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November 14, 2006


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Mike Madison

James is right that there are additional stories of fashion circulating in the sociological literature. One example -- and one that is particularly sympathetic to cycles of consumer and industry tastes and trends that we conventionally dismiss as "wasteful" -- is Grant McCracken's "Culture and Consumption" (1991). McCracken presents a demand-side treatment of status goods as bearers and creators of cultural meaning.


There is perhaps no better example of what Marx was talking about when he said capitalism permeates every aspect of human being and interaction. The false values, the commodification of human beings, the sheep like behavior, the signaling of status and displaying of your spot in the social hierarchy. The alienation, the wastfulness, the self-hatred implicit in defining yoursef by the logos on your clothing.

Now where is my $1500 Louis Vuitton handbag? I can't go out without it.

If you'd like a normative picture of whether the fashion industry is good for humanity, just hang out with some anorexic 16 year old girls. That what you look like and what you wear provides the basis of so many people's sense of self-worth, that people judge others based on status symbols, that so much time and money and energy is spent on wasteful fashion cycles, that woman actually think those Louis Vuitton bags are attractive (hey that's not even nice leather. Its canvass), is all so so sad.

I am simply thrilled, however, that these guest bloggers are rocking my world.

Veblen references on the U of C law blog? I'm in heaven. I was nearly run out of class for bringing his name up when I was there. "keep him on the otherside of the midway," I was told.


Nice point. I'll just chip in from a blog post of mine:

Couture appears to be a positional good--that is, its value depends at least in part on how it ranks compared with other designs. Robert Frank has done terrific work detailing the drawbacks of positional goods (in both economics and law review literatures). Drawing on the economic theory of auctions, he demonstrates that individuals can waste a lot of time and money in "positional arms races" for status. As they strive for status via "observable goods," they end up with longer commutes, more debts, and other impediments to happiness.

Now of course, the people at the top of the fashion food chain probably have money to burn. And as any careful reader of Us or People knows, there are many ways a frugal fashionista can imitate high style cheaply. But perhaps many people are choosing not to, and are indulging in shopping sprees that express little more than the capacity to outspend their reference group. Is there any way to distinguish between the aesthetic value of this sort of conspicuous consumption, and its mere signification of the buyer's purchasing power? I don't know if there is, but perhaps we should at least try to disaggregate these values before taking Virginia Postrel's celebration of the "rise of aesthetic value" too seriously.




By the way, Jeffrey HArrison's article on TM's as "tattoos for the privileged" is of interest here:

Olga Moore

Fashion is not just an industry or business, it is also a way to express oneself, it is creativity, it is art, there should not be any rational approaches... You can not lock it in boundaries of laws or figures...

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