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The Ethos of Consumerism and Luxury Consumption

post #1 of 131
Thread Starter 
Last night I was at a family dinner party and got into an interesting conversation with one of my father's friends. A successful man that has been a family friend for a long time, he and I have talked at length a number of times. However, somehow, we stumbled upon the arena of clothes, lifestyle and luxury consumption.

As one might expect (being a regular poster on SF) I was quick to applaud a life of measured luxury where aesthetic and appreciation of craft outweighed utilitarianism or playing to the lowest common denominator. I discussed bespoke commissions, time spent doing in-depth research and the pursuit of a standard of quality to which I hold my clothing and style of dress.

After learning of my time and money spent on clothing and style, he was quite perplexed, almost to the point of annoyance. He made several points about how to invest one's money and time. He discussed the benefit of a humble existence with small luxuries serving as highlights. He warned of becoming accustomed to excess and luxury, as it would inevitably lead to gluttony (both in my closet as well as other facets of my life). While he acknowledged and encouraged my hobby of learning and investing in men's style, he was quick to warn of how easily it could lead to pompousness.

Obviously his opinions led to a rather spirited conversation. The only point we were able to agree upon, after a few drinks and quite some back and forth, was that there is no clear definition of excess. There is no way to definitively say where quality or utility ends and frivolous opulence begins.

While I have my own ideas of how much is too much, a very subjective measure that changes greatly from item to item and situation to situation, the whole idea of luxury consumption leading to gluttony was very intriguing. Lately, many here have commented that there is a growing trend towards buying more and more "luxury" items, regardless of whether the items are needed or not. I'm curious to know, from a community where there will always be an inherent lean towards the excessive and outlandish, how much is too much? In the quest for style, do you have a philosophy on what constitutes acceptable measures vs. outrageous levels of consumption?

Obviously I realize this is a very abstract question. There is no way to objectively state that one item should only require this much time and money versus another. I also realize that most of us here get enjoyment out of the process of buying or making clothes. However, I am hoping to spark some conversation on how much is too much. And, even better, at what point, if there is one, we get lost in ourselves and our hobby and completely abandon rationality to the point that we could be called wasteful, meretricious or gluttonous.
post #2 of 131
Its a question I struggle with all the time. Not so much with respect to how much clothing I buy, but the prices at which the items no longer make sense.

For instance, I can stomach paying $450 for a pair of Carmina or C&J benchgrades. I obviously long for pairs of EG or say a G&G st. James, but $1,100 for a pair of shoes won't happen. I would regret it I think.

I have come to a point in clothes where I'm buying very occasional wear stuff and paying pretty serious money for it. After a few purchases, I feel like I have to limit myself to stuff I'll wear more frequently.

Gluttony...again, a term of perspective.
post #3 of 131
Another way to look at it is as supporting craftsmanship and skill and, at the highest level perhaps artistry. The skill and knowledge will disappear if those who can afford to stop supporting these skilled people.

There is also truth that the forums facilitate consumerism. To me, the forum and promote products much more effectively and stronger than any advertising.
post #4 of 131
I see consumerism and luxury consumption as two separate and not nessesarily related items. I buy one pair of shoes for $2000, I've paid for one pair of shoes, that are made in a first world country and the maker is paid a living wage, the salesman is paid a living wage, the store pays rent and the company sees a profit that helps them continue their operation. They're made of natural materials and have a minimal impact on society and the environment and are often a by product of our food industry. I'll likely own them for 15-20 years and help support local business by having them repaired.

Is that really so terrible?

To answer your question however, I consume at a level that is comfortable to me, it's something I budget and it is always second to more important things such as investing, ect.
post #5 of 131
Quote:
Originally Posted by SkinnyGoomba View Post

I see consumerism and luxury consumption as two separate and not nessesarily related items. I buy one pair of shoes for $2000, I've paid for one pair of shoes, that are made in a first world country and the maker is paid a living wage, the salesman is paid a living wage, the store pays rent and the company sees a profit that helps them continue their operation. They're made of natural materials and have a minimal impact on society and the environment and are often a by product of our food industry. I'll likely own them for 15-20 years and help support local business by having them repaired.
Is that really so terrible?
To answer your question however, I consume at a level that is comfortable to me, it's something I budget and it is always second to more important things such as investing, ect.

 

Not terrible at all, in fact I agree. The only reason I don't buy $2000 shoes is because they're far out of reach for my income. Of course we're talking about $2000 spent on quality, not a designer name.

