Review of ‘Dressed to Kill: Consumption, Style and the Gangster (Ruth, 1996)’ By Daniel De Brett
The introduction of the ‘gangster’, comprising of personality, characteristics, image, consumption patterns, behaviours and attitudes, into the American society during the 1920s had a significant impact and influence on people’s society and culture. The public enemy, defined by business organisation, violent criminality and stylish consumption, was deployed by many Americans during the development of a new consumer society. The gangster was introduced and became a fascination to Americans at the peak of development of the new consumer society. Within this new society, consumerism had increased dramatically, when easy credit and flood of goods transformed Americans lives, particularly within the urban middle class. With lower prices and credit purchasing, families were able to maintain the consumption patterns from the 1920s through the next decade and whilst living on small, less reliable incomes, Americans began to regard items as necessities, which only ten years early were considered luxury items.
One of the most significant factors in identifying a gangster or someone with gangster associations was most apparent through the now stereotypical attire. This consisted of pin stripe tailoring, silk shirts, jewels and metal cigarette holders, objects acting as ‘symbols of consumption’. The American public saw the gangster as glamorous consumer status, which offered new opportunities for individuality and fulfilment within the mass consumption economy. To maintain the image of the gangster, individuals were encouraged to become more active consumers, investing time and expenses to appear fashionable. With the widespread availability of cheap mass produced clothing lessened differences in attire. Whilst adopting the stylish exterior of the gangster, individuals also sought to develop the ‘stylish personality’ with
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