The extreme materialism of liberals.

There is this weird and highly inaccurate trope out there that liberals are anti-consumerists and concerned about economic justice whereas conservatives are greedy, evil capitalists. Remember when the price of Sarah Palin’s outfits on the campaign trail were meticulously catalogued by every liberal publication but Michelle Obama’s designer clothing was written about with great admiration? Now, I do find most modern Republicans make a virtue out of consumerism, but it’s odd to me how liberalism is somehow thought of as “The People’s” ideology when its leaders are such extreme materialists and label hounds.

Consider Amal Clooney, wife of actor and liberal donor George Clooney:

Amal Clooney

Some fawning liberal fashion publication breathlessly added up her Valentine’s Day outfit (complete with labels, natch):

  • Citizens of Humanity skinny jeans – $178
  • Saint Laurent suede fringed cape – $3,990!
  • Akong London rhinestone necklace – $390.
  • Gucci leather and snakeskin horsebit ankle booties – $1,595
  • blue crocodile Nancy Gonzalez clutch – $1,650

The total cost of her outfit was $7,803, which the online article refers to as a “laid-back” look. Yet her husband fancies himself some kind of humanitarian anti-poverty activist.

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26 thoughts on “The extreme materialism of liberals.

    • But the indulgences were sold for salvation, and in the counter reformation this practice ceased.
      Much more importantly, this couple consider the outfit as cheap: this kind of conspicuous consumption is more like the sumptuous costumes of the aristocrats (and guild heads) before the English and French Revolutions.
      And it does not count the personal trainers and dieticians required to keep them conspicuously of fit and slim — but not akin to an elite athlete, who generally looks bulkier.
      One wonders if this is the fin de siecle.

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  1. A couple of years ago, some study got some circulation about all this . To begin with, most men will not see this. They’ll see a woman elegantly dressed and that is the end of it. Other women will see the status and expense. The controversial study concluded that a woman displaying such expense and status is telling her erstwhile competitors to back off, this is how much my husband values me.
    Yeah, I thought it was a crock too.
    At least bears don’t have to go through this. We have magnificent fur coats that we all grew ourselves.

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  2. I’ll give this a go. Ignoring the massive generalisation (there are many liberals who live like hippies who wouldn’t dream of being extravagant, just as being frugal is generally a cherished conservative value), there’s also the point that what she wears has nothing to do with George Clooney, because she has money in her own right. If you want to make an argument about him being a hypocrite, then you need to look at his wardrobe, not hers.

    On top of that, she’s probably been loaned the Saint Laurent piece, because fashion houses like the rich and famous wearing their clothes.

    So the question, I suspect, is should anybody be spending this kind of money on clothes?

    The jeans and necklace are just overpriced stuff that could be got at the same quality for a much lower price without the brand name attached. My personal view: load of rubbish, waste of money. But more or less immoral than the cheaper stuff? If spending money unnecessarily is bad, then I guess so.

    High-end leather goods, and the Saint Laurent jacket in particular, are a more interesting situation. European haute couture designers generally have their leather goods made in Italy, by craftspeople who have been working with leather for generations. At Bottega Veneta, for example, it takes 15 years for a single worker to become skilled enough at all facets of the craft. The items they make are expensive because each piece is hand made by well-paid people who take enormous pride in their work, who are keeping historic hand crafts alive, usually in family- owned businesses.

    Then there’s the issue of value. A piece like this by Saint Laurent, assuming it’s kept in good condition, retains a lot of its value. In 30 years time, a coat like this could be auctioned at Christie’s or Sotheby’s and it would find eager buyers. Having been worn by a star/star’s wife will give it extra value/provenance.

    In fact, if you look at the French way of pricing things, it might be good value. They assess something by how many wears you can get out of it. Thirty or fifty years of wear is pretty good, even accounting for the fact that some years it will have fallen so far out of fashion it will stay in the wardrobe, until a niece or daughter finds it and jumps on it.

