Middle-Class and Luxurious

parkviewgreenPersonal Note: I’m an advocate for social responsibility and the shift towards collective global responsibility and awareness. But realism has a hand in morals and ethics…so here is to those of us who happily take part in the admittance that sometimes materialistic desire takes precedence over our responsibility.

A recent article in the Jing Daily has forecast an emerging 2013 Chinese consumer trend of middle-class males buying  more luxury goods…and I’ve never been more motivated to follow suit and rationalize spending more money on my collection of unnecessary & self-indulgent items.

Unfortunately for those of us that are not of the ‘high-society’ persuasion affording a luxury good is more in line with purchasing a knock-off Lacque De Chine lighter and not a yacht. The increasing economic squeeze on personal finances means most of us can’t justify spending (x) amount of dollars on a needless item. And if you add in the stigmatization of irresponsible materialistic spending, the justification of spending an entire paycheck on that new gold-plated Iphone case is going to lead to public scorn, not praise.

But fear not my non-elitist friends, not being able to afford items with high price-tags doesn’t denote a lack of luxury goods. The accessibility to luxury items in the lower/middle-class is alive and well…we’re just changing the way we define luxury.

When it comes to the classification of luxury there are certain shared criteria that are synonymous with identifying luxury brands. One of the central identifications is the representative  ‘lifestyle’ of the brand. Mckinsey&Company recently released a report detailing the importance of ‘lifestyle’ branding, and they have found that more often than not companies which lack a certain ‘lifestyle’ appeal tend to fail. So what ‘lifestyle’ coincides with luxury? History and tradition.

The richer a brand’s history means the more leverage they have on identifying themselves with luxury. Think of Rolex, Crown Royal, Chanel… all of these luxury brands share one thing in common: a rich history. It expresses a certain lifestyle that is associated with high-class living and eloquence, and it just so happens that the ‘lifestyle brand’ most companies are cashing in on coincides with pop-cultures obsession with tradition and origin. You will be hard-pressed to find a company that hasn’t cashed in on a marketing campaign focused on the origins of their product/brand. The allure of owning a product with a rich history is a massive selling point for consumers..and that selling point can be summed in one word: vintage.

The luxury goods industry has been reaping the benefits from our vintage love-spell for some time now and although it has always been a key selling point, it is becoming more and more popular with middle & lower class consumers. We can toast to the Hipster sub-culture for helping push the resurgence of vintage items into the middle-class mainstream. It’s our skinny-jeans toting bredren that have cornered the market on vintage goods; and if there is one thing they can teach us, its that middle class luxury is defined by uniqueness and not price-tag.

When talking about luxury goods for the middle-class we are talking about cheaper items that have vintage appeal. While we can’t afford to buy into expensive reputable brands, we can afford items that are associated with upper-society lifestyles. Our relationship with affluence and luxury is based on the rarity of the item and not the brand it belongs to. Take note that rarity does not imply a high value but more so how unique the item is in relation to the everyday consumer. For example, cigarette cases have regained popularity and although they’re priced at $10-15 a piece, they still give the allure of a luxury based lifestyle.

In times of financial restraint the pleasure of luxury goods isn’t about owning something unaffordable, it’s about owning items that are unique. For some of us that means scavenging local second-hand shops or digging through garage sales to find that one of a kind item associated with high-society. On the plus side, if you’re like me and have fallen victim to the slew of television programs revolving around auction hunters, pickers, storage bidding, item restoration and so on then you might be on the path to acquiring cheap luxury items that can still fetch a high value.

Most recently I’ve come into possession of two authentic St. Dupont lighters from the early 80’s that scream luxury and class.  At a retail price of $700 for each lighter, getting these pieces at $30 for the pair means I can buy materialism without feeling guilty.

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