A man squints into the distance of an arctic tundra, his fur hat buffeted by wind. A woman fiercely pilots a helicopter. Three hikers charge through dead grass at the summit of a mountain, logos faintly visible on the upper left arms of their knits. “Our mission is to free people from the cold — no matter where they live — and empower them to experience more from life,” Canada Goose states on their Indeed page.
From a cursory glance at the company’s website, the words “Canada Goose” do not bring to mind the manicured lawns and overpriced coffee shops of Princeton. They do not recall a gaggle of college students in fluffy coats, red and blue emblems bobbing. Yet two of the countless Canada Goose owners on this campus sat down with me, attempting to explain why a $1,000 coat had become so important, if it was even important at all.
In the winter of her first year, Anna Yang ’21 received her Canada Goose parka as a gift from her parents. Her previous coat had been stolen on the Street earlier that year. An international student from Vancouver, Yang felt that her parents were overly concerned about her traveling to a foreign East Coast climate. She described her reaction as ambivalent. “I think they bought it more as peace of mind for themselves rather than actual warmth for me,” Yang surmised.
Yang’s friend asked to remain anonymous, her own Canada Goose tossed over the back of a Whitman dining hall chair, a Christmas present from her mom. “I kept calling it a ‘Canadian Goose’, and my mom got annoyed at me,” she said. Neither student had heard of the brand before.
Hunter Moffett ’21, who doesn’t own a Canada Goose because of personal preference, felt that for some students (or their parents) buying a $1,000 coat is “just what you do.” Yet while Yang’s coat practically fell into her lap, Moffett mentioned that other students seek out the coat for its clout.
“Some people buy these things and they don’t think about it. Other people buy them with the intention or the knowing about, like, the aura they give off. The aura of status and wealth,” Moffett explained.
The coat has become a status symbol and perhaps much more than that. Yet upon further probing, many students found it difficult to rationalize Canada Goose’s desirability. Zartosht Ahlers ’19, a Wilson RCA, sees the coat as a demonstration of wealth but also finds the concept altogether silly. “It seems like a strange thing to pride yourself in,” he said. “When someone walks in wearing a Canada Goose jacket, there is definitely a ‘damn right, I’m wearing a Canada Goose jacket.’ But if your parents bought it, what are you showing off here? Like congrats, you were born in a wealthy household.”
Yang agreed that her parents should have done more research, and that for many people, purchasing Canada Goose is “almost careless” compared to other designer or status items. “Like with a sports car, where your intention is to go in and be like, ‘I look cool,’ that’s not the same with Canada Goose,” she said. If she could go back, she wouldn’t buy one.
Some of her personal regret has come from the meme backlash of recent years; as Canada Goose sales have soared, the winter clothing brand has also taken heat over social media.
Selective Facebook groups such as Princeton Memes for Preppy AF Teens and Elitist Memes for Every Ivy League Teen have become popular sites for Canada Goose ridicule. Moffett authored a meme that garnered over 1400 likes in the Princeton meme page before another student reposted it to the Ivy League page. He said it was “light hearted humor.”
“My friend was visiting here from Swarthmore, and it came up in conversation. I was like let’s make a meme, let’s talk about Canada Goose jackets — that will really piss off a lot of people, and other people will really like it,” Moffett explained.
Though Moffett intended his Canada Goose meme as a joke, his criticism of the coat is sincere. “People who are in the student body here at Princeton, who are on financial aid or whose parents just don’t have access to the same kind of wealth that other people have, it just creates a big sense of animosity,” he said of the ubiquitous label.
Memes allow students to subtly express their unease. “By joking about it, and by meme-ifying that conversation, I think it’s a way of making the criticism more productive, more lighthearted,” Ahlers said. “You don’t want to be the person that I’m being right now, like standing on a soap box, yelling at people.”
Yang and her friend see Canada Goose criticism as an inside joke among privileged circles. “Quite frankly, I don’t think lower income students care if you own a Canada Goose or not,” she said. “I think it’s more middle and upper middle class. I’m middle to upper middle class, and I make fun of Canada Goose all the time. I obviously can’t speak for them, but I think they have better things to do.”
She also believes that lower income students don’t participate in Canada Goose discourse because the discourse itself excludes them; in essence, the meme itself is elitist, as the title of the Facebook page where it has risen to prominence, Elitist Memes for Every Ivy League Teen, indicates.
“I think this is an elitist meme, because the majority of people getting tagged on it are people of wealth, and the majority of people doing the tagging are other people of wealth,” she explained.
“It’s almost like the default is everyone is wealthy. And so kind of like whether or not you fit the stereotype of a Princeton student is pretty much still made by the in group,” Yang’s friend added. The two Canada Goose owners do not perceive themselves as victims of the joke; rather, they feel that they are the only ones in on it.
“umich_geese,” the owner of a popular Instagram account that documents Canada Goose sightings at the University of Michigan alongside captions that poke fun at the wealthy, said she receives criticism not because her posts attack Canada Goose owners, but because they give publicity to Canada Goose and potentially demean people who can’t afford them. umich_geese, who chose to remain under her Instagram alias, owns a Canada Goose herself.
