A status symbol is a visible, external denotation of one's social position and indicator of status. Many luxury goods are often considered status symbols, since such goods tend to imply or signify the purchasing power of those who acquire them.
Status symbols by region and time
What is considered a status symbol will differ between countries and states, based on the states of their economic and technological development, and common status symbols will change over time. For example, before the invention of the printing press
, having a large collection of books
would be considered a status symbol. After the advent of the printing press, having books was more common among the average citizen, and the possession of books was less of a status symbol. In the past, pearls
were major status symbols. Another common status symbol in the past which is still somewhat present today is heraldry
, or one's family name.
Status symbols also indicate the cultural values of a society. For example, in a commercial society, having money or wealth and things that can be bought by wealth, such as cars, houses, or fine clothing, are considered status symbols. In a society that values honour or bravery, a battle scar would be more of a status symbol.
The condition of one's body can be a status symbol. In times past, when workers did physical labour outdoors under the sun and often had little food, being pale and fat was a status symbol, indicating wealth and prosperity, through having enough food and not having to do manual labour. Now, when workers usually do less-physical work indoors and find little time for exercise, being tanned and thin is often a status symbol in Western culture.
Examples in the United States
In American society, possessions perceived as status symbols include:
- A trophy wife/trophy husband.
- A large, expensive house.
- A high-paying and exclusive job on Wall Street with a white shoe firm in either corporate law, investment banking, or management consulting for a company like Sullivan & Cromwell, Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Company.
- Expensive luxury cars including certain SUVs, also yachts, and personal aircraft.
- An expensive watch, such as an Omega, Rolex or Patek Phillipe.
- Expensive clothes, like a tailored pinstripe wool suit from Oxxford Clothes or made on Saville Row, a dress from Chanel, a cashmere wool sweater from Bloomingdale's or a trenchcoat from Burberry.
- Country club membership, especially in a large town or city, where there are a sharply limited amount of membership slots.
- Frequent luxury vacations, especially to foreign destinations that require extensive plane travel.
- A marketable degree from a prestigious university, especially the Ivy League in the United States or Oxford or Cambridge in England.
- Private education at an exclusive boarding school like Phillips Exeter Academy or Institut Le Rosey.
- Expensive jewelry from a maker like Harry Winston or Tiffany & Co.
- Expensive gadgets such as a large home theatre, an iPhone, or an Ultra High end PC like from Alienware
- A fountain pen with rare Brazilian, Indian or African woods (e.g., ebony, mahogany) or made with precious metals from a company like Cross, Waterman, or especially a Montblanc.
- Platinum, gold, silver and other precious metals in the form of bullion.
- High-grade, natural pearls.
- Rare jewels from a miner like De Beers.
- Vacation homes (owned outright and non-timeshare).
- A personal steam-bath or sauna.
- Access to private banking and wealth management services.