    Contrast this with the cheap crap made by factory workers in dangerous sweatshops, that will be dumped after one season. Either dumped into landfill, or dumped as ‘charity’ on the struggling economies of Africa, where such ‘donations’ have managed to destroy the local textile industries.

    So I’m being cheeky, because I realise your actual point was the hypocrisy of ‘champagne socialists’, of which there are plenty of examples. But I do think fashion needs defending. It gets criticised as frivolous, when the economy of fashion isn’t as simple as it seems.

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    • Well, I’m still kind of awake, so I guess I’ll post a few replies after all.

      I’ll give this a go. Ignoring the massive generalisation (there are many liberals who live like hippies who wouldn’t dream of being extravagant, just as being frugal is generally a cherished conservative value)

      Yes, of course there are; so why do they tolerate and even seem to approve of gross conspicuous consumption on the part of their leaders? That was more my point. They don’t seem to have trouble pointing out ad nauseum how much Sarah Palin spent on her clothes while at the very same time praising Michelle Obama’s clothing which cost as much if not more. It’s the hypocrisy more so than the materialism.

      there’s also the point that what she wears has nothing to do with George Clooney, because she has money in her own right. If you want to make an argument about him being a hypocrite, then you need to look at his wardrobe, not hers.

      Mmm. You think? After all, she’s not Amal Alamuddin anymore, you know. By her own choice, she’s Amal Clooney. She’s of his house now. The two shall become one flesh says the Lord our God, and Mrs. Clooney and her husband have gone out of their way to affirm that, haven’t they?

      Anyway, the rest of your comment about the craftsmanship of haute couture is interesting and a reasonable defense, though I highly doubt Mrs. Clooney will be getting 30 years of wear out this item. However, I do recall reading something a long while ago about those outrageously expensive leather designer handbags and why they cost so much compared to the fakes. The article went into detail about the superior workmanship of the real pieces, how the seams are stitched and everything lines up perfectly and so on. No doubt the bags are fine quality, but one really doubts that the women who can afford them will “use them up”.

      As for me, I’m of course no label hound but I do appreciate quality. I have a jacket I bought in Alaska twenty years ago that was handmade and it has lasted longer and looked better than any other jacket I’ve owned, and it cost a lot due to the good materials and having been handmade. But it didn’t cost anything like $7,000, I can assure you!

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      • Well, I’ll pass right over the bit about Amal Clooney now being representative of George Clooney’s politics…

        I’ll also step back from the comment about liberals, just because the polarisation of American politics, where everybody seems to be split into these opposite camps and paints the other group as full of awful, irredeemable people, is a bit alien. There are many people on either side of politics who are hypocrites – that’s why we (non Americans) have the term ‘Champagne socialists’. An observed phenomenon. What does that say about every single person who holds those particular views? Not much, I suspect.

        Speaking of American politics, wasn’t the issue with Sarah Palin not that she spent lots of money on clothes, but that she spent lots of other people’s money?

        Re: the handbags. The difference with these types of thing, I guess, is that there’s an entire chain of value that can be created from them, whether or not the original owner wears it out. Someone who gets tired of their ‘it’ bag can on sell it to a high end second-hand boutique, where someone who could never have afforded the bag the first time round can pounce on it. Eventually it will go through a period where it is considered extremely ugly and live its life at the back of the cupboard, before being rediscovered.

        (An acquaintance went to what’s called a car boot sale (one-person flea market) and found a handbag from a deceased estate, which she bought for £2 and sold for £16,000 at Christie’s.)

        This all assumes it’s the real deal, of course, like an Hermes bag. A lot of the expensive stuff on the market is trash from momentarily popular designers.

        And, finally, just let me make it clear that I do not have a wardrobe stuffed with Hermes and Valentino. Just in case anybody’s worried on that score.

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  3. Either dumped into landfill, or dumped as ‘charity’ on the struggling economies of Africa, where such ‘donations’ have managed to destroy the local textile industries.

    This is something so few think about. The desire to be charitable actually hurts more than it helps.

