Is It Rude To Playfully Ask If A Designer Brand Is Real?

When it comes to “fake” designer bags and jewelry, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a knockoff and the genuine article.

If you’re wearing or carrying a superfake (or you’re walking around with an authentic piece), curious minds may want to know: Is that Hermès bag the real deal, or just a really good dupe? (Another way of putting the question, using the Hermès example: Did you spend $10,000 or $200 for the fake?)

This scenario comes from a reader who wrote in to our etiquette inbox after she was asked that very question about a bracelet she was wearing. Here’s what she wrote to us:

I was recently at a close friend’s birthday, wearing a Cartier love bracelet dupe. At some point in the evening, a friend of the birthday girl leaned over and playfully asked, “Is that real?” It was said in a friendly way, but we don’t know each other like that, and I felt that there was some social decorum that was ignored; you shouldn’t ask things that call into question someone’s income and how much they can spend. It’s just distasteful, in my opinion, but I wanted to see what an etiquette expert thought.

So, when you’re chatting with someone over wine at a birthday dinner, is it rude and overly chummy to inquire “Is that real?” Or is it a socially acceptable thing to ask? We asked Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, to weigh in. See below for her complete answer, lightly edited for clarity.

“In social interactions, the way we frame our questions can significantly impact how they’re perceived. When it comes to asking ‘Is it real?’ about a piece of designer jewelry, context and intent play crucial roles in determining whether the question is acceptable or rude.

There are very few circumstances where asking someone if their designer jewelry is real might be deemed acceptable. One such situation could be among close friends or family members, where there is a shared understanding and comfort level that allows for such inquiries without offense. However, even in this context, the manner in which the question is asked is vital. A respectful, non-accusatory tone is essential. For example, phrasing the question as ‘That piece is stunning! Is it a genuine [designer]?’ is far more considerate than a blunt ‘Is that real?’

Asking someone if their jewelry is real can be seen as intrusive and disrespectful for several reasons:

  1. Implication of doubt: The question implies skepticism about the person’s ability to afford genuine designer items, which can be offensive and embarrassing.
  2. Privacy invasion: People’s financial situations and spending choices are private matters. Such a question intrudes upon their personal boundaries.
  3. Social sensitivity: Jewelry often has sentimental value, and questioning its authenticity might undermine the emotional significance it holds for the wearer.

These factors combine to make the question feel like a judgment rather than a simple inquiry, leading to potential hurt feelings and awkwardness.

If someone does ask you ‘Is that real?’ there are a couple of ways to handle the situation gracefully, depending on your comfort level and the context:

  1. Polite deflection: You can choose to answer vaguely: ‘It’s a special piece to me.’ This acknowledges the compliment without delving into details.
  2. Honest but brief: If you feel comfortable, a simple ‘Yes, it is,’ or ‘No, it’s a really good replica,’ can suffice, followed by steering the conversation towards a different topic.

By being mindful of our words and their impact, we can navigate such delicate questions with grace and kindness, ensuring our conversations remain pleasant and respectful.”

When it comes to etiquette columns, the questions and advice tend to be a bit stuffy: Who really cares what fork you use at dinner? But that’s not the case here. How To Be Decent will cover topics that actually affect people, like “Should you recline on a plane?” and “How do I tell my neighbors I can hear them having sex?” Got a question about a thorny interpersonal issue you’re having? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get it answered.


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