Friday, 20 August 2010
Friend Friday: Conspicuous Consumption
Friend Friday is a weekly survey for fashion bloggers run by ModlyChic
To participate email firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are my answers for this week's questions on Conspicuous Consumption which were as follows:
1. Do you think fashion blogs are often just conspicuous consumption? Are some?
Conspicuous consumption is defined as lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth and as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. I think the conspicuous consumption element varies across blogs. Some most definitely are. I don't know how many times I've come across bloggers decked out in head to toe designer gear in outfit posts. There also seems to be a lot of product placement in fashion blogs aimed at increasing conspicuous consumption. You know the type of blog with a young popular blogger who could pass for a fashion model posting outfit after outfit featuring the latest designer "it" item which has been "gifted" for promotional purposes.
At some level conspicuous consumption does play a role in most fashion blogs. Even if you are not buying Gucci or Prada, the very idea of buying and wearing clothes in order to be fashionable or stylish, as opposed to purely clothing oneself to meet minimum standards of neatness, publicly decency or to be fit for purpose, is somehow showing you have chosen to spend money on how you want to appear rather than how you need to. There are plenty of people on the planet who don't have this luxury.
I also think there is a sliding scale involved here that people don't really give voice to. I do not think I buy clothes to show off status or how much money I have. I buy clothes because I like them. To me someone in head to toe Gucci is a prime example of conspicuous consumption. But this is merely my own belief and perspective from my particular rung on the ladder of human aspiration. Someone who can't afford head to toe Topshop might also be quite validly looking at my shopping habits as those of a conspicuous consumer too.
There are plenty of blogs out there that are a reaction against conspicuous consumption either consciously or not: those with a message of shopping on a budget, bloggers who only buy vintage or second hand clothing from charity shops, those who give themselves a mission to give up shopping for a year and instead shop from their own wardrobes or customise second hand charity buys. I think these blogs are the most interesting because they throw into sharp relief the whole idea of conspicuous consumption and make you examine your own shopping habits and creativity with clothing.
Is it really a creative way to dress if you just buy the latest "it" item to get fashion kudos? My own personal opinion is no - if you have enough money to fork out for well made, well designed clothing it should theoretically be a piece of cake to be stylish but how often does money buy taste? Most blogs I regularly read are really about style, whatever the budget of the blogger in question.
2. As bloggers do we have the obligation to explain our personal financial status, how we pay for the things we showcase, if we have debt, etc...
Absolutely not. That is nobody's business except your own and who you choose to confide in. Do you feel the need to explain your financial status or what you choose to spend your money on to say, colleagues at work who see you dressed every day? Or explain how you bought the items you are wearing to people you pass by in the street? Well why should you feel obliged to explain it to complete strangers on the internet? I know that we are sharing what we are wearing publicly but we do that anyway each time we walk out our front doors and we don't have to staple our bank statements to our foreheads to be permitted to do so.
I suspect the background to this question may be related to the idea that fashion bloggers may be leading people into overspending or debt by seeing all this consumption of fashion and clothing promoted online without knowing how its been paid for. Ultimately it doesn't matter how they paid for it. It is up to every individual consumer to take their own responsibility and decide what they want to buy, whether they can afford it and how they want to buy it.
We are exposed to the promotion of fashion from many, many other sources and not just through what a particular blogger may be wearing in his/her outfit posts. Television, fashion magazines, online magazines, we are bombarded with images of celebrities photographed endorsing designer clothing, we are marketed at from every angle and the prices we have to pay for things are out in the public arena in big large numbers for all to see.
3. Critics often say that fashion bloggers should use their money to support more worthwhile causes than clothing themselves in a different outfit daily. What's your reaction to this?
It may be the broad way this question has been worded but it sounds like blanket criticism aimed at a few super consumptive blogs without any real knowledge of what else is out there in the fashion blogosphere. There will always be critics of people spending money on things that they want rather than need but fashion always tends to get written off as something stupid, wasteful and frivolous. Don't get me wrong, I am all for supporting worthwhile causes, but why do the critics seem to think that putting a stop to a fashion related hobby, which is essentially harmless fun for a relatively small group of enthusiasts on the internet, is suddenly going to solve all the ailments suffered by the planet?
