Conspicuous consumption is the consumption of goods and service on a lavish scale. The purpose and effect of such lavish consumption is to demonstrate pecuniary power and status in society. Sociologically to the conspicuous consumer, such public display of discretionary economic power is a means either of attaining or maintaining a given social status. Conspicuous consumption denotes the act of buying many things, especially expensive things that are not necessary to one’s life, done in a way that will make people notice their purchases.
In apparel, conspicuous consumption is a concept referring to the notion that clothing should be obviously expensive in displaying one’s lifestyle and values. Designer Logos or “signature goods” serve the purpose of symbolizing conspicuous consumption associated with status groups.
Some examples of conspicuous consumption:
- Designer clothes are not a necessity. They serve the purpose to show that the person who wears them affords them and has a certain social status. A woman who wears a Dior gown displays her superior pecuniary power.
- Compared with the clothing worn by the women, men’s clothing is relatively ineffective as a means of conspicuous display. One can hardly distinguish between the chairman of the board of the cooperation whose income is quite high and his subordinate in the same cooperation whose income is less. The top executives probably pay much more for their suits and accoutrements, but the difference in appearance between the two men would scarcely be noticeable to the casual observer.
- Because men’s clothing is less conspicuous than the clothing of women, women may serve effectively to demonstrate the pecuniary power of their husbands by wearing evidence of great wealth, such as expensive furs and jewelry.
- At Luncheons, bridge parties, kitty parties and cocktail parties, the relative wealth of a woman’s husband is seen. The real display, like Diamonds and jewelry, high-end-watches and purses, is seen at dinner parties, at marriages and other social functions.
- Pet jewelries and apparel are another example of conspicuous consumption. Pets do not have any utility in wearing a diamond. An expensive pet jewelry is only used to show offers that the owner of the pet can afford to buy.
Contrasts in conspicuous:
- Inheritors of fortunes: Inheritors of wealth having been reared in the grand manner have learned how to consume wealth conspicuously without appearing to do so. They live in a closed society. E.g. Birlas, Tatas, Ambanies, film stars, etc.
- The newly rich: Inheritors of great wealth tend to look with disdain on these ‘intruders.’ They are downgraded as brash, gaudy, uncouth social climbers. They have not yet learned how to live conspicuously in the genteel manner. In this newly wealthy group, spending on a lavish scale is necessary to prove that one has arrived. Lacking tradition and not having grown up in the heady atmosphere of great wealth, such people are inclined to splurge (show off). In doing so they are likely to offend not only the inheritors but also the rest of the population. Both groups are inclined to regard the frantic spending of the newly rich as vulgar. They do not yet have the prestige enjoyed by those who inherited their wealth.
- Social classes: The desire to consume conspicuously is found in all income groups. In this we all are alike. Where one differs is in our ability to spend conspicuously. “Those who are not able to excel or command respect occupationally, educationally or otherwise the more likely they are to use the consuming process as a compensatory device to show their standing in the society.
- Conspicuous waste: Conspicuous waste involves the public display of frivolous spending. Fashion by definition involves change that will produce artificial obsolescence of styles. Thus by wearing trendy or faddish styles that have an even shorter lifespan than most fashionable styles, one displays conspicuous waste, or the fact that he or she can afford to discard garments that still have some utility. By wearing more classic styles, as a rule, one can avoid some of this wastefulness. In addition to fashion change, there are other aspects of clothing use that are inherently wasteful, including styles that are worn for only limited or specific occasions. For example, a prom dress or a wedding dress.
At all income levels conspicuous consumption leads to competitive consumption. Whether among the rich or among a college faculty there are gradations in income that make it impossible for everyone to consume on the same scale. No matter how far down the scale a family may be there is usually a determination to put its best foot as far forward as possible.