4940 taste, sociology of

ones own individuality and personality, by hav
ing a taste of ones own. A painting, for instance,
can be characterized as representative of the
impressionistic style in art as well as a unique
masterpiece painted by the French artist Monet.
By the same token, a person can be recognized
both as a hip hopper and an individual called
John. Of equal importance was the fact that,
ideally, to have a taste in common was thought
to restrain an individuals own instincts and
preferences less than social norms would, not
to mention the legal makeup of a society. In
addition, it helped to create social order by
coordinating individuals behavior. Taste united
people in taste communities which, supposedly,
unlike any kind of political or economic asso
ciation, allowed people to express their indivi
duality and particularity more.


To Georg Simmel, the social formation of fash
ion was an important phenomenon of moder
nity. Like Baudelaires modern artist at his
best, it can capture the meaning of eternity in
one fleeting moment. Fashion is contingent,
eternally changing and fleeting. Unlike Hamlet,
fashion did not have to decide whether to be or
not to be. In fashion, something could be as
well as not be, at the same time. What is now in
fashion becomes out of fashion the very next
moment. What is even more important, fashion
offers in practice, in the everyday life of ordin
ary people, a sociological solution to Kants anti
nomy of taste. As a simultaneous process of
social imitation and distinction, it is both indi
vidual and social, on the one hand, an expression
of an individuals own taste ideally choosing
simply what he or she finds pleasing on the
other, socially shared taste: in fashion, I offer my
own choices or judgments of taste for all others
to join in and share. The community of fashion
is a veritable sensus communis a community of
taste which comes into being only in order to
disappear the very same moment. It is just a
weak community, notwithstanding effectively
creating order in a rapidly changing modern
social world.
One of the most pertinent tenets in the social
sciences is that taste usually trickles down
the social ladder, as do fashionable items. New
fashions and styles, just like stylish or fashion
able utensils and commodities, always first
appear in the higher echelons of society, only
to descend, more or less gradually, to its lower
groups. The consequence of this presumption is
that even though the lifestyles of social classes or
status groups always differ, they all have basi
cally the same taste. Since the lower classes or
status groups emulate the lifestyles of the higher
ones and would prefer to live like their social
superiors if only they could, they in fact share
the same taste. The process of social imitation is
a process motivated by the demand and will of
social ascent. The dynamics of consumption in
the modern world are characterized by the social
aspirations of status seekers.
Thorstein Veblens classic study of the con
spicuous consumption of what he called the lei
sure class interestingly emphasized the changes
taking place in a modern commercial society.
Whereas, earlier, men could distinguish them
selves and enjoy their fellow mens esteem
because of their superior work performances,
in modern societies these generally become
increasingly invisible to others. The result of
ones labor or ones monetary resources is
usually equally invisible. Therefore, showing
off ones wealth becomes important instead.
Taste in a modern society is in the final analysis
guided by the aspirations to gain social esteem
by explicitly showing off ones pecuniary power.
Furthermore, the degree of uselessness and
instrumental nonfunctionality adherent to an
artifact or an occupation, or the amount of idle
time required to spend at it competently, seems
to equal the high degree of prestige and social
esteem afforded its owner/practitioner. This is
why, in Veblens opinion, fine riding horses or
pet dogs, just like housewives and domestic
servants, among others, serve as ideal and highly
visible symbols of ones social standing.
In his classic study of the Paris fashion shows,
Herbert Blumer suggested another and com
peting interpretation of the social mechanism
of fashion and of taste formation in general.
According to Blumer, taste is a result of collec
tive selection. What Blumer witnessed in the
Parisian fashion shows was the process of for
mation of a collective or common taste. Some
how the fashion designers or representatives of