How Far Is Thorstein Veblen’s Theory, That The Main Function Of Dress Is The Display Of Wealth, Still Valid?

1554 words - 7 pages

Thorstein Veblen first published ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’ An Economic Study of Institutions in 1899. It was an essay of economic origin and was intended to form a study of the social culture; proposing that the feudal idea of social strata had remained into the current era. His work combines ideas proposed by a broad range of academics and thinkers; including social thinkers, Karl Marx , evolutionary thinkers, Charles Darwin and economists, Adam Smith.
In the study ones class was determined by his ownership of property, and how a greater holding of property manifested itself in different styles of dress. As he writes in paragraph 167 of the text, ‘No line of consumption affords a more apt illustration than expenditure on dress’. Thus in this essay my aim is to demonstrate the relevance of Veblen’s text in 2014, considering the ever evolving class structure as well as the vast changes in consumerism over the last 100 years.
The paper contains many ideas and theories, but I shall focus on three: The idea that dress is an expression of pecuniary culture; the principal of conspicuous waste, conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.
Many academics and I share the opinion that the key principal from the text is that of conspicuous waste; In Veblen’s own words ‘It shows the wearer can afford to consume freely and uneconomically.’ He later furthers this idea by suggesting that not only must one be able to waste but they must waste to gain this reputation.
My second principal is that of conspicuous leisure; not only must one be able to consume and waste freely, but they must show they do not need to earn an income, as their current property is enough to sustain their lifestyle, thus differentiating themselves from the working people. He furthered his idea with respect to women, suggesting that their fashion should not only show they do not need to work, but that they could not work even if they wanted to. The best example of this principal in the wearing of high heels; which would make even the most menial physical task very difficult.
The final principal I am going to look at is that of conspicuous consumption – thus the purchase of ‘luxury’ goods. I use the term ‘luxury’ in the economic sense; such that it has a high positive income elasticity of demand. Thus if income increases demand increases by a greater amount, as they are status symbols, showing the purchasing power of the individual.
Veblen’s theory is largely based on one assumption; members of the higher class were engrossed with fashion and those of the lower classes were reflexive as consumers. This has changed vastly since Veblen wrote his work, the nature of advertising and fashion magazines today bring the world of high fashion to an ever increasing audience. No longer must UK consumers of fashion look to Paris for the latest catwalks and styles, it is readily available to anyone with an interest.

This is best explained though the flooding of the UK...

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