When Marketing Met Lifestyle

Beginning in the 1960s, the word lifestyle came into common parlance. More than merely a new word, its exponential growth showed that conceptions of identity were changing, since lifestyle suggested that identity was a choice. The timing of this change was not coincidence. The rise of lifestyle can be traced to the activities of young, middle-class men in the postwar period who adopting the styles and dress of the lower class, from jeans to biker jackets, to critique the rigidity of middle-class families and masculinity. These “class acts,” as I refer to them, became a central part of countercultural ideology, which encouraged individuals to remake themselves in order to create a social revolution, ultimately disconnecting identity from material circumstance. Marketers seized on this trend, creating lifestyle marketing in the process. In this book, I focus on material culture–fashion and style–to show how young men performed alternative identities in the postwar period while also tracing the use of these class acts to create lifestyle marketing in the late 20th century.For these marketers, lifestyle trumped social class, meaning that values and attitudes crossed lines of income or wealth. The ultimate effect was to disconnect class identity from material conditions by suggesting that class was entirely a performance, and one that could be adopted by anyone from a middle-class youth to a Presidential nominee.

Line Graph Showing the Relationship between Lifestyle and Marketing
This graph mines the incidences of the words “marketing” and “lifestyle” in JSTOR’s Data for Research archive, showing that the term marketing was used increasingly as the commercial power of the U.S. grew, but truly exploded in the postwar period as part of this nation’s global trade dominance and affluence. More interesting is the fact that lifestyle, a term used ubiquitously today, did not enter into the scholarly lexicon until the 1960s, but that once it did, its usage rose exponentially immediately, a fact that I link in my book to the role of the counterculture in changing our conceptions of identity.

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