Transsexual writer Kate Bornstein once wrote that the driving forces in our culture are “the need for a recognizable identity, and the need to belong to a group of people with a similar identity.” (Bornstein 3) Since fashion is a manifestation of identity, consumers normally purchase products that can express their personal style and display a social status that they want to be related to. Their yearn for acceptance and respectable social standing, contributes to the rising popularity of luxury brands, while also creates counterfeit luxury goods as a side effect. This essay explores people’s attitude towards luxury goods and the reasons behind their decision of purchasing fake brand name products.
In our society in which wealth divides people from each other, fashion forms a social hierarchy as it unites and segregates class and status. Veblen stated that “The base, industrious class should consume only what may be necessary to their subsistence” while “the luxuries and the comforts of life belong to the leisure class.” (Veblen 44) Only consumers with sufficient wealth and leisure can afford what Veblen referred to as ‘conspicuous consumption’, which is a purchase of goods “for reasons beyond their use value” and that signal a high-status position. (Marwick 3) This kind of conspicuous consumption mostly refers to buying luxury brand goods or famous designer products that targets higher class wealthy people. Therefore, “taste is a set of class norms inculcated through socialization”, since consumers from different classes will buy products from different kinds of brands, hence their different style, standard and taste in fashion. (Marwick 8)
Due to their relatively expensive prices, the possession and consumption of luxury brand name goods are symbols of superiority and status. The identity that a consumer gain from self-presentation and manipulation with brand name products, indicates much more than his/her sense of fashion, but also which social circle and position he/she belongs to. For example, if a woman wears a simple tshirt with jeans, paired with sneakers and an unbranded totes bag, it conveys an image of a housewife or maybe a woman with a low-pay job that does not even require her to work in the office. Whereas, if a woman wears a white chiffon top with a navy blue blazer over it, black skinny pants and pairing it with a classic Prada bag and Dior high heel shoes, it will convey an image of a sophisticated, independent and career-oriented woman. Well-known IT girl and model Olivia Palermo, demonstrates with her high-end street fashion that a simple touch of a luxury brand product to a utilitarian positional outfit, would suffice to turn from a low-key, middle-class ‘nobody’ to fashionista of wealth, class and style.
Nonetheless, there is always a group of people that wants to be recognized with a similar identity as those of the higher class, but do not have the money to afford expensive goods. When consumers’ desire to gain cachet and to retain a certain reputation subdues other purposes of consumption, they will not have a problem purchasing counterfeit merchandizes. They polish their self-image with counterfeit brand name products, so that people would perceive him as the identity he tries to give off. They understand Bourdieu’s theory that “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make.” (Bourdieu 6) These people, referred to as poseurs, demand the superior identity and status that are associated to luxurious brands, yet is short in budget or are simply unwilling to pay for authentic brand name products. “Counterfeits allow consumers to unbundle the status and quality attributes of luxury goods by paying less to acquire the status while not having to pay for the quality.” (Young) Wearing products from prestigious brands, poseurs gain more self-confidence and hope to be recognized with a desired identity that they are not associated with in reality. “A heightened sense of individual personality and ego developed when men and women moved in wider social circles, and the constant friction of self with a barrage of sensations and with other personalities generated.” (Wilson 138) Furthermore, loud luxury goods are items that have conspicuous branding such as brand logos, which “signals to the less affluent that they are not one of them.” Therefore, since poseurs are high in need for status but cannot afford true luxury, they tend to ‘use loud counterfeits to emulate those they recognize to be wealthy.” (Young)
Nowadays, counterfeit merchandize are made to look almost 99% like authentic products. Sometimes even a die-hard fan of a certain luxury brand would not be able to tell the difference between the real and the fake, because they are made of similar material and have the same exact designs. Numerous fashion bloggers and journalists attempt to provide tips for readers on how to differentiate fake and authentic items on the internet, hoping that consumers will not get scammed by dishonest sellers. Such skills of counterfeit manufacturers causes the increase success of the counterfeit market, because, why not buy a $300 product that will convey the same identity as a product that costs you ten times more?
It is hard not to care about public gaze and judgment, and it is even harder not to desire something you cannot have. Since identity is the way we present ourselves and how the society perceives us, fashion will always be the perfect camouflage for our identity. A person buys luxury goods to keep up with trends and display his/her high class identity. While a person buys counterfeit products to satisfy his/her crave for luxury brands and also for their pursuit of having a superior social identity that will heighten their sense of self. Nevertheless, I believe that fashion should be manipulated in a way for us to represent our true self and solidify our real social identity. Therefore, we should not depend too much on counterfeits, no matter whether other people will find out about or not. Because at the end, we are faking to be someone we are not.
Bourdieu, Pierre; Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste; Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Bornstein, Kate; Gender Outlaw; Vintage Books, A Division of Random House Inc. New York.
Marwick, Alice; Conspicuous and Authentic:Fashion Blogs, Style and Consumption; ICA 2011, Boston MA.
Veblen, Thorstein; The theory of the Leisure Class; Dover Publications Inc. New York.
Young Jee Han, Joseph C Nune, Xavier Dreze; Signaling Status and Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence; American Marketing Association, Journal of Marketing, Vol 74, July 2010.