Monthly Archives: March 2012

Conspicuous Consumption with Designer Handbags

Seeing someone carry a purse or handbag is one of the easiest ways to tell a person’s social status.  Society has come to know of all the high end designer handbags and what they generally retail for.  These handbags are a status symbol and posses what Jean Baudrillard defines as ‘sign value’, which entails that the more prestigious one’s commodities, the higher one’s standing in the world of sign value.

Some of the more famous name brand bags include Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dior, Prada, etc.  One can normally see these bags on the runways at fashion week or on the arms of various celebrities. These bags represent success and prestige as only the very wealthy can afford their hefty price tags.  The hoopla over the next “it” bag is so great that normally there are month long waiting lists and some people only receive the bag when it is now considered last season’s.

A bag is the easiest piece of fashion on a person to be recognized as the majority of the public know the logos of each designer and can spot them, unlike having to know a designer’s shirt or pants.  By having the purse be the most recognizable piece of fashion, this is leading some consumers to deceive the public into thinking they are wealthy.  This happens a lot through people saving up to buy the cheapest and smallest available designer bag, buying second hand, or buying knock-offs.

In todays world it is so much harder now to decipher who has the real thing and who has a knock-off.  The only real way of knowing is if you can take the bag into your hands to examine it.  With all the contraband material now being developed worldwide and selling vast amounts, it has now allowed all social classes to pretend to be a conspicuous consumer by buying a knock-off and playing the part of a member of the higher social class.  Now because of this, the contraband market is a billion dollar market, with more people buying knock-offs then the real thing.

My personal views on this topic is that I was one of those people who bought the knock-offs for people to look at my bag and think of myself in a higher class.  I bought most of these knock-off bags when I was in high school, and would wear them around proudly. However, after a little bit of usage I found that the quality of these knock-offs are definitely not like the real bags.  First off the leather is very hard and not soft, the zippers are not good quality and neither are the magnetic closures.  I have now stopped using these knock-offs and actually went out and purchased a real Coach bag from an outlet in Las Vegas.  When choosing my bag, I decided that I did not want a bag with the C logo and opted for an all-leather brown bag, that only shows the logo of coach on the buckle and is not obvious to anyone walking by me.  When I purchased my new ‘designer purse’ I bought it for the quality and not for the designer logo.  This brings me to my other thought that society is way to concerned with how they believe people are perceiving them and that is why the contraband market is so large.  The way we learn about the conspicuous consumer is that they are wealthy and therefore buy expensive things to show off their wealth to the world and to make them stand out from the other classes.  However, nowadays anyone can purchase a ‘name brand’ purse and provide an illusion that they belong in that group of people.

Jillian Bureau



California has always been glorified whether it’s through television, movies or magazines, it has always been portrayed as a place of wonder and beauty. Many rich Americans live in California for its luxurious mansions, fast cars and mega parties. The commercial it self shows celebrities amongst other good looking, well dressed, upper class people simply having fun and enjoying their time in California. It shows them partaking in stereotypical activities in California, whether it’s surfing, skateboarding, wine tasting etc. It paints a very positive picture for California, making it seem like the best place to live in the United States. It shows an upper class lifestyle is ideal, it also shows that you have to be very wealthy to live in this state, or even to visit and enjoy your time to the fullest.

This commercial like most promotes a false consciousness. It’s stating that in order to experience a higher lifestyle one must come to California. For most people there is no dire need to live in or travel to California, it is merely a luxury. There are obvious circumstances where one would need to live or travel in California, whether it be family or business but besides those two and perhaps some others, there is no real need. It also promotes this fantasy lifestyle which is not true for many people living in California. In fact this commercial is Ironic, because Los Angeles, the biggest city in California is perhaps the most crime ridden in the United States. California was one of the most dangerous cities to live in during the 1980’s and early to mid 1990’s as gang violence was at its highest, even resulting in city wide riots. I think the people behind this commercial, which is the state of California should focus on their own citizens first before trying to bring in new ones.

-Pete Taylor



The linked commercial is of Ciroc, brand of a vodka created by Diddy. The commercial starring Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs indicates a higher social class, another standard of living, and ‘conspicuous consumption’ . Consumers express their consumption of this product by overtly showing off they can afford this brand-name, celebrity created vodka, buying into the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and that this brand of vodka is smooth and will ensure everything is better in their life.

Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘Status Game’ in respect to cultural capital shows what we think of others, how others perceive us and Ciroc gives off a ‘snobbery’, following Sean Comb’s high-flyer lifestyle.

False consciousness of thinking that a consumer needs the product in order to reach the height of success that Diddy has, or conversely, if going through hard times, Ciroc will smooth those problems over and make everything better. This directly ties into Ellis Cashmore’s hypothesis of ‘Buying Beyonce’ as Diddy shot to fame as a black hip-hop artist who was able to successfully transition to mainstream culture and is a house-hold name. He does not hide his life style: is known for lavish parties, buying the highest quality prodcuts, and spending large amounts of money on his kids, parties, homes, and vacations. Jean Baudrillard’s ‘sign value’ functions as status of different connotations, in the context of Ciroc, it is saying that this is the vodka of status.

