“Stay Classy, America!”: What It Means When We Tie Worth To Wealth

“Well they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Yeah they said you was high-classed
Well, that was just a lie
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit
And you ain’t no friend of mine

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog Cryin’ all the time …”

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio made the news recently for chiding his opponent, the Donald:

“To conduct the presidency, it has to be done in a dignified way, with a level of class,” Rubio said during an appearance on Fox and Friends. “I don’t think the way (Donald Trump has) behaved over the last few weeks is either dignified or worthy of the office he seeks.”
Rubio didn’t say which Trump moment he considered less than classy: Was it reading Sen. Lindsey Graham’s personal phone number to a crowd of Trump supporters in South Carolina? Or criticizing Sen. John McCain’s five years as a prisoner of war?
Either way, Rubio went for the kill, adding that, “we already have a president now that has no class.”

Competitors are supposed to find and jab at the weak points in each other, and as insults go, “no class” is hardly worth raising an eyebrow over. But what does it really mean? What are we saying when we say someone has no class — that they seem poor? When we compliment someone as “classy,” are we admiring the way they pull off the illusion of seeming rich? And how does it complicate matters when the target of our “he has no class” scorn is a billionaire like Trump, or, for that matter, an affluent and pretty low-key white collar professional like our current President?

First stop on my investigation into what this word both means and connotes: WikiHow’s “How To be Classy.” It advises presenting yourself as clean, elegant, and not reeking of vomit.

Don’t under dress. If you have to go to a formal or semi-formal event, then you better know what that means. It’s better to overdress a little than to under dress, and it’s not okay to show up to a formal event wearing jeans if you needed to wear slacks or a dress. It’s not funny to wear sneakers if you needed to wear dress shoes, either. …
Don’t look like you were partying the night before. Avoid showing up anywhere wearing wristbands from the club from the night before, stamps or Xs on your hands from the bars you went to, or just smelling like sweat, bars, beer, or even vomit. Get your day-old eyeliner off your face, take a shower, and don’t show up anywhere, not even brunch, without looking like you’re ready to start a new day, not crawl back into your lair.
Even if you did have a rough night, don’t say, I am so hungover. That is not classy. …
Get your look together before you leave the house. Don’t put on makeup in public, comb your hair in public, button your shirt, finish tying your shoes, check out your outfit, or do anything that says you took zero effort to get your act together before you left the house. Tuck in your shirt, put on your mascara and lip balm, and do absolutely everything you need to do before you go out into the world.
Avoid exposed undergarments. Ladies shouldn’t let their bra straps show and men shouldn’t let people see their boxers.

Whatever you can think about Trump or Obama, you can’t accuse them of complaining about partying too hard or of letting their underwear show.

WikiHow has lots more pieces of advice, including “Don’t be the loudest person in the room” — (which, okay, every politician would fail that test); “keep the promiscuity to a minimum” (ditto); and this, my favorite: “Ideally, if you’re classy, you should never use the word ‘classy.’”

Another thing you shouldn’t talk about if you’re classy? Money.

Don’t talk about money. It is so not classy to talk about how much money you make, how much money you have, how much money your new car/kicks/jacket/earrings cost, or that you just got another $10,000 raise. Don’t talk about how much your parents, boyfriend, closest friend, or anyone else makes, either. It’s just not classy.
Don’t ever ask other people how much money they make, either.

It’s a lot easier not to talk about money once you have money. When you don’t have money, often enough, by necessity, the deprivation is all you can think about.

What I glean from this WikiHow thing, primarily, is that class seems to be about appearing moderate and restrained rather than excessive: not too much talking, eating, drinking, laughing, gossiping, burping, scratching, partying, accessorizing, cursing, yelling, sexing, or otherwise being in the world in an attention-getting way. Isn’t it exhausting to spend so much time policing oneself — and others?

Also, every single image in the series of WikiHow cartoon pictures is of a white person so, there’s that.

The website Practical Happiness also attempts to address the question of what makes a woman classy since “being called ‘classy’ is an ultimate compliment to a woman.” It sets the bar high, really high, at what feels like Katharine Hepburn height:

So many women (and men of course) out there are trying so hart to stand our and be different in all the wrong ways. Green/orange/blue hair, tattoos and piercings all over or otherwise looking like a girl with a dragon tattoo might help you express your individuality but they are surely not a sign of being classy or sophisticated. …
A classy woman is in touch with her femininity. Her mission in life is not in challenging men and competing with men wherever possible; she enjoys pleasing men without feeling ashamed of it, and is proud to be a woman. She recognizes the differences between men and women in psychology, physiology and sexuality and accepts those differences as laws of nature. As such, she does not hate men, and is not overly skeptical or pessimistic about her ability to fall in love and enjoy great romance. …
To be classy, you must be subtle in many areas of your life. Subtlety implies a degree of moderation, lack of flamboyance, lack of impulse to attract attention, and generally not trying too hard. A subtle woman has style but she doesn’t look like a designer model. She dresses sexy but does not look trashy like a typical stripper when going out; she puts such a small amount of perfume and make-up that one can barely tell that she has any; she talks just enough but certainly not too much and tends to be on a quite side; her laughter is pleasant to hear but not too loud; she hardly ever swears; and her voice is soft and sensual.

A woman of valor, who can find her / her worth is beyond rubies. Okay, seriously now, does a single woman like this exist anywhere? If not, why are we letting this high-femme photoshopped ideal taunt us as a standard against which we cannot possibly measure up?

Maybe it’s time to ditch “classy” as a descriptor and find a more precise way of praising people we admire for their manners and style or negging people we don’t.

Alternatively, here’s my idea of classy: not stealing people’s dogs and then selling them for a profit on Craigslist. Everything else is commentary.