It’s time to publicly shame our peers.
By AIDAN FITZSIMONS
This article is going to ruffle some feathers.
The Ivy League Meme page is full of memes poking gentle fun at wearers of the Canada Goose jackets which are so ubiquitous at places like Harvard when it gets cold. These memes indicate a general understanding of how ridiculous this phenomenon is, yet they also normalize it. As a community, Harvard still supports the wearers of these $1000 jackets. We talk to friends every day who wear them, and say nothing antagonistic. After all, these are our friends. We don’t want to put ourselves on the line and make them feel bad. But it’s time to change the culture around this issue. It can no longer be socially acceptable to wear these jackets. If we tacitly support the wearers, then we become responsible for the moral implications. What are these implications?
The choice to wear a $1000 jacket is primarily a statement of conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption is when someone purchases a commodity for the primary goal of displaying wealth through the use of that commodity. It is a way of saying “I have enough money to spend an irrational amount for a brand patch, just to indicate my excessive wealth.” The simple fact is that owning a $1000 jacket is absurd and unjustifiable. Jackets are for warmth. Anyone from a cold place like New England knows that the secret to warmth is layers. You can be warmer in a simple outfit of three layers, wearing a $10 shirt, $30 light layer, and $60 heavy layer, than you would be in a Canada Goose. If the idea of wearing layers terrifies you, then a luxurious $150 jacket could still provide you with nearly equivalent warmth and comfort. The extra $850 is a pure waste of money, with the only two real benefits being a) a performative display of excess wealth and b) conforming with others who also like to display excess wealth.
It’s how unspecial these jackets are here that really drives me crazy. To pay extra to conform with others in a grotesquely prodigal performance, as a flock, is almost as comic as it is tragic. And it is tragic. Every day, I see people wearing red-and-white patches worth $1000 walk past familiar homeless faces in Harvard Square, ignoring them as best they can. This should enrage anyone who claims to care about those less privileged than themselves. The wasted $850 of each jacket could keep at least 10 homeless people (who know how to layer) warm all winter. It’s as immoral as it is inefficient, and an insane example of how inequality in America has increased immoderately. Even if the jackets weren’t also connected with ethically dubious coyote trapping, they would still be unethical to wear. And you should know that I am judging you for it. I am looking down on you for your choice to waste money so thoughtlessly for conformity. It slightly lowers my esteem of you the minute we meet, because you look like just another privileged baby bird protected from the cold of the real world by a warm nest egg.
I understand that, for most Goose owners, it was the parents who bought the jacket with the worthy intention of keeping their loved ones warm. But by wearing it, the student is still supporting everything that the jacket represents.
This is also personal for your fellow students. 65% of Harvard students come from the top 15% of U.S. income, which is an increasingly wealthy and disconnected slice of the population. The upper and upper-middle classes increasingly hoard educational and economic opportunity at the expense of those below, and Harvard is a primary place where this stratification is evident. For those students who are from more average or underprivileged backgrounds, the Harvard social life is full of constant, inescapable reminders of the cultural dominance of this wealthy cohort. It’s broadcast in how people talk, how they spend their breaks, how often they eat in the Square, what they did in high school, and what they wear. Class discourse in America is famously obfuscatory, due to our historic worship of wealth and stories of success. It’s not talked about honestly in the public sphere. This allows bubbles of ignorance to develop, so that students whose parents make 6 figures can claim to be “middle class” with a straight face (the median household income is under $60,000). The increasing disconnect of Harvard students from socioeconomic reality has negative consequences as we go on to take important roles in the real world, and allows privileged students to continue blithely reifying unfair power structures for personal gain rather than using their privileges to help improve the lives of others. Harvard betrays Dexter Gate every time that it allows consulting and finance firms to poach half of our brightest young minds in service of wealth, and this is not unconnected to our acceptance of Canada Goose.
I am going to start putting my social self on the line and shame my friends. Of course, I’m ignorant of the even more expensive jackets out there owned by the super-rich, who are also quite prominent at Harvard. These don’t have the flashy logos that are so indicative of aspirational, conformist bourgeois culture, and so I won’t know to shame you when I see you, sadly. But I do know the Goose logo, and what it represents, so I’ll start there, and I hope you all join me. Social pressure is the only way that cultures really change, and we are all responsible.
You should know that I still love you, no matter what. When I call you out, it’s because I want to help you. If you own a Canada Goose, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person in any essential way. But every time you wear it, you are making a morally wrong choice, plain and simple. Ignorance is understandable, but not something to be preserved. Make a choice to do better, and I will be so proud of you. If you have a Canada Goose, sell it. Buy a cheaper, equivalent jacket. You’ll have a ton of money left over. Buy yourself something nice, with utility not derived from hierarchy over others. Maybe give half of the difference to Alistair outside of the Harvard Book Store. It would literally change his life.
Aidan Fitzsimons ‘20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) eagerly awaits your angry emails