I think the consumption of this item gives of the impression the consumer is better off if they can afford a bottle of Ciroc. As a minimalist myself, the idea of spending upwards of $50 a bottle seems insane, and after further investigation, most of Canada would agree since distribution across Canada was discontinued soon after its released due to poor sales. The lifestyle of the hip-hop mogul is apparent in the commercial- a private jet, reading a business book, while being accompanied by his body guard; the lifestyle is out of touch with many consumers, so purchasing a bottle of Ciroc may accompany a want for this kind of life.


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Rolex watches are well-recognized symbols of prestige and wealth within Western culture. These two advertisements blatantly reinforce this symbolism and cater to desires to increase one’s perceived wealth and status. The advertisements promote the act of conspicuous consumption – the purchasing of items for their social meaning and visibility, rather than their actual utility. Instead of showcasing the functions of the watch, that is, to simply tell the time like all other watches, both advertisements highlight a Rolex’s ability to indicate personal achievement.

          People shape their identities through conspicuous consumption by purchasing items that “say” something about them. According to these ads for example, owning a Rolex watch suggests that one has been successful. The advertisements pair the product with accomplished individuals to forge a relationship between achievement and Rolex ownership. Additionally, the slogan “Rolex. A crown for every achievement.” has little to do with what the consumer can do with the product, and much to do with what the product represents. Focus is drawn toward the way a Rolex watch can portray a certain type of persona, and thus, how any individual can adopt that persona through consumption of this product. Consumers are presumably aware that all watches function to tell time, so Rolex takes a different approach in marketing the uniqueness of its product.

          As the advertisement suggests, what differentiates a Rolex from other watch brands is the message it sends about the people who wear one – that they are intelligent, talented, rich in social capital and financially wealthy. This message strategically coincides with constructions of an ideal identity. The advertisement is powerful in that it appeals to people’s motive to attain what is seen as desirable. It sells an image rather than a product, thereby providing conspicuous consumers with that which they were truly shopping for, that is, a certain identity. By drawing attention to the positive social meaning of goods, a company can sell its product at a higher cost than a product with the same utility, but which does not relay the same message(s). Advertisements play an integral role in conspicuous consumption because they inform consumers of what a specific product “says”. Rather than utility, a product’s model, appearance or in this case, brand, are made important because of the message associated with each aspect. Through buying products of a specific model, appearance or brand, individuals also obtain the associated trait(s).

          The issue with conspicuous consumption is that it can result in the formation of false identities. By purchasing goods for their meaning, individuals construct themselves through their socially visible assets instead of through their behaviour. Consumers are able to adopt various characters through what they buy, and can do so without actually embodying the traits associated with a certain character. This permits character fluidity, but prevents the development of stable self-images. Lack of self-knowledge and an ever-changing personality can lead to host of personal, psychological problems, as well as contribute to an inauthentic environment. Conspicuous consumption inhibits the formation of strong relationships because individuals hide behind false representations of themselves and are unable to find those who actually share in their same interests.

          Advertising towards conspicuous consumers is a manipulative tactic. It takes advantage of individual insecurities and media pressures which dictate how people “should be”. In fact, conspicuous advertising is a source of pressure itself. By promoting the statement(s) made by a certain product, advertisers indicate that such qualities are desirable, and thus, that people should strive to model such these traits or identities. The growth of this type of advertising, along with the strengthening of the media as an institution of socialization, places individuals at greater risk of feeling inferior because their characters do not reflect social “ideals”. The media intentionally creates negative self-images and then provides the solutions – products – to overcoming them. This method suppresses uniqueness and self-acceptance. Furthermore, it motivates individuals to take on debt in the attempt to present themselves in a certain light and seemingly improve their character. One must be critical of conspicuous consumption and advertising in order to prevent North Americans from plunging deeper into a hyper-materialistic culture in which reality and falseness are difficult to distinguish.

-Sabrina Lepine

Status Brands: Examining the Effects of Non-Product-Related Brand Associations on Status and Conspicuous Consumption


Certain brand names rely on the fact that people buy their product because of the social status and social wealth that is attached to their product. Conversely, people buy these products and wear brand names because of the social status and individual identity that goes hand in hand with certain brand name companies. This journal article demonstrates the relationship between brand name products and consumers, and how consumers are more likely to wear brand name products that increase social prestige and social status, as well as creating individuality and “unique” identity through wearing these brand name products.

            Researchers have thoroughly studied fashion and clothing and how it has an affect on people. According to this study, fashion can say how important someone is, tell others how much social status they have or how much wealth they have (depending on the cost of the clothing), what the individual is like, such as conservative, sexy, casual, “hipster”, and so forth. According to Eastman, status and conspicuous consumption is “the motivational process by which individuals strive to improve their social standing through conspicuous consumption of consumer products that symbolize status for both the individual and surrounding others”. What Eastman is saying is that consumers buy products with social prestige in order to ‘up’ their social status, even if the consumers are not in the same economic sector as others.They also go on to say that conspicuous consumers rely heavily on image and individuality.

