I will never stop admiring the ways posh people pretend they’re not posh

Jack Whitehall in classic streetwear at a football match earlier this year (Javier Garcia/Shutterstock)
Jack Whitehall in classic streetwear at a football match earlier this year (Javier Garcia/Shutterstock)

A few years ago, I became enthralled with a blog called Things That Are Called Jazz That Aren’t Jazz. It was as simple as the name suggests: a list of things, such as the Honda Jazz or jazz apples, which had nothing to do with the rich musical art form. After a while, it inspired me to apply the same logic to another word you hear a lot in London, where I live: posh.

There are thousands of things named “posh” that aren’t posh: I doubt Jacob Rees-Mogg has eaten a pack of Tyrell’s Poshcorn, for example. You won’t find Camilla Parker Bowles honking on a Posh Vape before entering the Posh Nails & Beauty salon near me. But once you start analysing it, it becomes harder to know what is genuinely posh anymore. Caviar is obviously still posh, but are olives? They definitely used to be. Is a visit to a spa posh, even if it’s one at a Better Leisure Centre? Is rugby posh?

If so, is women’s rugby more or less posh? Do you have to be posh to use the word “spatchcock”, and related: is it posh to serve a jus rather than a gravy now? Does shopping at Waitrose still automatically make you a posho? If you own a second property, you’re probably posh – but what if you run it as an AirBnB and have to personally declog your guest’s pubic hair from the shower drain once a week?

I don’t think it’s an accident that we don’t know what’s posh anymore. I think that in my lifetime, many educated, liberal-leaning, middle-class people under 45 who’ve inherited some kind of wealth have become so hilariously insecure about their place in society – and about being labelled as “posh” – that they’ve gone a bit wild trying to obfuscate any signs of poshness from the outside world.

This almost exclusively applies to people born into the weird values of the UK, by the way. I secretly love more recent arrivals to the country who express a total confusion as to why anyone would spend a second hiding their own wealth and status, but that’s another matter.

It never used to be hard to identify a posh British person. Their clothes were always a dead giveaway. Even beyond the era of the bowler hat or the debutante ball, Brits for the most part blithely wore their poshness on their sleeve. Up to the 2010s, it was acceptable for students to wear Jack Wills and for Michael Portillo to be a middle-aged style icon. And then something radical happened. Two new hipster style trends – normcore and streetwear – were quickly pounced upon by middle-class-and-above Brits. Why? Because in an age of Tory-imposed austerity, posh people could assimilate in hoodies, trainers and other bland utility wear to escape the fear of being called out for being a posh wanker.

It also let them maintain a veneer of cool in clothes that were safe, bland and uniform (unlike the Eton uniform). Blending in under expensive bucket hats or faintly ironic “dad” trainers, in styles that were radically shorn of excess, provided an ingenious way to literally cloak their privilege. No matter that, in the case of streetwear specifically, it gentrified something that inherently wasn’t about posh people at all. Here was a genius way for posh Brits to be discrete yet also quietly extravagant. Clothes used to cost a lot of money because of the materials and craft involved in making them. Now some streetwear brands cost a fortune because of nothing else but cheeky marketing, errant capitalism and idiotic wealthy people.

Because I live in London, I see this play out a lot. It’s a strange place where – more than ever – upper class people live in areas amongst working class people, dress in awe of them, yet never once nod to the staggering wealth inequality they create by being there. Posh Londoners used to be mocked for making neighbourhoods upmarket and unaffordable, but weirdly a strand of post-gentrification meme-based humour has developed that sadly validates well-off Londoners and their bourgeois habits. Instagram accounts such as @real_housewives_of_clapton and @socks_house_meeting have been feted recently for “skewering” Londoners and their posh choices of clothes, coffee shops and other consumer items.

There’s just one problem: if you’re not posh enough to understand a constant stream of jokes about Torres crisps, or cans of Trello olives, or the vibe in a branch of Aesop, the mockery falls on its face. It becomes an intranet of privilege. Instagram loves the phrase “If you know, you know”, but it can sure feel cold as ice if you’re not affluent enough to actually know what these memes are talking about. I don’t think these accounts are bad, per se. I generally think it’s healthy when people document their areas and the eras they live in. Someone once told me that historians found that as fascism grew in 1930s Germany, people tended to just write about gardening in their diaries. If future historians note that Londoners shared memes about olives as the city gentrified itself into obscurity, then so be it.

Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz at a Dior event in 2022 (Getty)
Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz at a Dior event in 2022 (Getty)

The bigger question for me is not how affluent, middle-class people tend to succeed – that much is surely obvious. I’m forever trying to understand why we give so much time to their petty insecurities in the first place. That anxiety over appearing posh – whether going to a certain bougie coffee shop makes me a cliché, or if owning a Le Creuset casserole dish makes me a member of the landed gentry – is both an inescapable part of modern life yet so painfully dull when you’re on the outside of it all. Are we so divorced from the idea that there’s just something nice about nice things, that they don’t immediately have to be labelled as “posh”? Most people simply work hard and like to treat themselves if they can splash some cash. But to be an anxious modern posh person means having an associated feeling of guilt spending on luxury that most working class people don’t have. It’s why Wetherspoons pubs became so popular with well-to-do Londoners a few years back. Just last week, I had a date with someone who called themselves a “working class scumbag” at 8pm and left the next morning at 9am to go and buy something expensive and pointless because they’d worked their butt off and honestly didn’t care what I or anyone else thought. I supported this view so strongly I may as well have been dressed in a cheerleader outfit, waving pom-poms as we said goodbye.

It’s currently very common for middle-class people, especially those who work in the arts and liberal-leaning industries, to display their pronouns on emails or social media, as a way of creating a more open environment for trans and non-binary people. I’m 100 per cent here for that, but let’s go further: why don’t we encourage more people to identify their privilege as well as their pronouns? I’ll start: Hi, I’m Oli. My mum was from Iran, my dad was from Essex. I was the first person in my family to go to uni, but I went to a private school. I’m pretty certain that makes me posh. Me and my parents still rent, but I do sometimes shop at Waitrose. You tell me: am I posh?