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A University of Minnesota marketing study has concluded that when women buy designer goods, they are engaging in complex intra-sex signaling about their romantic status and security.
Or, put simply, that women buy Chanel bags and YSL shoes to tell other ladies, "Keep your stupid ugly hands off my man." No, that's literally what the researchers who designed the study say.
According to PsychCentral, the study involved five experiments. The one on which the key findings seem to rest is described as follows:
[Associate professor Vladas] Griskevicius and PhD student Yajin Wang first investigated what other women infer about a woman's relationship partner based on the luxuriousness of her possessions.
"We found that a woman who is wearing luxury items and designer brands is perceived to have a more devoted partner and as a result other women are less likely to flirt with him," says Wang.
"Regardless of who actually purchased the items, other women inferred that the man had something to do with it and is thus more devoted to her."
In another study, Griskevicius and Wang made participants feel jealous by having them imagine that another woman was flirting with their man. Shortly afterward, the women completed a seemingly unrelated task in which they drew a luxury brand logo on a handbag.
The result? When women felt jealous, they drew designer logos that were twice the size of those in the other conditions.
"The feeling that a relationship is being threatened by another woman automatically triggers women to want to flash Gucci, Chanel, and Fendi to other women," explains Wang.
Okay. Some things:
1. Why is it assumed that a woman's boyfriend has anything to do with the purchasing of the handbags, shoes, and clothes she wears? Women, of all people, should know how few straight men pay any attention to reading the signs and signifiers of this season's crop of handbags and shoes.
2. If women who are triggered to feel jealous or insecure about their relationships subconsciously attach more importance to brands, or want to buy more designer goods (as evidenced by the bigger logos they drew in the study) why is it assumed that it's because she wants to ward off romantic rivals? It could be for any number of reasons: Because for a lot of people, shopping is a common way of dealing with the blues. Because they want to invest in their appearance in order to look more attractive to a partner whose eye could be wandering. Because they want to invest in their appearance in order to look more attractive to other men in the event their relationship does end. Because they anticipate the end of the relationship may result in the loss of financial security and they want to invest in tangible goods that they could later sell or derive other value from. (Think of the Texas oil billionaire's wife who knows her jewelry is also her run-away money in the case of divorce.) People store a lot of psychic weight in designer brands, but I'm not sure the research, as it's described here, demonstrates the connection that the researchers are claiming. The idea that women buy designer goods to broadcast to other women that their relationships are happy, so hands off, seems unsupported.
3. What about the lesbians? Who will buy them fancy purses?
— Jenna Sauers