How to control world finance

Did you ever wonder how the 1% keeps control of the world—or at least of the world’s money? The answer just leaked out in a government study of social mobility: They do it by wearing black shoes.

Yes, folks. Forget your intricate conspiracy theories, because it’s that simple. Anyone who wears brown shoes to a job interview in what’s known in Britain as the City (more about that in a moment) is instantly marked as Not Our Kind and is quietly dumped in the Not-Our-Kind file, also known as the trash.

Or maybe trash is an Americanism. I forget. They may not do trash in the City. Like my not-black shoes, my vocabulary may be tipping people off to my origins.

Irrelevant photo: Montbretia, which is pronounced, as far as I can figure it out, mombretia. It's as invasive as it is beautiful.

Irrelevant photo: Montbretia, which is pronounced, as far as I can figure it out, mombresha. It’s as invasive as it is beautiful. Run. It’s coming for you.

But I need to fill in some background before I go on, in case you don’t know the shorthand. Which, by the way, is as bad as wearing brown shoes to an interview. So here you go:

The City is London’s financial district.  It’s also the original city, dating back to Roman and medieval times, and it maintains its status as both a city and a county within the much larger city of London. Are you confused yet? If not, you don’t understand what I’m telling you. Just hold onto the idea that it’s one of the world’s major financial centers and don’t worry about the rest.

The City is capitalized. The city of London isn’t. The City is also called the square mile because it doesn’t measure a square mile. In fairness, it’s close enough to remind the casual observer of one. Which tells you how few people it takes to run a substantial amount of the world. Not the entire world—there are other financial power centers, but the people who work in them could probably be condensed into similarly small areas. And that includes space for all the people who don’t run the world but clean things up and deliver the mail and tap the computer keys and cook and serve the food and do whatever else needs doing. So the people who do the actual world-running? They’d fit in a shoe box.

Which brings us, ever so subtly, back to our topic: shoes. Apparently they’re not the only way the elite identify their own. Interviewees have to look comfortable in a suit and wear the right kind of tie. And of course the suit also has to be the right kind. The world contains so many wrong kinds and so few right ones. Which is, of course, why all this works.

In a separate article on all this, Paul Mason estimates that the right kind of suit would set you pack £6,000. He doesn’t get bogged down in the shoes. He goes into haircuts and accents and unpaid internships and all sorts of lovely detail. It’s worth a read.

The interviewees also have to have two hard-to-define qualities, polish and an aura. No, not the kind of aura that people who keep crystals on their bookshelves see. This kind comes from generations of upper-classiness. It’s the kind of aura that only people who have one can spot.

The article I read talks about graduates with “first-class degrees from elite universities” being locked out if they fail the dress test. (First-class degree needs translation if you’re not British—or at least it does if you are American. The people who have them graduated with top grades, so you’re supposed to be impressed.) In other words, the article’s talking about people who get top grades at elite universities but still aren’t good enough to run the world’s finances because they don’t know the dress code.

Well, of course they’re not right for the job. You wouldn’t trust the world’s finances to some guy in a loud tie and brown shoes, would you? I mean, think if the damage he could do. Remember the crash of 2008? That was probably somebody in the wrong tie.

Shoes get top billing in the first article I linked to above, but if you read further you’ll find—and this shouldn’t be a surprise—that this isn’t about shoes, it’s about where you went to school. If you went to one of the top public schools (those are private schools and that’s as confusing as the city and the City, but never mind, what you need to know is that the top schools are where the British elite replicate themselves; it’s not actually done in bed)—.

Where were we? You shouldn’t let yourself get distracted every time beds are mentioned.

If you went to one of the top schools, and from there to one of the top universities, the interview is a formality, because going to the top schools indicates that you’re the right kind of person. Unless you show up in brown shoes and someone from the same background wears black ones, in which case the job goes to the black shoes. But the assumption is that if you went to the right schools you’ll know better than to wear the wrong shoes. Because that’s the kind of thing you learn in the top schools. Or maybe you learn it in the kind of families that send their kids to the top schools. I wouldn’t know, and I thank all the forces that organize the universe into the messy wonder it is that I don’t.

All this is comes to light to show us that social mobility is being undermined, but I’ve always been suspicious about social mobility. It’s fine for the people who mobil their way upwards, and I’m grateful that they can, but what about the people who don’t? Are they just the unhappy background that’s necessary for the fairy tale to satisfy its listeners? Or does society owe them something too—like maybe decent pay, decent working conditions, a basic guide to acceptable ties so the economy doesn’t crash again?

Speaking of ties, as far as I can tell from the pictures and the text, most of this applies only to men. Which will come as no surprise to some of you—especially those of you who are yourselves not men. I’m sure a few women are hired these days, but it must be hard when the dress code is about ties and you can’t wear without falling foul of the dress code.

However, if you’re intent on breaking into the top levels of British finance, you heard it here first: What matters is either an upper-class background or a flawless imitation of it. And black shoes.

As for me, I wear running shoes. I’m not particular about the color as long as it’s not too hideous—or pink, which is pretty much the same thing. It’s hard enough to find a shoe my foot will put up with; color sits pretty far down the list of things I worry about. Besides, I’ve always been dyslexic about fashion. It came as a great relief when I stopped trying to understand, never mind follow, the rules. But I’m not applying for a job in the City, and that’s for oh so many reasons. If nominated for one I will not run. If elected I will not serve. If drafted I will stay in bed and pull the blankets over my head, during which time I will have to hide my not-black shoes in the entryway with the door closed so the dog won’t drag them around.

