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Linen: The New Uniform of the Wealthy?

The Cut’s Emilia Petrarca wrote a fascinating piece in mid-August 2019 discussing how linen has become a status symbol among the wealthy. Her piece is quite intriguing on many levels, not the least of which is looking at linen as a uniform of sorts. Simply put, is linen in the new uniform of the wealthy?

Uniforms are chosen for a number of reasons, explains Alsco, a Salt Lake City uniform rental company. Companies implement uniform programs for branding purposes, cohesiveness, and even as a matter of protecting employees from hazardous working conditions. Yet regardless of the reason, every uniform has one thing in common: it says something about the person wearing it and the company behind it.

So what does linen say about people who wear it? Petrarca says it denotes wealth. Not only that, it denotes a certain sophisticated style only accessible to people with means.

Yes, Linen Wrinkles

If you were to choose materials for your company uniforms, it’s highly unlikely you would choose linen. Why? For starters, linen wrinkles quite easily. The last thing you want is a company uniform that looks like it was just pulled out of a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. Wrinkles are bad when it comes to company uniforms.

Those same wrinkles aren’t necessarily a bad thing for the wealthy. According to Petrarca, it’s entirely possible to wear ‘rich wrinkles’ well. Petrarca borrowed the phrase ‘rich wrinkles’ from her Filipino aunt who used it to describe the status linen has despite the fact that it wrinkles easily.

Can you imagine that? Rich wrinkles are apparently a real thing. They say that the linen wearer is laid back and casual; that the wearer doesn’t have to worry about wrinkles for the simple fact that wealth covers a lot of sins. If this idea of rich wrinkles is understood correctly, it essentially means that wrinkled linen is both a status symbol and a style statement.

Linen In the Movies

Petrarca made mention the Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson film Something’s Gotta Give. There is no shortage of linen in that movie. In one particular scene, Keaton and Nicholson are shown walking on the beach. Nicholson is sporting a linen shirt appropriately wrinkled in the sleeves and down near the waist.

Meryl Streep wore a crisp linen shirt during many scenes in Out of Africa. In Scarface, both Tony and Elvira were more than happy to show off their linen suits. In both films, the presence of linen denoted wealth and class despite all of the wrinkles.

There’s no denying the fact that American fashion is often influenced by art. That being the case, can you think of a single instance in which a film character wore linen without there being some sort of connotation of wealth? There are undoubtedly some examples out there, but they are probably the exception to the rule.

Linen As a Status Symbol

Perhaps wearing linen didn’t mean the same thing 50 to 100 years ago. But thanks to modern manufacturing techniques capable of producing other fabrics that wear better and cost less, linen has been limited to fewer and fewer closets. Those who wear it can certainly afford it, leading to the perception that linen is primarily for the wealthy.

So yes, it appears as though linen is a status symbol in the 21st century. As such, it’s also possible that it has become the new uniform of the wealthy. If you were worth millions and could stroll along the beach wearing anything you wanted, would you choose a gorgeous linen shirt or something made of polyester?

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