The Changing Face of Luxury

The luxurious socialite of the past who had one-of-a-kind art donning her walls, owned a wardrobe filled with fashion-forward pieces, and spoke highly of her cultured travels is essentially today’s hipster with micro homebrews, a passport filled with international glamping trips, and a dresser of Etsy-purchased cuff links. What was once reserved for the haves (most luxuries) are now attainable for the haves and the have-nots. Here’s an attempt at explaining how Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials have changed the definition of luxury. (Important note: this is an examination beyond the most affluent segment of each generation.)

When “designer brands” became “Etsy-inspired”
Whether you’ve window shopped, Julia-Roberts-in-Pretty-Woman-style shopped Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive, or gone into one of the luxury shops, one thing is clear—you will likely walk out of the store branded. Boomers, the generation who wants to keep up with the Joneses, has always strived to have the greatest brands, whether it was saving up for a Tiffany’s tennis bracelet, a Chanel coat, or a Rolls Royce car, there was an importance placed on things. Today, Boomers still have a draw to the most luxurious of goods making them, what some call, the “sexiest consumer of retail.”

Fast forward to today and Millennials are asking themselves, “WHY would I save up to buy a thing that other people likely have and that I could spill my coffee on tomorrow?” Luxury for Millennials is what “makes sense” on their path to adulthood: 1) get an apartment with laundry in the unit, 2) buy a non-Ikea piece of art or furniture, and 3) shop a step above (or 2–3 steps above) H&M. Instead of Chanel, they are going for expensive comfort so they can lounge and live in luxury. The popularity of the $35 billion-dollar athleisure market increases primarily because of Millennials and Gen Edgers. Now, the luxury retail item isn’t something you wear three times a year; it’s what you wear every day to the gym, then to the grocery store, and then to happy hour with friends. Millennials will also be more apt to seek the “one-of-a-kind” product and spend more money at an art fair or their favorite artist on Etsy than walk into a fine jewelry store to get a necklace others may have. For Millennials, luxury retail is practical and sharable.

Longing for debt-free luxury
The expectation of a wonderful and beautiful retirement is becoming a fantasy for Gen Xers. Forty-five percent of Xers believe they won’t have enough money for retirement and in turn are saving their money for financial independence. Forty-two percent of them also have a financially dependent child and a parent over the age of 65, so Gen Xers have a lot of financial responsibilities. A true luxury for them is devoid of debt and full of financial security where their children going to college doesn’t elicit a staggered heartbeat. Millennials share this luxury ideal because they have $33K in student loan debt.

“I’ll trade in my bonus for a week off”
In our high-speed society, the pause in the day for reflection has become a rare treasure for all generations. And while some may gripe about Millennials and Gen X pushing hard for balance while they seek progression in their careers, their motivations behind seeking balance is to get that luxury back.

Baby Boomers are finally able to take some time off and not work. One of the greatest luxuries they could never afford is now allowing them to pursue personal passions or go on the adventure to Peru that their kids did at the age of 20.

Gen Xers’ motivation is likely tied to their nuclear family. They want to be there for every lacrosse game and school play. They spend $627 a day on travel, and it makes sense—the greatest gift to an Xer is time off to spend with the family abroad.

Millennials are looking for experiences. It drives their financial expenditures to travel, eat great food, and go out with friends. This group that makes the sharing economy flourish seeks the time to enjoy all the little and big things in life.

Why is it awesome that luxury = time? Report after report tells us that giving ourselves time to think, read, exercise, see loved ones, or gain new experiences makes us happier. The more we are able to “own” this luxury, the more likely it will become weaved into our daily and yearly routines. That’s pretty awesome to me.