A Shift to Inconspicuous Consumption

Lynne Kiesling

Even those unaffected by this economic downturn are changing their consumption behavior, a pattern seen in prior economic downturns. This New York Times article by Alex Williams gives some details on the forms that these adjustments are taking among the wealthy:

“The era of conspicuous consumption, at least for the foreseeable future, has come to a close,” said Paco Underhill, the author of “Why We Buy,” which explores the science of retail. “Consumption will still happen. It’s just not going to be as public.”

He cited a story from an Audi dealer: a buyer of an S4 high-performance sedan requested the nameplate be removed, “so only the person who really knew what they were looking at,” he said, “would know what it is.”

Today, bejeweled fashionistas are pegged as tone-deaf Marie Antoinettes. “It’s not good taste in our business to walk into a party loaded with the biggest diamonds you can find,” said Bud Konheim, the chief executive of Nicole Miller. “You don’t brag about paying $10,000 for a dress for a party. The feeling now is, so what are you telling us? You’re either a sucker or showing off when people have lost jobs.”

The article then discusses the change in consumption behavior after September 11, 2001, and also mentions J.P. Morgan’s decision to keep his yacht in the boatyard in 1932. [As an aside, if you haven’t read Ron Chernow’s House of Morgan, I recommend it highly, particularly given the current events in the financial industry.]

Outward austerity will now be in fashion, even for the fashionable.