Social Question

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

What would you do if you were invited to a recession-theme party...that wasn't affordable?

Asked by DarlingRhadamanthus (11266points) December 14th, 2009

I’ll give some details….

A young friend of mind has her children in a very chic private school in the Midwest. Her three children are “scholarship kids” which she is very self-conscious about. She and her husband would not otherwise be able to send their children to this school. They are living on his salary (which is modest) and she is a stay-at-home mom. I’ve known her since she was a young girl and she was not raised with privilege and I am so proud of how far she has come in her life.


Recently, she was invited to a party thrown by one of the very wealthy mothers in her child’s class (they just started at this school). The party had a “recession” theme. And everyone was supposed to go to the store and buy a complete outfit for under $100 (including the shoes) and bring the receipts as proof. They were then going to have a fashion show and the best outfit would win a prize.

I found this idea so offensive. It was assuming that a) all mothers had an extra $100 lying around to blow on an outfit and b) that $100 was somehow “slumming it” for the mothers. The hostess obviously didn’t even think that perhaps $100 might be the clothing allowance for a family for a full month or two.

My friend was upset as that $100 so close to Christmas was going to hurt the family budget. I felt that in a world that is suffering (and this is a part of the country that has been really hit by the recession very badly) that this idea was utterly in bad taste and just thoughtless and arrogant.

My friend is desperate for her children to be part of this whole social circle, and so she is going to these functions “for her children”. (Yes, I know.) I wanted her to boycott, but she felt that somehow, she would be lessening the acceptance of her children at the school by not being part of the “in crowd” of obviously deluded and delusional mothers who are living on another planet. Rather like Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”. My friend also felt that somehow she had made it into “the inner circle” by receiving this invitation and felt it would benefit her kids in the long run socially.

I circumvented this whole “social” stuff by sending my one child to Steiner school. Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t even factor into this private school that stresses the spiritual side of education, families and life. I was comfortable growing up. I never did have to struggle to be accepted in that way…so I don’t know what that feels like…to want to belong like that. But you know what? When I was a child, there wasn’t all this stupid posturing no “who do you know”, “what do you drive?” stuff going on. Boasting and or excluding others was a sign of lack of grace and bearing. My mother was always careful never to “put on airs” and my father really despised any sort of “show” at other’s expense.

I would have said, “Thank you…but I’d rather take the $100 and give it to a food pantry or a food kitchen…” or “Rather than have a party to celebrate the recession…let’s all buy a blanket and then go out and distribute them to the homeless.”

What do you think? What would you have done? Would you have gone? Would you have protested or made a suggestion to the hostess? It makes me wonder about the person who threw this sort of party…because the person may be wealthy….but obviously, lacks any real class.

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58 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t mean to be harsh, but . . . if your friend chooses to associate with shallow, tasteless, insensitive people, I think she should expect to pay the price of their friendship.

What would I do? I would not have anything to do with it. But I would not have been in her position in the first place. I hope that you as her much wiser friend will have some sane influence on her, but for the present it might be a lost cause, to judge from the fact that she is even thinking about doing this.

shilolo's avatar

I agree with Jeruba that a part of parenting would be to demonstrate your morals and ideals. If that includes being thrifty or frugal (which I happen to agree with), then she could simply say to her kids, “Sorry, but we can’t afford this.” How is that different from when some of the kids have expensive new sneakers and her kids “want” them?

But, if you are seeking practical advice, she could simply dress the kids as she sees fit, and then “pretend” to have forgotten the receipts at home. They get to go to the party and she absorbs the blame. Done and done.

Snarp's avatar

Well, to be fair you said it was spending less than $100. What’s obnoxious about that is the assumption that it’s a hardship to buy an outfit that costs less than $100, but there’s no expectation that she buy a $100 outfit.

If she wants to make a point she should go in whatever she normally wears that is less than $100 and say she doesn’t have receipts because it’s just a normal outfit and she doesn’t have the money to buy a new one for a party.

If she wants to try to fit in she should go thrift shopping and get an outfit for way under a hundred dollars (I’m thinking like $10 max) and “win” the theme for the night with how little she spent.

Me, I don’t even know people like that, so I can’t imagine what I would do.

One more point for public schools.

delta214's avatar

Can’t she go to the party without participating in the fashion show?

erichw1504's avatar

I would appreciate the irony.

JLeslie's avatar

Did I read correctly that they are purchasing these outfits for fun? Not raising money or gifts for charity or for the school?

