Simmel: reflections on fashion and consumption

In the " Philosophy of Money " (1907) the value of things depends on the evaluation that gives the subject , and not on its objective material properties and the amount of work incorporated to produce it.The assessment is in turn conditioned by the historical and cultural context in which it takes place . 
In the metropolis, for example, the individual needs to be able to wear clothes and consume objects that know how to communicate to others their identity both as belonging to a group and as originality and individuality. 

In this regard, in the essay " La moda " (1895) Simmel presents this phenomenon as a result of the need for cohesion and at the same time differentiation so that he can enjoy the feeling of expressing himself in a common language that is understandable to others . 
For Simmel, fashion represents the metaphor of the fascination that novelties exert on the modern subject in general, and on the bourgeoisie and the middle classes in particular; because they, unlike the nobility, can not rely on traditions and family styles of very long duration and, unlike the less well-off classes, they hope to improve their social position even finding their own style. 

In Simmel's opinion, fashion is very well suited to the modern spirit because it not only proposes novelties, but also puts them continuously in circulation . The propensity for the new, transitory and changeable, corresponds to the "impatient time" of modern life which implies "the desire for a rapid change in the contents of life" (Simmel, 1986, p.27). 
As ephemeral and destined to vanish, fashion makes it possible to conceive novelty as unlimited and at the same time spreads the perception that what is "absolutely unnatural" can exist at least in this fleeting form . 
Moreover, fashion and style provide the individual with a "temporary anchor" and allow him to approach things while maintaining a certain distance, thus allowing him to underline his own irreducibility to any external data. 

According to this conception the modern individual wants to learn to govern and realize himself as an original subject, and to do so he adopts a certain style, which, if legitimized by time, frees him of "absolute responsibility" on himself, being able to indicate indirectly one's own taste, without the necessity of "balancing on the thin line of mere individuality". 
In short, the juxtaposition of different styles that characterizes the environment of the modern subject constructs a space for individual originality.For example, choosing to combine different styles (in dressing or in the home), the individual provides a new meaning to things, which acquire value in the combination of their whole and underline its ability to express, even only through a mixture of styles already codified, a taste of their own . 

While not reducing the dynamics of fashion to a mere logic of social positioning, Simmel tends to describe these dynamics as operating through imitation from top to bottom. The new fashion would therefore belong only to the upper classes, and once it enters the lower classes, the first to differentiate themselves from the masses are immediately turned to a new style. 
The less favored social groups in this way would not be able to propose their own fashions and would limit themselves to imitating the lucky ones, for a top-down (or trickle down ) effect. 

Article taken from the thesis of Marco Espertino, Symmetrical and asymmetric communications in the consumer society , where in the first chapter are reviewed the main contributions of classical authors, such as Simmel, Veblen, Bourdieu and M. Douglas, on the social phenomenon of consumption and its interactions with taste. 

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