Friday, April 22, 2005

The New York Times > Fashion & Style > Thursday Styles > Who Pays $600 for Jeans?

The New York Times > Fashion & Style > Thursday Styles > Who Pays $600 for Jeans?

. . . Both the surfeit and the numbing sameness of goods on the market have conspired to produce a nascent cult of connoisseurship, experts like Mr. Brown say. In this new marketing sphere, even ordinary objects can be told apart by consumers whose extreme discernment becomes a subtle way of signaling status. Like Luis Buñuel's Tristana, Mr. Brown's new niche consumer can see three peas on a plate and know instantly which is the best.

"Every consumer decision now carries with it class and status implications in a way it didn't used to," said Barry Schwartz, the author of "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less" (Ecco Books, 2005). "As you add dimensions to goods, you add ways in which people can distinguish themselves." Thus is created a perpetual chase after status and cool.

"You can never relax," Mr. Schwartz said.

So it makes a perverse sense that a no-nonsense form of cotton work trousers should unexpectedly be transformed into an insider emblem of high style. Designed in 1873 by the Levi Strauss company as "hard-wearing work wear" for California miners, and available universally and cheaply for the next century, jeans in their latest "premium" incarnation are like the punch line to some elaborate Veblenesque joke. . . .


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