How To Be Classy

Many of the top Google results for “how to be classy” are pretty unclassy. They include top-​10 lists, and brilliant observations like “don’t burp in public”. They co-​mingle words like “fabulous” and “hip” with “classy”, as if they mean the same thing. They don’t. You can’t define classiness by a “Top X” list with big headlines that are easy to scan. Classiness is not a step-​by-​step process that you learn, but rather a philosophy that you adopt as you become classier. Classy people don’t know they are classy, because classiness is not something they think about. It’s something they are.

A photo of young men showing how to be classy.

Source: Creative Commons License, Flickr.

Classiness is not easy. As you become classier, people will call you a snob, or even worse. You may feel guilty when you become repulsed by the unclassiness around you. Classiness is something most everyone says they have, or at least, that they want to have. But few have it. Those who do are ostracized by those who seek it. Family members stop speaking with you, because they feel intimidated by how classy you’ve become. They feel judged by you, when in reality they judge you for your new-​found class. Classy people lose friends. The lucky ones make new classy friends, and don’t care what others think.

Classiness is not talked about. Those who talk about class are considered vulgar by the classy. I realize this is ironic, because here I am talking about class. I don’t consider myself classy quite yet. I emerged from an environment that didn’t appreciate or understand class. I brought much unclassy baggage with me. Over the years I’ve started cultivating class, and so I’ll share with you how I believe one becomes classy.

Fussell

Before we begin, I must tip my cap to Paul Fussell, the author of the groundbreaking work, Class. Written in 1983, it has aged well. It will shock you. When I read it aloud to my wife, she would gasp at something Fussell said that was hard to hear, but obviously true once you heard it. I highly recommend you buy his inexpensive paperback book, read it, and then read it to those whom you love. It will change the way you see yourself and the world.

A photo of the book "Class" by Paul Fussell.

Restraint

If I could boil class down to one overarching concept, it would be Restraint. Classy people don’t boast. They don’t seek attention. A hoodlum posts a photo to Facebook of himself posing with a pile of stacked $1 bills and a collection of his favorite guns. He’s being unclassy because he’s proving his insecurities. He is so insecure with his finances that he feels compelled to show off what little wealth he has once he gets it. He’s so insecure about his manliness, or his ability to protect his loved ones, that he shows off his entire arsenal of “gats”.

An unclasy person showing off guns and money.

Source: Creative Commons License, Flickr.

A classy person doesn’t tell the world about all the money he has. He often has far more than the hoodlum, but he keeps it a secret because he is a secure person, and doesn’t need the world to know. His wealth might even embarrass him. The unclassy person buys the largest flat-​screen TV he can’t afford, and places it in a position of honor in his living room. The classy person could buy a nice flat screen, but he doesn’t have one (or if he does, it is somewhere inconspicuous, like a basement). The unclassy person buys new, name-​brand sneakers every year. This shows the world that he is so rich (when he isn’t), that he can drop a wad on an overpriced item. The classy person buys himself one pair of nice, but understated, wing-​top shoes, and he wears them for years until they wear out.

It all comes back to self-​restraint. Unclassy people interrupt others’ conversations, because they need to be the center of attention. They complete other people’s jokes because they want the world to think they’re funny. They’re loud, because they want the world to notice them. Classy people don’t need to be noticed. They let others finish their thoughts before chiming in. They have the decency to laugh at others’ jokes. It is more fun to be in good company with clever people, than for everyone in the room to think how clever you are. Classy people are soft-​spoken, because they don’t need to be noticed.

Unclassy people refuse to let others pay the bill. When they dine out, they are the first one to pull out the credit card. They even get angry and belligerent if someone else insists on paying. The classy man splits the check when dining with friends. If someone insists on paying for everything, the classy man lets him. The unclassy man wants the world to think he is a man of means by showing how generous he is. The classy man already knows he is a man of means, and doesn’t need to broadcast it.

Vulgarity

Some things are vulgar, not because classy people are snobs, but because those things loudly broadcast a person’s insecurities. There are varying degrees of classiness, usually in step with how secure a person is. Right now, you’re probably already a little classy. For example, you think that shopping at Walmart is vulgar, but you can’t explain why. We look at websites like People of Walmart and laugh and shake our heads. We know these people are unclassy without understanding why. I’ll explain it.

A photo of people shopping at Walmart.

Source: Creative Commons License, Flickr.

Most people who shop at Walmart are unclassy because they spend money they don’t have on poor quality things they don’t need. These items look expensive, so that the unclassy can appear “better off”. Now I’m not one of those anti-​capitalists who think all forms of consumption are wrong, or that the free market is evil. Far from it. I point out that consumption without restraint is unclassy, which is what those who shop at Walmart exemplify.

Flat screens, entertainment centers, name brand sneakers, the latest gadget, pre-​worn jeans, glitz, bling, fake fingernails, animal-​print jackets, animal print tights, fake fur headbands — they all scream, “Look at me! I’m insecure”. Animal print is hideous to anyone with eyes, but those who wear it think they wear something nice, pricey, and quality. Why? Because animal print looks like something that is expensive — actual animal skin. They wear rhinestones on everything, because rhinestones look like something expensive — diamonds. Do you see the pattern forming? Unclassiness is the result of insecure people vomiting their insecurities out into public for all to see. That, my friend, is why you think shopping at Walmart is vulgar.

A woman wearing animal print shopping at Walmart.

Source: Creative Commons License, Flickr.

We’re All Snobs

Before I offend those who like shopping at Walmart, let me point out that every one of us is at his or her own level of classiness. You may not yet be classy enough to see Walmart shoppers for the vulgarity they are, but you’re classy enough to be disgusted at the fellow who has a gun rack in his truck. (He’s so insecure with his toughness that he has to broadcast the fact that he has an arsenal). Or the guy who hangs metal cow testacies from his bumper. (He’s so insecure with his virility that he uses the most blatant symbol possible to scream, “I am a man!” at every car he passes on the freeway). Or the kid who leaves price tags in his hats and clothing. (His insecurities demand one of two things; either the world to see that his items are new and to see how much they cost, or to think that he is a tough individual with the balls to steal them).

Classiness permeates all subcultures. Let’s take gamers. The hard-​core FPS or MMO gamers sneer at the Facebook gamers, who post things to their friends like “I just earned 10 gold candies in Crush Candy Saga!”. And for good reason. Those Facebook gamers have such little restraint that they can’t help but boast when they earn an empty and meaningless Facebook game achievement. Or to post “I just bought 500 special sauce points in Sauce Land!”, to show the world that they have enough money to waste on a frivolous micro-​transaction.

But you know what? Those Facebook gamers feel the same way towards gamblers. Gamblers, who play in public to show the world that they have cash to burn. Gamblers, who pose for photographs holding a giant cardboard check when they win $500, which they share with all their friends to show how clever they are for “beating the odds”.

Photo of a woman at slot machines.

Source: Creative Commons License, Flickr.

It all comes full circle when the gamblers scorn the MMO players for finding self-​fulfillment in defeating Mega Boss X with their 30-​man raid. (As if spending every weekend for six months to learn the weaknesses of an epic boss so you can have the gaming-​cred to say “We were the first on our server!” actually means something. When it doesn’t.)

So, then, how do classy people game? With restraint. When they play FPSs, they run around with friends for 30 minutes before moving on. MMOs? They play casually with friends, taking months or years to reach top level. Gambling? They burn $5 every 5 years at a bachelor party, and call it done. And Facebook games?

Well. Classy people just don’t play Facebook games.

An image of a Facebook game.

How to Be Classy

I covered the principles of class in my article “About Class”. They include humility, confidence, taste, self-​discipline, curiosity, and standards. I think these all live under the umbrella of Restraint. With self-​restraint as your guiding principle, we can produce limitless attributes of the classy individual.

Tattoos

Classy people don’t wear tattoos. Tattoos come from a time where men wore them as badges of honor, (which is, of course, unclassy because classy people don’t need to boast of their exploits). But at least back then, sailors earned tattoos by banding together to defeat Charlie. Gang members earned them by defeating their rivals, and wear them to shout their allegiances.

Nowadays, teenage girls get tattoos of their first boyfriends’ names. College frat boys get penises tattooed to their bodies while drunk. Suburban American boys get Japanese words they can’t read but translate to “raining” and “ninja” tattooed to their biceps. Worst of all, people cover their bodies with hideous, colorful tattoos as a way to be rebellious, all while calling it an “art form”. While it may be art (what isn’t these days?), it is also the visible manifestation of insecurity from a person who craves attention. He wants everyone to notice him.

A classy person does not get tattoos. But if he does anyway, he at least gets them in places clothing can cover.

Clothes

Classy people are not fashionable. There is a difference between style and fashion. On one hand, fashions change from year to year, but style never goes out of style. You would not be caught dead wearing the purse you bought last year, because this year it’s out of fashion. You wouldn’t be caught dead in bellbottoms and curly chest hair, because they went out of fashion 40 years ago. You’d rather die than wear legwarmers or parachute pants to work, because you’re not an extra in The Breakfast Club. Fashion is not classy.

Style, on the other hand, is classy, because style is always restrained. A tuxedo looks good on almost everyone because it is simple — black and white. You know what ruins a tuxedo? Glossy pant stripes, black shoes made from shiny fake leather, pink cufflinks the size of silver dollars – anything flashy.

Every man should have at least one nice sports jacket that fits him, made from real animal-​derived materials. Find a local tailor, befriend him, and visit him often. Get your pants hemmed and your shirts and jackets fitted. Invest money into making your clothes fit you better, and then keep good care of them. The secret behind a man who walks into the office looking effortlessly classy is that his clothes fit him.

Unclassy sports jackets are made from man-​made materials like nylon, acrylic, or polyester. They often don’t fit because they come right off the rack. These are unclassy because the wearer is striving to look classy without understanding what makes a spot jacket classy — the fit and durability of the product.

Frugality

You see, classy people are frugal. They pay off their credit cards, they balance their checkbooks, and they don’t spend money on trash. Plastic clothes are unclassy because they are trash, and classy people would never waste money on them. Any garment designed to be disposable is a waste of money, and is hence unclassy.

Since classy people don’t want people to notice their wealth, they don’t spend time in malls. They don’t shop. They buy few things, and then they take care of those things. They only buy new things when the old things wear out. They don’t want to be seen as spendthrifts, so they have a yard or estate sale to get rid of unneeded stuff instead of throwing it away. Better yet, they donate their unneeded things to friends, family, or charity, and do not replace them.

Technology

Classy people are slow to adopt technology, and they never hoard gadgets. Unclassy people have to own every new version of the iPhone as soon as it comes out. This gives them social status and shows the world how tech-​savvy they are — something the classy person wants to avoid. While the unclassy man sees the new iPhone and says, “Ooo, the screen is 1mm wider!” and buys one thinking everyone will envy him, the classy man sees the new iPhone and says, “The screen is 1mm wider? Is that it?” and he keeps his old phone until it stops working.

The classy man may read about the iGirdle, but he won’t be the first in line to buy it. He waits until the iGirdle comes out, because he knows that it isn’t until the 3rd or 4th generation of a product that it becomes good. He watches other people wear their iGirdle and takes his time deciding if he needs it. Once convinced that the iGirdle will improve his daily life in a significant way, he then buys one, but he keeps it hidden. He doesn’t wear it out for all to see. He never talks about it. Instead he uses it, cares for it, and keeps it for years without replacing it until he wears it out.

Unclassy people see things as disposable, replaceable, to be used and discarded. Classy people realize money doesn’t fall from the sky, and they care for their goods.

Speech

A loose tongue makes enemies, but tight lips end arguments. Unclassy people have no control over their speech. They are loud, they dominate conversations, and they swear. Frequently. I’m not getting goody-​two-​shoes on you here, nor does swearing make me squeamish. But classy people control their tongues because they have respect for others. Unclassy people don’t. Unclassy people focus on themselves—their rights, their stories, their desires. They are the first to offend and the first to find offence. Having no control over their tongues, they sprinkle four-​letter-​words into their dialogue like commas. In their minds they think that swearing is rebellious, the mark of great personality, and cool. Because classy people don’t need to be cool, they don’t swear.

Conversation

While the way you talk is an important class indicator, so is what you talk about. Unclassy people gossip. This is unclassy for obvious reasons. The gossiper is trying to make himself look important by having knowledge about a person you might not have. (Thus, he is more influential and popular than you). He’s also trying to discredit a person whom he sees as a social rival. If he can make that person less respected by his peers, then perhaps he, the gossiper, will gain more respect. (We all know, of course, that the opposite occurs. We don’t respect gossips). The classy person doesn’t gossip because he doesn’t need to prove that he is influential. He doesn’t need to cannibalize another man’s social standing by tearing him down.

Unclassy people also talk about (in order of class), movies, news, television, and sports, for similar reasons. Classy people talk about none of these things.

Movies

The unclassy person thinks that by talking about movies, he’s showing off how cultured he is. He wants the respect of a tasteful man, so he memorizes every geeky detail of his favorite movies so that he can impress his peers later. Even if you have not yet seen the movie, he will talk to you about it and encourage you to see it too (thus vindicating his taste). He typically loves Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino.

News

Knowing the news of the day is important to the unclassy man. In doing so he taps into something he thinks is important — collective knowledge — thereby making himself feel more important. This is the same psychology behind wearing brands, as Fussell pointed out. People wear items emblazoned by Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, because everyone knows of them. By wearing them, he feels connected to something others find important. It’s the same with news.

