Trickle-down theories suggest that status symbols and fashion trends originate from the elites and move downward, but some high-end restaurants serve lowbrow food (e.g., potato chips, macaroni and cheese), and some high-status individuals wear downscale clothing (e.g., ripped jeans, duct-taped shoes). Why would high-status actors adopt items traditionally associated with low-status groups? Using a signaling perspective to explain this phenomenon, the authors suggest that elites sometimes adopt items associated with low-status groups as a costly signal to distinguish themselves from middle-status individuals. As a result, signals sometimes trickle round, moving directly from the lower to the upper class, before diffusing to the middle class. Furthermore, consistent with a signaling perspective, the presence of multiple signaling dimensions facilitates this effect, enabling the highs to mix and match high and low signals and differentiate themselves. These findings deepen the understanding of signaling dynamics, support a trickle-round theory of fashion, and shed light on alternative status symbols.
Web appendix http://www.columbia.edu/~sb3761/WebAppendix2020.pdf
Bellezza, Silvia, and Jonah Berger. "Trickle-Round Signals: When Low Status Is Mixed with High." Journal of Consumer Research 47, no. 1 (2020): 100-127.
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