What Is Conspicuous Consumption?
Conspicuous consumption is the purchase of goods or services for the specific purpose of displaying one's wealth. Conspicuous consumption is a means to show one's social status, especially when publicly displayed goods and services are too expensive for other members of a person's class. This type of consumption is typically associated with the wealthy but can also apply to any economic class.
- Conspicuous consumption is a term coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen.
- Conspicuous consumption can be applied to luxury goods that are easily recognizable as high-end, expensive items.
- Tech, cars, and clothing can all be examples of items related to conspicuous consumption.
- Conspicuous consumption is often done to show a specific social status or class.
- While this type of consumption is often associated with wealthy people, anyone from any economic class may be a conspicuous consumer.
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Understanding Conspicuous Consumption
The term was coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1889 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. This type of consumption was considered a product of the developing middle class during the 19th and 20th centuries. This group had a more significant percentage of disposable income to spend on goods and services that were generally not considered to be necessary.
Examples of Conspicuous Consumption and Product Choice
Conspicuous consumption is exemplified by purchasing goods exclusively designed to serve as symbols of wealth, like luxury-brand labels on clothing, high-tech tools and toys, and vehicles.
Smartphones and Other Tech
For example, while there are many types of high-end smartphones on the market from major manufacturers, specialty smartphones created strictly as luxury items have also been produced.
All smartphones effectively offer the same core communications features, with software and apps installed on them, providing much functionality. However, designer smartphones are available from such luxury brands as Bentley and Lamborghini. The hardware within the phones will almost always be the best available, but what often sets these smartphones apart are the exterior casings, which may be made from leather, titanium, or even granite. The infamous Black Diamond iPhone, priced at $15 million, was just a top-of-the-line iPhone 5 encased in gold, encrusted with gems, and included a black diamond.
Similar might be said regarding the limited edition, high-performance supercars designed for speed and visual appeal but have little practical use. Such vehicles, from makers such as McLaren Automotive and Bugatti Automobiles, are produced in small batches and easily cost more than $1 million each.
The top speeds of supercars typically cannot be safely or legally achieved on most roads. Ownership of these vehicles can be an expression of conspicuous consumption because the full capabilities of supercars can rarely be experienced—even by the owner.
It might be argued that making such a purchase comes with some assurance that the user will have the best available device in their possession. However, far less expensive versions of the same device are also on the market. Procuring such products primarily aims to drive a conversation around its acquisition and the fact that the owner could afford to make such an extravagant purchase.