Now, I’m not saying classy people are ignorant of the news. They just don’t talk about it, unless asked.

Television

Unclassy people talk about television because they want others to know that they, too, tuned into the show at the same time millions of others did. It makes them feel accepted, and less likely to be judged, for having done what so many others have done. Since television tastes change fast, the soup de jour will be different from year to year. But right now, the unclassy person watches Game of Thrones and Mad Men.

Sports

At the bottom of our conversation totem pole of class is sports. Even those from the movies and news crowds think watching sports is unclassy. Unclassy people watch sports because they associate themselves with a team. This team becomes part of their identity. They feel their lives are bereft of meaning, so they find meaning in the success of a sports team that might represent them in some small way. The team represents a city they live within 50 miles of, or belongs to the college they graduated from 30 years ago. Even with such tenuous connections, unclassy people find great personal fulfillment in the victory of these teams. Thus, they have much at risk when their teams meet on the battlefield.

Among sports, classiness descends along a scale from golf to baseball to basketball to football to Nascar. Note that this also scales from less to more violent.

Instead of these, classy people prefer to ask questions. They don’t talk about which character George R. R. Martin killed off in last night’s episode. Instead, they ask you how you’re doing, about your education, or your work, or your family, or your upcoming vacation. They want to know about you, because they are interested in you, and they want to learn from you. They also tend to talk more about personal philosophy. Sometimes they wander into news and politics, but usually only to illustrate a point. A classy person will only refer to the wildfires in California when making a point about how lightning is more responsible for wildfires than campers. An unclassy person will instead say, “OH, by the way, did you hear about the wildfires in California? No? 15 homes were destroyed! Isn’t that awful?”

Classy Relativism

In response to this essay, some will say that I’m a judgmental curmudgeon. A man who takes no joy in life and who wants to see everyone plain, normal, and boring. They will say that we should all just rejoice in whatever each other likes. That every person should be himself without having to worry about class.

My response is that I’m simply putting into words the innate nature of mankind. All people judge the class of everyone they meet, either consciously or subconsciously. Every day, we broadcast our class signals to the world with what we wear, listen to, say, eat, where we go, and who we hang with. It’s a pretty watercolor universe where we all rejoice in each other and delight in whatever anyone else likes, does or says.

That universe doesn’t exist. It’s a fantasy. In the real world, we lose and gain along class lines.

You’re here reading this because you wanted to know how to be classy. Thus, you, like all other sane human beings, want to be more aware of how people interpret the signals you send. This knowledge will help you can get a better job, or marry a person classier than you, or find classier friends, or raise classier kids. I’m not saying that classy people are better people, or that being unclassy is necessarily immoral. Better, moral, right, wrong; those words have no place in this topic. Class is something apart from these things. The statues of class are part of the unwritten rule-​book all humans evolved to play by. Knowing them can give us an upper hand as we travel through life, so we can find better fortunes and have happier lives.

Class is a frighteningly practical thing. The wisest among us excise ego, pride, and emotions from the subject so that we can reflect upon ourselves honestly and become classier.

About

is best known as his alter-ego Oxhorn, author of popular machinima movies. When he's not wearing suspenders with a certain sort of finesse, he's reading, writing, blogging, doing web design, making movies and more often than not enjoying a classy drink with an even classier cigar. Watch his movies at oxhorn.com and feel free to stalk him on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted in Cars & Roads, Dress & Fashion, Essays, How to Be Classy, How Tos, Language, Money, Relationships, Society, Taste
7 comments on “How To Be Classy
  1. Edohiguma says:

    I’m not “classy”. I’m too old to follow stupid fads and trends anymore, especially stuff on the internet where people throw around words they don’t even remotely understand. Let’s face it: most people who constantly throw “classy” around wouldn’t know what it is even if it would sneak up behind them and bite them in the butt. They are sheep following a fad and my respect for them is zero.

    I leave the “classiness” to someone who is really classy, like a certain someone, aka the woman I love, she is the very definition of “classy.” She is the queen.

    Me? I’m the grumpy old bear who tears people’s faces off, because they managed to annoy me in some way, and I do so in not really classy ways. I’m rather following the idea of saying what I mean, because only then can I mean what I say, so I come across as blunt, not classy and sometimes even rude, primarily because people are hypersensitive today, cry about anything, can’t even take proper criticism anymore and quickly whine about “hate”, which makes me want to throw them under a bus, a real one.

