Consumerism: Fashion Consumerism Term of Interest to the Fashion Industry

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According to Wikipedia, consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption that started with Thorstein Veblen, a Norwegian-American sociologist, economist, and author. Veblen is most famous for his book The Theory of the Leisure Class. His subject of examination, the newly emergent middle class arising at the turn of the twentieth century, comes to full fruition by the end of the twentieth century through the process of globalization.

Webster's defines consumerism as "the promotion of the consumer's interests" or alternately "the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable." It is the opposite of anti-consumerism or producerism. In many critical contexts, consumerism is used to describe the tendency of people to identify strongly with products or services they consume, especially those with brand names (such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci) and perceived status-symbolism appeal—a luxury automobile such as a BMW, designer clothing from Ralph Lauren, or expensive jewelry from Cartier. A culture that is permeated by consumerism can be referred to as a consumer culture or a market culture.

Opponents of consumerism argue that many luxuries and unnecessary consumer products may act as social signals allowing people to identify like-minded individuals through the display of similar products, again utilizing aspects of status-symbolism to judge socioeconomic status and social stratification. Some believe that relationships with a product or brand name are substitutes for healthy human relationships lacking in societies and along with consumerism are part of the general process of social control and cultural hegemony, or social controls in modern society. Critics of consumerism are quick to point out that consumerist societies are more prone to damage the environment, contribute to climate change, and use up resources at a higher rate than other societies.

It is in the interest of product advertisers and marketers that the consumer's needs and desires never be completely or permanently fulfilled. The marketer aims to sell the consumer a flashy trinket that will wear out quickly. It is even better for the product to be part of a continuously changing fashion cycle, where items in a nearly-new and good condition must be replaced to stay current with the latest trend. In this way steady profits are assured, but consumers are not comfortable or satisfied for very long with what they have.

Companies and corporations have realized that affluent consumers are the most attractive targets for marketing their products. The upper class' tastes, lifestyles, and preferences, trickle down to become the standard which all consumers seek to emulate. The not so well off consumers can "purchase something new that will speak of their place in the tradition of affluence."

Emulation is also a core component of consumerism in the 21st century. As a general trend, regular consumers seek to emulate those who are above them on the social hierarchy. The poor strive to imitate the affluent and the affluent tend to imitate celebrities and other icons. One needs to look no further than the celebrity endorsement of products to dissuade the notion that the American population makes its own decisions and models itself as a group of individualists.

The term "conspicuous consumption" was used to describe consumerism in the United States in the 1960s, but was soon linked to debates about media theory, culture jamming, and its corollary productivism. While consumerism is not a new phenomenon, it has become widespread over the course of the 20th century, and particularly in recent decades. The influence of neoliberal capitalism has made the citizens of capitalist countries extraordinarily wealthy compared to those living under other economic systems.

By Regina Cooper

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