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CONSUMPTION IS AN ACTIVE PROCESS WHERE CONSUMERS EXPRESS THEIR IDENTITIES AND CREATIVITY CRITICALLY EVALUATE THIS STATEMENT WITH REFERENCE TO FASHION, GIVING SPECIFIC EXAMPLES. This essay seeks to evaluate the on-going debate regarding consumption, whether it is a way to express individual style and creativity or whether consumers are manipulated into buying commodities they do not require. To answer this I will be looking at particular types of consumption to demonstrate that consumers often resist typical consumption methods in order to show individual style. One method is the increasing popularity in consuming second-hand goods via charity and vintage shops. Consumption is a fundamental activity in modern life, we must consume to live but it is argued that it is our duty to consume „The way present-day society shapes its members is dictated first and foremost by the duty to play the role of the consumer‟ (Bauman, 1998, p.80). It can also be argued it is the way that we consume that defines us, what we buy and from where. “Consumption is always a cultural as well as an economic phenomenon. It is to do with meaning, value and communication, as much as it is to do with exchange, price and economic relations” (Lury, 1999, p.10). Here it is suggested that consumption is closely linked to our cultural values and identities and that via consumption we can express our social status. Conspicuous Consumption was a theory put forward by Thorstein Veblen in 1899 based upon lavish spending on goods and services used mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status. The idea is as relevant today as it was then, however it is no longer limited to the upper classes. „Anyone with enough disposable income can participate… Worryingly, in order to fund our conspicuous consumption, we have become a nation living on credit, and our obsession with designer labels has spawned a whole new industry around counterfeiting‟ (Jackson, 2006, p.25-26). This quote suggests that despite lack of funds we still participate in conspicuous consumption with the intent of displaying our social status. Counterfeit goods have Amy-Louise Chapman

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become a major problem in society today as those who cannot afford to consume the real branded goods believe that by using copies of popular items they are still displaying a higher social status when in fact this is often not the case. The romantic period or Romanticism refers to the artistic movement that developed at the time of the increase in industrialisation of society in the 18th century. It was suggested by the writer Colin Campbell that this is the period when modern consumer culture began. „There is a close link between the burgeoning new capitalist class and Romanticism as an aesthetic and intellectual movement which both prioritise the individual…as well as seeking refuge in the imagination as a place apart from the horrors of modern life. Romanticism privileged a peculiarly privatized individual whose retreat and isolation enabled him to find „himself‟ in among the debris of modern life. These developments placed a new emphasis upon the self and stimulated the rise of privatized individualism‟ (Entwistle, 2000, p.108). Romanticism focussed on the idea of self-expression „…the romantic style represents a more familiar desire within contemporary culture, namely to be an expressive individual and be „true to oneself‟ (Entwistle, 2000, p.113) and that via self-expression people would be happier and have a greater understanding of oneself and their place in the world. It can be said that Romanticism was in fact about self-improvement; something which is still extremely relevant in today‟s society with programmes such as „How to Look Good Naked‟ and „10 Years Younger‟ on Channel 4. Much of the advertising we see today uses the ideas of romanticism to entice us to consume; ideas such as our desire to improve ourselves and to have better life experiences and mainly that we deserve to do so. It can also be argued that consumption is an activity that never fully satisfies our desires “Of all the pleasures we know of, their pursuit is the most pleasurable” (Montaigne, 1993). It is suggested that we have a consistent desire to consume, to reward ourselves with new things but that the process of consumption is more rewarding than the item itself and that we are actually stuck in a cycle of consumption where we continually have to buy more to satisfy our desires. This leads to debate upon the ethical and environmental effects of consumer culture.