    If her net worth is $2 million, her wardrobe in this picture is only .35% of it. Contrast that to a woman whose net worth is $100K (rare), .35% would be a $350 outfit. Tell me how many women you know who have a net worth of their own of $100K who don’t own a $350 Coach bag or a $700 pair of Louboutins?

    The materialism problem isn’t with the rich liberals spending relatively conservative percentages of their incomes on their wardrobes, the problem is with those (not wealthy) who spend much larger percentages of their incomes on their wardrobes and continually covet for MORE!

    In this situation, her outfit is the spare change that could have dropped from Clooney’s pocket while getting his checkbook out to write a check that would line the pockets of the government elites…I mean…feed a small village in Africa for a year.

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    • The materialism problem isn’t with the rich liberals spending relatively conservative percentages of their incomes on their wardrobes, the problem is with those (not wealthy) who spend much larger percentages of their incomes on their wardrobes and continually covet for MORE!

      Yes, I agree. Though what I see as a problem is rich liberals spending big bucks on clothing while lecturing everyone else about economic justice. It’s kind of like Al Gore lecturing all of us about how we need to reduce our carbon footprint while he lives in a mansion that sucks enormous amounts of electricity and has a curious lack of solar panels on the roof.

      No one likes to follow people who are do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. Even children will call their parents on that. I can respect (even if I don’t agree with) liberals who lecture others on reducing their carbon footprint who have first reduced their own.

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  4. Bodycrimes makes some good points. Those designer jeans are probably made in the U.S. where workers are paid better than their Chinese counterparts and the dyes aren’t harmful to the environment.

    I pay around $20 for jeans from Old Navy or $40 for jeans from Ann Taylor if I feel like splurging on softer material and a better fit and both brands are made abroad where working conditions and pay are pretty dismal. I’d probably spring for a pair of designer ones if my budget allowed for it.

    As far as clothing spending as part of one’s overall budget is concerned, Americans spend less than their European counterparts. In Italy, households spend more than 20 percent of their income on clothing. They tend to purchase good quality clothing that holds up well over time and shy away from synthetics. Here in the U.S., the clothing sold at places like Target, Old Navy or Kohls is pretty much disposable (you’re luck to get two seasons out of it before it falls apart or is hopelessly outdated), but it’s so cheap that no one cares.

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    • I’m so tired, my brain is just mush, so I won’t be able to remember the economist’s name, but he’s well-known and very liberal. Anyway, he wrote a book and I read it. And in his book, despite being very liberal, he praised sweatshops. When I’m not so exhausted, I’m going to look this up, I promise, and get back to you with the source. Anyway, he explained it all in great detail with careful sourcing, but apparently sweatshops are actually kind of a good thing because they give destitute people a foot on the economic ladder and can lead to better life outcomes than when there are no factories in the village at all. And then apparently the next generation does even better (better education/nutrition, etc), at which point the sweatshops have to improve conditions to attract workers.

      Does anyone know the name of economist I’m talking about?

      OK, sorry, before I posted this comment I looked it up. His name is Paul Krugman:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Krugman

      Anyway, this is part of a larger issue that I want to write about, which Sarah’s Daughter kind of addressed above with the clothing donation example: liberals often do things (out of good intentions perhaps) without thinking things through very well past the feel-good buzzwords and thus they inadvertently end up making things worse for people they were trying to help.

      Remember the protesters who marched in Detroit and left all the trash? I also have another example from my own real life experiences with some environmentalists in Ypsilanti, which I will eventually write about.

      And the same with those who want to close down all the sweatshops; Krugman wrote about how when this happened, there was a marked increase in child prostitution. The children lost their jobs in the factories and nothing replaced those jobs so they turned to prostitution because they were starving.

      Sorry, this comment is rambling and poorly written. Bedtime. Now. 🙂

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      • Agreed that a sweatshop can be better than the alternative of starvation or prostitution. That said, the experience of Japan is instructive. They went from sweatshops to being an export powerhouse, but their economy has been in the doldrums for closing in on three decades because they never bothered to develop their own domestic markets–everybody was living in their 600sf apartments and forgetting to have kids, so now they’re trying to build robots for elder care.

