I'm currently studying fashion history in the Visual Culture master's program at NYU. Costume, dress, clothing - or whichever term I'm in the mood to use at the time - has taught me a great deal about society as a whole. From aspects both anthropological and sociological, a great deal can be learned about mankind through the study of vestments.
However, I've used my passion for dress to defend my watching of certain television programs. The Real Housewives franchise is probably the biggest culprit in my reality repertoire. While others cringe at the McMansions, Botox, and petrol devouring SUVs, I absorb every minute of it as if watching a PBS documentary. Nova and P.O.V. simply don't carry the same level of intrigue for me.
"Conspicuous consumption" is my answer when asked why I watch what some consider garbage. In my defense, I really am interested in Thortstein Veblen's ideas about the nouveau riche of the late 19th century and their practice of consumerism. If you have the time, read his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. In laymen's terms, conspicuous consumption is the purchasing of luxury goods and services with the express purpose of showing off wealth and inciting envy in others.
I'm not sure much has changed, or we wouldn't be in the financial feces we're in right now. Those college credit cards we opened 10 years ago when we were still jobless and had two semesters until graduation? Still paying them off and recently started paying the principal, and not just the interest! Unless exceptionally evolved, we're all susceptible to keeping up with the Joneses, the Jacksons, the Jimenezes, and the Patels.
Perhaps the credit crisis will cause us to rethink what we purchase and why. With my Style Therapy clients, I encourage them to buy pieces with legs and staying power. It's not just about being able to wear something to work during the day and drinks afterwards. Can your suit blazer be worn with jeans or a cocktail dress? Can you see yourself wearing it for the next couple of years?
Whether we care to admit it, we're all guilty of conspicuous consumption on some level. The Housewives of Orange County, New York, and Atlanta just happen to be more visible because they're on television and their episodes are repeated ad nauseam. Until the economy recovers, repeat this Style Therapy Latin mantra when at the next sample sale: Veni, Vidi, Ambulavi. In English, it translates as "I came, I saw, I walked."