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

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By Darryl Henderson

People have gone to incredible lengths to boost their perceived social status for as long as human hierarchies have existed, producing some bizarre trends. For example, here are 18 things that were historically considered status symbols.

Foot Binding

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Foot binding was common in China from the 10th century until the early 1900s. It was an excruciatingly painful process that involved breaking a five-year-old’s feet and binding them together, as it was believed that men found it attractive. In reality, it’s super gross, so it didn’t last long.

Blackened Teeth

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Society has well and truly taken a U-turn on the 19th-century practice of purposely blackening teeth to show off wealth. Victorian times were characterized by bizarre steps to prove one’s worth, in this case, making one’s teeth look rotten to show that one could afford sugar, a premium substance at the time. The irony!

The Color Purple

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While purple may be universally worn in modern times, 1000 years ago, it was the subject of gatekeeping by the social elite. As the BBC reports, the color signified power, with rules in place to determine who could wear it. The dye wasn’t easy to source, hence why it was so sought after!


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With global exportation, sourcing exotic fruits and vegetables isn’t too difficult these days, but in 16th-century England, it wasn’t so simple. Fruits such as pineapples were symbolized as the food of the elite, with many stately homes carving pineapples into the masonry and on décor items like chandeliers.

A Resident Hermit

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During the 17th century, it became fashionable for estate owners in Britain to hire a hermit, defined by Merriam-Webster as one that retires from society to live in solitude, to live on their grounds. Hermits were expected to dress the part and mooch around with sadness in their eyes. Imagine hiring one today!

Pointy Shoes

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Some still wear pointy shoes, but they are tame in comparison to the footwear worn in the 14th and 15th centuries. The longer the point, known as a poulaine, the more expensive the shoe, with some points measuring five inches long. Frankly, it sounds seriously impractical.

A Roman Nose

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In Ancient Rome, the Roman nose, a nose with a prominent curved bridge, was seen as a sign of power and authority. Many emperors and military leaders requested that the artists making their sculptures emphasize the curvature of their noses, yet today, people are self-conscious about such features.

Big Bellies

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Similarly to gout, in medieval times, when food was scarce, having a large belly was regarded as a status symbol for the rich. It meant that you had more than enough to survive, which was an attractive prospect. Nowadays, anyone can have a big belly.


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The Netherlands has always been associated with tulips, but at one point, the flower crippled the country’s economy. In the 17th century, tulips were all the rage, with a single bulb costing a fortune. Tulip bulbs ended up serving as the nation’s stock exchange, but once the market eventually crashed, national finances were scarce.


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Contracting gout, which the NIH describes as symptoms of intense joint pain, swelling, and flares of heat, was regarded as a status symbol in the 19th century. This is because gout is brought on by the overconsumption of rich foods, such as port and red meat, symbolizing wealth. That’s pretty ridiculous!

Board Games

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Humans have always enjoyed passing the time with a game or two, even as far back as the Ancient Romans. Board games became so popular among the political elite that they were used as diplomatic gifts to signify status. Unfortunately, they’ve not been as popular ever since video games were invented.


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Sugar was a huge business in 15th-century Britain, and naval forces often hijacked other countries’ ships to obtain it. It became normal for royalty and nobility to flaunt their excessive piles of sugar, serving huge quantities of it to visiting guests. Only now do we realize how awful it is for us!

Adult’s Shoes for Children


In Ancient Rome, it was a sign of true status if a child was kitted out with an exact child-sized replica of their father’s military shoes. This fad was reserved for children who were not yet at walking age, which made it all the more bizarre. Like, what were they thinking!?

Pet Squirrels 

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By the mid-1700s, squirrels were seen as the number one pet of the upper classes and were being sold in pet shops accompanied by literature telling you how to look after them. They soon became less fashionable once people realized that you couldn’t effectively train a squirrel; they’re just too feral!

Modifying Baby Skulls 

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Around 45,000 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for the skulls of young babies to be modified into unnatural shapes to show off their family’s status. It was believed that having a long, ‘erect’ head would entrench political power in the young child. Unsurprisingly, this shocking trend soon died out.

Ruff Collars

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Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, both people wore ruff collars to symbolize their nobility and status, which seems pretty bizarre these days! As noted by Britannica, ruff collars were a sign of aristocracy and can be spotted in most regal portraits painted at the time. Thank goodness they fell out of fashion!

Large Foreheads

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Throughout the Renaissance, women with large foreheads were seen as possessing beauty and intelligence. The Queen of England was a fan of the look and happened to be regarded as the uppermost fashion influencer of the time. This led many upper-class ladies to pluck their hair to make their foreheads look even bigger. 

X-Ray Pictures

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Lastly, before X-rays became commonplace in medical practice, they were the subject of much intrigue. Many social elitists had X-ray images of their hands taken and displayed them in their homes for visitors to see. Of course, they’d ensure they didn’t take jewelry off before having the pictures taken, further flaunting their wealth!

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