Earlier in the semester, I pitched an idea based around tote bags and how we use them to construct our identities. If someone has a New Yorker tote bag, this says something entirely different about that person than if they carried a MET tote bag. A New Yorker bag has a stylish self-seriousness about it, while a MET tote bag is just as stylish and serious but lacks the literary exclusiveness. The MET is a museum for everyone. The New Yorker is a magazine for certain people: the stylish, not wealthy, but certainly more sophisticated group; the kind of group that would write a think-piece about the genius of Kendrick Lamar but never visit Compton. I thought it was slightly interesting to see this often cheap (if you call twenty dollars cheap) commodity can say so much about a person. In high school, I bought a trial subscription to the New Yorker mainly for that tote bag they advertise. I could read most of the New Yorker online anyways, but I wanted people to know I read the New Yorker more than anything. Long story short, never got the tote bag, but I was out fifteen bucks. In the end it probably doesn’t matter. A person who can’t drop $14.99 for a year-long subscription really shouldn’t be wearing the tote bag in the first place.
Still, the tote bag idea got me thinking about what we wear and why we wear it. I don’t only have a uniform of jeans and button-ups because it’s comfortable; it represents a person I want to present myself as. I don’t really care about my appearance all that much, but I want to appear presentable. Half professional, half crazed maniac. When people see my un-styled hair and long, mangy beard, I want, in some ways, to look like a modern Allen Ginsberg. To be free in mind and appearance but aware of the irony. I’m also at Princeton. There’s a limited amount of radicalism a place like Princeton can have. If I wore T-Shirts and sweatpants every day, I’d just look like I didn’t give a shit. My clothes fit me into a structure; they put me somewhere.
Then, there’s Canadian Goose jackets, a personal fascination of mine since I first came to Princeton. If clothes place you in a structure, the Canada Goose jacket places you as stylish, hip, and carefree enough to spend nearly a thousand dollars on a parka.
I went to a high school where more than half of the students were on free and reduced lunch. So, you could excuse me when, coming to Princeton, I had no idea what a Canada Goose jacket was. For those out of the know, as I was, Canada Goose is a Canadian winter wear company specializing in goose-stuffed fur parkas sometimes costing more than a thousand dollars. As a jacket that symbolizes wealth, luxury, and warmth, they are something that few people could really afford or want where I come from. Not to present myself as a person or poverty or even close to it, but there is a deep gap between the socioeconomic groups who could comfortably drop nine hundred dollars (the most expensive go up to $1,700) on a Canada Goose jacket and those who could not imagine that expense. I’m already spending a fortune on college, even with financial aid. Many of us are. When I try to imagine buying a Canada Goose jacket, my mind draws a complete blank. That image is something my mind cannot process. I cannot think of the scenario in which I would buy one or the person I would be if I did. Unlike New Yorker tote bags, I am both NOT the type of person who wears Canada Goose jackets and I do not want to be that type of person.
Even if the Canada Goose jacket is a really great jacket, I’m not sure that’s why they’re so popular on Princeton’s campus. Canada Goose parkas are not arbitrarily expensive. According to Michael Hill of the Boston Globe, the distinctive fur-trim of the jackets are Coyote fur, which can go at about $170 a pelt. That is to say nothing of the goose feather insides or the stitching and constructing of the jacket. However, just because MacBooks are good at processing data, doesn’t mean people only buy them for that purpose. There are plenty of other warm parkas and coats out there that don’t cost nearly a thousand dollars. You may need expensive coats for actual Arctic expeditions, but Princeton is no Antarctica. We haven’t even had more than a foot of snow as of the writing of this article in late February. And while we have had hazardous cold conditions, they are the exception not the norm.
The Canada Goose jacket is primarily a status symbol on campus.
And while I really don’t want to argue that it’s a form of oppression or whatever, it’s interesting how casual wealth really is. I find interesting the need to assert one’s status, style, and adherence to an aspirational status quo.
Are rich people the people who buy Canada Goose jackets? That’s a hard question to answer. And it calls into question the very idea of what a rich person is. Being wealthy in one area is poor in another. I would think having a family that receives no financial aid would be wealthy, but the students who take no financial aid could disagree. Part of what seems so wealthy about Canada Goose jackets is their casualness. Having a piece of clothing that is half the cost of my first car would be absurd to me – wearing it around as if it had cost nothing. It may look and feel slightly better than the average parka, but the cost still seems so astronomically high for our winter wear needs, given where Princeton is. Without the patch that says “Arctic Expedition,” it would be hard to tell them apart from other parkas. Nadra Nittle’s Vox article of the status symbol nature of the Canada Goose jacket outlines the company’s efforts to align itself heavily with celebrity and status. Along with handing the coat to film industry members at Sundance and the brand’s appearance in films, Canada Goose has in general placed itself within the celebrity culture. Nittle lists celebrities like Rihanna, Kate Upton, Daniel Craig, and Drake as having associations with the brand. It’s the element of the coat I’ve started paying attention to the most since writing this article. I catch myself analyzing coats for their shoulders, which I guess says more about me than anyone else.
Maybe it’s the proximity that makes me uncomfortable with the Canada Goose jacket. I remember a few times when my parents would go to jewelry stores to try on Rolex watches, knowing full well that we could never afford them or would want to save in order to afford one. Because of the distance, it was an adventure in a way. It is much harder, financially, to afford a Canada Goose jacket compared with a Rolex. I could never really afford a Rolex, but there’s an adventure to interacting with wealth you can never imagine possessing. It’s like walking into Tiffany & Co. or visiting the lobby of the Plaza hotel. Unlike Eloize, I could never afford to stay there, but isn’t it fun to imagine? I could try on a Rolex, but not a Canada Goose. I could afford one, if I used the money I usually use on trips home, books, non-dining hall food, etc. to save up and buy one. But that sort of sacrifice is, admittedly, humiliating to me. Why would I sacrifice my personal enjoyment of life in order to look like I’m enjoying it? Part of me would probably be worried I would actually like it, that I would understand how it feels to appear as someone else.
In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart (who works for a supremely awful celebrity who has made a strict stipulation that Steward or anyone else never tries on the clothes she wears) tries on the ridiculously expensive clothes of her boss, and sleeps in them. The next morning, she feels wrong, not herself. We may want to be rich when it is a faraway dream but when the reality is close, as on Princeton’s campus, I can’t help but wonder if I might just feel nervous of the prospect that I might end up in a higher tax bracket than my parents in a few years’ time. What do we lose when we don’t have to choose between the coat and a car payment? Is there anything to be lost? The very prospect of wealth, something outside the realm of mere comfort is intangible to me. Not because I can’t but because I won’t imagine it. Placing myself as the downtrodden weirdo of life, I cannot stand the idea of being in the bourgeoisie. When I was admitted to Princeton, I dealt with that fact by stipulating that I was only let in because of diversity (poor, rural, white male) or that they probably only let me in because my birthday was the day after the admission announcement. I had never conceived of myself as a Princeton type, because I conceived of the Princeton type as vastly more intelligent, stylish, dignified, and exclusive than I would ever be. I am not F. Scott Fitzgerald; I’m closer to Allen Ginsberg. At least I want to imagine myself that way.