9 ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious

If you’ve ever met a highly pretentious person then you know that it’s not a pleasant experience. 

But there’s a big difference between a pretentious person and somebody who’s sophisticated. 

If you know what to look out for you can quickly differentiate between a person who’s full of themselves and somebody who’s genuinely sophisticated. 

1) Pretentious people hog attention, sophisticated folks don’t

Pretentious people hog attention and want the spotlight on them at all times. 

Did you see their new Gucci jacket? Are you even aware that their new handbag is genuine Chanel?

Did you happen to know that they studied at the Sorbonne and have a villa in Tuscany that they occasionally holiday in?

Don’t worry:

If you’re not aware they’ll make sure you are well informed as soon as possible!

The sophisticated individual, by contrast, doesn’t need a lot of attention or limelight. 

They are sure of their own value, tastes and life. They generally would actually prefer not to be publicly feted and celebrated, because they’re too busy actually having a distinguished and interesting life. 

2) Pretentious individuals care about surface, sophisticated people crave depth

This brings up the next point about the best ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious, surface versus depth. 

The pretentious individual may seek an attractive partner with an advanced degree who will wow everyone in a room when they enter. 

The sophisticated individual wants somebody they can discuss their interests with and kiss and love for real, regardless of what the outside world thinks. 

Having a partner you don’t really like and kissing them is like taking communion at church when you’re just going through the motions and don’t really believe. 

Imagine the difference when you’re truly into it and believe in this love. 

Sophistication has no room for pretending, but pretentiousness has plenty. 

3) Pretentiousness clings to labels, sophistication avoids them

Another of the best ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious is looking at the use of labels. 

Pretentious people love labels, acronyms, titles, markers of status. 

To be sure, sophisticated individuals may prefer to be addressed by their professional title or greeted politely. 

But the pretentious person is not about being classy or tasteful, they are about having people recognize and praise them for their accomplishments and title. 

“That’s Dr. Harrison, actually,” the pretentious Ph. D. student adds when called “Mr. Harrison” while checking in at the Sheraton. 

The sophisticated individual just smiles when addressed without their full title. 

They’re busy working on a book about the link between Mayan archaeology and astronomy and don’t really have mental space or the desire to get worried about showing off their status to strangers.

4) Pretentious people prize quantity, sophisticated individuals prioritize quality

One of the worst things about pretentiousness is that it’s actively encouraged and promoted by much of popular culture and the corporate world. 

Why? Simple: it’s profitable. 

Everyone can wear fast fashion and look like a movie star. 

Everyone can have a hot partner and get looks when they go to a nightclub. 

Everyone can be a brilliant star who starts livestreaming and changes the world with their epic personality.

You have how many likes? Damn…

Sophisticated people don’t really care how many likes they have. They’d rather make one post that’s thoughtful and deeply powerful than dash off 100 photos or posts just to get clicks. 

The same pattern holds for every other area of their life. 

5) Pretentious folks want the same thing as everyone else, sophisticated people have their own tastes and goals 

Relating to the last point, pretentious people tend to think and feel what they’re told to think and feel. 

They chase that rainbow but instead of ending up with a pot of gold, they end up with a potbelly and a mortgage that’s kicking their ass.

Their tastes are shaped in boardrooms they’ll never set foot in and many pretentious people don’t realize they’re stuck in a socially engineered matrix. 

As the rapper Hospin puts it in his “Fly:”

“They feed us these ideas and then we place ’em in our hearts to sit… See when this happens we take our health, wealth, lives and just hand them off 

“Thinking that we did this from organic thoughts.”

The sophisticated person is still a member of society and may be part of the “System” in many ways. 

But he or she never lets anybody define their tastes or what they value. They’re savvy to tastemaking and the kind of social engineering that makes trends and norms. 

They make up their own mind about how they live their life and what they believe and care about. 

If everyone is suddenly wearing Nikes and smoking Marlboros, they’re wearing leather sandals and debating Plato with a health smoothie while living off the grid in the desert.

6) Pretentiousness is cynical and depressing, sophistication is idealistic and uplifting

When you meet a pretentious person it’s exhausting and depressing. 

They are constantly exhibiting attention-seeking behavior and trying their best to prove their value and greatness. 

It’s like you feel compelled to recognize them as a special person or attend to them, when in reality the lack of authenticity is exhausting. 

Sophistication, by contrast, is inspiring. 

When you meet somebody who’s highly eloquent, stylish and sure of themselves, it uplifts you and helps you want to be a better person.

It’s the same with behavior:

A sophisticated person doesn’t brag or try to make you impressed with them, and they may be quite helpful and gracious despite being clearly refined and of discerning taste.

A pretentious person, by contrast, is all about themselves and trying to pretend to be something they’re not. Even when they are something, such as a lawyer, handsome or rich, they make such a show of it that they end up looking worse than many people who are technically below them in social station. 

7) Pretentious people follow trends, sophisticated people create trends

I touched on this earlier, but it’s worth emphasizing because it’s extremely key. 

One of the most effective ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious is to separate trendsetters from trendmakers. 

There’s nothing wrong with seeing a trend you like and getting into it, but it should at least be your own choice and your own passion to do so. 

Pretentious people will rock out to music they hate just because “cool” and trendy people like it. 

They’ll take drugs they aren’t into because other people they admire rave about them. 

Sophisticated people don’t follow trends, they create them. 

The difference-making factor here is that sophisticated people have their own life philosophy and their own genuine approach to life. 

They aren’t trying to be part or be different from anyone. They’re just being them, and that comes across in every statement and action. 

8) Pretentious people want to be seen, sophisticated people want to see 

Another of the crucial ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious is to look at their varying focuses.

Take an art show as an example. It’s been the talk of the town since it will feature the work of a renowned artist who rarely exhibits. Some of this artist’s most priceless and inspiring work will be on display and everyone who loves art will be there.

A pretentious individual shows up dressed in the trendiest brands with the best looking arm candy on their arm possible. 

They make sure to get in photos next to famous people that will show up the next day on Instagram. 

They make sure to drop a tweet about where they are, take a few selfies and be seen next to the famous artworks. 

The sophisticated individual, by contrast, shows up at the art gallery with the main intention of actually enjoying and seeing the art. 

Sure, they know it’s famous and this is also a social event, and they enjoy a bit of chat. 

But their focus is to actually experience the event and see what this art is about up close. They don’t particularly care if they’re seen and they don’t have an interest in being seen next to famous people. They want to actually experience and appreciate the event. 

9) Pretentious people seek validation, sophisticated people provide it

When it comes to the fundamental ways to tell the difference between being sophisticated and being pretentious, look at how they seek or give validation. 

Pretentious people are basically seeking validation and praise. They want to be seen as special, great and gifted. 

Sophisticated people don’t need that external praise, and even when they get it, it matters far less to them than their own experiences and relationships. 

This is really the fundamental divide between a pretentious and a sophisticated person. 

They may both speak eloquently, dress well, walk with style and appreciate the finer things of life. 

But the pretentious person does it to get more attention, sex, money and power. 

The sophisticated person lives life that way because they value it and because they want to also provide value and validation to the lives of others, not just themselves. 

A touch of class

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit intellectual, stylish and sophisticated. 

In fact, I’d say our world could use a little more of it!

The problem occurs when people become pretentious, showing off their intelligence, wealth and status to gain points, seduce and impress. 

Pretentiousness is a sad trait, and we all fall into it occasionally. 

The cure is authenticity and giving ego a rest. 

Adding a touch of class isn’t about being better than anyone, it’s about living at the highest standard for yourself and those around you. 

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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