ways to show off wealth and power, as they have throughout history.
Featured Image Credit: HayDmitriy /Depositphotos.com.
This article was originally published on Ash & Pri.
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