According to a recent story in the Washington Post, it appears that expensive trappings such as handbags, jewelry, luggage, shoes, etc., are now considered to be déclassé. Conformity is taking a backseat to individuality. Shoppers are looking for non-brand and discrete products that eschew any kind of obvious affluence. Income disparity is in and conspicuous consumption is out. At the moment Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, et. al. have to be concerned about rich customers feeling guilty just for having money. Who says the rich don’t have a heart? Why, they’re willing to forgo a $695 silk scarf just to prove it.
It does figures that something like this would happen when it no longer matters for me. Around my current neighborhood, the only real evidence of peer pressure is the type of electric golf cart you own (I’m relieved I’m not a golfer; I don’t need additional examples of why size matters). But still, why couldn’t such noble class-consciousness rear its head when I was growing up and attending elementary school? I used to stare with a longing in my heart at all the cool kids who had foil-wrapped Hostess Ding Dongs in their lunch boxes, yet my own mother sent me to school with the Ann Page version which sat in a dreary-looking, plain packet. Nothing screamed provincial back then louder than a store brand.
Of course, even adolescent boys do eventually become aware of clothing options. I hadn’t realized how uncool I really was until it was pointed out by a caddy soul that I was the only member of my immediate peer group who still wore Sears Toughskin jeans, or as my dad referred to them — “dungarees.” Unless you were wearing the too-cool-for-words Levi’s, you were no one. When the day finally arrived in which an actual pair of Levi denims was to be purchased for me, I got so carried away that I somehow managed to also snag a Levi logo t-shirt and a Levi denim jacket to go with them. Talk about brand heaven. I wore all three the following day to school and literally became a walking advertisement. I also recall it being a rather difficult conversation about six months later when I tried to explain to my parents that Wrangler had now become the new très chic instead of Levi. My dad quickly let me know that he was more than happy to buy additional pairs of Toughskins to keep a growing boy clothed. Early poker rules were being learned about when to hold or fold.
As much as I am truly delighted to see Americans displaying a bit of self-acutalization, I do have to wonder if the current trend towards circumspect behavior has legs. Usually this kind of social change is limited to one-time events such as the post-9/11 focus on kindness, which lasted, oh, about a month. Remember when some of the more hopeful pundits actually said Hollywood would stop making violent movies because of the tragedy? Ha! Call me jaded, but I’m just not sure that in the same week in which Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president, that we’re going to see a sustained attempt to alter the God-given right to keep up with the Joneses. There may finally be a pope in the Vatican who is focused on poverty and the disadvantaged, but he’s still got his work cut out for him.
As proof of my skepticism, I read with both horror and delight last weekend at how some rich people in California are chafing at the restrictions being placed on water usage in the Golden State. In yet another news article also in the Washington Post, some in wealthy communities have become a bit brazen in their public statements about having to conserve water in the same manner as all other citizens. One of the more vocal remarked that, “People should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful.” He further went on to exclaim that he doesn’t feel all people are equal when it comes to water. I have to hand it to him for candor. It must be simply awful to look at all that dead grass. I just hope he doesn’t get fed up and eventually move to Florida — I’d hate to have him in the same hurricane shelter as me someday.
For the betterment and the sustained health of our world economy, I am going to remain optimistic that consumers will once again flock to their name brands. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure at this point in my life that I want to live in a world where Hermès, Saint Laurent, and Gucci don’t exist. I need to occasionally visit malls where there are stores who cater to my alleged betters. I want this if for no other reason than to take a moment to appreciate that the young boy who ate grocery store brand cupcakes and wore department store brand jeans can appreciate such fine things.
In spite of my hyperbole, I really do delight in knowing there is amazing, expensive, and over-the-top merchandise out there. So come on people, save Prada from the brink of insolvency!
But not so fast, Gorgeous…