Fashion like any other discipline has its own theories of consumption, adaption, and circulation. Three of these theories that relate to fashion are conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure and conspicuous waste. These theories work together to explain the state of the current and historical fashion industry.
“Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure” says economist Thorstein Veblen who coined the term. He is basically saying that the motivation for owning something can come from a desire to have something that others want with disregard to need or intended use. A current example of this theory is found in the Hip Hop community and the obsession with owning sneakers. Prior to passing away, DJ AM otherwise known as Adam Goldstein, owned over 800 pairs of sneakers. It is nearly impossible to wear 800 pairs of sneakers. Adam’s house overflowed with shoe boxes taking over his guest room that eventually turned into another closet for his shoes. Many in this community will wear shoes once, or until they get dirty. Some pairs have never been worn. This is a great example of conspicuous consumption because the reason to buy a new pair of Nikes when you already own 799 pairs is to symbolize your status.
Conspicuous Waste is basically consuming goods that one does not need and wasting resources. It shows you have enough money to buy something that you have no real use for. An excellent example of this can be seen in the $91,500 Hermes t-shirt made of chiffon and crocodile skin. The shirt would cost another $8000 in taxes. Think about it for a minute, $8000 just to take the t-shirt home with you. That makes the shirt total come closer to the price of a modest house than any article of clothing needs to. This is not an item you could just put on a credit card in an effort to seem affluent; you actually have to have a large bank account to afford this item. It is wasteful, because even if you wear this item every day for the next 5 years the price-per-wear is still about $55.
Conspicuous leisure is a theory to explain the desire to prove you do not need to work by the way you dress. Like the pale skin of the elites 300 years ago, the yoga wear as street wear shows a socio-economic divide. Dressed in head-to-toe ensembles, these “lululemon moms” wear yoga outfits throughout the day proving they could not possibly be working. Even if the only running they do is errands instead of running at the gym, these yoga outfits are a status symbol of sorts.
These three examples show theories in real life examples. They help us understand the way consumers act and the reason behind owning something. Although I still cannot fully wrap my head around owning a shirt that cost more than most people’s cars, these theories help me get as close as I ever will to comprehending.