Starting off with a recent example I read...
I personally find that sword's design to be quite tacky. If i were you (or your friend for that matter) i'd prefer a more realistic/historic sword like this one, this one, this one or this one, all of which are closer to the real thing.
Now before I say anything else I will say that in this particular case I do not necessarily disagree with the person who made the comment, and it is not inappropriate to point out that the friend mentioned would prefer a different, more accurate sword because they were established as being a history nerd by the one who asked for an evaluation.
However, the nature of my reasoning and their reasoning for lack of favor is completely different. I personally would suggest staying away from that sword because of the company is notorious for poor craftsmanship, often looking to be subpar in every aspect even in images that were designed to market their stuff as appealing (which would mean, chances are, it would look even worse in real life.)
Their reason? It's tacky.
I fucking hate that word.
tacky (comparative tackier, superlative tackiest)
- (colloquial) Of low quality. That market stall sells all sorts of tacky ornaments.
- (colloquial) In poor taste. That was a tacky thing to say.
- Gaudy, flashy, showy, garish.
- Dowdy, shabbily dressed.
- Shabby, dowdy in one's appearance.
Now as far as dictionary definitions go they tend to more or less separate these meanings from each other but in actual English use, it will most likely be a combination of several of these meanings at the same time. Personally I have never actually encountered the use of definition 4 and 5. It's either a combination of 1, 2, and 3, or just 2 and 3. In other words, this is the message most people using that word will pass:
Anything that aims to be ornate is shit taste, socially unbecoming, and may cast doubt on the build quality of the object in question.
Now, if you happen to have any objections to my brusque representation of common human language, pointing out that you are under the impression that it's actually a much nicer thing that has all sorts of unspoken and specific connotations that cannot be brought across through an interpretation that aims to be rather literal in comparison, I have to point out that language is learned through observation and that any popular enough interpretation of it is going to function the way the majority wants it to, regardless of how ridiculous that is to the actual purpose of the word. I'm sure plenty of you know what happened to "literally" and considering apparently tacky is supposed to have evolved from "shabby" which is virtually never used in reference to opulence that's probably exactly what happened to this word too.
Let's look to another example, in reference to Greek statues originally having been painted in vivid, primary colors:
Again, before I say anything else, I will point out that I actually think of the statues from ancient times to look better without the paint. This is because I think of those statues as having a very solemn or intimidating feel to them when they are without color, in a similar kind of way I feel about cleaned up skeletons, I find that it is rather appropriate that they have lost their color to time to end up giving this deadness or emptiness to it, because they belong to times long past.
The reason everybody in the image above agrees on why they like it better without the paint? Because with color, it's tacky. Even the person who is in protest of the poor opinion being shown is not doing it because they disagree, but only because they find it inappropriate to apply modern sensibilities to the ancients. They still follow this idea of "tacky" in the same way the rest do.
What do I think when I see them in color? Well, I'd describe them as being rather bright, vivid, and colorful, perhaps reminiscent of a rather festive mood. That's not me being nice. That's just me wanting to recognize the aesthetic for being different rather than distasteful.
What the hell happened going into the modern age to warrant this idea of extravagance being equivalent to tastelessness?
There's a difference between preference and opposition and this clearly falls into the latter. One of them just happens to like something else better. The other one practically looks to it as an injustice. People probably take this idea of aesthetics more seriously than they do the significance of their religion. Whether something is tacky or not has less to do with opinion and more to do with professing the reality of things.
Think back to the times of kings, aristocrats, and successful merchants among those same people. Do you expect them to wear simple tunics of brown, grey, denim and so on? Of course not! They are all about showing off with powerful colors, luxurious metals and gemstones, and intricate details in their stuff. Why did they do that? Is it because they just wanted to prove they were rich? No, they did it because they wanted to look awesome! Imagine some peasant looking at a king and, upon witnessing his vesture, decides to sneer at the lack of aesthetic sense the high class never seem to have with all those frills, gold and jewelry. That sounds completely ludicrous, but it's acceptable and normal today to behave as that very peasant does.
Even presidents, CEOs, and mob bosses(In popular perception at least) tend to favor fairly simple and unassuming attire before the public. Only gay guys, singers(+their bands) and military officers(by uniform) get away with looking fabulous. I'm baffled as to how things like wedding rings survive as shiny and brilliant instead of being oxidized all over with "a nice patina" in modern western culture...