The 10 New Status Symbols
#10 THE GETAWAY
Scratch the Royal Plantation in Jamaica; banish Club Med from memory. For a more tasteful vacay, 10 days whitewater rafting down Chile’s Futaleufú River (with a personal chef, videographer, and masseuse tagging along to the rustic treehouse cabanas) is good; chartering a crewed yacht for a snorkeling excursion around the Maldives atolls is better. The goal is to travel as far as possible, to an exotic paradise none of your friends (or, more important, your frenemies) has visited. One that exhibits a certain cultural curiosity and bookish pioneering spirit, and employs a four-star French chef who can pinch out a 100-guest wedding feast at the drop of a toque. Futaleufú whitewater rafting with Earth River Expeditions, 800-643-2784, earthriver.com; Maldives charters, 011-960-778-47-69, yachtmaldives.com.
#9 THE DIGS
Nesting fashionably in these parts used to be a straightforward proposition. You had your spacious Wellesley Colonial, decorated to the hilt by Bierly-Drake. And you had your downtown pied-à-terre, for those late nights spent furiously "closing the deal." Now, the car service is purged from speed dial, and well-housed Hublings are hunkering down in a single urban estate. There’s the Ofer Nemirovsky camp, who thumb their nose at the housing crash by hiring David Hacin types to weave multiple townhouses into a sprawling mansion worthy of the Gilded Age. For those who can’t shake off the materialist guilt, the other option is to take on a tragically neglected historic home in Huron Village and hire a rising-star architect like Joseph Kennard (whose work is shown below) to transform it into a LEED Platinum masterpiece. Hacin & Associates, 112 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-426-0077, hacin.com; Joseph Kennard Architects, 326 A St., Boston, 617-292-8989, jkennard.com.
#8 THE OUTERWEAR
Winter coats may be a bare necessity in Boston, but for the image-obsessed, they’re simply another medium for transmitting social position. Forget Marmot, Patagonia, and Mountain Hardwear: strictly for plebes. Today’s urban explorers require Arc’teryx jackets, making Boston the only city on earth where it’s acceptable to wear fleeces well into adulthood. Originally designed for serious mountaineers, the coats sport names like Kappa, Theta, and Stingray. The $500 Alpha SV jacket has a Gore-Tex shell that keeps alpine climbers dry and warm, and city-dwellers, well, really dry and warm. It also has built-in reflectors to help the ski patrol find you—you know, for when you get totally lost traversing the Esplanade. Arc’teryx at REI, 401 Park Dr., Boston, 617-236-0746, rei.com.
#7 THE STAY-AT-HOME KIDS
Back in the day, it was thought best to ship tots off for four years at Miss Hall’s or Exeter (to the tune of $160,000) and then to summer camps in Maine that put an equally deep dent in ye olde trust fund. These days, sending the kids to boarding school is considered downright Dickensian, especially for boomer spawn. Better to enroll them in a neighborhood college-prep day school, where Mom and Dad can keep their fingers (and egos) tangled in every aspect of little Liam and Lola’s life. See: heated debate about preschool admission; mini yoga mats rolled in the hall so they can bend it like Bikram; tykes at the University Club singing pidgin Russian, Spanish, and French (they’ve developed quite an ear for languages, thanks to that crib-side tutor). Buddhaful Kids Yoga, 22 Edmunds Rd., Wellesley, 781-235-9162, buddhafulkids.com; private lessons for infants in Mandarin Chinese, French, and Spanish, Boston Bilingual, 222 N. Main St., Natick, 508-651-2221, bilingual-boston.com.
#6 THE WORKOUT
It’s not enough to suffer through yogalates twice a week. This is the age of Dara Torres–style training, with a different class for each muscle group: Thai massage, resistance bands, medicine balls, and…Russian kettlebells. The last is an all-in-one weight-loss and toning technique, imported from the land of tsars, that’ll have you feeling like an idiot as you swing the teapot-shaped weight up and over your sweaty brow—until you shimmy into that unforgiving maxi dress. But if a socialite meets her target weight and no one’s there to hear about it, do the rock-hard glutes even register? Not so much. The point is not the shapely caboose, it’s one-upping your fellow stair climbers. Can’t make our coffee date because you’ve got a sacred-soul-awakening session with Baron Baptiste? Well, my Thursdays are booked back to back with [insert $200-an-hour cellulite-busting guru]. Boston Kettlebell, 1615 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-803-6982, bostonkettlebell.com.
