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The 21st Century

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The International Writers Magazine
: Lifestyles


In terms of brands at least, materialism relies heavily upon the concept of superiority through wealth. It’s a simple equation – to get an Armani suit you’ll need a couple of thousand pounds. Not a lot of people have this sort of money to spare, and could never comprehend spending such a sum on a single suit. The craftsmanship is most likely superior to that of cheaper brands but almost certainly not in proportion to the increased cost. Armani suits aren’t, to the public’s knowledge, produced by in sweatshops for a start.

Anyway, those that have the cash are limited in number – it is therefore a prestige item. Only an elite few can and will own them – it’s like belonging to a delightfully aristocratic club, where you can cast an approving nod at someone wearing similar (but of course, not the same) clothes and merrily look down your nose at everyone else in their inferior garments.

Ordinary people wear ordinary clothes mass-produced in factories in third world countries in circumstances they subconsciously ignore as they pay nine quid for a top. A fashion has almost been created out of clothes like these – the ones you see in Tesco that don’t have a label, as if to avoid identifying where they came from. (Of course at Asda you wear clothes designed by 'George'). People might not necessarily be ashamed of buying clothes from these places, but they rarely have the intention of announcing the place of purchase and passers-by won’t think twice about it.

You don’t, unless you’re particularly perceptive and fixated with fashion, consciously notice the lack of a brand or image on someone’s shirt; you might consciously notice a familiar logo.
On high-cost items an icon or brand is almost always visible (the more expensive the more subtle it is)– but that’s the whole point, to assert your financial superiority. You want people to see you storming down the street in a two-thousand pound suit, half because it cost you two thousand pounds, half because it’s a status symbol. You rich, they poor, and you and they both know it. It makes you feel good about yourself. It’s hand-woven proof of a life of hard work, a stroke of luck, a well endowed relative’s demise, a compensation case that worked out in your favour, who knows. How you got it isn’t important, that you do have it is.

Although most men are apathetic towards the fashion world, there are a select few brands that we all recognise – usually because we’ve heard Ricky Tomlinson or Jack Dee complaining about them and the people who wear them.

Being confronted by someone in clothes that could pay a years’ rent is intimidating – so few people have these things that you always notice someone in them. It makes you think: “Bloody hell, how much did that cost? Those cufflinks alone probably cost more than everything I’m wearing.” It’s an uncomfortable sensation, knowing that someone is richer than you just by looking at them. Immediately a gap is created between you and the person – they likely have a “better” lifestyle than you, eat nicer food, have a bigger house, faster car, know which cutlery is used when in formal dinners, what a cummerbund is, the difference between a three and four-wood, talk about outsourcing, buy magnums not pints, sorbets not fudge cakes, Bentleys not Fords, estates not houses.Half of it is pure speculation but it all adds up in one split second to a permanent distancing between you. And that’s the idea, elevating the owner above the person who doesn’t, can’t have them, the premium goods.

© Michael Halmshaw November 17th 2004
Michael is a first year creative writing student at Portsmouth University - He doesn't wear a suit.

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