I think that is the most obnoxious thing I have ever heard. I am not part of the upper class, but I am easily upper middle class and I cannot even believe what I just read. Not to mention that the very meaning of etiquette and class is to make others comfortable; whoever planned that party seems to be lacking the understanding of this.

Honestly, I would not go to that party. I don’t care how much money you have, throwing it out just to impress people, or from peer pressure, makes no sense.

If your friends daughter came home saying, “all the girls are smoking so I smoked to,” she would give her a speech about how you don’t do something just because everyone else is. Adults need to lead by example.

JLeslie's avatar

I forgot to say I agree with @shilolo that you don’t have to be obnoxious, you can just show up without receipts and take the blame. I can’t believe they will check receipts anyway. Ugh. You will be teaching your kids to lie sort of, but that kind of lie is a little fib to get along, I think it is ok.

Jeruba's avatar

Am I understanding correctly? I thought the idea was for each mother to show up in a less-than-$100 outfit.

It seems to me that an underlying aim here is for the guests to laugh at cheap clothes, and by extension to laugh at the whole idea of belt-tightening and frugal living. No matter what, I can’t imagine that it will turn out the way your friend expects.

Cruiser's avatar

Mom has to get a grip and realize that she did all this for the sake of the child’s educational experience not climbing the social ladder. The kids know their place and to then force them to attend and pretend they “fit in” will do more harm then good! Sure there would be a momentary awkward moment of not fitting in but they will get over it and recognize that the world is full of disparity and that they are not alone in the world in not having everything. The idea of taking the $100 and buying things needed for a shelter is a grand idea and a life lesson those children will learn from and even respect the righteousness of their parent for making such difficult choices. Even better buy $90.00 worth of charity stuff and treat the kids to Dairy Queen with the other $10.00 the day of the party.

baileysmom12's avatar

What she could do is go to her local GoodWill or any thrift store and buy a complete outfit for under $20.00 then tell those stuck up snobs that she gave the other $80.00 to the local food pantry and ask what THEY did with the rest of the money they saved. I know it would be a lie but sometimes a little lie is justified.

JLeslie's avatar

@jeruba I did not take it that way. I think they want the kids to have a fashion show and limited people to $100 so the rich crazy moms that have to impress everyone would be limited to make things more fair. But still, asking someone to spend money like that seems obnoxious. They can have a fashion show without having to spend money.

Snarp's avatar

I too assumed the party was for the parents and it was the parents who were supposed to get the outfits for themselves.

not that that has much to do with the underlying snobbery.

JLeslie's avatar

We need the OP to clarify.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

First of all, Flutherites…I agree with most of you….giving to charity in lieu of this ridiculous idea is the best thing. And to clarify…it was the MOTHERS who were to buy the outfit for $100 or less…and it was definitely to (as jeruba stated) to “laugh at cheap clothes and laugh at frugality”...which to me is really distasteful…because there ARE families in America who really are_living hand to mouth. It’s sad and it’s sadder to have a group of women (who should know better) laughing at Goodwill clothing when someone might actually _need those outfits.

@jeruba….my sentiments exactly…I was always a bit outside the box…I would not have attended…or wanted to have had shallow acquaintances….
And YES….it was to LAUGH at the “mad idea” of “having to put together an outfit for hahahahah…ohmygawd…a pittance!”
@shilolo….I think she is going….
@Snarp….you are correct…she could have spent less than $100…but the idea that money should be spent on outfits…..when it could have been used for something more
beneficial….in a recession….is what got to me…

I suppose that the issue that got to me…...was the…“Hey girls…let’s have a party and PRETEND we are POOR and see if we can’t get an outifit together for under $100…!” When there ARE people to whom that $100 is a lot. There is the assumption that it is a pittance…when it is not to many people.

@JLeslie….that is correct…NO MONEY FOR CHARITY..just for grins…and I agree…I never did buy into the lemming mentality…but to some people…it is really important…though, why…I don’t understand.

I have not been able to talk to her personally…to tell her how I feel. She wrote this to me in an email.

I just threw this out to the fluther….because I found this to be insensitive.

@baileysmom12….that’s what I thought, too…....

I just don’t want her to spend ONE PENNY…I wish she would just boycott the damned thing.

Snarp's avatar

I definitely think it’s absurd. There was a piece in the New York Times a while back following an upper class family and all the “sacrifices” they’ve had to make due to the recession. The mother said she couldn’t possibly made do without the nanny (who was making over $40,000 a year). The gap between the rich and the rest of us is more than just economic.

