Well-heeled area?

2012-07-24 13:09



Well-heeled area?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence (particularly “well-heeled area”): Orange County, California is a largely well-heeled area and its residents are known to flaunt their wealth.

My comments:

In other words, Orange County is wealthy and you can tell, by observing their extravagance lifestyles that its residents don’t try to hide their wealth.

You may have inferred from “a largely well-heeled area” that women in this place all wear stilettos, or high heels.

If that were the case, you wouldn’t be too far off as a matter of fact.

There are many versions as to the origin of the phrase “well-heeled” (which means rich and well-provided), and the one that I prefer to believe is a simple and straightforward one. At one time in Europe, it is said that only aristocrats wore high heels as a form of fashion. The poor weren’t allowed to wear them – There were even laws prohibiting poor folks from doing the same (according to a Guardian.co.uk article, listed below). Therefore in those days you could readily distinguish the noble and wealthy from the rest of the populace by looking at the high heels those ladies wore.

Presumably the loftier the heels, the higher their status.

A minor point to note is that it is difficult to walk on high heels and therefore it goes without saying that those high heels are to be made strong and secure, i.e. they are high quality shoes. Imelda Marcos is said to have had thousands of those in her wardrobe, and sure enough the Marcos family, the erstwhile first family of the Philippines before people power swept them off their dictatorial perch, were one of the richest of them all.

In short, to be well-heeled is to literally be well to do enough to wear a pair of expensive high heels or, figuratively speaking, to be rich, wealthy, affluent, well off, well provided and well to do in general.

Here are media examples:

1. Well-heeled never had anything to do with people being well shod (so it has no link with down at heel). The original expression came from cock-fighting, and meant to provide one’s bird with good, sharp spurs (considered, it would seem, as a kind of artificial heel) that would inflict the most damage. It was taken over into American usage in frontier days to mean that one was likewise carrying a weapon, but in the more modern sense of a gun (the first recorded use is from a story of Mark Twain’s dated 1866). Only later did it transfer its meaning to being armed with a more powerful weapon still: money.

- Well Heeled, WorldWideWords.com, October 3, 1998.

2. The term “well-heeled” is an American expression that dates back to the mid-1800s. As town cobblers made and repaired shoes, those who could afford the repair service and/or new shoes were considered well-heeled. Well-heeled is the opposite of the American expression “down at the heels” used in the seventeenth century. The heels on the shoes of the poor were often worn down and differed from those of the rich who were able to maintain their shoes or afford new shoes, while the poor could not.

Many people in the United States in the early 1800s went without shoes during the spring and summer and many others wore shoes only on special occasions such as church or school. Some children never even owned shoes until they were teenagers. By the mid-1800s shoe making became more industrialized and wearing shoes year round became more common.

- What does well-heeled mean? WiseGeek.com, undated.

3. Historically, heels have been used as a form of marking power: some 10,000 years ago, tribal chieftains were known to wear stilts at meetings to allow them to look down on the members of their tribe. And, in the 16th century, when European aristocrats adopted the heels favoured by Catherine de Medici, they were outraged when commoners began to wear them too. A law was passed prohibiting anyone below the “rank” of gentry from wearing heels – hence, the expression “well-heeled”.

Even in colonial America, under British rule, a similar law existed: “Citizens of common class … are prohibited from wearing boots or shoes of satin cloth or ribbons, or of bright colours, or shoes with stilted heels. All such footwear is a mark of rank and privilege. Those of lesser class who attempt to emulate those of stations above by their attire will be considered in violation of His Majesty’s laws and subject to fine or jail or both.”

- High heels and their perennial appeal: why pain seems a small price to pay? Guardian.co.uk, July 21, 2012.

4. Amid signs that the economy is cooling, the number of available jobs has decreased from an average of 4.46 million in the two years before the recession began.

Affecting a broad spectrum of the population, young households — ages 35 to 44 — lost a stunning 59% of their wealth during the recession, said the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday.

Beginning households, those headed by a person younger 35 or younger, suffered a 35% drop in net worth to around $35,100. Older Americans, those 65 and older, suffered the least, an estimated 13% over the five years from 2005 to 2010.

The 35- to 44-age group, said Paul Tharp in the New York Post, making up the backbone of the American middle class, is typically struggling with mortgages, tuition bills and rising tax bills. The loss in their wealth is reflected primarily in the drop in value of their homes.

“Lower and middle class income households got especially creamed because their biggest asset is their home, and that got crushed,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Overall, said Mr. Tharp, the average family lost 35% of its household wealth, composed largely of home values and stock investments. The drop in real estate and securities, including other negatives, left the average family holding net assets valued at $66,704 from $102,844 in 2010.

Citing education as a barometer in net household worth, the Census Bureau said those with a graduate or professional degree in 2010 had a net worth of $245,763, those with a bachelor’s degree had a net worth of $142,518 and those with just a high school degree had a net worth of $42,223.

With such statistics one wonders what celebrities such as Sex and the City actress Sarah Jessica Parker, fashion designer Michael Kors and Georgina Chapman, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Olivia Wilde, actress Meryl Streep, singer Aretha Franklin, Solange Knowles, Bravo host Andy Cohen, model Chanel Iman see in President Obama — at least to pay $40,000 to attend an intimate dinner in the West Village home of Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick last Thursday night in Manhattan. As climbing unemployment and tough times were in the news that night, flouting Mr. Obama’s pronouncement last week that the private sector “is doing fine,” 50 very well heeled donors netted Mr. Obama $2 million.

- Obama’s economy, CarolinaCoastOnline.com, June 20, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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