Why don't the critics take the words "fashion bloggers" and "clothing themselves in a different outfit" in the above statement and replace with "investment bankers" and "flogging bad investments for self gain" or even "the property development industry" and "developing pointless luxury accommodation nobody can afford". It might sharpen their arguments and critical thinking somewhat and would be energy better spent because there is much more money at stake in those cases to divert to worthwhile causes than the clothing budget of the average fashion blogger.
Maybe it is because fashion is about personal aesthetics that it easier to take pot shots at it if people show an interest in it. We are somehow supposed to be above caring about what we wear. We are all judged by our appearances, women more so than men - sad, hard fact of life. Our appearances are the first pass filter applied to what job opportunities we get, who befriends us and who selects us as a mate. No wonder an entire industry has developed around how human beings choose to dress themselves.
I wonder also sometimes if it is because fashion is something that engages predominately women. Does anyone habitually point the finger at men's spending habits on their flash toys and hobbies and tell them to give to charity instead? You could tell those who choose to spend money on renovating their house or going on overseas holidays to support a more worthwhile cause instead too. Hell, why don't the critics suggest that everyone stop updating their social networking sites and spend all those accumulated hours volunteering for a worthwhile cause instead?? We could all do more for charity but selecting one group's interests as folly over another's doesn't really help.
The statement in the questions almost implies that bloggers are buying a new outfit a day in order to photograph it for their blog. I did see an article somewhere that some bloggers feel pressured to buy the latest thing in order to stick it on their blog - now that is conspicuous consumption. But some people manage to get a license to drive a car and that doesn't mean they will be safe drivers. Why tar all the rest of the safe drivers with the same brush?
The majority of bloggers I've seen just seem to be pulling out things that are already in their closet and combining them with the odd new purchase, finding new combinations that refresh an item they already have or interpret a new trend. I view it as an interesting social anthropological experiment in which people are charting how they get dressed every day rather than one big collective shop-a-thon. It is a pleasant creative outlet which gives people a chance to engage with others online to swap experiences and ideas on something we all have to think about doing every day.
We all need clothes, clothes wear out, body sizes change or we get a new job - if someone loves fashion then their purchases will be informed by fashion. And if that person has a fashion blog and posts about what they buy or wear I really don't see why they should suddenly be a shining example of a selfish and shallow individual who should be supporting more worthwhile causes. They may already be supporting plenty! In fact there are bloggers who support charity through blogging because they habitually shop from charity shops, post their finds, thus giving those charities a lot of free and great publicity they would not otherwise get. They also send a subtle environmentally friendly message about recycling and re-use whether they are aware of it or not (see Vintage Vixen for an example of a blogger who does a fine job of promoting her local charity shops!).
The fashion blogging community is a large social network of creative energy that if engaged, presents limitless possibilities to promote worthwhile causes - ethical fashion, green fashion, charities, human rights - they could all get an audience here - some already are. Why don't critics stop pointing the finger and trying to put an end to it and think creatively about how they could work with it?
4. Since you started blogging, do you spend more money on fashion and beauty products?
Not really - I always have been someone who likes buying lots of clothes and if anything I am trying to cut back - not always succeeding but old habits die hard! If anything some blogs have given me ideas about how to recombine things I already own into new outfits I would not have thought of before and some have motivated me to look more at alternative sources to the mainstream such as vintage, charity and second hand clothing.
I will say that I have bought a few items that I've seen other bloggers wearing because I liked they way it was styled and I could see that the item in question or a similar item to it would work in my wardrobe. I see this as being no different to seeing something I really like in a fashion magazine and then buying it.
5. Life is about more than what money can buy. What are the things that top your list of what life is all about?
I don't profess to know what life is about. I just landed here and am trying to navigate a route as best I can! What is important to me in my life is love, family, friendship, freedom and to be able to creatively express myself.