A few months ago, I was passing the time reading very old PurseBlog posts.
I remember there was one post that I lingered on for longer than usual, not because of what the anonymous author had written, but because of a rather heated exchange that went down in the comments underneath.
Now, we contributing writers are no strangers to the potential hostility of the comment section (typically it’s nice but sometimes it can be ruthless) because that just comes with the territory of expressing ourselves online. But I do remember how sad I felt that this person’s journey saving up to buy her dream LV bag was disparaged by one particularly nasty comment.
The also-anonymous commenter began by railing against knock-off handbags. I saw no problem with this; This is a place to discuss luxury goods after all and such an opinion is to be expected. However, I (and the other commenters) took offense to the opinion that followed ﹘ that they felt it was silly for the author to have saved for and bought a real designer bag because they worked in a not-so prestigious low-wage job, therefore owning the bag was pointless since everyone would assume it was fake anyway.
Fellow users felt that this criticism was neither creative nor constructive but more of a putdown towards the author purely based on an environment she frequented or because of her perceived social class. Apparently, it didn’t matter that the bag made her happy because she wasn’t the perfect representation of the ideal luxury consumer.
All this comment translated to in my mind was “even after diligently working and saving for this item, you’re still not one of us.” And it honestly just came off as gatekeeping.
It got me thinking about why this even happens: How do we determine who has rights or access to our particular community or lifestyle? What factors are at play when someone tries to decide how acceptable or unacceptable another’s consumption practices are? Who’s really “deserving” of luxury?
Of course, most of us are reasonable people who already know the answer is that everyone is deserving of luxury goods. Sure, the price of these items serves as a barrier to many, but that doesn’t mean anyone is more or less worthy of owning them.
But why do some still insist on dividing us in this way?
According to the research published in the 2020 Handbook for Luxury Branding, it’s because many consumers actually fulfill their social needs and build their identity via their luxury consumption.
Let me explain:
For many consumers, luxury goods serve to signal either their actual position in society (i.e how successful/ cool/ fashionable they are) or their desired position in society (how successful/ cool/ fashionable they want to be perceived to be.) That’s no secret, but the researchers also explained that the ability to possess these things is often regarded as a privilege that should be limited to those who have either ascribed (born with) or attained (earned) status in society. And this way of thinking isn’t new.
Just as the ancient Greeks banned Spartans from possessing gold or silver, it seems we still have some people with a vested interest in maintaining some weird pecking order. The problem is, this becomes harder to do as brands open themselves up to selling to non-elites, and the lines between “Who’s Who” become increasingly blurred.
Since anyone with good budgeting skills can buy a high-end bag, it seems all these gatekeepers have to determine another’s status is perceived socio-cultural capital ﹘ where they live, how they speak, their personal tastes, their level of education, how much money they make, or even the type of job they have.
When someone who doesn’t have the “right” status markers is able to join in on the fun, the gatekeepers’ identity is threatened. The line of thinking goes: If they can’t find a way to differentiate themselves or gain an advantage over others, what is even the point? So they do what they can to protect their identity.
This usually comes in the form of making disparaging remarks, passing judgment on someone’s character based on their tastes, or downplay their contribution to the community. And it’s pretty gross behavior if you ask me.
Most of us are good people who have worked extremely hard for our possessions, which makes us deserving of luxury. If anything, I would argue that the only people who aren’t deserving are those who forget that kindness and understanding come at no cost and can only help to secure their position in a community that thrives because of our unique experiences and a shared love of luxury.
But let’s discuss it! Tell me your thoughts.