The car as a status symbol

FerrariStatus symbols are objects that people choose in the belief that they demonstrate a certain social standing or wealth. Status symbols may be thought of as a recent thing, but in reality, they’ve existed for much longer than the brands we’ve commonly come to associate with outward demonstrations of healthy bank balances or superior standing.

In centuries gone by, medals, castles, even sheep and cattle were perceived as symbols of someone’s status in society. Uniforms too are a classic historic signification of social standing, because they define hierarchy clearly and demonstrate exactly where the wearer stands in the order of the organisation or group involved. All of that said, today, one of the most common ways to demonstrate status is through material possessions.

Houses, jewellery, watches, handbags, shoes, clothes and cars, as well as good looks are amongst the most accessible attributes to demonstrate wealth and social standing today. While not accessible to everyone due to cost (otherwise they would no longer function as social symbols), these are things that can be bought to buy your place in society; yes, even good looks can be bought these days.

Taking the car as a perfect example of a status symbol, its development over the years is easy to trace through branding, media and personalities. Although the car was never intended to be a status symbol, it became so when it started to be accessible to society at large.

Very early cars, such as those that were built in the early 1900’s were extremely expensive because they were hand made. What this meant was, by implication, only the rich could access this luxury. It was when awareness grew, when car production started to become more automated, and this luxury became reasonably accessible to the man or woman on the street that competition at a mass-market level started to occur.

As soon as the middle classes were within the reach of owning a car everything changed, and this change was brought about in very large part by the mass production of the Ford Model T. Henry Ford effectively changed the world with his goal to produce a car that the average person could afford, run and maintain. This approach brought cars potentially within the reach of the masses. At that point, while car ownership was still way out of the reach of many, in most cities and towns there were people who owned cars and were able to enjoy all the benefits that go along with that.

Today, it is a widely accepted fact that owning a car is pretty much a given, but the car remains a status symbol in its own right nonetheless. Generally speaking, expensive cars, rare cars or cars that have been either produced to order or adapted to suit their discerning owner’s personal taste are all accepted as significant demonstrations of social standing and economic power. The badge on the car, the purr of the engine and even the accessories that go with it are what truly turn heads, making cars a highly sought after modern day trimming to many peoples lives.

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