Fashion on display

The word fashion may denote a way of life, a representation of a status, a social identity among other things. The power of fashion relies on its diversity and on its ability to mean and represent many things at once. Some associate fashion with beauty and various types of clothes, some with a lifestyle, and for others fashion signifies a prestigious status.

Let’s first examine fashion as a “conspicuous consumption” and wealth as “invidious distinctions”. Veblen states, “In order to gain and hold the esteem of men, it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence” (24). It is not enough to be powerful, to achieve a certain social status; in the current society we live in, luxury goods is what measures one’s wealth. It is not enough to have a house, you have to have a house in the city, a house in the Hamptons, a beach house or minimum a house in the mountains, own a Porsche not a car and wear Louboutins, not just any ordinary heels. Today power is measured by what you have and not by what you are, and it is this distinction that sets you apart from the haves and from the have-nots.

Crystal’s shoe closet photo is a perfect illustration of fashion being displayed as an extent of power and wealth. The shoe closet displays loud luxury shoes, which can be distinguished from ordinary ones due to their red soles, which is exclusively Christian Louboutin’s signature. The red sole is not a simple addition to the style of the shoes; it represents status for each pair costs no less than $1,000 and power—both due to its cost and the height of the heels. Women are empowered by heels, and the taller they are, the mightier they feel. At times, heels can make some women seem taller than some men, which can signify control, power and a shift in the male-female hierarchy. Therefore, the ability to own those many pairs of Louboutin shoes is more than a fashion statement—it sets you apart from all the rest, by signaling status with luxury goods.

Louboutin is a “product that has visible marking that help ensure observers recognize the brand” (Signaling Status with Luxury Goods, 15). Therefore Louboutins can be categorized as subtle yet still ‘loud’ or conspicuous branding, whose functional value is less appealing than its fashion. Veblen talks of leisure as the non-productive consumption of time. Meaning that people acquire things that they do not need but because it’s trendy and up-to-date, which by its turn is the evidence of their leisure time.

Veblen also argues that people have a tendency of buying things for the prestige or social status a particular object may bestow on their owners. “The mere use or display of a particular branded product brings the owner prestige apart from any functional utility” (16). A person does not need many pairs of shoes, in all possible colors and inch size heels. However owning such a distinct collection of shoes emits a message of status and power, as it sets you from the rest. There are few people who are able to afford a large quantity of designer’s shoes in different colors, shapes and forms. Thus if you happen to be one of the few, you are categorized by the have-nots as a “lucky one”. And this class hierarchy enables those who own at least a pair of Louboutin heels to associate with Khloe Kardahsian—the owner of this shoe closet, and those who don’t to desire to be associated with her or any other typical brand user. Just like the parvenus who want to be associated with the patricians and others parvenus, but not associated with those of a lower status. Basically, it all comes down to associations.

The reason why this picture is so fascinating, apart from the sea of designer’s shoes it features, is that it is able to capture exactly what Veblen argues about wealth and status. “ The accumulation of wealth is not really what confers status. Rather, what confer status is the evidence of wealth, which requires its wasteful exhibition.” (18). Such conspicuous consumption could not have been better illustrated than in this photo featured in Elle magazine and in Crystal’s Pinterest board. The things someone owns, in this case the shoes being displayed in this closet, reflects how successful this person is. (18) The pleasure does not rely solely on buying a pair of expensive shoes; rather it relies on exposing it.

Which leads us to the clash of private and public domain. People act differently when in a private and in a public sphere, for they are far more concerned in dressing fancy for the public for instance, than at home. A possible reason would be that at home, one is not judged by what he or she is wearing, by how their hair is tied up, or that he or she is wearing glasses instead of contact lenses—there are no rules at home. However in the streets it seems that one must follow a certain unspoken guideline, and people feel pressured to fit in certain standards. Furthermore, fashion is a means of expressing oneself while branding a particular image, and this representation may vary according to the environment.

Finally, the reason why I chose to focus on Crystal’s board rather than on Marcela’s is because Crystal’s images were more open to interpretation and to developing a whole context behind it. Marcella’s board although completely accordingly to the “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods” reading, was more of a repetition than a supplement of the text.

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