As social beings, we have always looked to define our place in society.
Whether by a system of casts, nobility, landownership or other, rigid systems gave us a sense of identity and order, for the greater good of the species. These structures were so useful that across the centuries and continents our place in society was passed down from parents to children.
With the invention of agriculture 12,000 years ago, ancient hierarchies disappeared but were quickly replaced by new ones, based by our contribution to the group: laborers, merchants, warriors, priests, artists and rulers. Then mass democracy and capitalism did away with those distinctions and true social mobility was born. Our own fate would no longer be limited by our parents’.
What hasn’t changed in these 12,000 years though, is our need to define our place in society, and this is where fashion kicks in: while luxury had always existed (kings and priests from Papua New Guinea to Machu Pichu have always relied on jewels to advertise their place in society), the idea of ever-changing tastes is relatively new, and has accelerated tremendously as our daily lives grow increasingly removed from the farming cycles.
In fact, some claim that fashion helps us regain a sense of “seasons”, in a world of farm factories.
In short, both fashion and luxury help us regain a sense of social order. But one does it horizontally (where do i stand vs my peers), while the other does it vertically (how high do I stand in the food chain).