Representation is defined as the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature. In other words, representation is a means of communicating likeness or distinction through objects and images. As social media platforms have become a legitimate expression of identity, a group of wealthy youth known as Rich Kids of Instagram has put the spotlight on the collection of luxuries that exist in their day-to-day lives. From Private jets to Hermes Birkin bags, the Rich Kids of Instagram will stop at nothing to mediate the opulence of their lifestyles. For these kids, perceived status is everything… It is often said, if you fly private and don’t Instagram the interior of the plane, did it actually happen? This is to say that objects and experiences seem more valuable when everyone knows about them. Consequently, Instagram has become a space where people represent their wealth and status through the images that they post.
As Instagram becomes increasingly trafficked with snapshots of extravagant items, it becomes clear that certain users are intent upon mediating their social status by representing their wealth. This being said, it is important to note the nature and style of the images that I selected for this curation. These images are all product shots, and their purpose is to publicly showcase the owner’s material possessions. As both celebrities and Rich Kids of Instagram give new meaning to conspicuous consumption, their practices shed light on the work of various theorists.
The apparent trend in product shots speaks directly to Thorstein Veblen’s claim that conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure signify wealth (Veblen 53). For Veblen, this representative consumption is marked by waste, as people splurge on objects that “[do] not serve human-life or human well-being on the whole” (60). While it is understood that everyone needs shoes to cover their feet, Floyd Mayweather’s Christian Louboutin collection over compensates the purpose of footwear. Similarly, Scott Disick’s plethora of fine watches are doing a lot more than just telling time… This is to say that Mayweather’s red bottoms and Disick’s wrist-wear provoke “invidious pecuniary comparison” (62). In essence, these items indicate social standing and wealth by differentiating the owners from other consumers. Yet these celebrities are concerned with differentiating themselves from the larger public body, and thus turn to Instagram. On a smaller scale Rich Kids of Instagram also work to define their virtual identities by blatantly declaring the extravagance of their lifestyles. As both celebrities and Rich Kids of Instagram pictorially represent their wealth, they draw questionable attention to their consumption.
In wake of sumptuary laws, which predetermined limits of consumption based on social class, individuals will go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from others (Han 15). The consumer taxonomy defines the relationship between specific goods and levels of consumers. In terms of this discussion, the distinction between patricians and parvenus is quite relevant. As the top level of consumers, patricians are characterized by their interest in “inconspicuously branded products that serve as a horizontal signal to other patricians.” On the other hand, parvenus are primarily concerned with differentiating themselves from consumers of the lower classes (17). Despite the fact that many of the photos on Rich Kids of Instagram exhibit an extraordinary level of refinement and taste, the act of posting these photos is rather detestable. Given that these images serve no purpose other than differentiation, the act of posting product shots is rather parvenu. Nonetheless, the content of these images still represents high-social standing and wealth.
In a sense, adornment is a narrative of identity. As we purchase specific items, we are choosing to represent our selves with the implicit meanings of our adornments. According to Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher “evaluations of social worth are often made on the basis of personal adornment” (Roach 113). The power of the Birkin exemplifies the unspoken language of adornment. Given the rumored wait-list for a Birkin, we assume that the owner of such a bag is not only wealthy, but also socially prominent. The sanctity of this bag highlights the cultural appropriation of meaning. Hermes as a brand is understood as the epitome of luxury, which comes as a result of expert branding and visibility. When taken out of context, a Birkin is just a simple leather bag with metal hardware. Yet, the bags value rests upon its’ culturally appropriated meaning. This speaks to the commoditization of identity; the idea that we can purchase specific items in order to represent a given identity. As of right now, if you want to look like a wealthy, Upper East Side lady, you better get your hands on a Birkin… In essence, Birkins will maintain their social value for as long as they are the chosen bag of the elite.
The commoditization of identity makes fashion powerful because it gives us the means to physically represent our social identity. This form of distinction can be seen as both expressive and restrictive. While there are seemingly endless options for personal adornment, there are also countless unspoken disciplines that guide consumption and self-presentation. For celebrities and Rich Kids of Instagram alike wealth comes with the confines of high-society. For starters: you have to dress a certain way and eat at specific restaurants at specific times… When you add Instagram into the mix, you face the challenge of representation. As you attempt to portray your fabulous life, you are met with yet another set of disciplines. What do you do when you want to upload a picture of your new Chanel lego clutch, but you just posted a picture of your #ArmParty yesterday? Everyone knows you have to space out the pictures, but what if your friend beats you to the punch? You wouldn’t want anyone to think you bought the same bag as someone else… Oh, and if you want to post a picture of your salad at Fred’s it better happen between 12:30pm and 2pm otherwise everyone will know that you had to wait for a table… This being said, it is clear that Instagram is not only a space for representation, but also a space for discipline. The saying holds true – more money, more problems.