#5 THE HEALTH PLAN
In a town where the well-schooled take great pains to slip their alma maters into casual conversation ("Wanna have lunch? Like I used to at Harvard…"), the sorry state of the healthcare system has given the status-fixated a new lease on name-dropping. Enter the deluxe insurance plan. A primo PPO bestows bragging rights on a policy-holder that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, before the state mandated coverage for the masses, and skyrocketing costs forced insurers to trim offerings on more-budget-friendly HMOs. As insurance particulars have become fodder for dinner party chitchat, the robustly insured find ways to flaunt their plan’s negligible co-pay rates, all-encompassing prescription coverage, and, most of all, doctor flexibility. "Who’s your dermatologist? Oh, well, I’m sure he takes my Harvard Pilgrim Choice Plus card"—the Cadillac of health plans that’s topped U.S. News and World Report‘s list of the best in the country. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, 617-509-1000, harvardpilgrim.org.
#4 THE VIP CARD
Once upon a time, being a VIP meant you had a regular table at Locke-Ober and a waiter who placed your cocktail order the moment the limo dumped you onto Winter Place. Now, it’s simply not a party until you’re out with the owner of whatever restaurant/lounge/humidor is the see-and-be-seen spot. Not the majority owner, mind you: That carries far too much buzzkill risk. Instead, a minority stake is the way to go. Long the rage on the West Coast, the trend is now hitting Boston, as restaurants like Cambridge’s Hungry Mother boast scores of individual benefactors, and at least half the bar crowd perched around the bar at the South End’s 28 Degrees seem to be whipping out a slick black "investor card" come bill time. Having numerous bankrollers allows a restaurant to enjoy the benefits of a limited-liability company, spreading the risk while letting the investors write off their losses. But really, no one’s looking to win big by plunking down 20 grand on a startup—it’s all about the seduction of preferential treatment, discounted cocktails, and the snob appeal of whispering to your date,
"Don’t worry about the wait; I own this place." "Restaurant Success by the Numbers: A Money-Guy’s Guide to Opening the Next New Hot Spot," by Roger Fields (2007, Ten Speed Press, $17).
#3 THE PET
Pint-size pugs scream early ’90s, and a chocolate Lab is far too L. L. Bean. Today’s "It" pets are regal, slightly exotic breeds that are as aloof as their owners. Rhodesian ridgebacks ﬁt the bill. Also known as African lion hounds (they’re indigenous to the former British colony now known as Zimbabwe), they exhibit a digniﬁed and reserved temperament befitting New England’s elite. A liver-colored nose can send the price of a male puppy into the thousands; training game dogs to forget about tracking prey and learn to sit, stay, and heel commands an even higher price. Fittingly, the one thing custom breeders avoid in Rhodesians is the same trait that proper Bostonians recoil from: lack of pedigree. New England Rhodesian Ridgeback Club,508-690-2049, nerrc.org.
#2 THE RIDE
These are tricky times for image-conscious auto shoppers. On one hand, there’s the cachet that comes from bzzzing around in one of those original, pre-makeover Priuses, whose fugly lines make it clear their owners are in it solely for the enviro-love. On the other, it’s still nice when your ride conveys the message "Man, am I rich," the way it does if you’re among those who bought one of the 69 Bentleys sold in Boston last year. (Fun fact: That’s up from just five in 2003.) Splitting those extremes is the new Lexus LS 600h L, with a six-figure price tag that establishes it as the world’s most expensive hybrid. The 22 mpg it gets on the highway doesn’t quite match the average fuel economy of U.S. vehicles—but hey, who’s counting! As one reviewer put it, the 600h L is the first "politically correct luxury automobile." What more could loaded limousine liberals hope for? Herb Chambers Lexus, 25 Providence Hwy., Sharon, 800-639-5398, herbchamberslexus.com.
AND FINALLY, ONE LAST BIG STATUS SYMBOL