Conspicuous Consumption Consumes the Ragmarkets

“Second-Hand Dresses and the Role of the Ragmarket” by Angela McRobbie discusses how “second-hand style has offered young people, at a time of recession, for participating in fashion” (McRobbie, p.135). She continues to state that “most of the youth subcultures of the postwar period have relied on second-hand clothes found in jumble sales and ragmarkets as the raw material for the creation of style” (McRobbie, p. 135).

Ragmarkets and “second-hand style has, in fact, had a long history in British culture” because of economic, social, and historical conditions. Economically, there was a recession which forced young people to develop their fashion identities in a way that was cheaper than typical main stream. Socially, it was expected of young woman to take an interest in fashion and clothes. Shopping has always been, historically, seen as a feminine activity as a means for girls to express their creativity and to acquire basic household skills such as the ability to sew. Ragmarkets provided these girls with a safe and affordable place to shop and spend time with other girls of similar interests.

During the 1960’s, youth culture was expressed fully. In other words, the style in which one dressed had a strong meaning behind it. The counterculture of 1960’s Britain consisted of hippies; a cultural group that opposed the fashion norms of society. They wore old, dirty, and ratty clothes to show that they did not care about material possessions.

As an example of this, Joe posted a picture of Woodstock on his Pinterest board. Joe stated that “this hippie movement and way of dress can be seen as an ‘identification with the poor’ and a denouncing of material wealth. (137) This holds a double edged sword, however because rummaging through bins at second-hand stores can highlight the fact that some people do this through choice while others buy second-hand through need. People that have cultural capital can dress down while ‘black and working class dress up to counter the assumptions of low status’ (138).”

Joe made excellent points because as McRobbie states, the hippie movement is “ ‘an identification with the poor’, as well as a disavowal of conventional middle- class smartness” (McRobbie, p.137). The hippie subculture denounced material wealth and expressed this choice externally through old and second-hand clothes, but as Joe pointed out these clothes were chosen and worn as distinctive style which was created to be in its own realm, far from the conventional dress and also separate from the “shabby greyness of genuine poverty” (McRobbie, p. 138). This shows that second-hand style was meant to go against main stream style. However, youths who took part in this were still tastemakers, they still had a style, and even held a point of view.

As Joe referenced, those that possessed cultural capital could risk looking unkempt and poor, while their counterparts dressed to counter the assumption of low status (McRobbie, p.138). This statement exemplifies the concept of conspicuous consumption through both social classes. The rich, dressing poor and unkempt, are still exemplifying their wealth in their new proclaimed style of dressing below their class. The poor, dressing in a fashion sense that ought to be attributed to the higher classes, are placing too much concern in materials and styles in an attempt to garner a better social image, even though they often cannot afford it. There methods other than styles that could have determined class differences. For example, people of a higher status can be distinct from those of a lower class through their differing levels of education, or even based on a hairstyle that resembles that of an expensive, upper class haircut.

Joe had another image that was important to McRobbie’s point, which was the Pinterest post of The Beatles in which he stated “the Beatles’ dress for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club included brightly colored and ragtag military uniforms and ‘comprised a challenge to the grey conformity of male dress.’” Through The Beatles and John Lennon’s participation in decreasing the importance of material possessions, Joe showed how popular the subculture movement against the mainstream really was.

Another great image to add to the Pinterest board could be of a ragmarket which clearly shows people consuming. Although ragmarkets were created for people going against the main stream, looking for special, hand-made and vintage clothing was a popular subculture that did consis of people consuming beyond their needs, therefore it would be a nice addition to add to a Pinterest. Joe did a nice job pulling from many articles.

Conspicuous consumption means to consume beyond your needs in order to show others your wealth or social status.  It also consists of one showing they have extra time; meaning that they have wealth because they have free time to spend not working. This free time consists of one spending their time doing leisure activities, spending money they have shopping, or learning a new hobby or skill that in no way aids in their financial success in life.

The youths showed conspicuous consumption in ragmarkets by consuming in a way to show off their status. People would spend money and time searching through all of the clothes at the ragmarkets, thus showing the amount of ‘leisure time’ that they had to waste looking through piles and piles of vintage clothes. Shopping is a major way to show conspicuous consumption. People are also showing their cultural ‘wealth’ or cultural ‘capital’ due to the knowledge they obtained from spending time with their peers and others who are wearing a certain style or expressing the ideas of a certain subculture. People have conspicuous leisure time because showing that you have the time to spend searching through all the racks and clothes at the ragmarket shows someone who does go beyond their needs. If someone needed a shirt they would just buy the first cheap shirt they could afford at the ragmarket, however this is not what people are doing. Instead, “patterns of taste and discrimination shape the desires of second-hand shoppers as much as they do those who prefer the high street of the fashion show room” (McRobbie, p. 140).

Conspicuous consumption relates to the other articles that were read for class this week. Specifically in class on Thursday February 21, Dr. Alice Marwick, spoke to our class about her research and her article titled “Conspicuous and Authentic: Fashion Blogs, Style, and Consumption.” Her research primarily deals with female fashion bloggers and how they relate to the idea of conspicuous consumption. She spoke how “fashion blogging exemplifies a type of ‘conspicuous consumption’ which is less about signaling free time and more about signifying ‘style’ which is presumed authentic and personal” (Marwick, p. 1).

This idea of people representing themselves to the world through fashion, and thus showing that the values of clothing and people are connected can be seen in the article “Consuming or Living With Things?” by Tim Dant. He clearly states how people indicate who they are through the clothes they wear. Conspicuous consumption is an important and significant idea that has been continued throughout many of the readings and the course.


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