JLeslie's avatar

Wow. I cannot believe it is true that they are making fun of poorer people. That makes me sick. That did not even occur to me. How can people do that? They better hope Karma does not exist. Maybe for them $100 is like an average person spending $10, but still the idea that it is to be humorous at the expense of others less fortunate is just beyond comprehension to me.

Jeruba's avatar

I would be so tempted to alert a reporter on the local paper to this story.

[Edit] Or a columnist.

JLeslie's avatar

It almost seems like wearing blackface. Am I crazy?

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Jeruba…now that’s an idea…:)

@JLeslie….that’s a good analogy…it has the same sort of “squirm” factor….of distaste with a bit of immorality thrown in for good measure.

JLeslie's avatar

Just proves what goes on behind closed doors can never be guessed by the people on the outside.

Dog's avatar

What is funny is that when I first read it I thought that the clothes were being donated, unworn, to those in need. Now that I understand what they are doing I am actually kind of stunned that people can really be that shallow.

Yeah- I would want my kids in that social circle to learn real important things like what designer label to wear to let everyone know you have money to burn. Somehow I think that I would rather teach them that if they are frugal they can be generous to those less fortunate.

I like @Jeruba‘s suggestion immensely!

shilolo's avatar

One could argue that the spending itself is an antidote to the recession, much like the ARRA. If X people go to the local stores and each buy ~$100 worth of clothes, then the local economy just gained x*100. I think this would be “ok”, if it didn’t come off as slumming it.

I still can’t believe she is going. If it is for the mothers, it would be trivial to come up with an excuse for that day (i.e. I’m getting my wisdom teeth pulled, and I much prefer that…)

stratman37's avatar

Send them your regrets, but that you have a previous engagement with Donald Trump.

Sonnerr's avatar

If she wants her children to have snooty and uptight friends so be it. She shouldn’t have to pay for what’s free. Them not going and her declining wouldn’t be a sign of weakness, but it would empower her and her standards. That is I mean, if she has those standards to be a conscious and upright human being. Like other’s might have said, I don’t mean to be harsh/rash, but it’s the truth. And talking to your friend about it might help her understand that it isn’t for the kids’ benefit to idealize blowing money into the wind when you simply can’t afford it. Just because you see a pair of shoes or some other type of clothing or accessories doesn’t mean you need them. If time and wallet permit, fine. If not, there is no need.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@shlolo…...It’s not about spreading the wealth here….it’s about lampooning the poor, in my opinion.

And that’s just not right.

@Sonnerr…....good points….

Darwin's avatar

I would simply pretend to be heartbroken that I had to be somewhere else if I really couldn’t afford to go, or, knowing me, I would go to Goodwill and see how low I could go and still get a complete and wearable outfit, and then rub it in their faces.

My kids used to go to a private Montessori school because the education was ideal for my daughter in particular, but we did have frequent run-ins with wealthy parents who didn’t want their darlings to mix with the lower classes. At those times we tended to remind them that Maria Montessori designed her teaching methods for the slum children of Naples and not for the children of privilege at all. Some of then were not fond of me, but others were fine with it. I hung out with the parents that were fine with it.

andrew's avatar

Of course, the opposite way to approach this is to decline the invitation. “A fashion show, Lexi? Isn’t that… a bit nouveau riche, don’t you think?”

Haleth's avatar

@Snarp I saw a story like that, but the angle of the family wasn’t on the “sacrifice” of the family losing their nanny or their maid, but the fact that they had about ten employees, and the family cutting back meant that all these people had to lose their jobs. So in that sense, it really is a sad story.

I agree that this is insensitive. The person who came up with this idea probably thought it was funny and cute, and wasn’t thinking about how this might make other people uncomfortable. There are other ways these women could have a party with frugality and fashion as a theme. They could buy frugal outfits and then donate them to charity, and whoever comes up with the best one could still “win” the contest. Or they could clean out their own closets and donate those clothes. Whoever had the most to donate would win. There are charities that give poor women professional clothes for work and job interviews. It would be really great to organize a charity event with an organization like this, and maybe the women who received the clothes could model them.

As for your friend, it sounds like she really wants to fit in with these women, and if that’s so important to her she should find some tactful way to decline, or buy a really, really, really cheap outfit from goodwill or somewhere like that. I think that the right thing to do would be to have a talk with the host about why that party is offensive and try to do something else, but it just depends on her values.

Jeruba's avatar

Anything but a sincere and honest response is just buying into the pose.

And a sincere one will probably get your friend laughed at by these people. Imagine her trying to tell them that she thinks their party is in poor taste. Her name will be the butt of jokes at the party. For all she knows, the invitation was meant as a mockery of her in the first place.

