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Clackers: Signaling status through luxury apparel, physical appearance and occupation

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Elizabetta Canalis, Chic European clacker

“I showed up on time for my eleven A.M. interview and didn’t panic until I encountered the line of leggy, Twiggy types…their lips never stopped moving, and their gossip was only punctuated by the sound of their stilettos clacking on the floor. Clackers, I thought.1

-Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Prada

As nonchalantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald who coined the term “flapper”, which first appeared in The Great Gatsby, Lauren Weisberger offers a glimpse into the lives of “clackers”, in her New York bestseller The Devil Wears Prada. And much like the young women of the 1920s who emulated flapper fashions and ideals, the young women of our time are emulating the fashions and ideals of clackers, a seemingly ever-expanding consumer base. As such, this blog highlights clackers’ attitudes and motivations towards fashion, physical appearance and occupation. Moreover, the basis of analysis concerns an underlying theme of signaling status; specifically, signaling status through luxury apparel, physical appearance and occupation. After all, being Miranda Priestly’s assistant is a job that “a million girls would die for” (p. 16, para. 6).

Signaling status through luxury apparel: Signaling status through luxury apparel – a touchy subject indeed, so we must tread lightly – is a fundamental dynamic in consumer culture. During the middle ages, sumptuary laws specified which garments each social class was permitted or prohibited to wear2. “The rationale was to reserve particular fabrics and ornamentation for certain social classes to distinguish them and uphold order within the social hierarchy”2. By the Age of Enlightenment, sumptuary laws had ceased to exist3. Yet, the use of apparel as socioeconomic markers persisted; and seemingly persists to this very day2. For example, Prada, Hermes and Monolo are fashion brands almost exclusively worn by the elite. Thus, it is not surprising that an underlying theme in The Devil Wears Prada concerns signaling status through luxury apparel. For example1:

“Bags and shoes I’d never seen on real people shouted Prada! Armani! Versace! from every surface” (p. 10, para. 1).

“[Miranda Priestly, the devil herself] always, always, always wears a single white Hermes scarf somewhere on her outfit” (p. 53, para. 7).

“Everyone’s got to put something on every day, and [luxury apparel] sure felt a hell of a lot better than any of my stuff” (p. 124, para. 3).

“By eleven everyone had checked everyone else out, making notations of who had scored a pair of the new Theory “Max” pants or the latest, impossible-to-find Sevens” (p. 172, para. 7).

“In the closet…were totes and bowling bags, backpacks and underarms, over-shoulders and minis, oversize and clutches, envelopes and messengers, each bearing an exclusive label and a price tag more than the average American’s monthly mortgage payment” (p. 173, para.1).

Owning luxury apparel serves as a visible mark of distinction, one that divides socioeconomic classes. Clearly not everyone can afford a Saffiano Lux Handbag, or a Hermes scarf – which are typically only accessible to the elite – it becomes evident that the aforementioned quotes implicitly and explicitly corroborate the theme of signaling status through luxury apparel. Furthermore, they suggest that clackers (within the contexts of the book) use luxury apparel to signal their socioeconomic status; and are thus inclined to purchase luxury apparel.

(For additional reading, see Han, Y. J., Nunes, J. C., & Dreze, X. (2010). Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The role of brand prominence. Journal of Marketing, 74, 15-30.)

Signaling status through physical appearance (or the maintenance thereof): Similarly, physical appearance – oh no you didn’t! – remains a visible socioeconomic marker4. Fussell notes that “good looks” are akin to each socioeconomic class, but is “frequently a mark of high caste”4. And no matter how much suspicion this notion may arouse or as stereotypical as it may seem, casual observations in consumer culture (e.g. Ralph Lauren ads, Abercrombie & Fitch ads, Gucci ads, etc.) would corroborate the claim that good looks are seemingly a mark of the elite. Thus, another underlying theme concerns signaling status through physical appearance (or the maintenance thereof). For example1:

“I had never seen women with such radiant blond hair, didn’t know that those brand-name highlights cost six-grand a year to maintain or that others in the know could identify the colorists after a quick glance at the finished product” (p. 9, para. 1).

