Day 14/366: oooh, shiny

I think in general people are magpies, and very much drawn to new, pretty and shiny stuff.  Our ancestors were wearing jewellery and beaded and decorated clothing 25000 years ago during the last ice age and as humans began to work metal; jewellery and clothing became more and more complex and beautiful.

Beads made of mammoth tusk Image via Twitter

So what has this got to do with buying too many clothes you might ask?  Well, beads and beaded clothing that took a lot of time to make were status symbols.  To create things that had no practical purpose meant that you had the time and resources to do non-utilitarian, non essential activities; you were not just out gathering food or collecting fuel.  This meant that jewellery and ornate clothing was scarce, precious and therefore highly valued as a status symbol by our ancestors.

25000 years isn’t very long in evolutionary terms, and we are still very similar to our ancestors in our desire for attractive, shiny things that demonstrate our status to the people around us.

Up until the late 20th Century with its huge rise in provision of consumer goods and general rise in incomes in the West, pretty clothes and jewellery were scarce unless you were very wealthy.  People would generally have one “smart” or “special” outfit and possibly a piece of jewellery or two.  Dresses were often made at home and were patched and mended and made to last as long as possible because it was expensive in both time and money to purchase fabric and make something new.

We now live in a time of plenty, in fact many would say we live in a time of excess, where our very ancestral human desire for new and shiny things can be gratified at any time of day or night.  We are constantly bombarded with images of things that trigger our desire for pretty things but also trigger our status anxiety.  Indeed, the consumerist society that we live in depends on our instinctive need to show status and position.  Look at any magazine, TV advert or billboard and you will see a lifestyle of shiny things being sold to you.  The economy would collapse if we only ever bought what we needed rather than what we want.

So it’s no surprise that many of us end up with so many clothes, shoes and bags that we could never wear them out in our lifetime.  We still have that basic, underlying anxiety about scarcity and status that our ice age ancestors had which never seems to go away, no matter how much you buy.


Tiffany diamond necklace