I quoted a piece from Mary McCarthy a few days ago about the accrued labour of others (in terms of the labour theory of value) and fashion, briefly summed up in one sentence which she then explores:
The toil of many hands is the sine qua non of fashion.
Laura quite rightly pointed out that without broader context, the piece I quoted could give the impression that Mary McCarthy was simply disapproving of “the feminine appetite for nice things”, whereas in fact she very much favoured finely-crafted luxurious and elegant surroundings, costume and paraphernalia – but was also keenly aware of the artifice involved. Because I found the quote as I reproduced it, contextually isolated, I hadn’t known that.
This got me thinking. The aesthetic of appreciating finely-crafted consumables – a gourmet meal, a luxury car, an original artwork – is a basic component of hierarchical display. Teenage boys “rate” each other on the quality, or at least the expense, of their athletic footwear. Executives “rate” each other on the paper and engraving used in their business cards. The higher one is on the totem pole, the more handcrafted rather than mass-produced items tend to surround one: handstitched shoes, frenchpolished furniture, tailored clothing, handrolled cigars etc. One also patronises master craftsmen rather than regular purveyors of goods and services – haircuts, manicures, “name” chefs, the elite theatre etc. The aesthetic of fine-craftsmanship and its reliance on the toil of many hands runs alongside and eventually is subsumed by the aesthetic of conspicuous consumption.
The aesthetic of conspicuous consumption, and the fashions of the accoutrements involved in it, underpin the climb up the greasy pole and the corporate ladder to the cabinet rooms and the boardrooms, those rooms above all still dominated by men. So why is it overwhelmingly women (and those men perceived as effeminate) who are accused of being “trivial” simply because they too like to surround themselves with nice things?