inconspicuous consumption

inconspicuous consumption
Purchasing goods or services that convey a lower socioeconomic status.
Example Citation:
"Nobody wants to entertain in a restaurant or a public place," said Serena Bass, the owner of a catering company. "They want to be huddled around their fireplaces, and they want it to be personal. We get a lot of requests for the food to look homemade, not catered. They want shepperd's pie, meatloaf and grilled cheese."
Some attribute the retreat to a craving for intimacy and familiarity, after the wrenching dislocations of Sept. 11. Others see a return to frugality and inconspicuous consumption in a recession.
— Kate Betts, "The Fine Art Of Being A Homebody," The New York Times, December 30, 2001
Earliest Citation:
Obesity is correlated with poverty and associated with downward mobility. 'Being thin is a kind of inconspicuous consumption that distinguishes the rich at a time when most poor people can more easily afford to be fat than thin,' observes Millman."
— Connie Cutter, "I'm O.K. -- You're Fat," Sojourner: The Women's Forum, April 30, 1980
This term plays against the well known phrase conspicuous consumption, which was coined by American social critic Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book, Theory of the Leisure Class:
Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of
reputability to the gentleman of leisure. As wealth accumulates
on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to
sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method. The aid
of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting
to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and
In other words, the conspicuous consumer spends money to impress other people and to ensure that others are well aware of the spender's socioeconomic status. By contrast, the inconspicuous consumer doesn't want to impress anyone. In fact, what they really want is for other people to think of them as being lower on the socioeconomic totem pole than they really are. This is partially a desire not to flaunt one's good fortune, and it's also a security measure, the idea being that one will be less likely to be robbed if one doesn't act or appear rich.
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