Is conspicuous consumption really gone?

This week we challenged some of Veblen’s ideas of conspicuous consumption, in which he states that the upper classes  use fashion as a way to display wealth. Conspicuous consumption becomes a way to emulate to others your monetary value through the use of time and  the act of purchasing  impractical material things, and in this case, also skills, fashion skills. McRobbie says that at the end of the 80’s in England, people began to engage themselves in second hand dressing. Some were students who began the action of styling. Regardless, second hand dressing still involved conspicuous consumption, as there was a difference of those who could only dress in second hand clothes and those who used second hand clothing to go against the mainstream fashion or to be creative.  Although this may have changed the top to bottom idea, it still  encompassed some of the “know hows” of fashion. In this week’s curation,  Ashely uses as an example the classic American blue jean. In her last  picture she speaks about how second-hand fashion began amongst the youth subculture and the way in which sometimes this differs from the mainstream fashion. In fact, McRobbie takes this a step further and explains that even within these sub-cultures, fashion then becomes mainstream fashion. She gives us the example of John lennon’s metal rimmed glasses, which were only for the low classes who were not able to afford a “nicer” rim. Then he chose to wear the metal rimmed glasses, perhaps as a statement, but as a consequence it became the (mainstream) thing to do, the trend. Just the way that the thrift store army jacket was then taken out of its original context and then used as a symbol against war itself, through the use of various decorations. In a way the blue jean evolutionized from a working jean to an everyday must have. In the second picture Ashely quotes Kant, who says that “jeans are more democratic than elite” and continues to say that each jean is made the same and can be worn by anyone from working class to youth. I would argue that there is a hierarchy among  jean wearers. I agree that jean cloth at the end of the day is jean cloth, but there is a difference between wearing Levi jeans, Armani Exchange or Cheap Mondays. Through your choice of jean, you are still displaying or stating something about yourself and to which class you belong to. Like McRobbie said, there is a difference between wearing second hand clothes because that is all you can afford and wearing second hand clothes to show your fashion styling abilities, fashion capital. Through the jeans you wear you can still be differencing yourself. Not only that, but jeans can also be styled or dressed up. Therefore, although you may be using a democratized item, you still need to have the time and the know how, to style them up properly or accordingly. Marwick argues that this idea of conspicuous consumption is not true anymore. As through fashion blogs, people do not display their wealth, but want to display personal style or self expression, with the exception of some. However, the fact that there is an exception itself, still makes it possible to argue that there is a hierarchy even among today’s fashion blogs. Again, it is true that there is a wide variety of purposes in fashion blogs other than to display wealth. However, building up a fashion blog means that you invest a good amount of time in it and have the proper influences to show your “authentic” style. Again, I agree with Marwick that  fashion blogs may not be necessarily used to display wealth or increase one status. However, we cannot completely throw off the idea of fashion, taste or class hierarchy. Fashion blogs may not show how rich or poor you are, but show your fashion expertise through your ability to attract people, popularity. Also the on going problems with authenticity make it hard to determine whether fashion bloggers are truly showing themselves, or if they blog about particular styles that attract more viewers or better yet, are sponsored by fashion brands. McRobbie said that although second hand dressing began the idea of styling, bottom to top, it still was mainly practiced by the middle classes, those who had the eye to pick that one special item in the rack, or ability to change its original meaning. Although it allowed for the metal rimmed glasses to be “democratized”,  it was precisely because it was John Lennon (a celebrity) who wore them. Similarly to Fashion blogs, although most of them are not used to display the dollar amounts from your bank account, there is still someone dictating what their fashion is, the brands you need to purchase to fit into that style, and the styling tips to look that way. Fashion blogs became attractive becomes there is vast majority of styles, there are high fashion blogs for those who can afford it, there are eco fashion blogs for the environmentalists, and there are thrift store fashion blogs for those who have to be money conscious. However, there is still a hierarchy of fashion and these blogs cater to their audiences and show them ways to be part of that class. Although today there is a more democratized sense of fashion, we still have some conspicuous consumption. Sometimes fashion comes from top to bottom, such as every season when high luxury brands exhibit in Fashion week their couture designs. Sometimes, fashion comes from the bottom up, such as blue jeans and second hand dressing. However, we can’t deny that there is a fashiony way to wear a pair of jeans and the non fashion way to wear jeans. There is still an active a social difference between styling and clothes. There is still a difference between high Fashion and low fashion.  Therefore, is conspicuous consumption really gone?

Marcela Alcala


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