When thousands of angry protesters stormed April's G-20 summit in London, vandalizing the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland and decrying the unfairness of capitalism, they took up the angry chant "No more money!" This palpable populist rage is understandablethe gears of the global economy have ground to a halt; no one has any disposable income; at home, conspicuous consumption is an offense punishable by stoning, or at least a stern reprimand from Congress.
One problem, though: Those things aren't entirely true. Despite the downturn, a moneyed class of people are still buying luxury goodsand they're doing it by the mini Cooperload. While Wall Street's hedge-funders have become whipping boys, those who have mastered the art of inconspicuous consumption are living as large as ever. But they're not easy to spot, resembling, as they do, Trotskyite grad studentsa look that doesn't come cheap: $300 Acne jeans, $175 hand-stitched guayabera shirt, $150 mussed haircut with beard trim (not too short, please). This brand of consumerism escapes condemnationit's okay to be a capitalist pig as long as you're the sort who roots around in your organic garden for truffles.
As their ranks have swollen, these small-batch big spenders and upscale, down-market aesthetes have come to constitute a scruffy-yet-well-off social stratum best described as the poorgeoisie. And while their sure-but-stealthy ascendance has neatly coincided with the fall of the ruling asshole class, the poorgeois habit of disguising old-fashioned "Ooh I want that" retail therapy in artfully rumpled, stick-it-to-the-Man clothes is as conventional as the Man himself.
"If people find the culture loathsome, they solve the problem by just buying different stuff. Even in the sixties, products were sold as a way of dealing with the anomie of consumer societythings like Volkswagens that were seen as nonconformist," says Thomas Frank, who's written about alternative marketing in The Conquest of Cool and about modern conservatism in The Wrecking Crew. "There will always be consumerism as a form of rebellion against consumerism."
Loosely translated: Just because the cultural moment is dominated by bloodlust for the heads of AIG executives doesn't mean public sentiment has turned against the accumulation of material possessionsit's just that the material in question is likely to be double-brushed flannel. And that's the advantage guys who look like Devendra Banhart have over guys who look like Patrick Bateman: The poorgeois are in cultural camouflage, blending in perfectly with a landscape full of genuine privation. The fact that their accoutrements may cost more than many suits is their secret pride.
Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli both wear black shirts and jeansas well as brown beardsand carry BlackBerry Bolds. They opened Frankies 457 Spuntino, their first down-home, rustic Italian restaurant, in Brooklyn in 2004; five years and three outposts later, they are surveying what will soon be the kitchen of their newest eatery. Dishing out locally raised, grass-fed pork brasciole and hand-rolled spaetzle is their business, and business is good.