As the heart of winter has approached the Northeast, students have witnessed an unprecedented migration of the Canada Goose to the snow-covered grounds of Wesleyan. Like most trends on campus, these Canada Geese have not escaped the infamous Wesleyan social critique. Since the post-Winter Break return to campus, Wesleyan’s Yik Yak has been aflutter with commentary about the rise of the Canada Goose coat on campus.
Some Canada-Goose-themed Yaks have included: “They wear the jacket, drink Starbucks, use MacBooks and iPhones, and still complain that tuition is too high,” “Pretty sure one sleeve of that Canada Goose jacket costs more than my car,” “The number of Canada Goose jackets I see on campus on a daily basis could eliminate global hunger,” and “I hate people who walk around in Canada Goose jackets and think they’re the shit.”
Additionally Urban Dictionary has even created and defined the noun “goosebag” as “a self-centered individual, either male or female, not on an expedition to the extreme climates of the north and/or south poles, who demonstrates their low level of intellect by purchasing and donning a $500+ jacket to follow a ridiculous (short-lived) trend, without taking into consideration how moronic they appear.”
I would argue that the labeling of students based on the brand of their coat is partially due to the effects of the fundamental attribution error. According to Psychology Today, the fundamental attribution error, a cognitive bias, “describes the tendency to overestimate the effect of disposition or personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining social behavior.” In this case, it means assigning definitive characteristics such as snobbery, entitlement, materialism or vanity to explain the Canada Goose owners’ coat choice, without accounting for possible situational factors as an explanation for their preferred winter gear. Perhaps this coat was a special gift from their Grandma or a hand-me-down from a family friend. How could we know, just by looking, whether or not they won a free Canada Goose jacket in a radio show contest? Without all the information, can we really be fair judges?
In the cold New England winters, coats in general fulfill not a consumerist desire, but the survival necessity of warmth. While $700 is undeniably a hefty price for an article of clothing, as consumers in a free market there is nothing morally wrong on an economic level about choosing to spend a certain amount of money on a coat.
What makes choosing to spend $700 on a coat, or asking for a coat for a birthday or Christmas, any different than spending an equal amount on a less necessary item like an Xbox and some video games, an iPhone 6+, or a booze-cruise with your high school friends? Why has our community specifically chosen to rebrand the circular Canada Goose label as a scarlet letter that symbolizes everything wrong with consumer culture? There are endless ways, besides wearing Canada Goose coats, in which students in our community may choose to distinguish themselves by spending money on things that others would or could not. As members of a commodity culture—albeit one in a society with an egregiously large wealth gap—we have a right to spend money in a way that we deem personally acceptable.
While $700 does seem like an extreme price for a winter jacket, perhaps the Canada Goose brand has value beyond its label name. Canada Goose Inc. is a family-owned corporation started by a man who immigrated to Canada in the early ’50s; all of the company’s clothing is still made in Canada. The company also has an impressively liberal and earth-conscious business model. It partners with The Conservation Alliance and Polar Bears International, the former a conservationist group for North American wilderness and the latter a crucial protector of the dwindling polar bear populations.
So yes, you could save three or four hundred dollars and buy a coat from stores like H&M or Wal-Mart, both notorious for scandals involving unethical labor practices, but isn’t the sacrifice of human rights also a high price to pay? While making a political statement may not be a consumer’s intention when purchasing a Canada Goose coat, wearers nonetheless support a company that seems to emphasize progressive values.
Conversely, would it be fair to assess someone’s personality on the basis of the inexpensiveness of his or her coat? No, of course not, and if people Yakked about how inexpensive a popular coat was, Wesleyan would rightfully be up in arms. An institution that encourages diversity means being inclusive and open-minded about people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, including those who come from wealthier families. By stigmatizing people based on their winter jacket’s price tag, whether it be $1000 or $60, we are shaming members of our community. As the weather warms and the Canada Goose coats begin to migrate back to closets, let’s make an effort to focus less on the price of someone’s outerwear and more on the social cost of judging someone based on their clothing.
Solomon is a member of the Class of 2018.