 

As an artist myself I am into clothes mostly for the artistic aspect of putting together an ensemble, as well as huge appreciation of the craftmanship involved in making tailored garments, shoes, etc.

post #6 of 131
Thread Starter 
I discussed the First World/living wage argument as well as the argument for supporting artisan crafts at the highest level. At the end of the day, he agreed that there was certainly a great deal of skill and artistry involved. However, he still saw the cost associated as excessive when applied to a large scale. That is to say, if you have a few expensive things that you cherish or hand down, that shows an appreciation for the art-like quality of the item. However, to completely stock your wardrobe with the best of the best is unrealistic and wonton.

To your point, SG, I think there is a very big difference between consumerism and luxury consumption. In hindsight, I might have used "vs." rather than "and" in the title of the post. I don't see consumerism, as a whole, as inherently dangerous or a vice. Rather, it is an economic force. However, the question becomes at what point does consumerism lead to luxury consumption. And, from that point, at what juncture does luxury consumption become excessive or counter-productive. I don't think you need consumerism to lead to outlandish spending, per se, but I also can see how dangerously high levels of consumerism could lead to a slippery slope.

Again, this is all very subjective. I'm not looking for an "Ah-ha" post that completes squashes the argument. Rather, I'm interested to know if there is a link between consumerism and excess and at what point, for you, does the excess become out-of-bounds.
post #7 of 131
The sybarite and the stoic have always coexisted. Both Antony and Cato came to a bad end. The point is you follow a certain philosophy and arguing about which point of view is correct is going to create good debates but never going to lead to any conclusions.

Over the last 10 years I have focused on bespoke done by a very competent tailor in Bangkok, and buying only from artisans like Sam Hober or Eqqus leather. I find my overall costs have come down relative to overpriced rubbish from Zegna or Armani, the quality and fit of everything I own has gone up, and I can enjoy best of both the worlds. The equation does not work if you compare it to GAP- and if your friend can bear to wear gap then, well either he is a true stoic or has no appreciation of aesthetics.

I also follow the philosophy that buying a 50 dollar Casio watch is expensive since that is 50dollars you will never see again. However buying at 10,000dollar Patek is cheap as you can probably sell it for more than you bought it for.

So there you go.
post #8 of 131
Thread Starter 
And Tropicalist, I think it begins to open up two distinct questions:
  • Will those not passionate about style or a higher standard of living ever truly respect or appreciate our efforts/passions?

    AND

  • At what point, for those of us who do care about and understand personal style, do our habits or impulses become laughably excessive?

Especially for the first question, I think we'll end up banging our heads against a wall sooner than later. To your point of the sybarite and the stoic, some people will never understand and some will never even make the effort to try. Not much that can be done when ideologies differ so severely.

However, the second question is much more intriguing to me and one of the chief motivators for starting this thread. For people embarking on this pursuit of style and lifestyle, at what point does it all just get too ridiculous? Or, does such a point exist? As an example, I've learned enough to know what differentiates EG from C&J. However, I still think $1,000 for shoes is unnecessarily excessive. This is just a personal example, but I'm curious to know if there are others that see a ceiling to all this business.
post #9 of 131
Quote:
Originally Posted by bourbonbasted View Post

However, he still saw the cost associated as excessive when applied to a large scale. That is to say, if you have a few expensive things that you cherish or hand down, that shows an appreciation for the art-like quality of the item. However, to completely stock your wardrobe with the best of the best is unrealistic and wonton.

This is an interesting point he makes. I can really appreciate and perhaps embrace this philosophy, but it doesn't address the idea of scale and relative income. To me, a standard pair of shoes might be $300-$400 and that expensive thing may be a pair of EGs. The reason I would choose that price is based on a minimum level of quality in my eyes. Did he ever comment on what his idea of what is a realistic expense on certain items such as shoes or a suit?
Edited by Cant kill da Rooster - 7/30/12 at 10:36am
post #10 of 131
Good thread. Imo, this is a question we should all ask ourselves continually, if we are to be ethical. I agree in particular with two general points above: that purchases have an impact on the whole society and that the right amount of consumption varies somewhat by circumstance.

To the first point, our purchases shape our world. It is good to support excellent craftsmen and women and to care about the environment. But we should also ask ourselves if sometimes there are even better ways of spending our money, such as funding scholarships or health care for disadvantaged children. Of course, some of those children will grow up to be craftsmen and women who deserve to earn a good living, and the current ones have children to support... So the situation is complicated.

On the second point, I don't know how much one can improve on Aristotle's words regarding virtuous moderation:
Quote:
By the median of an entity I understand a point equidistant from both extremes, and this point is one and the same for everybody. By the median relative to us I understand an amount neither too large nor too small, and this is neither one nor the same for everybody. To take an example: if ten is manyand two is few, six is taken as the median in relation to the entity, for it exceeds and is exceeded by the same amount, and is thus the median interms of arithmetical proportion. But the median relative to us cannot be determined in this manner: if ten pounds of food is much for a man to eatand two pounds little, it does not follow that the trainer will prescribe six pounds, for this may in turn be much or little for him to eat; it may be littlefor Milo and much for someone who has just begun to take up athletics. The same applies to running and wrestling. Thus we see that an expert in any field avoids excess and deficiency, but seeks the median and chooses it —not the median of the object but the median relative to us.
post #11 of 131
I suppose the habits become laughably excessive when one shows to court to file personal bankrupcty sporting the EG shoes he purchased on credit.

