snobbism

Snobbism, or a Desire to Show Up & Why You Shouldn’t Be a Snob

You have struggled hard to live the life you always wanted to have – and then you start to brag about your clothes, your car or your house? That’s not quite how a gentleman would do it. As Cary Grant once said, “beware of snobbery: it is the unwelcome recognition of one’s own past failings.” In this article, you’ll learn all about the snob, who he is and why it’s better not to be one.

So What Is A Snob & Snobbism

What, after all, is snobbism or snobbery? Anyone trying to understand the concept of the snob, or of snobbery, will have a hard time. The Free Dictionary, for instance, states that snob is:
1. One who despises ignores, or is patronizing to those he or she considers inferior.
2. One who is convinced of his or her superiority in matters of taste or intellect.

The Oxford Dictionary says that the snob is “a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and looks down on those regarded as socially inferior.”

Snobs

Snobs

There is also, of course, the reverse snob – “a person overly proud of being one of or sympathetic to the ordinary people, and who denigrates or shuns those of superior ability, education, social standing,” according to Dictionary.com. It is akin to the inverted snob, defined by Oxford as the person that “seems to despise anything associated with wealth or social status, while at the same time elevating those things associated with lack of wealth and social position.” Some say that the snob is a kind of fashion victim, a person that bows to every fad.

One of the etymologies of snob suggests that the expression originated in Britain before 1838. When a student enrolled in Oxford, for instance, the college official would ask if he came from a noble family; if he didn’t, the clerk would write “s.nob” by his name, indicating, in Latin, that he was sine nobilitate, that is, “not noble.” As credible as this version sounds, there is sadly no actual evidence for it. Furthermore, the word appeared first in 1781 as a synonym of cobbler, evolving in 1831 as a Cambridge students’ slang for “lower-class person”; in 1843 it finally meant a “ lower-class person who vulgarly apes his social superiors.” Finally, the original meaning lost its colors and, in 1911, was being used to indicate anyone who despised others considered inferior in rank, achievements or taste.

Famous authors dwelled on the subject, the most famous perhaps being William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) and his The Book of Snobs – By One of Themselves. This witty collection of sketches of London characters has, in a way, helped to define the middle-class individual that considers himself superior to the hoi polloi. However, it is not an exclusive sign of the lower- or middle-class inclination, as the traditional Boston Toast (written by Dr. Bossidy) indicates:

And THIS IS good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

A hint to the famous members of Boston elite, the Brahmins, the toast shows that even among the powerful there is a pecking order – but, who knows? Perhaps the Cabots had the best cabin in the Mayflower!

We also find specialized snobs, such as the wine snob. He swirls the wine glass, sniffing and observing thoughtfully a jug white Zin he happened to serve to an unknowing guest (or shall I say victim), declaring it as the 8th Wonder of the Liquid World since the 1947 Cheval Blanc. Or the intellectual snob, who, as Dan Rather quipped, “is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger.”

In the intriguing Canadian Book of Snobs, the author, Victoria Branden, tries to pinpoint the snob in history, “like those little dogs hunting truffles in Hampshire (any reference to truffles is good Gourmetsnob stuff).” And in his Dictionnaire du Snobisme, Philippe Jullian (1919-1977) informs that the word snob was in Delvau’s Dictionnaire de la langue verte (1866), meaning a “silly person that admires vulgar things.”

The 13th Duke of Bedford

The 13th Duke of Bedford

A Briton, John Ian Robert Russell (1917-2002), the 13th Duke of Bedford, wrote The Duke of Bedford’s Book of Snobs, published in 1965. He was born in one of UK’s most aristocratic families (“my family thought themselves slightly grander than God”). However, that did not stop him from being one of the “pioneers of the stately-home industry in opening a funfair and zoo park at Woburn,” according to his obituary in The Independent in 2002.

His mansion, Woburn Abbey, at Bedfordshire, had been unoccupied for 13 years since his grandfather’s death, and the duties ascended to £4.5 million. So the Duke decided to open it to the public for six months a year: in 1955, it attracted over 180,000 visitors, helping him keep it. In 1971, co-authored by George Mikes (who also helped him write The Book of Snobs), he published How to Run a Stately Home!

He was indicated to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1985, a fact that explains many of his book’s interesting comments on the snob. He says, for instance, that a head waiter told him that he could identify a snob pretender by his shoes. “People who are only trying to show off and impress you, wear fabulous clothes but are not prepared to spend a lot on their shoes. A real gentleman always wears first-class shoes.”

He observed the weaknesses of his peers and criticized them with acid irony: “The father of the present Duke of Norfolk always wore appalling clothes…” Also, “clothes should be obviously good, but they must not scream: ‘Look at me, how elegant I am!’ The wearer’s personality should always be stronger than his clothes.”