Consumption becomes a process of identity management, and according to researcher Belk, this is an interactive process of self-image of the goods consumed and that of the individual consuming them.  Belk believes “this is how possessions become a reflection of who we are and how we want others to perceive us and that people see their possessions as a part of or extension of themselves”.

This is all true in accordance with some of the readings that we have done in class, such as T. Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption. Veblen goes on to say that consumption is a way to show distinction and a way of social communication that leads to social prestige and status; people show off their materialistic goods in order to up their prestige within their social sphere.

When people go on to consume brand name products, they experience what is called “product symbolism” or “brand symbolism”, that is, what the product means to the consumer and their feelings for the product that they have purchased. According to this research, feelings contribute to attitude towards brands, beliefs, attributes and perceptions of the brand, thus forming an emotional relationship from consumer to brand product.

In conclusion, consumers are affected by a brand’s symbolic characteristics and by a brand’s social prestige and status. Marketers have acquired this knowledge of how people relate to their identity and social status through their brands, so companies now have a better understanding (and manipulation) of consumers through marketing strategies.

From reading through various articles in class and this article, I believe that conspicuous consumption is a problem in society today, whether it is consumption for home-décor, haute couture, electronics, or even just brand-name products (specifically articles of clothing). People are more inclined to buy products that have some sort of social prestige or social status linked to them such as Ugg boots, Hunter rain attire, the now infamous Canada Goose jackets and so forth. With that being said, I think what a lot of researchers are also missing is the relationship between consumers buying products, and the product is the quality of the product. Subjecting myself to buying all of these Brand-name articles, I buy more expensive products if I know the quality is better and that the product is going to last long. For example, last year I bought rain boots from Aldo shoes, that now leak and my feet end up soaked. I have now moved onto more expensive rain boots called Hunters. These have yet to leak and leave my feet wet and uncomfortable. So although there is still the undeniable relationship between conspicuous consumption and social status, I also believe that there is a relationship between the quality of the product and consumers buying the product.

People who are involved with brand-name products and conspicuous consumption want to set themselves apart from others with the mass-produced articles of brand-name clothing they have. It seems that it would be hard for people to be unique and set themselves apart from others with these products, however, when it comes to fashion, anything goes. “It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it” is a pretty big saying (if you have seen fashion television). What this means is that the color, shape, brand, size, and so forth does not matter; it is how you are wearing the product; how you are setting yourself apart from others with the same product. Farmer’s wear Hunter boots differently from a Carleton University student. It all depends on the person and how they make their outfits unique to set themselves apart from others.

 Shannon Donnelly

Henna and Hip Hop: The Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies #2 Assign.

         For our second group assignment, I found this article by Sunaina Maira on cultural appropration and commodification of cultural practice. Much like what we learned from the lectures, Maira’s article is a product of research into hip-hop culture and other forms of cultural commodification and how other ethnic groups emulate and internalize its practices, presumably in order to look ‘cool’ or fit in.Like bell hook, she noted that”Black style is viewed as the embodiment of a particular machismo, the object of racialized desire, and simultaneously, of racialized fear”. She also touch on the Maddona music video in which she wore Bhindi, a symbol of  India’s cultural identity. Whatever the case may be, vultures of capitalism(or corporations) would not hesitate to exploit any cultural practices and turn it into commodity. To demonstrate this point, she cites “commodification of hip hop and of youth style in general has meant that brand-name “gear,” such as jackets, shoes, and backpacks, are taken careful note of…” .In terms of relevancy to our lectures, bell hooks, Alex kolowitz, John Galbraith, Adorno and Horkheimer all comes to mind. Close reading and logical interpretations of their works link us back to substance of this article , to the extent that consumption and corporation is concern.

     With regards to my views on her article, I think that people from different cultures should be able to peaceably and possitively benefits from that of others. In a globalized world that we live in, it would be entirely impossible for anyone to control the means of cultural appropriation and commodificaton. After all, one might argue that there is benefit to be derived from the acceptance and popularity of a certain culture when there are lots of other ethnic groups subscribing to it, which might also suggest the importance of the value or cause underlying that culture. Although corporations might have entirely different motive than someone who may be genuinely interested in learning or adopting culture of the other, individuals should enjoy the freedom and opportunity to learn from the values of others and then make conscious decisions as to whether to adopt or drop. However, motivation for learning from or adopting cultural practices of  others(regardless of what ethnicities) shouldn’t include disrespect, insensitivy or any other ill motives toward the culture one claims to admire or derive some sort of benefit from. In other words, it would make no sense for ethnic group X to claim to adopt the cultural practices of ethnic group Y while the former is steadfastly clinging on to practices that seek to deprive the latter of the benefits that ethnic group X considers their values. In other words, the attitude that ‘I want to be like you or benefit from some of your values’ but I  don’t want you to benefit from my values, carries challenges or confussion of its own. This attitude not only vitiate one’s claim about their admiration of the culture of the other, but also provide insight into the double standard and hypocrisy of the person making the claim. I may have gone off topic a bit, but I think this is one of the issues that seems to be prevalence in North America, and probably in some societies as well: the use and commodification of the ‘other’ but with reservation as to the acceptance of the other in one’s own society. I think bell hooks and others speak well to these issues.

Richard Lokeya