For myself, I try to set a rough budget for clothing expenditures and then look at my need/want list and plan accordingly. Spending $1,000 on a pair of EGs might be possible in the budget, but would mean a substantial deferral of other items on the list. I then try to purchase quality items within the budgeary constraints. Some do not have budgetary constraints for puchases and, then, I suppose the question is whether there a price threshold for an item which someone deems excessive or prodigal or a certain number of items reaches that point.
post #12 of 131
As with all things in life only a few people will understand and appreciate why we do what we do. It does not matter if we are talking about our vocations or avocations. Give guidance to those who are open to it and have spirited conversations with those who do not share your point of view.

We all have our set points as to what we can afford or choose to afford. The same goes for our personal thresholds for what we would deem excessive. There is no norm. As long as it does not hurt you or your family fill your boots.

I can appreciate your value or choosing not to afford EG's at the $1000 price point. Others have no problem spending more without a second thought.

My spending has decreased as I age because I have reached a place where I know what I want and what I choose to afford. There will always be spending blips where I feel I have exceeded my threshold but I readily justify it.

As long as I can deal with my wife's renovation needs and boomerang kids and still meet my sartorial needs, all is right with the world. From my perspective, over time, quality has gone way up and volume buying has gone down. Bespoke for suits, odd jackets and ties is up and RTW garments have disappeared. With shoes, I am happy with a small stable of RTW or MTO from select makers where I feel fit is close enough that I won't do bespoke again for a long while I'd ever again.

If my wife says "I can't stand this place any longer" then I will leave my job. I can retire if I want or find a new job or focus on my side business. How that turns out will dictate if I mothball my wardrobe.

So at this point modest acquisitions are the norm but to the most casual of observers I am still most likely dabbling in sartorial excess.
post #13 of 131
As far as markup goes, I describe that in this scenario as being similar to goodwill on a balance sheet. It's an intangible value that relates to the reputation of a brand or company. You pay for goodwill when buying a reputable company and I feel you do also when buying a reputable product.

The point at which it is too ridiculous is the point at which enough consumers no longer pay the markup.
post #14 of 131
An interesting thread indeed.

We can all agree that how much we spend or consider "over-the-top" to be relative to each person, their income level, lifestyle, thought process, etc. However, this topic might be great for getting an answer to certain things I wonder about every now and then.

Open question to all: do you ever do things to satisfy a material acquisition and then take comfort in the same? Or, does that just lead to further unfulfilled wants? For example, if one buys Ambrosi pants for $700 (or whatever they cost these days) does that mean that all pants going forward have to be at that level? Or, does one take the plunge to see what the hype is about and get it out of their system - with the assurance that they fulfilled a particular desire at a given point in time and can move on the next obsession?

I probably could word this better if I had the time, but hopefully you all get what I'm saying.
post #15 of 131
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cant kill da Rooster View Post

Did he ever comment on what his idea of what is a realistic expense on certain items such as shoes or a suit?

We never talked about specific numbers or even price ranges for that matter. As I said he is quite successful, so it's not the idea of spending money, but rather how it's spent. He'd much rather put money into travel or investments or philanthropy than have a tailor at his beck and call. He gave me an example of his watch. It's a Patek that his father left him when he died. While he understands the value of the watch and that is a great timepiece, he doesn't see the virtue in spending thousands of dollars on a watch. He also sees having one watch as all that is necessary. To pour more money into a need that's already satisfied (quite well) is unnecessary.

Beyond that he sees the need or interest of having everything the best-of-the-best as a show for other people. Rather than investing in something that will make you a better person (like charity, education, travel, etc), the person who is luxury-obsessed looks to cover up their insecurities with extravagance. Again, this was his thinking, not mine. However, I do think there is something to be said for pouring a small (or large) fortune into what essentially boils down to vanity. Just something that made me think.

Empty, thank you for the insight. As you alluded, my family friend is very big into giving back. It's from this that I think he draws the conclusion that it becomes sinful to live so excessively when so many are deprived of the basics. Combining this with the idea that these purchases are made to stoke one's ego, he takes even further exception. While I can see the virtue in his statements, I will never be selfless enough to not revel in my success and reward myself for my accomplishments. Just how I'm wired.

I know this all seems to be on a circular track dependent on income or fervor, but I appreciate everyone's insight. It was a bit of an eye-opening conversation for me and I'm curious to know of everyone's opinions.
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