        Definite lesson there for China, Thailand, and Bangladesh, if only people will learn it in time. (and obviously Bangladesh is not having the huge fecundity problem, but they could have others)

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  5. Great read on this is Elizabeth Cline’s “Overdressed”, if you’re interested in what cheap clothing can do. Add me to the list of people who endorse (and own) some fairly high ticket clothing. Nothing in the $7000 range, but I would consider a bespoke suit for myself or Mrs. Bubba at some point, and she made me a wonderful boiled wool vest that would probably go for about $500 at a tailor’s shop–draped to my shoulders and fitted to my waist and everything. It’s a TON warmer than a similar garment that is not so fitted to me. So I’ve got no problem with people buying top rate garments, and yes, “Made in Bangladesh” does conjure up images of collapsing 8 story buildings killing 1100 garment workers in one horrible moment.

    That said, what Mrs. Clooney has on is not bespoke, but rather high fashion ready to wear, and the price of THAT derives more from prestige than from fit or function. So she does fall into the “Michelle Obama wants to be Queen Elizabeth 2” category there, really, where someone sees a “need” to impress with clothing choices that may or may not have anything to do with comfort, beauty, or other factors. And yes–see the Oscars red carpet pictures for details–is greatly an issue with liberal-do-gooders trying to tell us how virtuous they are by posing with poor people in Malawi with their $2000 Gucci bag. Other examples include Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, and the like.

    Maybe a gut check for us “mere mortals” would be this; if a garment (beyond a wedding dress or some such thing) gets worn only once or just a few times, you’ve got to wonder what your motivations and skill in wardrobe-building are, whatever the price is.

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    • I’ll respectfully disagree that a garment is less well crafted or well made because it wasn’t bespoke, given that most people outside the fashion trade would find it very difficult to access the kind of skill that goes into couture garments for women. Just something you’d think as simple as fabric draping is a special skill that your average fashion college won’t teach to a high level.

      Without wanting to get into politics – shouldn’t Michelle Obama (or Mrs Bush or Mrs Reagan or Mrs Future President), as the First Lady, wear the very best that the US produces? Given that she’s representing the country. Likewise, there would be a lot of disappointed people if actresses turned up to the Oscars in off-the-rack gowns. People have loved spectacle and colour back to the ancient world. It’s why royal weddings are not only televised, they find a global audience.

      But I completely agree that buying any garment that will sit unworn in a closet is bad on many levels, whether it was made in China or represents a large sum of money spent unthinkingly.

      There is a also another issue with very high end clothing, which is that it can be immodest in a different way to sexual immodesty – it’s flaunting wealth. As one fashion stylist once said: “style is spiteful”.

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      • You’re missing the point here. There is certainly good quality RTW–though I’d argue the fit of bespoke is one kind of quality worth noting–but my point is primarily that if your RTW piece of split suede costs twice what a bespoke men’s suit costs, you’re buying snob appeal and not quality.

        Which is where I’d tend to draw the line for the Oscars, for politicians, and the like, really. Bespoke for their “in public” garments? Sure. New one for every occasion? Not seeing the need, and when those who do this speak of how much they care for the poor, my only response is “get lost”. The hypocrisy is just incredible.

        Or, quite frankly, if you want to make the Oscars more memorable, maybe…..just maybe….it would help to have more actors and actresses who could act with their clothes on. Just sayin’.

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      • Quick correction; I should have said that you missed my point, not the point generally! My apologies, bodycrimes.

        I would agree with the idea that people love the spectacle of amazing clothes….but I simply part company with the idea that each celebrity–political, entertainment, whatever–ought to “grace” each special event with such a garment. As I tell my own family members, we are not the Queen of England, hence getting a “nice” garment every special event will only land us in poverty.

