Virginia Postrel ponders who buys luxury goods and why:

Conspicuous consumption, this research suggests, is not an unambiguous signal of personal affluence. It’s a sign of belonging to a relatively poor group. Visible luxury thus serves less to establish the owner’s positive status as affluent than to fend off the negative perception that the owner is poor. The richer a society or peer group, the less important visible spending becomes.

In Britain, where we were trained to dissect class as Americans dissect race, one of the first things you learned was that the people with the posh accents and the really threadbare clothes and bad hygiene were the mega-wealthy ones. Shabby chic in American terms.

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