Conspicuous consumption refers to the competitive and extravagant consumption practices and leisure activities that aim to indicate membership to a superior social class. Studies examining the symbolic role of luxury brands and status symbols, and the importance of interpersonal relations and upward social mobility via consumption choices, have been widely discussed in the marketing and consumer behaviour literature. There is, however, limited research on how the all‐encompassing concept of “conspicuous consumption” has evolved since the introduction of the term by Thorstein Veblen in 1899 in The Theory of the Leisure Class. This paper seeks to review some of the issues.
Using a chronological periodization the paper examines and discusses the impact of wider institutional and socio‐economic forces on the evolution of conspicuous consumption phenomena. The paper adopts a historical framework related to economics and marketing.
The paper shows how the concept of “conspicuous consumption” has been reinvented with different terminology during the twentieth century by marketing and consumer behaviour theorists.
The paper discusses and examines the socio‐economic factors behind the changing consumption patterns of “conspicuous consumers” throughout the twentieth century. It is valuable for marketing academics, students and marketing practitioners interested in the evolution of status symbols.
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