Q&A│Is Luxury Discrimination Common in This Era?

By Christine Tsui

Translated by Rachel Wang


A question goes that “Is luxury discrimination common?” on the Zhihu.com, the Chinese Quora.

The questioner puts his question in this way: “A colleague recently brought a handbag for his college-graduating son, but only to get refused. The boy said he would be discriminated by the peers if he, at his 20s, used the LV things.

It is said that the college guys would judge the LV consumers are tasteless parvenus,showing off with luxuries. However, as I know some craftsmanship of the luxury brands, especially that of Hermes, I admire them a lot. So I feel such a pity that the society, to some extent, discriminates luxuries, and I would like to put up with the questions:

1. Why some people would take the person with LV handbags or Hermes belts as lacking taste?

2. As a customer of LV handbags, what kind of outfit could diminish the parvenus style? How can I avoid the blame of showing off?”

This phenomenon is quite interesting. Most people would explain it from the views of their observations or senses, so I, hoping to be inspiring, prefer a more academic approach to this issue.

Fashion is associated with class, which has been proved by many socialists, anthropologists and psychologists. You can find the reference from the following classic works.

The Psychology of Clothes  by J. C. Flugel

The Theory of the Leisure Class  by Thorestein Veblan

La Distinction : Critique sociale du jugement  by Pierre Bourdieu

Fashion and Its Social Agendas: Class, Gender, and Identity in Clothing  by Diana Crane

Besides, System de la Mode by Roland Barthes is also worthy to read.

This book reveals the methods of brands or fashion medias to confirm the readers that their social attributes, such as status and class, can be reflected by their clothing. Barthes classify clothing into three types. The clothing of material attributes, on the fabric, craft and colors, is the first type. Another type is the imaginary clothing, existing in the fascinating descriptions or pictures on fashion magazines, which persuades the customers to feel themselves sexy, slim, tasty, and belonging to a certain class or social positions. It is the clothing of symbolic meanings, embracing certain spiritual meanings. The last one should be the clothing which have been worn.

Among all three types, Barthes focuses on the imaginary type.

For example, the term of “a printed silk dress” can only indicates the material attribute of clothing.

When it comes to “a printed silk dress of grace and elegancy”, the readers would weave the “grace and elegancy” with this dress. The power of language may goes beyond our imagination. In this dress, people would label themselves with “grace and elegancy”, so these two words can represent the dress in the imagination.

In a word, it has been proved that fashion can never separate from class and status.

Now we can go back to answer the question that why does “some people discriminate luxuries”?

Above all, as an academic researcher, I would not take it as a common phenomenon. As the questioner mentioned it was his son who sniffs at LV handbag, I prefer to owe it to the diversity of consuming propensity deriving from the change of population structures. Though the age of the son is not mentioned, we can approximately calculate that he should be one of generation after 90s, even after 1995.

Actually, this generation are not as eager as their parent generation for the luxuries, which does not necessarily mean discrimination.

1. These youngsters have not experienced material shortages. They have a wide vision of handbags and clothing. The rarer the stuff is, the higher the price goes. Now that luxuries are not rare to them, they would not take luxuries seriously.

2. This generation are less restrained by other’s judgements. Their parents may deliberately show off the luxuries to prove themselves in a certain class, status or tastes. But, being more sensitive to their own feelings, the young people now would like to take the dressing issue as a personal one, nothing to do with others.

3. Luxury brands intend to be conservative to maintain an image of classics and traditions keeper. The conservation makes them lag behind the recent fashion trends and the consuming preference change. For instance, the generation after 90s are fond of the fashion-sports styles, blurring genders and going for mix-and-match dressing instead of the traditional ones, away from the classic and elegancy routine that the luxury brands emphasizes on. So, for the youngsters, luxuries are too old for their styles, or to say, more suitable for their parents.

Indeed, the luxury brands are currently challenged by a younger market, but it would happen every time the population structure fluctuated in the history. So it does not mean these brands are doomed to death. Besides, LV, as a single case, is affected severely by fake products issues, which cannot be extended to all the other luxury brands.

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