“Classy” is this term where you know it when you see it, but it’s difficult to define, let alone attain. And for most of us, being considered classy is one of the highest compliments you can receive. But why? A quick “classy woman” Google search brought up articles like “How to Spot a Classy Lady (Men, Take Notice)”, “The Classy Girl’s Guide to Be More Attractive to Men”, “Classy not Trashy”, etc.
**Side Opinion: men should not be this important to us. I mean really. Women have got to stop being so concerned with men and their opinions. Class is so much more than what other people think of you.** But what exactly is it? Definitions from Merriam-Webster gave the incredibly specific: “having or reflecting high standards of personal behavior.” Helpful. The beauty of class lies in the fact that it seems unattainable, that it can’t be defined and is therefore only something to strive for but never truly become. I personally think that’s untrue, and the evolution of class supports my statement. So let’s take it all the way back to the beginning - 1891. *cue laugh track* ‘Classy’ is a spinoff of ‘class’, which Oxford Dictionary says is derived from the Latin word for ‘fleet’ or ‘division.’ **Side note - saying that something is classy is actually quite classist, as it was reserved as a descriptor for “the classes” (the rich and educated) vs. “the masses” (everyone else).** ‘Ghetto’ and ‘trashy’ are generally used to describe someone or something which is lower class, whereas ‘classy’ is the opposite. The word wasn’t common in the United States until 1901, on Broadway in W. Clyde Fitch’s The Climbers, a story about American socialites at the dawn of the 20th century. In the popular - and damning - novel The Metropolis by Upton Sinclair about the lifestyles of New York’s rich and obnoxious, the aristocrats are described as “exceedingly classy.” From then on, classy began appearing in advertisements, and there was a significant increase in the usage from 1910 to 1920. Nothing changed for awhile after that; even a 1989 New York Times headline says “Suddenly, Pork Rinds are Classy Crunch” because George H. W. Bush, someone of authority with perceived sophistication, happened to enjoy pork rinds.
A 90s SoCal lifestyle magazine that targeted the average affluent businessman featured ads seeking - or posted from - classy women. From the 90s onward, the definition of class starts getting wishy-washy. As language changes with the people, it began to be used ironically, to be sarcastic, and in that, I believe, is where it lost its meaning. However, the word has retained its power in most crowds, even through Donald Trump’s overuse (seriously just Google “Trump classy” and laugh) and the general attitude of a society where the language is sarcasm.
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