I can imagine the dialogue:
MITZI: You’re not seriously thinking of inviting Peggy Ann?
MUFFY; Why, yes, I was.
MITZI: But you know she can’t afford it! Have you seen her shoes? And just look what she puts on her kids. Only last week I saw her heading into Target!
MUFFY; But that’s what makes it so delicious, darling! If she spends $100 on an outfit for this party, it’s probably the best dressed she’s been all year!

She can’t win with this crowd because she isn’t one of them and never will be.

But I suspect that this is a lesson she will have to learn all by herself.

Mavericksjustdoinganotherflyby's avatar

I find this elitist behavior rather disturbing. In fact the only thing more disturbing about it are the reasons the mother gave for wanting to attend.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Jeruba…......I agree…......

@Andrew….was that said in an accent like Mr Thurston Howell’s lovely wife,…Lovey?

@Maverick…..Don’t be too harsh on her, Mav….she really doesn’t “get” the bigger picture in all this….and I have yet to speak to her personally. I opted out of all this social stuff early on (see other responses) but I have always been a bit of a renegade and didn’t give two hoots for what someone else was doing…or if they laughed at me for doing it.

Silhouette's avatar

I’d send a brief note to the hostess, in fact I’d just stick it in her mail box to save on postage. The note would read : Due to the raising cost of living, I will be unable to attend your party, as we have been forced by this recession to tighten our belts. Plus, I can’t really afford the gas it would take to drive from my house to yours. Sincerely

P.S. I’ll see you the next time you come to Wal-Mart, I was lucky enough to land a fine position as a greeter. And they thought my PHD in Public Policy wouldn’t take me far.

Mavericksjustdoinganotherflyby's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus Didn’t mean to seem harsh. The comments were directed at the behavior not the person. I’m sure she’s a dear friend, but when I see people perpetuate this kind of behavior I get a little upset. I think there are too many problems and way too much suffering in the world for people to act in this manner.

Supacase's avatar

I like @Dog‘s original understanding as a nice compromise. Buy the clothing, bring it and show it on a hanger as an outfit, then tell the ladies she didn’t wear it because she plans to donate it to the women’s shelter after the party. Hopefully they will feel some sense of shame. They should.

There is a book that would tie in very well here (fluffy chick novel) but I cannot remember the name.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@Mavericksjustdoinganotherflyby…... if by going to the party, she is perpetuating it…you are right. This is a young woman that was an inch of becoming a grim statistic when she was a teenager and she turned her life completely around. In her desire for her children not to be riddled with the same stigma of her childhood, she thinks (erroneously) that going to the “right” school and associating with the “right” people will somehow give her children_entree_into a world that she was denied in her own young life. I agree with you that this sort of party is not cool…..and that raising your children has nothing to do with superficial parties and all to do with basic values.

@Dog,.......somehow I think these women are shame-LESS.

@Silhouette… it!

jerv's avatar

I would snicker at the irony, show up as-is (the same t-shirt and jeans I always wear), show up in my ‘85 Toyota with the skull-and-bones on the hood, and educate them on the reality of life outside of their mansions.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I wouldn’t show up but the inviter would get this in the post:

Chère Mme [son nom de famille]:

Je suis désolé, mais je ne peux pas venir à votre fête. Merci de m’inviter. Peut-être nous pouvons aller avec nos enfants obtenir la crème glacée à une certaine autre date.

Mme Aprilsimnel


JessicaisinLove's avatar

If it was a costume party I’d go as a paper bag.

JLeslie's avatar

I am still stunned. I just cannot get over it. I lived in Boca Raton, FL for years, I knew many people who had quite a lot of money, they would never do something in such poor taste. @DarlingRhadamanthus are you sure you have not misinterpreted the email from your girlfriend? I just cannot wrap my head around it.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie I doubt it. I mean, I spend about $200 on clothes/shoes a year; my wife slightly more because bras are not free. That means that the party-throwers are so out of touch that they cannot be considered friends. Hell, I only spent $300 on my car and that was stretching it seeings how I’ve been unemployed for almost a year!

I am fortunate in that the only people I know that make enough money to be pretentious were poor at one time and thus would never think of doing such a thing.

Y’know, I just thought of something. If that is the way they are and I showed up like I am, I would bet that I would lose the costume contest for not being “authentic” enough in the same way that Charlie Chaplin once placed 3rd in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.