Downton Abbey's Matthew reluctantly accepts his valet's services 

Downton Abbey’s Matthew reluctantly accepts his valet’s services

His comment on suits is interesting: “they have to be new, yet they must look old.” How to achieve that? “Filling the pockets of one’s new suit with stones and hanging it out in the rain is one solution; another is to let your man – your valet – always wear your new suits for the first two years.” So, be sure to hire a valet with the same measurements as you!
Joseph Epstein

Joseph Epstein

The essayist, writer and editor Joseph Epstein (1937) introduced different etymologies in his book Snobbery, The American Version. First, he suggests that the word snob may have had a Scandinavian origin, meaning “a dolt, idiot, with the notion of impostor or charlatan, a boaster.”

This is an interesting concept, one that deserves some attention here. I have a friend who represented a top-level luxury brand in Brazil, and we were talking about fake products, made to look like the real and expensive ones. He said, “If you use a fake product, you don’t deserve to have the real one.”

Pierre Daninos and his book, snobissimo

Pierre Daninos

Pierre Daninos

You might have noticed, the title of this article is in parts a translation of the title of a book, snobissimo ou le désir de paraître, published in 1964 by Pierre Daninos, a French writer, and humorist. (He was also the author of two excellent books on the English gentleman, Les Carnets du Major W. Marmaduke Thompson, and Le Secret du Major Thompson.) You might have noticed: the title snobissimo has a lowercase initial, a la e.e.cummings – ironically that’s Mr. Daninos snobbish touch!

Daninos says that the cover of his book is “an example of snobbism, or better, of the evolution of snobbism”:

Some rare cars, such as the Hispano Suiza K6, were finished with a yellow straw trellise over the black paint on the metal of the sides and doors, called cannage in French.

He meant to say that even in the stratified world of very wealthy people, with money enough to buy and maintain a car such as this, you could still go one step up and snob down on the other poor Hispano Suiza owners by showing up with your own car with sides and doors revested by cannage.

The British, Inventors of Snobbism?

Edward VII in full regalia

Edward VII in full regalia

The British are, I suppose, the inventors of snobbery. An excellent example is a charity party attended by the future King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales. He met his tailor, Poole of Savile Row, at the door; he had already been inside. The prince asked Poole about the party. “Wonderful, Your Highness, but there is some mixture,” referring to the combination of aristocrats and commoners attending the event. And the prince retorted, “But my dear Poole, did you expect a party exclusively with tailors?”

You can find another example of British snobbery in the movie Mr. Bean, where the incorrigible character flies to America with a First Class ticket and flashes it to the poor devils trying to accommodate themselves on their Coach Class seats.

Mr. Bean as the quintessential British snob

Mr. Bean as the quintessential British snob

The snob is a fake…

And that’s the main reason you should not be a snob.

Gentleman’s Gazette has always stressed the importance of quality in all aspects of life, whether it is your products, your food or your conversations and the people who surround you. Authentic products, with real quality, will last longer and be much more pleasant than their counterfeit, fake copies. (And I haven’t touched on the question of legal problems: you may be arrested for owning counterfeit products!) The snob, on the other hand, couldn’t care less and thrives on things that give him the appearance of quality, no matter what it is comprised of. All he/she wants is to impress his/her friends at the club with the latest Louis Vuitton attaché case or a beautiful Hermès Birkin bag.

The snob is an impostor, as in the definition given by Epstein. He quotes Virginia Woolf, who considered herself a snob and said that “the essence of snobbery is that you wish to impress other people.” Snobbery is not elegance, as Yves St. Laurent once quipped. You may wear a $10,000 suit made with Zegna’s Trophy Wool, but if you brag about it, you are a snob, not an elegant gentleman.

Have you ever wondered why Wimbledon is so strict about the court dressing code? As you may know, players cannot use any color other than white – off-white and cream won’t do – and any hint of color, as a trim around collar or skirt hem, must not exceed one centimeter.

Even Federer, Wimbledon's king, had to forego his orange-soled tennis shoes on their courts

Even Federer, Wimbledon’s king, had to forego his orange-soled tennis shoes on their courts

The reason is very gentleman-like, as the organizers stated recently: “To us, the all-white rule isn’t about fashion, it’s about letting the players and the tennis stand out… Everyone who steps on a Wimbledon court, from a reigning champion through to qualifier does so wearing white. That’s a great leveler. If a player wants to get noticed, they must do so through their play. That’s a tradition we’re proud of.”

In Wimbledon, you will only impress others through your play, not by wearing fashionable shirts of fancy brands. Amusing: the land that created the concept of snobs has banned snobbery in their most emblematic sports arena.

… and a loner

Joking aside,  just like the main characters in Downton Abbey realized after the Britons returned home from World War I. One day they had servants, the other they were alone. Today, everybody lives in the same world, a world on the verge of dramatic climatic and energetic changes, where being a snob is absolutely out, politically incorrect and as Morley Safer once stated: “Arrogance and snobbism live in adjoining rooms and use a common currency.”

Morley Safer of CBS News and 60 Minutes

Morley Safer of CBS News and 60 Minutes

CONCLUSION

I quote what Marcelino de Carvalho, a Brazilian social columnist, journalist, arbiter of mores and elegance, used to say to his young readers, “Do not be a snob… have your personality. Make the others accept you as you are. Just be natural. Dare to be yourself.”