In the interest of upward mobility, if you have your heart set of crashing into the top levels of finance, what the hell, go for it. But keep an eye on the economy, will you? It hasn’t been well lately, and I don’t know that all those expensive suits are helping.

56 thoughts on “How to control world finance

  1. Every word you have written here is true ( in my humble opinion). I laughed my head off at the humour contained in this brilliantly observed truth about the 1%. It is a tragicomedy that us peasants star in as their unwilling servants.

    At least ‘they’ don’t smash our flour mills to pieces any more and punish us for not getting our corn ground by the Lord of the Manor. Oh wait, Lord Sainsbury grinds it for us. It is ironic that a school (a peasant school of course, not Roedean, which I think MAY be one of the ‘right’ schools, albeit for girls) has been in the press this week for refusing entry on day one of term, to children in the ‘wrong shoes’. If that isn’t an exercise in intimidation and control of the peasants by ‘the gentry’ I don’t know what is.

    Coming from a world of wrong shoes, wrong accent, wrong aura and not knowing the ‘right’ way to hold a knife to eat peas off (what do you mean I shouldn’t eat peas off a knife?), I am well and truly a peasant and glad of it. One last thought, alongside learning about the right shoes, suits and ties at the right schools, do they also learn which nostril it is correct to shove cocaine up first at dinner parties?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh, thd rules of order in the board rooms I’ll never see. “Dress got the job you want” they (you know, they) say. I tried that for a while. I was actually hired once because of the way I looked. You may have encouraged me to tell that story. Of course, l have to check, maybe I already did. If I do tell it, it’s your fault. No tie for me these days. I’m fine with that. I do prefer black shoes but only because my brown ones are uncomfortable. Thanks for another enjoyable post !!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wonderful post. I laughed out loud. I share your fashion dyslexia and have no regrets that I’ve chosen comfort over fashion—especially in shoes. I am reminded of an old Smothers Brothers comedy routine, wherein Tommy explains that the quantity of clothes worn expresses one’s political position. Those with little power are the less-ons, those in power politically are the morons.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. I really enjoyed this blog post, Ellen. If all it took were black shoes to acquire tons of money, I would be a millionaire by now. Like you, I prefer trainers. I do wonder how all those younger career girls manage to walk around in sky high stilettos all day. I would probably end up in the emergency room. It sounds like the job interviewing game is the same no matter which side of the Atlantic you happen to inhabit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You seem to be right about the black shoes. I had a pair of black running shoes and didn’t earn any more when I wore them than I did after they wore out.

      Odd, don’t you think? Was I missing out on one of the other signals?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Perhaps you were missing the signs, Ellen. I did not get that gene at birth that enables one to look fabulous in stilettos that resemble the Shard while catwalking my way into the boardroom. Of course all of this is accomplished in a skin tight micro mini. I will always be poor….

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t know what I look like in stilettos. Probably pretty silly, but a little taller, I’m sure. (I’m absurdly short.) But the last time I wore heels–and low ones at that–I fell down stairs and that was the end of that. I never did like the things.


  5. I read the book Swimming with sharks, at least that’s what the book is called in Swedish. Don’t remember authors name. But it is about the life in the financial area in London. Clothes was a subject I remember. Your post remembered me of that book. Good post as always :)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Now, I found this quite interesting, because for one thing, my favorite shoes are red. That probably explains all my health problems and bad fortune as of late. The driver of the Karma Bus probably took one look at my red shoes and hit me then backed up over my ass just because. I also found this to be quite true, because I know for a fact that at the start of the Great Depression – a.k.a the Crash of 1929, they happened to name it “Black Tuesday” as a was to make fun of all the idiots who wore brown and other not-black shoes that day, which of course was such a source of distraction that the stock market crashed. Hell, that’s probably even why the second world war got underway.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: How people find a blog, part 5ish | Notes from the U.K.

  8. Ahem. What about Theresa May? Granted, she’s not in Finance, per se. And she’s definitely not a man (!) But she’s rather famous for her fashion-forward shoes. I saw her most recently sporting a rather spiffy leopard-spotted pair. Her husband, however, sticks to the black-shoe rule. As for running shoes, I bet she wears them a lot when there are no cameras around (!)

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Pingback: …and You Walk Like an Athlete | No Facilities

  10. Pingback: Things you can blame me for: a link | Notes from the U.K.

    • I do know about U and non-U but have no hope of ever really understanding it. The wrong kind of flower, though? I’m with your husband on that. If the snails don’t eat it, as far as I’m concerned it’s the right kind. What part of Texas is he from? My partner’s from Amarillo.


      • Austin is his claimed home territory (went to uni there too) though also partly spent youth in Connecticut and Houston. We went to Amarillo – well passed through – going to Gerogia O’Keefee country in Canyon. My first encounter with a genuine dry county! Gardening is a minefield of what is and what is not ‘u’. Blowsy pink or blue mophead hydrangeas, for example, non-u, white lace caps acceptable… It also changes with time just to trip up the unwary – snapdragons used to be non-u but now are acceptable (in certai shades, I think – may have changed while I wasn’t paying attention) and that’s where husband discovered the issue – he wanted them and I cringed. We both love them now and don’t give a monkeys what anyone ese thinks but they don’t like our garden! Floral world’s sneaky revenge.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh, goody! My mophead hydrangeas mark me out as a non-U barbarian! I couldn’t be happier.

          I can’t imagine gardening in O’Keefe country–it’s so dry–but at least it would mean no slugs. I really do hate slugs.


  11. Utter secrecy and absolute loyalty is essential to the continued success of this program. This is enforced through fear of murder or bankruptcy and through a cult which probably takes us back to the times of the pyramids and before.

    Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.