Adagio's avatar

What disturbs me most is the women who attend this party wearing their cheap $100 outfits might then be tempted to think they really understand how it feels to go without.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I am talking jappy, designer wearing, Boca Raton, FL. Have you ever been there? Still, I cannot imagine it. In fact when hosting a party we would be appalled to ask a guest to spend money, unless it was to bring your checkbook for a charitable donation. I have never been to a cash bar party in Boca or Palm Beach. I have never been asked to even bring dessert I don’t think, unless it was a small group of people, close friends, and you want them to try your super special grandma’s chocolate cake or it is specifically a cooking party. The one exception might be a gift game for a Christmas party when you are limited to $20, but a lot of people bring stuff that is a regift, because it is a joke type thing, and spend no money. At my wedding, this is not a Boca thing, but my husband grew up in the upper class of Mexico City, I did not tell the women what to wear who stood up at my wedding, because he thought it awful to dictate to someone what to wear, and then ask them to put out the money to buy it (I also think that to be a horrible tradition).

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Nope. Closest I’ve been was being stationed in Orlando for a year.
I grew up with a single welfare mom who picked herself up and before she retired last month was earning ~$60K/yr but still did her clothes shopping at thrift stores. My stepdad earns a pretty penny too (~$100K or so with average bonuses) but drove a ‘95 Toyota until recently.Most of our family friends are either approximately as wealthy as I am—(in other words, not very) or just live like they are anyways.—
Parties are at home, many of them are good cooks so there is a pot-luck element to them, but it’s never themed; just eat, drink, and have fun. If your party needs a theme, then you really don’t care about being with the people there.

butterflykisses's avatar

It sounds like a mocking party and not one I would ever attend. I wouldn’t allow my children to attend and I would explain why, as I took them to Wal-Mart and purchased something to donate to those less fortunate. The thought behind this party makes me ill. The “best” education doesn’t always come from a school, sometimes it comes from life experience. I would be telling my children my experiences and make it clear they are at the school to get an EDUCATION not a callused heart and attitude. This is awful. Really awful. =(

jerv's avatar

@buttkisses Walmart? Too fancy for me. Try Goodwill!

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@buttkisses…..I agree with you…it is awful.
@jerv….I think the way your family lived/lives was/is commendable…actually.

I was a single mother, too….and had to cut corners everywhere. My family told me to “come home” and they would “help me” after my divorce. But I knew that I would be selling myself into bondage. So, I decided to just go it alone and that meant being extremely creative. My daughter (as I said earlier) went to Steiner school (private, but soul-tending and very non-materialistic) and then I homeschooled her. She went on to Cambridge and then Oxford for a Master’s degree. Despite the fact that she never belonged to an “in” crowd as they didn’t have them at Steiner schools. So, in my life, I was comfortable, then very comfortable, then extremely uncomfortable and everything in between. I developed a lot of compassion.

@JLeslie….I wish it wasn’t true….but it is…this party was for real.

butterflykisses's avatar

@jerv—buying something at Goodwill to donate back? The things at Goodwill are donated already.—

JLeslie's avatar

@DarlingRhadamanthus Disappointing to say the least. I was on a fluther question about a month ago that asked how people get rich and I was shocked at how many people said through being dishonest, acting without integrity, all sorts of negative responses that I did not expect. I hate when negatie stereotypes are reinforced like this. I don’t mean we should not tell the truth and bring these thing to light, I just cringe when people do something to embarrass the group they might be associated with. Makes everyone look bad.

@jerv you said If your party needs a theme, then you really don’t care about being with the people there. I disagree, and find that sentence to be condescending. Just this past Saturday I went to a Christmas party, I don’t think that is much different than a wine tasting party, Birthday Party, Super Bowl party, or pot luck party, they are all themes.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie I think that that just means that you and I have different definition of “theme party” then.

Darwin's avatar

@jerv – What’s wrong with driving a 95 Toyota? It should still be running just fine. My dad’s 96 Toyota is still doing great, although he could afford to buy all new cars for himself and his children and grandchildren.

jerv's avatar

@Darwin Nothing. I merely mention it to show what type of guy my stepdad is.
As for Toyotas, my ‘85 Corolla is doing pretty good except for the leaky sunroof.

Darwin's avatar

As long as there is still enough floorboard that your feet don’t drag on the road, it’s all good.

jerv's avatar

@Darwin How do you think I lost all three of my Golfs?

Darwin's avatar

What do you expect from Volkswagen?

jerv's avatar

@Darwin The rest of the cars were fine. It was just the floorpans that went out on them.

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