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.
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.