“Her hair was dark as ink and hung across her back like a thick, shinny blanket. Her fingers and toes were polished with a luminescent white color, appearing to glow from within, and her open-toe sandals gave her already six-foot frame an additional three inches. She managed to look incredibly sexy, seminaked and classy all at the same time…” (p. 18, para. 3).

“The women, or rather the girls, were individually beautiful. Collectively, they were mind blowing. Most appeared to be about twenty-five, and few looked a day older than thirty. While nearly all of them had enormous glittering diamonds on their ring fingers, it seemed impossible that any of them had given birth yet – or ever would. In and out they walked gracefully on four-inch skinny heels, sashaying over to my desk to extend milky-white hands with long, manicured fingers…Only one…was shorter than five-nine, but she was so petite it seemed impossible for her to carry another inch of height. All weighed less than 110 pounds” (p. 41, para. 4).

“It’s one coat Marshmallow and one coat Ballet Slipper. Actually, Ballet Slipper came first, and then a topcoat to finish if off. It’s perfect – light colored without looking like you painted your nails with White Out. I think I’ll use it every time I get a manicure!” (p. 42, para. 2).

Women such as Elizabetta Canalis, Gisele Bundchen, and Adriana Lima, individually beautiful and collectively mind blowing, come to mind when recalling how clackers signal status through physical appearance. And although beauty is akin to each socioeconomic class, it is the maintenance thereof (e.g. brand name highlights and manicures) through which status is conveyed; in turn, reinforcing the notion that goods looks are frequently a mark of high caste. As such, it is also evident that the aforementioned quotes implicitly and explicitly corroborate the theme of signaling status through physical appearance. Furthermore, they suggest that clackers (again, within the contexts of the book) use physical appearance to signal their socioeconomic status; and are thus inclined to spend high levels of income in order to maintain and enhance their physical appearance.

Signaling status through occupation: A casual reading of The Devil Wears Prada suggests that clackers signal status through luxury apparel and physical appearance. However, it takes a more deliberate approach to realize that clackers also use occupation, yet another socioeconomic marker, as a means of signaling status. As previously noted, being Miranda Priestly’s assistant, no less being an editor of a fashion magazine, is a job that “a million girls would die for”1. Thus, it is implicit, if not explicit, that clackers are ambitious women, who by means of their occupation support their exuberant lifestyle (rich, investment banker boyfriends aside). After all, brand name highlights or designer handbags are not cheap. As such, clackers generally defy stereotypes (within the contexts of the book) as being beautiful women who rely solely on their physical appearance; rather they rely on a combination of their ambition, intelligence, and beauty to accumulate wealth – case-in-point. Nonetheless, there are instances where clackers reinforce such stereotypes (e.g. Jessica Duchamps, “Manicure girl”, p. 42, para. 3).

Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep

Other such examples of clackers:

  • Anne Hathaway – emerging Hollywood starlet, played Andrea Sachs in film version of The Devil Wears Prada
  • Beyonce Knowles – Uber clacker
  • Lauren Weisberger – author of The Devil Wears Prada, clacker by default
  • Michelle Obama – First Lady clacker

Regarding the general female clacker population: It is unlikely that the general female clacker population is able to purchase authentic luxury (e.g. Prada, Burberry, etc.). Thus, they are more likely inclined to purchase accessible luxury products (e.g. Coach, Armani Exchange); accessible luxury being an affordable means of signaling status through apparel. Likewise, it is unlikely that the general female clacker population is able to afford brand-name highlights or high-end cosmetics. As such, the general female population is more likely to spend considerable amounts of income on mass brand cosmetics (e.g. Clinique) in order to maintain and enhance their physical appearance. Lastly, it is also unlikely that the general female clacker population generates a significant amount of income from their occupation or live exuberant lifestyles. As such, it is very likely that they aspire to hold positions such as fashion editor; and view women like Miranda Priestly as inspirational figures.

References:

1Weisberger, L. (2004). The Devil Wears Prada. NY: First Broadway Books.

2Han, Y. J., Nunes, J. C., & Dreze, X. (2010). Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The role of brand prominence. Journal of Marketing, 74, 15-30.

3De Botton, Alain. (2004). Status Anxiety. NY: Pantheon Books.

4Fussell, P. (1992). Class: A guide through the American status system. NY: Touchstone.

 

 

Meme E

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