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New Forms of The Litmus Test &
How We Judge Who We Want to Talk to

Words by Lily Moskowitz

“Sun or moon?”

“It’s my Leo rising.”

Walking down Seventh Street in the East Village, two girls in tall black boots and big earrings step side by side. The cadence of their gaits is synchronized, their arms swinging in unison. There is something charged, exciting, generative, in the air between
them– their nerves flutter and flurry out as if they are meeting for the first time. Overhearing their interaction, it became clear that the two were vetting one another, each assessing the other’s character based upon the nuance of their astrological birth charts.

Zodiac signs make up one of many iterations of the modern litmus test. Merriam Webster defines the litmus as a test “in which a single factor (such as attitude, event, or fact) is decisive” – the litmus is a way to pass quick initial judgments on one’s personality, interests, economic status, or sociopolitical alignments. Measuring compatibility in a digital world becomes increasingly difficult, as online personas often obscure the ability to gauge a sense of a person’s true self. While not always entirely accurate, the litmus test offers an effective method to navigate the supersaturation of the social scene: to choose who we find interesting enough to strike up conversation with, to discern who subscribes to similar values as our own, to filter through the social network for people who hold the potential of friend, collaborator, or partner.

Thankfully, ENVY is here to help you avoid major red flags.

Presenting: a compendium of contemporary litmus tests. 


Whether or not someone is addicted to caffeine is a litmus of its own. However, the politics of one’s coffee order reveals the complex layers of a person’s tastes. Oat milk or almond? Soy or skim? Coconut or cashew? Or are you perhaps pretentious enough to take your latte with the milk of macadamia nut, which is apparently a thing? There are endless Twitter memes about those who take their coffee black, but what about the people who prefer their caffeine to taste like pure sugar? Next time you take a first date to the café, consider what their beverage choice says about who they are or who they want to be. This goes for alcohol as well: note the go-to drink of that stranger you’ve met at the bar. A G&T girl stakes no claim to the sophistication of a Cosmopolitan woman, in the same way that a matcha lover and a vanilla latte loyalist hold starkly different connotations. And if he is drinking a Vodka Redbull… escape while you still can.


8th Street publications just released a zine exclusively analyzing the value and messaging behind different brands of cigarettes. Tobacco consumption is not cute, but if you are going to smoke you might as well derive some sense of identity from the nicotine that so enslaves you. Hand-rolled cigarettes, for example,  convey an anarchist temperament and an anti-establishment disposition (sexy). Acoustic vs. electric is its own argument, as vaping requires a deep-rooted level of psychoanalysis (Elf Bar consumers, seek help immediately). Newport Menthols are for the girls and the gays, Camel Crush appeals to the eccentric alternative, American Spirits exist to humor the self-aware bohemian. And if they smoke skinnies? You’ve found a good one. Not only does brand matter, but the specific edition also communicates elements of character specific to the smoker. Marlboro Reds, for instance, conjure a wildly different image than Marlboro Golds; while the former is a Cowboy Killer reserved for the hardcore purist, the latter is a smoke for the classic City Chic. So the next time you’re outside of the club taking a breather, look closely at what the people choose to inhale — you will learn exactly what kind of groups congregate around you and whose dart you’d like to bum.


Footwear is something universal; if they don’t have a caffeine or nicotine addiction (which is probably a good sign all on its own), look to their shoes for divine assistance in evaluating their taste. Style universally communicates identity, but footwear specifically hones in on a person’s day-to-day behaviors as shoes relay critical information about how a person spends their time. Do they value comfort? Utility? Aesthetics? Are they on their feet for hours, are they a wage laborer, do they ride a bike? Platforms allude to performance, flats suggest mobility and work, heels assert luxury. Branding is a surefire litmus: Ugg  enthusiasts probably exist in a separate subcultural bubble than Demonia fiends. Doc Marten devotees might inhabit different spaces, listen to different music, and align with different social movements than that of Yeezy stans. The kind of shoe itself also informs the energy of the wearer: high top Chuck Taylors give easy-going Americana, Nike Air Ones give normcore realness, Adidas Sambas give trendy Tik Tok teen spirit. Tabis are the embodied ego of the archive fashion wannabe. Even the condition of a shoe can illuminate a person’s idiosyncrasies, as the sacred purity of a pearly white sneaker reveals the extent to which somebody cares about the cleanliness of their belongings. If you’re feeling bold, try stepping on a crease-less Stan Smith and gauge the wearer’s reaction. Point being, a person’s feet can speak when words fail. [Mentally insert here all of the related innuendos about shoe size and male genitalia.]


