Conspicuous Consumption and American Fashion

By Phineas Upham

Prior to the debut of magazines like Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue, American fashion was decidedly Western. The wealthiest among us sported suits and fine dresses, but they paled in comparison to their European counterparts. That became evident at the turn of the 20th century, when more European fashions, and designers, began making their way stateside.

Prior to the 1950s, most American fashion was quite formal. That led to the rise of conspicuous consumption. This practice involves buying audacious clothes for the sole purpose of exhibiting one’s wealth, a practice still very much in play today.

How are the two linked? It’s no secret that since the 1900s, several prominent fashion designers have settled in the United States. Specifically, New York. The city’s fashion week has been promoting the concepts of Western and European fashion since the late 1800s.

Those brands tend to produce luxury goods, which many people speculate are quality. The fact is that certain garments can go either way, with some reportedly lasting longer than others. Still, conspicuous consumption practices skyrocketed the demand for luxury goods with fine stitching and durability. It also gave rise to makeup and cosmetics, which became quite popular with both upper and middle class women.

Conspicuous consumption emphasizes a person’s quality of life. We see conspicuous consumption frequently in our daily lives, whenever our friends by new sneakers or a designer brand. While not inherently bad, conspicuous consumption could be criticized for its lavishness.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.

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