Everybody cannot afford conspicuous consumption. This gives rise to the next phenomenon, the urge to show off i.e. persuasive consumption. Since not everybody has pecuniary power or an income to conspicuously consume i.e. they cannot lead but they can follow the leaders. This is how conspicuous consumption gives rise to Emulation.
To emulate means to imitate or to try to be like to strive to be equal or excel.
Thorstein Veblen in ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ speaks of pecuniary emulation as a character of those who strive to be rich or to be equal to those who are rich.
Emulation is the human characteristic that causes individuals to wish to equal or excel others in some field of human activity. Emulative consumption is a by-product of conspicuous consumption. Although the purpose of producing goods and services is to enable consumers to satisfy their wants and enrich their living, the tendency to emulate has caused consumption to be regarded by many consumers as a means of invidious comparison. As a result, great wealth and large incomes are endowed with the secondary utility because they are in themselves evidence of ability to pay. The more expensive a commodity, the more utility in the second sense it possesses.
As the outer clothing is visible, it is an effective means of demonstrating family ability to “keep up”. For years, past tradition dictated that one dress according to one’s social position. It was considered proper for factory workers and farmers to wear simple, sturdy suits, to be worn only on Sundays and on festive occasions and to last no less than five years. The tradition among office workers is different. The trainee and the junior accountant are expected to emulate the junior executive who in turn imitates his or her superior in the corporate structure. The women office worker must wear a fur coat to demonstrate her ability to dress as well as the more highly paid women employees. If she cannot afford the expensive dresses they buy, she settles for less expensive imitation. The millions of consumers in lower income constitute a large market for inexpensive imitative clothing. Such clothing items are purchased not so much for their inherent utility as for their capacity to give the wearer added prestige.
Recently, however, significant changes have been taking place as people become more and more independent in their choices of attire. One may go to a reception and find women in miniskirts, knee and calf length dresses, long dresses and pant suits. Formal dress for men has been changing from the black tuxedo, white shirt, and black tie to colorful evening jackets, lace evening shirts and a variety of sizes and colors in bow ties. But even so, there is peer group pressure to conform to the changes.
In the practice of competitive consumption the standard of high repeatability requires that women have not only expensive clothing but considerable variety. It is a reflection on the family if a woman is compelled to wear the same evening gown more than once.
Negative Emulation: The negative aspect of emulation is custom. Custom determines that consumer shall or consume. Custom demands that consumers emulate their ancestors. It required courage and financial power to defy customs and imitate conspicuous and fashionable consumers. The more income one has, the easier it is to flout custom.
Is Emulation Desirable?
The imitative tendency in itself is neither good nor bad. Its power is great in either direction. Emulation in good taste, by which are gets wider appreciation of goods and services and contributes to group welfare, is desirable. If desirable trends in clothing are copied, those who copy may gain comfort and beauty, then emulation is good. Conversely, the practice of emulating may promote ill fare. If emulation does not promote their welfare then it is not desirable. This is wasteful.