17 Things That Were Once a Status Symbol But Aren’t Anymore

Designer clothes, a Rolls Royce, and a Beverly Hills home are all symbols of status in today’s society, but this wasn’t always the case. From board games to poor health conditions, here are 17 things from the past that showed you were from the upper class.


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Most people love chocolate, but it wasn’t always so easy to access. From the 1500s to the 1800s, European nobility saw chocolate-based drinks as a way of separating themselves from the masses. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries that it became readily available, allowing anyone, regardless of class, to afford it.

Black-and-White TVs

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As Business Insider shares, black-and-white TV sets were once a luxury item that only rich people could afford in the 1930s. That’s right, despite them being ancient relics now, black-and-white TVs were once a huge symbol of status. They only cost $130, but this was a tenth of the average annual salary back then.


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In the past, many saw excess body weight as a sign of good living that only the richest could afford. It symbolized prosperity and high social status, given the absolute poverty many lived in. It also signaled power for men, and for women, it meant beauty and fertility.

White Icing on Cakes

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The sugary delights you enjoy at weddings today weren’t always available to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. During the Victorian era, the color white was seen as a symbol of economic and social prowess, and only the richest could afford white icing and wedding cakes.


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In the 17th century, there was a huge craze for tulips, which saw the middle and upper classes seek them out for their gardens. Artists created still paintings of them for the rich, and eventually, the old Turkish state protected them against trade in the early 1800s.

Board Games

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The first board game documented to exist, Senet, was only played by the wealthiest Egyptians between 3,500 BC and 3,100 BC. According to the BBC, it was an ivory board game about the afterlife that was seen as such a status symbol that it was buried alongside its owner.

Pointy Shoes

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We bet you’d never wear pointy shoes extending five inches beyond your feet today, but this symbolized status in the 14th and 15th centuries. This uncomfortable footwear was deemed to demonstrate affluence and a lifestyle of leisure, and the longer the shoes extended, the more expensive they were.


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Today, an X-ray image of your body only means you broke a bone or have a health concern. In the late 19th century, though, having an X-ray image of your hands was akin to having access to the latest gadgets. People hung X-ray images in their homes like they were luxury paintings.


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The rich of the 18th century weren’t satisfied with their immense, posh villas. They also used resident hermits to give their estates a little more respect, a fad popularized by the Roman emperor Hadrian. It was so ridiculous that some even hired fake hermits to stay on their estates to boost their status!

Foot Binding

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Bound feet were as uncomfortable as it sounds, but that didn’t stop the Chinese aristocrats from using them to further separate themselves from the masses. This practice wasn’t limited to women; even men who lived during the Song dynasty, particularly in central and northern China, engaged in it.


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Pineapples were so sought after when they entered the British Empire that they were nicknamed “King Pine.” The rich even paid up to £150 (£28,000 today) to build hothouses for their cultivation. Today, they’ve become so trivial that you’d probably throw away pizza if it had pineapples on it.


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Bizarrely, even ailments once demonstrated that you were part of society’s upper class. Gout, a form of arthritis in which needle-shaped crystals form at your joints, was referred to as ‘the disease of kings’ in 5 BC because only the rich could afford the high-sugar foods that caused it.


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Due to the rarity of its dye ingredients, the purple shade Tyrian was used to distinguish social classes in ancient Greece, and there were restrictions on who could wear it. The BBC reports that restrictions were so severe that the King of Mauretania was killed for wearing a purple robe to an amphitheater in 40 AD.

Blackened Teeth

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Blackening one’s teeth, or Ohaguro as it was traditionally called, symbolized beauty and attractiveness in Japanese society up until the late 19th century. It involved wearing iron fillings soaked in vinegar to darken the teeth, which would never happen today, as white teeth now signal a higher socio-economic class.


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Amusingly, squirrels were popular pets in the 18th and 19th centuries. The American gray squirrel was the most popular breed, and aristocrats kept them on gold chains to ensure they weren’t running around causing havoc. This eventually died out, and keeping squirrels in captivity is now generally frowned upon.


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Did you know that, as NPR explains, aluminum was once more expensive than gold? The now-common metal was scarce and expensive during Napoleon III’s reign, leading the rich to make their cutlery, buttons, and hooks from it. Some even kept and showcased them alongside their expensive jewelry.


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There was a time when the 18th-century upper class started erecting follies in their gardens to show they had money to waste. Follies were small buildings that had no practical use, serving purely as decoration. These days, most people only know the word “folly” to mean a lack of sense and nothing more.

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