Amy-Louise Chapman

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FDA FMP Online FCC Essay 07/12/2010


Fast fashion is a something we have become used to with new styles readily available at ever cheaper prices, with some retailers having up to 15 seasons every year. This however has an effect on the lives of those producing our garments “...employment has been concentrated in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Romania, Cambodia and Turkey. More than a quarter of the world‟s production of clothing and textiles is in China alone. In Bangladesh, Haiti and Cambodia clothing and textiles account for more than 80 per cent of total exports” (Lee, 2007, p.19). “According to Oxfam‟s estimates, fewer than half of the women in Bangladesh‟s textile and garment export industries have a contract; most have no maternity or health cover; they work on average 80 hours overtime a month and receive on average only 60-80 per cent of their earnings- with the rest withheld by factory owners for things like rent, water and food…”(ibid). Then there is the way we dispose of our out-dated fashion, “300,000 tonnes of clothes [are] sent for recycling or reuse every year in the UK” (Lee, 2007, p.37). However because of the decline in the quality and craftsmanship of our clothing less than half will be of good enough quality to be exported for reuse. These figures go a long way to explaining the rise in popularity of more environmentally friendly consumption and resistance to the typical types of consumption. Wearing vintage and second hand goods is one way modern day consumers are resisting a world that is becoming increasingly impersonal. „Vintage has now shifted from subculture to mass culture because of the disappointing fact that, regardless of price, fashion today is rarely exclusive‟ (Palmer, 2005, p.197). In the same way subcultures use bricolage to construct a new meaning for a specific garment the consumption of vintage and second hand goods acts as a resistance to culture and society that says we must have the most up-to-date fashions and offers „victory over a fashion system that dupe‟s consumers into overpaying for new merchandise‟ (Palmer, 2005, p.199). Wearing vintage and second hand items provides a way for consumers to show their creativity and personality as well as helping the environment which is a social status people are happy to gain for themselves.

Amy-Louise Chapman

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FDA FMP Online FCC Essay 07/12/2010


The consumption of vintage fashions is one way to ensure better quality garments; something which is increasingly important especially in times such as this when due to the recession consumers would rather pay more for something that is going to last. This also touches upon environmental factors as it results in less clothing and textiles going to landfill. Another incentive to wearing vintage fashion is that we are more likely to know that the person producing the garment worked in a more ethical environment. It has never been so popular to be seen wearing vintage and second hand clothing „Today vintage fashion has moved away from its historical outré and shabby associations, and has become a mainstream and highly commodified fashion alternative to wearing new designs. As recently as the 1980s wearing vintage was identified „as part of the current vogue for nostalgia…‟ (Palmer, 2005, p.197). There are numerous guides and blogs showing how to wear second hand and what to look for and celebrity and style icons demonstrating how they do it. „Vintage is regularly featured within the pages of the leading fashion and lifestyle magazines and is promoted as a sign of individuality and connoisseurship‟ (ibid). Celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Sienna Miller are often featured in fashion and lifestyle magazines wearing vintage attire and so increasing the desire to wear vintage also; in the same way seeing celebrities and style icons such as Kate Moss in the next must-have product fuels consumption on the high street. There are also numerous blogs by a wide range of age groups demonstrating how they consume second hand clothing and ways that they can be customised, this is a great way for newcomers to the trend to have a point of inspiration. Charity shops are receiving increased attention from the media at the moment making shopping there ever more appealing, with incentives such as pop up stores in well-known high street retailers such as Selfridges and Mary Portas setting up a temporary store in London‟s Westfield shopping centre. It is now seen to be fashionable to shop in charity stores such as Oxfam where the retailers themselves are re-addressing their image. High street charity stores are now placing more focus on marketing and advertising and now have dedicated boutiques specializing in vintage and retro clothing to cater to the more fashion-conscious shopper therefore shifting the shabby image that traditionally came with shopping in charity stores (see Amy-Louise Chapman