    But in the end I’m too old to care, and people’s opinions are irrelevant things to me, especially online. I only really care about my friends, and to get on that list is harder than becoming a Navy SEAL.

  2. Shannon says:

    I actually read that book you mentioned a while ago. It was interesting, certainly, if rather annoyingly stereotyping in places. While I do see the value and desirability of class in some situations, I don’t see why one should judge anyone based on their level of class, any more than I would judge someone on how many levels they have in an MMO– something desirable in it’s own way, in it’s own place among it’s own people.

    Class is something to be proud of, as most things that take time and effort, and there’s certainly something to be said for modesty and frugality as independent values, but the ideas of dress and language, among others, don’t quite ring with me. Yes, there is “classy” dress and “unclassy” dress, but is one really better than the other? I see them moreso as different facets of culture, not inherently better or worse… contrary to the tone I seem to hear from the classy folk.

    In a classy establishment, one created for the celebration of class like a fancy restaurant or what have you, I can understand looking down on someone walking in wearing jeans and a band t-​shirt. At a band concert, I would expect someone in a fancy suit to be looked down on, too. To be succinct, outside of it’s own culture, I don’t see the reason for the sort of arrogance and condescension that classiness breeds.

    • Brandon says:

      Thanks for the comment. As I said earlier, words like “better than”, “more moral than”, etc. have no place in a conversation about class. Many unclassy feel judged when the topic of class comes up, for the same reason they feel intimidated by the classy and call them snobs. It’s hard for them to not get emotional, hurt, defensive, and even angry when they feel like they are not classy. These feelings betray the fact that they want to be classy. Any hint that they may not be puts them on the defensive.

      To disentangle the idea of class from morality and “goodness”, think about class like a scuba suit. A man in a scuba suit will have an easier time swimming through the sea of class. When the man without a scuba suit hops into the sea, he flounders around hopelessly. He’s not bad or wrong because he doesn’t have a scuba suit, any more than the man in the scuba suit is better for having one. With it, he simply has an easier time swimming in the sea of class.

      The man in the scuba suit can’t help but notice that the man without one can’t swim in the classy sea. That doesn’t make the man in the scuba suit a snob. It simply makes him observant.

      The man without a scuba suit doesn’t know that he can’t swim well, because he has never worn a scuba suit. He just doesn’t know how easier it is to swim with one.

      Does it make sense for the man without a scuba suit to be envious if the man with one? Or to be defensive? “Actually, I can swim quite well, thank you!” he says. But of course he can’t – at least, not as well as the man in the suit.

      When the man with the scuba suit points out that the swimmer could swim better if he wore one, is he a snob? If he offers to help the naked man put on a suit, is it wise for the man to get angry and defensive?

      No. People with class are painfully aware of what is unclassy because they wear the scuba suit. The unclassy get angry and defensive when they try to swim in a classy environment without one.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Let me disagree in one spot. You say that classy people have the right to feel proud for being classy. Conversely, truly classy people feel no pride at all. They don’t wear class on their lapels like badges of honor. That’s what unclassy people try to do. Instead, classy people ARE class, and never think about it. When they see the unclassy, they don’t envision the giant gulf of class that separates them. They simply find the insecurity of the unclassy repellant. They don’t feel proud for not having that insecurity (which is what the unclassy feel towards those less classy than them). Instead, the classy feel awkward and sad, and so they leave and find new company.

      • Shannon says:

        Your analogy actually makes a lot of sense, thank you. I like the ideas of classiness, so long as no one’s being dragged into the classy sea against their will.

  3. Robert says:

    great read! thank you. the bit about tattoos i just might have to show to my brother. that should go over quite well… what you said about the use of profanity is spot on. may i add one more thing to that? i would like to add that the use of profanity, while showing unclassiness, also shows a lack of education and more importantly, a severe lack of IMAGINATION. if a classy person gets upset or even angry, they will use words and phrases that are not profane but allow them to show their disgust, pain, fear or what have you, in a manner that is humorous and poetic.
    i fail at maintaining this aspect at times, but i do work on it.

    oh, one last thing before i leave you in peace! about clothing.. a truly classy person always wears the appropriate clothing for whatever event is planned or happening. for example: a classy person would not wear a suit to go on a five daay trek across the mojave desert (something i recommend, it can be quite enlightening!), instead he or she would wear lightweight, high quality cotton clothing. that is one area i have seen many people make the same mistake. they wear inappropraite clothing for the task at hand.

    and now i shall leave before i look any more confused, confounded and confabulated than i usually do… but then, i don’t mind giving people something to laugh about!

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