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Shabby Chic: The beginning or the end of an era?

In Today's New York Times the article Conspicuous Consumption, a Casualty of Recession discusses how all this economic crisis talk has seeped up into the well-off echelons of society through the capillary action of uncertainty...or is it style?

One woman who could afford to do otherwise yet skipped last Christmas is quoted as saying, "I just feel so decadent with all the stuff I’ve got." Contrast this with the more cynical view of another interviewee, "I do think that maybe now it’s a little bit chic or something to save money, or to be pinching pennies."

Remember the paradox of fashionably-ripped denim in the 80's--the more expensive, the more torn up they were? Is it possible that the well-to-do are merely co-opting the aesthetic of those in a different economic bracket, in a distillation of the economic crisis into style? That's the gist of The Irish Times' tongue-in-cheek column, End of a gilded age as shabby suddenly becomes chic: "The transition from cool and calm contemporary to junk shop charm,...might be painful, but it will put you at the cutting edge."

In Ireland they call it "Shabeen Chic." Consider, though, that the interior decorations store Shabby Chic, which spawned the movement bearing its name in the US, filed for bankruptcy last month. Perhaps it is exactly as one person the NYT quotes, “Everyone’s going to pull through together, or everyone’s going to sink together."  New Dream board member Juliet Schor says as much in the piece:

“You can stay right where you are without falling behind,” Ms. Schor said. Consumers’ focus may have shifted, she said, from striving to catch up to those above them to contemplating the fates of those below them.

Probably things like the Madoff scheme, that did affect some of the wealthiest people in society, helped to show that no one's place at the top is secure. To the extent that the blind urge to keep up with the Joneses has motivated people to spend to the point of indebtedness, this shift in fashion can only help focus everyone on our collective fate. Hopefully, though, the nervousness that is affecting even the comfortably off will not dry up charitable giving to those who are really struggling from the recession.

The Irish Times says, "No one wants to look like a modern-day Marie Antoinette." At the very least, this may make for an era with a smaller carbon footprint.

Tags: Fashion, Recession, Rich, Solidarity, Style, Wealthy

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