What properly defines luxury isn’t a high price per se but a price that is higher relative to other goods in a category.
What the Luxury Sector Does for Us | The Book of Life
It is traditional to associate the purchase of luxury goods with greed, or a desire to show off – but this approach entails an enormous loss in our capacity to understand the real drivers of the economy and the nature of our appetites. The way we buy ‘luxurious’ things belongs to a project long associated with philosophy: that of defining and communicating our identity; that of knowing and then letting others know who we are.
Whenever we survey options for our possessions, we are at heart searching for items that will ‘fit’ our identities. We are looking to find versions of ourselves in a physical idiom. Every material object simultaneously possesses a psychological identity, which we have a powerful though usually somewhat unconscious sense of.
…to be aspirational in our purchases just means that we are aspiring to buttress, or concretise, aspects of ourselves that may at present still be evanescent or feint. This can mean any number of psychological features. We might be aspiring to build up such qualities as calm or intelligence, reliability or cosiness. The objects we buy tell us not just who we are, but also who we want to be but perhaps aren’t quite yet.
Material objects matter deeply because we generally find it very hard to tell people about ourselves. Our acquisitiveness is seldom greed, it is an urge to tell others what we value. There may be few opportunities to do so other than through things: words can be hard to find and others are in a hurry. We are lent important assistance in our communicative urge by our clothes, our cars, our watches, our kettles and our glasses. Almost everything we consciously pick for ourselves is involved in the tricky task of defining our identity and conveying it to others. We are looking for our possessions to remember and then eloquently convey to the world who we are and long more firmly to be.
We don’t, it seems, entirely yet understand how the luxury sector works. We think of it in terms of indulgence – and celebrate and condemn it as such. But in truth, whenever we pay somewhat more for the things we use, we’re almost always involved in an act of communicating an intention about ourselves to the world. We’re trying to tell others who we are in the language of things – a crucial civic activity as well as a highly respectable and noble part of being human.