9 Old-Fashioned Ways to Climb the Social Ladder

istock
istock

Dreaming of living life as a richer, more popular version of yourself—and, obviously, as richer and more popular than your rivals—is a timeless endeavor. Every age has had its ruthless social climbers, and the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century—when the gap between the rich and the poor was particularly vast—was no exception. Before reality television or Instagram fame were around to catapult people up the social ladder, here are the often-extreme measures would-be socialites had to resort to. 

1. Seduce someone rich. 

Marriage has always been a great way to weasel your way into the upper class (and for some, still is). Entrap a rich businessman or wealthy widow with your beguiling attentions, then sit back and enjoy the lavish parties for the rest of your life. Before all these pesky notions of “love” and “romance” became commonplace, marriage was seen as a business decision, one in which young people and their parents would jockey for position trying to secure a betrothal to the most socially and economically profitable mate possible.

2. Find a lord who’s fallen on hard times.

At the end of the 19th century, America’s richest class was full of industry titans, whose fortunes had been recently acquired in railroads or manufacturing. They were rolling in dough, but the nouveau riche didn’t always impress old-money aristocrats. British aristocrats, on the other hand, had plenty of social clout but crumbling fortunes. A marriage between, say, a wealthy American steel heiress and a struggling British lord would save the lord’s debt-ridden estate while catapulting the lady into a new level of social sophistication.

3. Cross your fingers and pray a distant relative kicks the bucket before he can have a son. 

While the American moneyed classes could leave their fortunes to whomever they wished, European gentry have always been more restricted. In England, for instance, aristocratic titles and estates still must go to the oldest male descendant (the throne is the exception). The eldest daughter of a lord is SOL once her father dies; his riches will go to the oldest male in his lineage, even if it’s a distant cousin. So if you happen to be of modest means but have a far-flung relative with no male heir, you could stand to inherit his entire fortune, even if you’ve never met the man (extra brownie points if you marry one of his now-displaced daughters). 

4. Fervently hope an older brother dies. 

Fancy aristocratic titles like earl and duke (and the fortunes that accompany them) only go to the oldest son, per a system called primogeniture. All other children are doomed to a life of envy and resentment. However, if some … accident … were to befall all the older sons who stand before him in line, a youngest brother would stand to inherit that grand castle that once seemed so impossibly out of reach. As it happens, disease had a relatively high chance of taking out children in 1900 anyway, so chances were relatively high that your siblings might die young.

5. Make a ton of money. 

The rags-to-riches tale is an American staple. They say that money can’t buy you love, but if enough libraries are named after you, it’s hard for people to argue that you’re one of the riffraff. Andrew Carnegie, for instance, was born a poor weaver’s son in Scotland, but became one of the richest men in America by the end of his life as a steel baron. Before he died, Carnegie gave $350 million to libraries and universities, making himself a household name in the process. 

6. Join the military. 

Becoming an officer in the military could launch you into the respectability of a gentleman. You generally had to have money to become an officer (until the 1870s, British soldiers had to buy their officer’s commission), but a uniform could turn new money into a modicum of upper-class dignity. 

And in the Gilded Age, the U.S. military elite made bank. Officers almost always came from at least the middle class, but even the lowest ranks of officers made good enough money to enjoy the life of the bourgeoisie. You know, if you could leave the frontier for long enough to enjoy it.

7. Find God. 

For Catholic men, becoming a priest was a way to achieve greater status in the community. Climbing the religious career ladder was also a way to climb the social and economic ladders—though with anti-Catholic sentiment running high during the Gilded Age, the gains might not translate as much to the world at large. 

8. Vacation at a fancy resort.

Once upon a time, travelers had little choice but to rub elbows at the local inn, whether they were wealthy merchants or poor pilgrims. However, in the early 20th century, a whole slew of different resort options (at different price points) opened up. The rich and fashionable of the Northeast vacationed in fabulous Newport, while the commoners headed to Coney Island (as if!). Where you could afford to spend your leisure time said more than a little something about your social position. 

9. Fake it. 

Before the Internet made it easy to dig into a stranger’s past, it wasn’t hard to completely fabricate a family history. Oh, you’re a count from a far-flung land? Sure! In 19th century France, for instance, petty nobles often invented titles that were not legally theirs. These became known as titles of courtesy. So, when in doubt, just invent a bold-faced lie and say it confidently while looking down your nose. How could someone dare question a person of such noble heritage as yourself?

Advertisement

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Adorable Products You Can Buy for International Sloth Day

Amazon
Amazon

It’s that time of the year again, folks—the time when we all collectively lose our chill over a slow-moving, two- or three-toed mammal with an adorable squeak and poop that defies physics. That’s right: International Sloth Day is on October 20. Here’s a list of must-have coloring books, onesies, and Christmas sweaters that you can pick up to showcase your love of one of the internet's favorite animals.

1. Cuddly Microwaveable Sloth; $20

Intelex/Amazon

Warm your heart and your body with a plush sloth that doubles as a soothing heating pad. The toy is filled with millet grains and dried French lavender, a combination intended to help you get to sleep easier.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hanging Ceramic Sloth Planter; $18

FattyBee/Amazon

This flower planter pulls double duty, communicating both your love of sloths and your appreciation for plants. And it makes a tasteful piece of hanging home decor, too.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Sloth Coloring Book; $7

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon

Sloths themselves are already works of art, but you’d be forgiven for wanting a few more sloth-related crafts in your life. Now you can make your own masterpiece with this detailed coloring book. All you'll need are some colored pencils and you'll be ready to go.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Farting Sloth Coloring Book; $7

M & L Coloring Books/Amazon

But maybe traditional coloring books aren’t your thing. You’re in luck: Amazon sells a coloring book for the crowd that both loves sloths and laughs a little too much at farts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Sloth Socks; $14

Good Luck Socks/Amazon

These socks are ideal for people who might not want to wear their love of sloths out in the open but are very comfortable showing it off on their ankles.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Sloth Onesie; $40

Tipsy Elves/Amazon

No list of sloth-related products would be complete without a cozy onesie, and this one from Tipsy Elves is perfect for either pajamas or a last-minute Halloween costume. This onesie even comes with zippered pockets and cuddly sloth claws!

Buy it: Amazon

7. Sloth-Themed Ugly Christmas Sweater; $69

Tipsy Elves/Amazon

Why not celebrate the upcoming holiday season with this sloth-themed ugly Christmas sweater? You’re sure to be the hit of any holiday pub crawl or office Christmas party.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Sloth Mug; $10

LOZACH/Amazon

Embrace your inner sloth and declare your lazy feelings along with your morning cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.