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Snobbism, Or A Desire To Show Up & Why You Shouldn't Be A Snob
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Snobbism, Or A Desire To Show Up & Why You Shouldn't Be A Snob
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In this article, you'll learn all about the snob, who he is and why it's better not to be one.
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Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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21 replies
  1. Rico says:

    Snobbery is very much like pornography. While difficult to describe, I know it when I see it.

    I believe that a person who displays a snobbish attitude is showing a type of fear. I have met people who practice either elevating their position or denigrating the position of others.

    I very much liked the Prince of Wales example. “But my dear Poole, did you expect a party exclusively with tailors?” This humorously points out that the snob here is in fact the tailor.

    Of course the Prince was very much a gentleman in his delivery. Bravo!

    Reply
  2. Craig Copeland says:

    Fantastic article! One that touches on a subject I seem to notice and deal with every day. That of the reverse or inverted snob, also characterized as “proletentious”. Also very often seen in comments to articles on this website and the corresponding YouTube articles. Folks not realizing that in their rush to judge those who enjoy and can afford (or choose!) the finer things in life, who may not even be snobs, they are actually guilty of the same offense but in a different way. Of course, these days it is far more fashionable to be a snob about being downtrodden than being successful, so it often goes unnoticed or is even encouraged. I had a modest upbringing and have never considered myself superior to my fellow man but refuse to be judged and labeled because of my prosperity. What I enjoy now is the result of working 365 days a year for 12yrs, taking a huge cut in pay and living without health insurance for the first few years.

    So before you go looking down your nose at some “rich guy” in an expensive car, suit, shoes, watch, etc., take a moment to think about what he might have had to do to be able to afford such a luxury. They’re not giving that stuff away.

    Reply
    • pete says:

      Regarding expensive stuff..like big ticket cars..if you’ve worked very hard for your money,you are unlikely to waste in on a fast depreciating expensive new car,whereas those that gain money easily,eg inheritance or investment gains,are far more likely to blow it on fluff..easy come,easy go.

      Reply
  3. Terry says:

    Nicely done article, Sven,and appropriate for a fashion blog. My first thought on reading the title was exactly how you begin your article – snobbery is never part of any gentleman’s behaviour, regardless of his means or position.

    Reply
  4. G.T.Fiore says:

    As my father explained to me; at a very early age, “You treat people the way you want people to treat you and you will do well down the road of life, son”.

    Reply
  5. D J Thomas says:

    An interesting article but very inaccurate when considering Wimbledon. It is disappointingly one of the biggest centres of snobbery in the United Kingdom with its treatment of some players and fans.

    Reply
  6. Chester says:

    Alas, today’s compulsory casualness falsely paints those of us who do things in the proper manner as “snobs.”

    A good way to predict the quality of a musical performance is to look at the performers’ shoes!

    The quality of the other guy’s belt is a good guide to his character.

    You can always tell a cowboy by his boots!

    I got hired by having a good overcoat. In cold climates many men buy cheap overcoats. My rule is the overcoat should cost about twice one’s suit. I had the best overcoat ever seen in this Midwestern town and I got the job!

    George Washington was the only man who showed up in military uniform at the 2nd Continental Congress and they put him in charge of the Army.

    Reply
  7. Cyril LeVouche says:

    Well if being a “snob” is politically incorrect it should actually be a virtue to be a “snob”. I found the article interesting at first but it became increasing quite silly and actually snobbish in a politically correct way, “virtue signaling” nonsense about “dramatic climatic and energetic change”. Let’s also talk about the snobbery of only buying “authentic” stuff. Some of us can’t possibly afford a Bespoke suit or designer accessories. Instead we purchase our clothing from (gasp!) places like Joseph A. Bank and other plebeian sources and have it tailored to fit us sublimely by a local plebeian tailor. Worn with the nicest thrift store and clearance accessories the look is elegant and gentlemanly without any snobbery connected to an elite, ridiculously expensive source it was purchased from. I have often enjoyed your articles. However I found this article to ironically reek of snobbery.

    Reply
  8. Daniel says:

    It takes consistency to prove to those judging that you are not being a snob, but take pride in education and moral ways of living. When you are as fair to all people. It takes strength of character to believe in being civil and people are judgemental. No matter what your station in life, it is no excuse to not take pride in what you do and how you treat people. This is not being a snob.

    Reply
    • Gentleman's Gazette says:

      Cannage is French for straw trellise, as mentioned on the text:
      Some rare cars, such as the Hispano Suiza K6, were finished with a yellow straw trellis over the black paint on the metal of the sides and doors, called cannage in French.

      We have also updated the sentence to:
      “showing up with your own car with sides and doors revested by cannage.”

      Hope this helps. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Otto J. says:

    Snobbism is actually borne out of low/poor self esteem which prompts the culprits to actually think, ‘until someone else goes down, they can never be on top.’ Also, this is an act which is mostly perpetrated by people with fake lifestyle. Real people always keep it simple!

    Reply

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