In these days of austerity, there is a good deal of moralizing about other people’s consumption habits, in particular, about “conspicuous consumption,” or the purchase of goods to display higher social status. Much of the criticism seems to be directed at poor people. Tressie McMillan Cottom (TPM Cafe: Opinion) challenges the claims that such purchases are irrational or immoral, citing “empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men”:
Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege… In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership.