According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “classy” is defined as the following:
a: elegant, stylish
b: having or reflecting high standards of personal behavior
c: admirably skillful and graceful
“Classy” is usually meant to be a compliment. When people refer to a person as classy, it usually means they’re wearing something fashionable and look conservatively nice, or that they have some form of high moral standards. Sometimes, it’s regarding a particular outfit–for example, “the dress she wore to the gala made her look classy.” Other times, it’s regarding a situation, such as “he dealt with his poker loss in a classy way without complaint or aggravation.” Often, people use it to refer to people they find socially acceptable in both behavior and appearance, wherein lies my problem with the word.
And then comes the idea of being “not classy” or “classless.” When you’re labeled not classy, it means that you’re somehow not of a high moral standard or you are, as Urban Dictionary puts it, “crude or misgusting [sic] or dirty or depressing.” So, according to the consensus of the Internet users of UD, being classy involves avoiding things other people find disgusting, unclean or saddening. Whether it’s to describe a particular action, such as getting trashed at a party, or the way a person is dressed, like wearing short shorts to a funeral, the adjective often used is “classless.”
Considering something or somebody to be classy is putting a definitive label on what society has deemed good versus bad. Whether it’s to describe a particular action, such as getting trashed at a party, or the way a person is dressed, like wearing short shorts to a funeral, the word often used for something inappropriate. However, it’s used most of the time for one particular group of people: women.
Believe me, I think there are plenty of things that I could consider unacceptable in behavior, such as kicking somebody in the face or blatantly talking about sex in front of somebody’s grandparents in order to make them uncomfortable (I’ve seen both happen). But these are not the ways in which “classy” vs. “classless” are typically used, particularly when referring to young women.
We already know that women are frequently told they should dress a certain way in the office in order to gain or lose respect (“dressing classy” is the description one of my high school counselors used in regard to skirt length for interviews), whereas men have significantly less trouble with this standard. In general, females are more likely to have their clothing commented on and scrutinized by people. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard people discuss a woman’s cleavage or how she accidentally had a visible bra strap, then go on to question just what the hell she thought she was going, I would have enough money to buy myself a whole nunnery closet of habits to appease the Classy Masses.
You know how you’re supposed to never discuss your sexual past because it’s not classy, particularly if you have a higher “than usual” number of partners? That’s a big ol’ way to keep women in the Classy Box, where they are supposed to quietly avoid making anybody that aware of the fact that they’re sexual beings with actual needs–as opposed to simply fulfilling others’–and that they can make choices with their own bodies regardless of how others feel about them.
I remember hearing friends of mind in college calling a girl “classless” because she was drunk and made out with a guy at a bar. They knew the guy, too, but was he the classless one? Of course not, because women are the ones who are supposedly responsible for keeping things in check; after all, men simply can’t resist us when they’re drunk, and that’s not their collective fault! It didn’t matter that the male wound up sleeping with somebody else that evening; all that mattered was the girl had drunkenly kissed somebody in public, and that made her some horrible harlot. A woman of ill-repute. Classless.
Yes, men do get called classy. For example, The Most Interesting Man In The World or James Bond. But how often do men get referred to as “not classy” besides in period pieces and occasionally on television shows where the rich are portrayed as people perpetually stuck in the 18th century? Very seldom. But those two examples of “classy men”? They’re both supposed to be sexually promiscuous womanizers. Which is the opposite of what women are when they’re considered “classy.” Hm.
In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard a male I knew being referred to as “not classy,” but I can tell you when the last time I heard a woman say it about another woman, because it literally happened as I was writing this in a library at my old university (which I’m presently visiting).
Oddly enough, one young woman sitting across the room from me was talking to her friend nearby where I’m sitting, talking about some acquaintance’s Halloween costume. I wish it were some fantastic coincidence that was the universe subtly informing me I made a good choice by writing this article, but sadly, I think it’s more just the fact that this is a commonly used term to talk shit about people in a pseudo-“classy” manner. It went something like this (albeit with more swearing and “like”s and “ugh,” as I am in Orange County):
Girl 1: She’s going as a slutty zebra. A slutty fucking zebra.
Girl 2: Gross. Did you see it?
Girl 1: It’s basically a striped bra and American Apparel leggings. And little heels, because she’s just so fucking classy.
Girl 2: Again, gross. Her fat boobs are going to fall out, buuut I’m assuming that’s intentional so…yeah.
Girl 1: What are you being?
Girl 2: Something not slutty, unlike the rest of [sorority name]. Mike says he’d be pissed if I did, anyway.
Girl 2: Audrey Hepburn? (Note: I wish I were making this up.)
Girl 1: Sexy!
Not only do I feel sad transcribing a conversation that literally sounded like it was written for Gossip Girl or 90210, I also feel saddened by the entire content of the brief snippet of conversation I overheard until I politely cleared my throat to get the point across that it’s a library and some people are actually doing work. But I digress.
First, I feel sad for whomever the female they’re making fun of is, because it sounds like she’s really comfortable with her body and that’s fine. In all seriousness, who cares what she’s wearing? It’s Halloween, i.e. the best holiday of the year.
Second, I’m sad that they used the word “classy” in literally the exact way I’ve been ranting about, which was moderately convenient, but mostly just incredibly disappointing. I went to a fairly liberal college and always hope that it’ll continue increasing its progressiveness, so the fact that it’s clearly still got these types of mindsets bums me out.
Third, it sounds like some guy named “Mike” has any bearing on what Girl #2 wears for Halloween. Having a significant other control or particularly influence what I wear in any way besides being supportive is not alright with me. It’s great if they like an outfit or think one looks better than another; it’s an entirely different thing if he or she would be “pissed” at me for wearing something “slutty.” But I type this as I’m wearing a sheer shirt and a leotard and a shirt, so I suppose I’m a little biased.
Yes, we all consider some things appropriate versus inappropriate, but the way that “classy” has been used in recent years has primarily been directed towards women who don’t fit into what society’s norm tells us to be.
So whether you, my lovelies Glossers, wish to be freak in the streets, bed and everywhere in between by wearing what you want and existing the way you do, don’t let anybody tell you you’re not “classy enough.” If I had to define “classiness,” I’d consider it simply being kind to others and authentic with oneself; to me, that is the ultimate form of sophistication.
Pics via someecards, Dos Equis and Vogue.