Times Online – What is … ‘Proletarian drift’? By James Harkin

WHO WOULD have imagined that sleek stretch limos could hurtle their way so quickly through the class system? Not very long ago they were associated with the outrageously well heeled. Now they are chiefly populated by gaggles of girls on hen nights, tanked up on cheap wine and greeting passers-by with lewd hand gestures. Stretch limos are an object lesson in the dangers of “proletarian drift”.


Proletarian drift describes the vulgarisation of once luxurious products and services as they slowly trickle their way down to the lower orders. The term was first coined — and promptly abbreviated to prole drift — by Paul Fussell, the curmudgeonly American cultural critic, in his 1983 book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System.

A master of dyspeptic hauteur, Fussell railed against the tendency for any product or innovation to become tainted as soon as it began its descent into the grubby hands of the masses. Somewhat ahead of his time, Fussell argued that the education system was a perfect example of proletarian drift. A generation ago, he pointed out, it was only the rich or the very bright who went to university. With the steady expansion of higher education, however, it shed most of its exclusivity and its cachet.

Ooh, what a fabulous point.

The idea of proletarian drift has moved on since Fussell left it. Among fashion designers who want to retain the cachet of exclusivity, proletarian drift can now be a commercial liability. Much to the chagrin of haute couture, some of the most famous designer brands have quickly been colonised by the lower classes. Burberry, once the preserve of country-estate dwellers, is fast becoming the sine qua non of chav chic.

Oh don’t remind me. They were doing so well when they first got Kate Moss, then all of a sudden they tanked it. I don’t know what went wrong. And Coach, with the logos on everything. Shudder. And Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Logos on everything. It’s absurd.