Well, everybody’s got a phone. Rather than judging someone’s social media profile to grasp their essence, take a good look at their phone case. Is it grimy and dingy? Is there dirt crusted into the charging port, oil smeared on the screen, has the glass cracked ages ago and continues to spiderweb? (On a similar note, are their Airpods gunked up with earwax?) Twitter users swear that a clear phone case signifies bisexuality, though there is no real evidence to support this claim. However, it is clear that some kinds of phone cases are not like the rest: a Wildflower case demonstrates a juvenile sentiment, an homage to playful adolescence and nostalgia. A Popsocket is highly ADHD coded, a carrying strap is the end-all-be-all of the Instagram shopper, a solid colored case is the sign of a through & through minimalist. The litmus test of the phone case may not function as a comprehensive measure of individuality, but there is a definitive ethos to its selection– consider this the cherry-on-top of aesthetic analysis. 


While our product preferences certainly perform identity, the spaces in which we function particularly display the root of a person. A bedroom is one’s existence laid bare. You cannot hide behind discrepancies of taste in the analysis of your living space. The bedroom is the product of everything that we collect, that we consume, that we create. It is the half-empty mugs of cold tea collecting on our nightstands, the journals that we cram in the corner, the infamous chair piled so high with dirty laundry that we forgot it is somewhere you can sit down. Our furnishings and decor function as extensions of our bodily selves. For somebody to see your bedroom is on par with seeing them nude. Sometimes these go hand in hand, of course, but before you strip down take a good, long look at this person’s quarters. Recollect the Archetype of the Mattress On the Floor – does he have a bedframe? Is she a chronic compulsive bed-maker? Can they keep a plant alive? Do they have a light up keyboard, four gaming monitors, and a Tarantino poster leering over the bookshelf? Bookshelves themselves are a supplementary litmus: Do they read? What are they reading? Have they actually read what they have on the shelf? (This one is especially telling, tread carefully with this inquiry.) Direct your survey towards coffee table books and hanging artworks. Note the way that they organize their clothes. Whatever you do, keep your eyes peeled for the ominous aura of the LED String Light. Honorable mentions include Himalayan Salt Lamps, Oil Diffusers, and Crosley Turntables.


One thing missing from current pop culture is the simple beauty of the Buzzfeed Quiz: the most unserious litmus test of all. While the age of its Golden Era has passed (think back to Claude Closky’s “Love or Lust?” for Dia Mag) the phenomenon of the personality test lives on. Whether it be the Myers-Briggs  (INFJ/ENTP) or the social media trend of associating character traits with aesthetic groups (everything from “Zodiac Signs as Pinterest Moodboards” to “Birthday Months as Ice Cream Flavors”), the internet offers a plethora of methods to define and categorize identity. Determining what kind of panini you are according to an anonymous internet user does not, of course, hold much significance in the grand scheme of a person’s psyche, but the prevalence of this kind of social zoning playfully assists in evaluating personality. Send your talking stage some good old-fashioned personality test memes as a preliminary measure to check their vibe.


Tattoos, Antidepressants, & Bagel Order

Ultimately, a person cannot be summed up in full through the scope of a litmus test. We unconsciously pass enough judgment without utilizing such specific measurements to do so. But the next time you find yourself in unfamiliar company, instead of asking the dreaded default of the zodiac question, try assessing a person for the things that make them up: the contemporary litmus. 
ENVY Magazine