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image 1.1). „Oxfam has around 750 stores in the UK. The fact that Jane Shepherdson, former head of Topshop, recently became Oxfam‟s new retail advisor, can only bring a much welcome boost to the chain‟ (Lee, 2007, p.211). Oxfam have recently featured TV presenter and fashion icon Alexa Chung in an advertising campaign centred on their transactional website (see image 1.2). This advertising will appeal to a great number of consumers but especially the younger generations. The advert features Alexa wearing a patchwork dress that could be seen to display the possibilities that are available in terms of customising second hand items, therefore making more of a statement as to an individual‟s style and personality. The added incentives featured in the advert include the mention of big name, one-off products that you would not be able to source on the high street and also the fact that if an icon such as Alexa is doing it then so should we; coming back to the point regarding desire used in advertising. The previously mentioned advertising would greatly appeal to the student community that have a great interest in consuming vintage and second hand goods as „charity and vintage shops have a place within the student body, meeting the desire to save money and to create a look that is original with the added bonus of shopping ethically‟ (Mintel, 2010). 13% of university students asked said that they buy second hand clothes from charity and vintage shops (ibid). „Students who like to spend as little as possible on their appearance and those who enjoy creating fancy-dress outfits for club theme nights and parties are particularly likely to enjoy visiting these shops‟ (ibid). Those who consume second hand goods are looking for originality „…wearing vintage clothing can be interpreted as a clear sign of individuality and authenticity, an ideal that is constantly held up as the pinnacle of fashionable modernity‟ (Palmer, 2005, p.202). There is a great opportunity with second hand goods to mix styles and periods as well as mixing vintage goods with basic items from the high street to create an individual look. „The „Vintage Cool‟ person sees herself as „an individualist… who likes to try to create a different personae through… clothes‟ (Steele in Jackson, 2001). The appeal to wearing second hand is that you are wearing something that nobody else has. „Vintage shopping can be viewed as a

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FDA FMP Online FCC Essay 07/12/2010


continuation of discount culture, while simultaneously achieving an individual identity and exclusivity that brand names have lost‟ (Palmer, 2005, p.199). The idea of conspicuous consumption suggests that in order to display the highest social status we must consume the best brands, this however is now ever more possible due to the availability of credit and counterfeit goods making these branded goods less exclusive (See images 1.3 and 1.4); meaning the status of such branded goods has changed too. The Burberry check is a perfect example of this, the brand has lost valuable credibility as it has become associated with football hooliganism and „chavs‟ (See image 1.5). „The transformation of old clothes into „vintage‟ and „collectable‟, refutes Veblen‟s theory of conspicuous consumption and validates new and second hand fashion by placing it within the economic and status-giving arena of the art and decorative arts market (Palmer, 2005). This quote makes the suggestion that the consumption of second hand clothing is related to the Romantic Period in which it is said consumers were expressing themselves rather than being pressured into purchases. The one difficultly with wearing vintage clothing is the concern that the style will be out-dated, „anxiety rests in the subtle nuances of when an item is suitably vintage‟ (ibid). However „once you have strengthened your expertise, you will be able to move down a rack at speed. Your fingertips will be sensitized to top-quality materials… In this way you will go to the best goods…‟ (Weill, 1999, p.3). It has been suggested that one way to validate buying modern clothing is that if stored away it will age and after a few years represent „a moment in fashion‟ (Palmer, 2005). This can be applied to the consumption of vintage now; the idea that we are buying into a moment in fashion if the „right‟ garment can be sourced. Despite the challenge of buying second hand items and ensuring the correct mix of styles, eras and modern clothing it is one of the key ways to demonstrate individuality and personality „…exclusivity does not exist in the present market. Success in this manner, as the psychoanalyst, Muensterberger, has observed, is clearly linked to the collector‟s sense of identity and the collected objects „function as a source of self-definition… [proving]…to the collector and to the world, that he or Amy-Louise Chapman

