In our increasingly frantic, double-booked and over-complicated lives, it seems even hydrating is causing us anguish. Gone are the days of a leisurely cup of tea. Banished are the simple pleasures of enjoying a cold beverage. Today, it’s all about hydrating on the go, which, much like overhearing your neighbor’s phone conversation, tells us a lot about the strangers who invade our personal space. On crowded sidewalks everywhere, harried passengers, exhausted commuters and serial over-workers are pounding the pavements clutching their drink of choice. Evian is the new Prada; Pelligrino (in a glass bottle) is the new Gucci, and these drinks are branding us all.
    This alarming development recently came to my attention while I was waiting patiently at LaGuardia airport—my destination: a fashion week far, far away. Clasping a plastic bottle of Coke, I became somewhat self-conscious of my beverage choice. “I’m much classier than this,” I wanted to scream. “I just need the caffeine!” Looking around at the many people darting from gate to gate, I began to realize that it’s not only your clothes, haircuts and tattoos that are visually categorizing us; it’s also our beverage choices. More than food, it’s the one thing we carry with us as an accessory that defines our lifestyle and choices simultaneously. As the new age of intelligent consumers refuse to be branded by any one label, beverages are taking over where fashion left off.
    The luxury items pertaining to beverage consumption, for example, include most of the European brands—just as in fashion. Any Italian or French beverage is deemed couture on the drinking scene, with San Pellegrino, Perrier or Evian branding a person as rich enough to afford superfluous items, pretentious enough to want everyone to know it and fashion-conscious enough to care about quality. I myself am a Pelligrino (in a glass bottle) drinker, and to me, it’s the champagne of sparkling water, the Italian leather handbag of the drinking world. And yes, like a good pair of Italian loafers—it’s worth every penny.
    A little down the scale on a more Zara level lies a plethora of waters in plastic bottles—mainstream attempts at water diffusion lines. Much like their fashion counterparts, they provide a convenient, less highbrow way to get hydrated. And for the Nike crowd, the endless brands of vitamin-infused water and energy drinks are the ultimate accessory. Beverages with words like “electrolytes” spur these consumers’ choices. They want a competitive edge, even it’s simply in their beverage of choice. For high-powered execs, the new power suit is not the Chanel hounds-tooth matching two-piece; it’s the Starbucks venti soy latte. Bounding self-importantly through rush-hour traffic, this group of consumers is simply running on caffeine. They are too busy for food (or so they would like to think) and often shout out their well-rehearsed order for all to hear.
    And so the list goes on and on. Evey minute someone is hydrating and hightailing it into a beverage-branding boutique to purchase an item that will tell the world what sort of person they are. And we all, subconsciously (or consciously), sit back and judge in our own special way—something to think about next time you’re clutchin’ and struttin’. — ANGELA GILLTRAP