        And it might be noted as well that if one would help the poor, acting like the Queen (no insult intended to her, but she gets a lot of clothes) simply reinforces the very destructive idea that one (especially if one is a woman) have something new for every special event. I once went to a garage sale in Compton CA (Boyz in the Hood site) where there were hundreds of pairs of women’s shoes and two pairs of men’s. Brutal cruelty this attitude wreaks on the poor in this country.

        Ironically, the men’s shoes were fixable to be a decent pair of shoes, while the women’s were not, despite the fact that the men’s shoes were far more worn. I’m not much of a feminist, but I do know that fashion designers seem to HATE women this way. :^)

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      • Well, don’t forget that almost nobody pays for the gowns they’re wearing to the Oscars. They’re being loaned them. Nothing more frugal than free!

        But to the other point – I guess that’s why we used to have sumptuary laws, because of the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ effect, where if wealthier people flaunt their wealth, they normalise it, and the people on the next rung of the ladder get anxious because they’re not behaving in accordance with the new norm, so they go into debt or start spending unwisely, and then the people just below them start getting upset… and that’s how we get credit-fuelled consumerism.

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  6. I like this thoughtful conversation – thank you, everyone, for taking the time to comment. I have replies in mind but won’t be able to get to them until Tuesday or maybe Wednesday. This week and next are extremely over-busy for me right now.

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  7. Conumptiona and display at this level only srves to distance the erstwhile aristocracy from the ommn. While Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.”, it oes make it moe pausible.

    I can’t help but thinking that this is a warm up. What would be a dream for publicists would be to see these two break up, very publically and at her insistance. I the wake of that, with all the women saying “You go girl!”, the men will be scratching their heads wondering how the world’s most eligible bachelor couldn’t hang on to his wife. What chance for them?

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  8. I used to look down on very wealthy people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothing, but I changed my mind recently. Oddly, it was my primary care physician who brought me to this realization. When I first visited her, I felt like I was entering a day-spa for the rich and famous. The place was decorated with marble floors, high ceilings, ornate crown molding, and glass doors. No detail was too small: even the heating and air intakes were beautified. I’ve never seen a doctor’s office like it! My discomfort increased when she walked in wearing a real silk shirt, tight slacks, and very well made leather boots under her white lab coat. To top it all off, she had a HUGE diamond ring on her finger. I was thankful to note that she was very professional, thorough, and had a good bedside manner because everything else had put me out of sorts. I like beautiful places, but I wasn’t expecting to go somewhere like that and suffer the indignity of a physical exam. My point is- she ended up being an excellent doctor. I grew to appreciate the fact that she spent money making her office look nice for her patients, it was a far cry from cheap linoleum floors and florescent lighting. She could have had a cheap office and spent the money on herself. I also came to conclude that if I could afford diamonds and silk shirts, I would probably wear them. I dress and decorate as nicely as a can for my budget, and so did she. Our post-modern world is so often ugly and tacky…

    And I realize your post was about the Clooney’s hypocrisy, Sunshine. I agree that they seem a little hypocritical. I’m not a fan of celebrities who are only famous for acting like someone else in front of a camera. I enjoyed all the comments above in defense of fashion and good quality clothing.

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    • Michelle, I have to wonder if the good doctor (and her partners if any?) bought an older building and renovated it a bit to be her office–say an older bank building–and actually saved money on the deal.

      And I had to smile when you mentioned the silk shirt and good boots–my wife made silk dresses for our daughters for piano performances and such, and one thing my daughters noticed was that they were WAY more comfortable than their friends in polyester. I have to wonder if your doctor figured out that the extra comfort of a silk shirt and good shoes really made a difference in how she treated patients towards the end of the day.

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      • BIke Bubba, I’m sure you’re correct about silk and good boots being comfortable, but I know that her building was new. Not too many old beautiful buildings in Southern Oregon. It was a small town, so I know a lot (probably too much) about my old doc. 🙂 She was wealthy and married into more wealth. People used to gossip about her and say she was late to deliveries because she stopped to fix her hair first. I think they were just jealous.

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