In response to Yang’s comment that low income students don’t care, Ahlers, who identifies himself as a low-income student, strongly disagreed. “I think it is very, very silly to pretend that the expression of this insane amount of wealth does not affect the student population,” he said in reaction to the claim that low- income students don’t care. “I think a lot of first-generation students or students from low income backgrounds feel like the Princeton social scene is inaccessible.”
According to The New York Times, more students come from the top one percent at Princeton than the bottom 60 percent. The Canada Goose label represents not only status, but access to the social scene entirely.
“It is striking to me that people who wear Canada Goose jackets are so far removed from reality to not think the memes are hypercritical of their decision to wear those jackets,” Ahlers added.
Kathan Roberts, a senior at Yale and author of the controversial piece “Empathy for the Privileged,” wrote on Canada Goose in the piece precisely because of their controversiality. His piece was widely denounced, memed and posted to the Ivy League meme page. In it, he defended the wealthy at Yale, even though he disagreed with their expressions of wealth, because he thinks personal attacks are unwarranted and hypocritical.
“The jackets are unnecessarily expensive and ostentatious...when someone wears a Canada Goose, it suggests either that the person is deliberately showing off their wealth or that the person doesn't think very much about money,” Roberts said in an email.
However, he also argued that memes — and Canada Goose mockery in general — demonstrate students’ discomfort with the privilege they gain from attending an Ivy League school.
“As I tried to make clear in my opinion piece, it's shocking to see that my peers have lifestyles so vastly different from my own. It's also profoundly disconcerting to realize that this lifestyle may be my future. I think one of the reasons many Yalies are so quick to condemn their wealthy peers is that they, like me, are uncomfortable with the idea of benefiting from social and economic inequality.”
The last line of Roberts’ article reads, “We must master the disdain we feel upon seeing someone in a Canada Goose jacket, for, if we lift up the fur-lined hood, we will find ourselves.”
Ahlers admitted to experiencing this disdain, but because his problems with Canada Goose ownership have to do with more than its price tag. “I imagine if I went on a date, and the girl comes in wearing a Canada Goose jacket, just for me it would be an immediate turn off,” he said. “Not saying I’m inherently against people who wear Canada Goose, but it seems like a bad indication of your character if you’re willing to spend $1,000 on a bad looking jacket, with a negative ethical impact, that doesn’t keep you as warm as other jackets of lower price, just because you want to have that emblem on your shoulder.”
Amna Amin ’21 witnessed the personal impacts of this contempt. “I was sitting with [a friend] one day and we were sitting with her friend, and I don’t think he knew she had a Canada Goose, and he just started going like “I hate people who wear Canada Goose, it’s so bad for environment, it’s so bougie,” she related during the interview with Yang and her friend.
“Wait, are Canada Goose bad for the environment?” Yang’s friend interjected. (PETA has led protests against the clothing brand for its cruelty in killing foxes).
Regardless of whether the memes demonstrate total contempt for the coat or celebrations of wealth, both owners and haters find them funny. As a Canada Goose owner, umich_geese doesn’t know how it looks “from the outside,” but believes opposing students enjoy her posts because they interpret them differently.
“I think that people either can relate to it, and that's why they find it funny, or they don't have a jacket and can't relate to it, and that's why they find it funny, but they’re finding it funny for a whole different reason,” she explained. “Like people who have the jackets and do have a lot of money probably [sic] and can relate to some of the captions probably think its funny because they’re like this is so spot on, like its so ridiculous but it’s true, whereas ppl who can’t relate, they’re like this is funny, because it just looks so terrible.”
Ahlers noted the same phenomenon, comparing it to how both Democrats and Republicans love Stephen Colbert. “Both sides think he’s making fun of the other side.”
Canada Goose’s symbolism, not only of wealth and status but of wealth and status as requirements for acceptance to the larger Princeton social scene, feeds into both its popularity and its disrepute. The intensity to which wealth is ridiculed in these memes, memes often made and shared by Canada Goose owners themselves, also points to a layer of self awareness or perhaps just hypocrisy. Studies show that people believe owning status symbols will help them make friends but look down upon them when it comes to selecting friends for themselves.
So who is to blame for the Canada Goose phenomenon? Parents? Students who choose to buy these jackets, or receive them as gifts? Meme creators? Wealth inequality? Canada Goose itself? Should we just stop talking about it and hope it goes away?
“It’s a ridiculous situation to be in, because it’s just ridiculous that we have cared so much about this, that we’re having this meta conversation. Like you wear Canada Goose, you buy Canada Goose, you make memes about Canada Goose, and now we’re having conversations about the memes about Canada Goose,” Ahlers said.
But maybe what students are so fixated on extends beyond the Canada Goose conversation. The clothes we choose to wear, the places we choose to eat: these messages define us, and stratify Princeton. In turn, they promise us protection from social isolation, and the elusive warmth and comfort of fitting in, a promise that comes at a price far higher than $1,000, a price of setting ourselves apart from others. Though the memes might demonstrate that Princeton students are becoming aware of this problem, no one seems prepared to solve it — yet.