Lieberson, S. 2000. A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Cultures Change.

Lieberson, Stanley. 2000. A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Cultures Change. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

*Prologue- fashion used interchangeably with taste (Bourdieu would frown!); historical overlook of fashion by sociologists – Blumer (1969, 276) saying fashion is “an aberrant and irrational social happening, akin to a craze or mania [… which] rarely seem to make sense in terms of utility or rational purpose; they seem more to express the play of fancy and caprice”. Blumer notes fashion as mostly relegated to clothing or adornment, however, fashion is present in many contexts, including arts, music, entertainment, medicine, management, science, etc. Meyerson and Katz (1957, 594): “The study of fads and fashions may serve the strudent of social change much as the study of fruit flies has served geneticists: neither the sociologist nor geneticist has to wait long for a new generation to arrive”.

Chapter 1- Aesthetic sense based on internal and external influences – “By definition, the term fashion is not applied to tastes that never change”(4); “An individual’s distinctive preferences are obviously important, but they are really the last factor to consider in analyzing tastes, for individual responses are molded by the standards of a specific time and place, as well as by the individual’s activities and membership in a variety of subgroups and organizations.  Individual choices, then are made within two frameworks, one of the existing broad set of fashions and a more specific one of their own subgroups –  (5). Changes in fashion do not dictate changes in customs or change in utility – differentiating customs from fashion, noting customs as seemingly static. Change and fashion closely related and presumed to stem from 1350’s Europe, when radical change in dress overturned age-old utilitarian and formal dress (Braudel 1981). Fashion as a demonstration of influence and affluence – enough to replace previous wear that is still useful. Mueller (1951) – music has a tendency to be organized to accompany nationalistic movements, in a means to glorify particular elements of a culture’s distinction and heritage, acting as points of revival.  However, Schücking (1944) notes that subcultures are more likely to guide artistic (and music?) movements.  Simmel recommended, but developed by Barber and Lobel (1953) that fashion acts as a means to distinguish classes through the upper classes generating fashions, imitation by lower classes, and the adoption of even newer fashions by upper classes – yet, this is reliant on enough endless affluence and technological change to produce these items.  Existing fashions impact future fashions, as variants of current fashions are developed and remodeled. Association with Veblen (1899) as demonstrating wealth through conspicuous consumption – goods are not expensive because they are fashionable, but fashionable because they are expensive.  Davis (1958, 11) – “esthetic norms and pecuniary norms are highly correlated in this society, for it is remarkable how, despite constant change in taste, a material object considered to be in ‘good taste’ at a given moment is also hideously expensive”-  however, does not help to explain the fashion and uptake of goods when the fashionable item is no longer expensive.  Bourdieu (1988)’s explanation of cultural capital – use of particular tastes to discern and gatekeep between classes, marking power and privilege.

*Chapter 2

Fashion as “aesthetic, nonessential changes to a physical object or concept.  Fashion changes do not improve the ostensible functions of products or make them less expensive or allow for new features. Conversely, it is not simply fashion if new ideas replace older ideas solely because the new ideas are superior in their power and intellectual utility. An aesthetic change occurs because something is now more attractive than what was previously deemed attractive. If aesthetic changes grow more frequent, then it means that fashion is becoming an increasingly central feature of the product” (31). Fashion has individual and aggregate components – determination of affinity by an individual, versus the affinity of a group. Fashion as a form of collective behavior – (see Smelser 1963, Turner and Killian 1987, Park and Burgess 1921, Coleman 1990, and Blumer 1968) – Coleman (1990, 198) has three dimensions of collective behavior that applies to fashion “(1) they involve a number of people carrying out the same or similar actions at the same time; (2) the behavior exhibited is transient or continually changing, not in a state of equilibrium; and (3) there is some kind of dependency among the actions – individuals are not acting independently” (here 33) (kx^ disagree with the notion that fashion must equal change – how to describe long-term subgroup fashion variations?  Are these just customs at this point? – “For fashion is inherently a quantitative attribute that may vary in its rate of change” and “[…] Clothing intended to represent continuity with the past and tradition is almost certain to have a far smaller element of fashion” (34).

Chapter 4  – changes in fashion are usually incremental, and do not seem to be wildly shifting until looked at longitudinally

Chapter 5 – symbolic enhancement, or decline in symbolic favor can offer changes to how particular fashions are received – cultural associations made with particular names (like Adolf) can make or break a fashion

*Chapter 6  – major institutions can impact the delivery and introduction of fashions – diffusion and imitation of fashions then takes place, based upon these initial deliveries – changes, adaptations, and variation will occur out of re-appropriations

Chapter 7 – In racial-ethnic groups, fashions may be adopted to embrace symbolic representation and membership within the group, or they may be distanced, as some fashions may promote relation with sullied racial groups – or promote identities that they are trying to obscure

*Chapter 8 – Mass media can impact the uptake of fashions, by using prominent names (fashions) in ways that are advertised by (non)fictional characters, the symbolism surrounding these characters, or to demonstrate admiration of these characters]


Barber, Bernard and Lyle S. Lobel. 1953. “Fashion in Women’s Clothes and the American Social System.” Pp. 323-332 in Class, Status, and Power, edited by Reinhard Bendix and Seymour Martin Lipset. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Blumer, Herbert. 1968. “Fashion.” Pp. 314-342 in The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, edited by David L. Sills. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.

Blumer, Herbert. 1969. “Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection.” Sociological Quarterly 10: 275-291.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Braudel, Fernand. 1981. The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible. Translated by Miriam Kochran. New York: Harper and Row.

Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Davis, James A. 1958. “Cultural Factors in the Perception of Status Symbols.” Midwest Sociologist 21: 1-11.

Meyerson, Rolf and Elihu Katz. 1957. “Note on a Natural History of Fads.” American Journal of Sociology 62(6): 594-601.

Mueller, John H. 1951. The American Symphony Orchestra: A Social History of Musical Taste. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Park, Robert E. and Ernest W. Burgess. 1921. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schücking, Levin. 1944. The Sociology of Literary Taste. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.

Smelser, Neil J. 1963. Theory of Collective Behavior.  New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Turner, Ralph H. and Lewis M. Killian. 1987. Collective Behavior. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Veblen, Thorstein. 1967. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Viking. Originally published 1899.


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