Impostor syndrome is an unfamiliar term to many people. It can affect our self-esteem, confidence, and become negative self-talk. It refers to a situation when people, despite objective proof, can’t recognize their own accomplishments and thus feel like “impostors.” A feeling as if they got lucky or are somehow tricking other people into accepting them as competent (Bravata et al., 2019).
For example, a person who just got promoted to a manager might feel that they do not deserve the promotion and that others will see it. Or an artist who feels guilty about showcasing their work, feeling not good enough, even if they have widespread recognition. Additionally, you may get the feeling if you buy the best brand new gear for a hobby or sport that you haven’t developed experience in.
The impostor feeling is subtlely felt and certainly undesirable. Most people have experienced the feeling at some point. Impostor syndrome is common among people from all backgrounds and can be compounded by our need for high-end goods.
We might take different approaches to feel more competent. Conversely, people try the “fake it till you make it,” buying luxury items that represent status making them feel more confident. Luxury consumption is understood as the purchase of items that are perceived to signify a higher social status or economic importance (Beker, Lee, & Nobre, 2018).
Indulgent consumption is far more reaching than just buying jewelry and handbags. Luxury consumption extends to different industries for the outdoorsy folk brands like Patagonia can represent the same thing Louis Vouton can. Another example of brands that are perceived as giving people a higher economic status are car brands BMW or Lexus.
Research suggests that luxury consumption, that is, buying items that are perceived as being luxurious, higher social status, very high quality, can actually impact us negatively and make us feel like an impostor.
A study on luxury consumption found that it was a double-edged sword. On one hand, this process could help the person be recognized as someone with a higher status. This would suggest that people do pay attention to luxury items and they do work to make a person appear in a certain way.
On the other hand, luxury items also could make the person feel like an impostor. The person felt that they were not being authentic to themselves and that the luxury item was a privilege they had not earned. This, in turn, made them feel less confident. The study connected the finding with feelings of entitlement. People who felt they deserved more were less likely to feel impostor syndrome. Entitled people were those who felt they could get the best things in life and should get them, so for them, the luxury items did not produce feelings of being inauthentic. The study had around 1000 participants (Goor, Ordabayeva, Keinan, & Crener, 2020). Marketing departments are great at making you feel like you are entitled.
For Goor and Ordabayeva, two of the authors who published their research on the subject, they mention that people felt a dissonance between the luxury item and their true self, which proved true for over two-thirds of the study participants. Even if the luxury products in question were for private use and nobody would see them, the participants still felt self-conscious about their choice. For instance, cosmetic or skincare products would be private-use items. Discounted luxury items also had a similar effect (Matei, 2020).
In general, this suggests that for most people, buying luxury goods leads to less confidence and impostor syndrome. Even if others might view the items positively and evaluate the owner as better or more accomplished, the individual is less likely to see it in that way.
Rather listen to something on the topic? Don’t be fooled by the title after clicking on the link. They expand on three topics in this episode and it is the third one. Curiosity Daily Podcast “Luxury Buying Makes People Feel Fake”
Indeed people are often drawn to luxury items to give themselves an emotional boost. Interestingly enough, people might be more drawn to luxury purchases when they are indebted or under financial stress. A 2020 study discovered that people were more likely to buy luxury items when they were experiencing debt stress. The study suggests that people who feel that they have lost some degree of status might want to compensate by buying something (Wang, Ma, Li & Zhang, 2020).
This means that buying luxury items is something we are drawn to when we are under stress or feeling vulnerable. We might see it as a strategy that will likely help us feel more confident. In reality, it could have the opposite effect, making us less confident and self-conscious.
Overall, does this mean that buying luxury goods is not a good idea? Clearly not. Our impostor syndrome comes partly from a perception of a lack of authenticity. Correct this by focusing on living within your financial means. There are all kinds of brands that can provide the same durability as luxury brands but don’t have the name.
We can work on feeling more deserving of luxury items by focusing on getting our finances in order. Another thing to consider is luxury brands that better fit our self-image are more likely to suit us and give us confidence. Finally keep in mind that marketers know people seem to prefer luxury products that are advertised and presented through images they can identify with (Mandel, Petrova, & Cialdini, 2006). The more aware we are of this subconscious behavior the better we can avoid thus preventing impostor syndrome.
Finally, if you or someone you know is stuck and feeling distressed about their finances consider taking action to improve the situation. Take the first step to building a strategy with a financial coach, initiate a free, no-obligation discovery session.
Becker, K., Lee, J. & Nobre, H.. (2018). The Concept of Luxury Brands and the Relationship between Consumer and Luxury Brands. The Journal of Asian Finance, Economics and Business. 5. 51-63. 10.13106/jafeb.2018.vol5.no3.51.
Bravata, D., Watts, S., Keefer, A., Madhusudhan, D., Taylor, K., & Clark, D. et al. (2019). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal Of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), 1252-1275. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
Goor, D., Ordabayeva, N., Keinan, A. & Crener, S. (2020). The Impostor Syndrome from Luxury Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research. 46. 1031-1051. 10.1093/jcr/ucz044.
Mandel, Naomi & Petrova, Petia & Cialdini, Robert. (2006). Images of Success and the Preference for Luxury Brands. Journal of Consumer Psychology – J CONSUM PSYCHOL. 16. 57-69. 10.1207/s15327663jcp1601_8.
Matei, A. (2020).Too nice for the likes of us: why buying fancy stuff makes us miserable. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/feb/04/luxury-purchases-impostor-syndrome-shopping
Wang, W., Ma, T., Li, J., & Zhang, M. (2020). The pauper wears prada? How debt stress promotes luxury consumption. Journal Of Retailing And Consumer Services, 56, 102144. doi: 10.1016/j.jretconser.2020.102144