Has anyone else noticed that its hip to be poor?
I’m not talking about destitute poor. People facing true financial hardship would violently disagree with me. I’m talking about upper-middle class poor. Just as boho-chic, a style of female fashion drawing on various bohemian and hippie influences hit its peak in 2004, ‘po-chic’ is a movement on the rise as we close 2008 and approach 2009.
You see, in certain social circles around the country, primarily the upper middle class, it’s become hip to be poor (or so it seems) and even more hip to talk about it publicly. I’ve even overheard the po-chic discuss New Years Eve Recession parties replete with Pilsner and Old Milwaukees, bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches, and Wonder Bread and butter pass arounds.
There was a time when speaking of one’s financial status in public was taboo. Society had enforced certain rules of engagement and this was strictly forbidden. But the eighties and nineties bucked this trend. Wealth creation in these two decades was almost ubiquitous and everyone from investment bankers and traders to artists and plumbers got rich. Average americans with no real financial acumen talked about equities and capital gains at dinner parties everywhere.
But all of that changed in the last six months. With a large swath of Wall Street wiped out for the foreseeable future and jobs being eliminated in almost every sector of the market, something horrific and beautiful happened. Hubris and ego fell by the wayside and insecurity and introspection now prevail. For the first time in over a decade, people in these social circles are now talking about real substantive topics again — family, friends, health and well-being, travel, politics, society, life and true happiness. Not the stuff that money creates like trips to St. Barts and Aspen.
People have officially removed their masks — those ‘public faces’ created for show — and opted instead to allow others to see who they really are, warts and all. In fact, it’s become a badge of honor to boast about 401K losses (now referred to as 301Ks) and retiring at ninety the new sixty-five. The cutbacks and hardships that the po-chic reference are laughable by most Americans’ standards and include eating out 3 days a week instead of 5, taking 2 vacations per year instead of 4 and visiting Starbucks once a day instead of twice. But, the meta take-away is very real. People are beginning to cut the bullshit — the facades and fake personas — and expose themselves.
The question now is how long this behavior will last.