Review of ‘Dressed to Kill: Consumption, Style and the Gangster (Ruth, 1996)’

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Cultural Influences
Mark Farwell

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
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Social divisions seem to become blurred by both lower and higher status people and that now ‘the respectable and the disreputable were linked as consumers’, social divisions seemed to be non existent. The gangster embodied the promise of new consumerism, however also consisted of dangers, as the gangster’s perceived wealth suggested economic mobility with the blurring of social class. As the gangster could with ease mix with leading citizens in restaurants and bars, it suggests an enfacement of conventional distinctions between the respectable and disreputable. For Americans that situated themselves in the respected middle class, the shift of consumer society’s class relations became confused of social terrain. The middle class of the late nineteenth century ranged across several categories, often linked by ethnicity, religion and public behaviour. After the turn of the century, social changes made the category more problematic, with some of the issues involving the working class, including immigrants. During the First World War, the income gap decreased as white collar earnings stagnated, while the unskilled worker experienced increased real wages. This change in life, created the problematic middle class, as many Americans across the class scale, participated in quest for pleasure and gratification that marked immigrants and working class as different. The new American economy promised
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