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she is special and worthy of them‟ (cited in Palmer, 2005) It can be seen to be challenging when first entering into this mode of consumption „…it does take a bit of confidence to wear vintage, but… people who buy vintage tend to be trendsetters‟ (Lee, 2007, p.213) but once experience has been developed and perhaps when compliments upon your style are made it makes it worth it. In conclusion it can be seen that consumption is a process that we all must enter into as there are thing we need in day to day life as well as things we desire in order to feel better about ourselves; a theory explained by the idea of romanticism, however there are ways that modern consumers can resist sociological ideals; for example the way society dictates we must wear the most up-to-date styles and branded goods regardless of whether or not we can afford to pay for it. These branded goods have lost much of the status they once had due to the effects of an increase in counterfeiting and so have lost the authenticity they once displayed. Consumption of second hand goods provides a way to put up a resistance to modern consumer culture offering consumers the chance to be individual. Consuming this way offers people a way to rebel again conspicuous consumption and the need to display status. Consuming second hand goods can be challenging in terms of fashionability of some items and creating the right mix of styles can also be a difficulty for new consumers however with experience comes expertise in sourcing of items and how best to wear them. The mixing of second hand with high street fashions gives the wearer great versatility and the opportunity to create a truly original look. There are also numerous guides, blogs and magazine articles to provide inspiration and advice to consumers of second hand, these features also make wearing vintage a more socially accepted form of consumption as it moves into the mass-media. Charity shops are gaining more media attention than ever before and they are using more marketing and advertising methods to ensure they maintain their place on our high streets. Advertising featuring style icons such as Alexa Chung have been introduced to entice a younger target market to consume second hand goods. Students are very likely to consume second hand fashions due to the affordability, rarity of items and because of consideration for the environment. Second hand Amy-Louise Chapman

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clothing provides a more environmentally friendly way of consuming, less clothing will find its way to land fill and items produced around 30 years ago are more likely to have been produced in more ethical conditions. Fashions tend to follow cycles and vintage fashions are likely to be able to be worn for years to come, it can also be said that vintage items are likely to be of better quality than new items suggesting they will last longer before they need to be disposed of or replaced. APPENDIX

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BIBLIOGRAPHY Bauman, Z. (1998). Globalisation: The Human Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press. Entwistle, J. (2000). The Fashioned Body. Cambridge: Polity Press. Jackson, J. (2001), „What does your style reveal about you? Harper’s Bazaar, November: 130-2, 134. Jackson, T & Shaw, D. (2006). The Fashion Handbook. Abingdon: Routledge. Lee, M. (2007). Eco Chic. London: Gaia, Octopus Publishing Group Limited. Mintel- Student Lifestyles- UK- June (2010) Mintel [Online] Available at: http://academic.mintel.com/sinatra/oxygen_academic/search_results/show&/display/i d=508478/display/id=508478/display/id=530044?select_section=508478 (Accessed 5 November 2010). Montaigne, M. (1993). Essais, Vol. 1, trans. M.A. Screech. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Palmer, A. (2005). Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion. Oxford: Berg Publishers. Weill, C. (1999). Secondhand Chic: Finding Fabulous Fashion at Consignment, Vintage and Thrift stores. New York: Pocket Books. IMAGE REFERENCES “Burberry Chav” [Online Image] Avaliable at: http://ocameron.posterous.com/gonnalook-well-cool-in-me-burberry (Accessed 10 December 2010) “Fake Burberry Button” [Online Image] Available at: http://www.denimblog.com/c/forum/thread/23920/the-basics-of-spotting-fakeburberry (Accessed 10 December 2010) “Fake Burberry Collar” [Online Image] Available at: http://www.denimblog.com/c/forum/thread/23920/the-basics-of-spotting-fakeburberry (Accessed 10 December 2010)

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“Oxfam Advert featuring Alexa Chung” [Online Image] Available at: http://missmchugh.wordpress.com/ (Accessed 5 November 2010). “Oxfam Boutique” [Online Image] Available at: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/oxfam-gets-a-stylish-remake.php (Accessed 10 December 2010) WORD COUNT: 2828

Amy-Louise Chapman

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FDA FMP Online FCC Essay 07/12/2010

Consumption Essay  

This essay seeks to evaluate the on-going debate regarding consumption, whether it is a way to express individual style and creativity or wh...

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