Regatta at Sainte-Adresse

7:00 AM

Claude Monet, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse, 1867

Ah, to be a gentlemen of leisure (pronounced as if it rhymes with pleasure). To take pride in your conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption, making sure everyone knows you take pride in doing practically nothing. Nothing doesn’t mean just sitting on the couch all day, although I’m sure that would have been acceptable; rather, it means to take part in activities that seem to suggest there is no need to work, and no need, or time for that matter, to make more money. Such activities include: collecting priceless wine (which you store in your expansive wine cellar), collecting British paintings of hunt scenes complete with hounds and a man in tall boots carrying a rifle, most likely having at least one painting done of yourself or your wife, having a wife whose job it is to look as expensive as possible to support your image of boundless wealth, and, of course, owning a yacht, which you use to travel the world. Now, the key to being a successful gentleman of leisure is making sure everyone around you knows what you do, or what you don’t do. How do you achieve this? By either inviting others to join you on your extravagant activities, hosting parties, inviting people to your summer estate, or immersing yourself into a crowd of other gentlemen of leisure. Essentially, to be a gentleman of leisure, one must participate in unproductive activities and make sure everyone knows about it.

The theory of conspicuous leisure and consumption was coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 when he published his book The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. Although the date on Monet’s painting does not coincide with the publication of Veblen’s book, Monet’s Regatta at Sainte-Adresse portrays a scene of conspicuous leisure and gentlemen of leisure. A major aspect of Veblen’s gentlemen of leisure is their clothing. Veblen explains, “expenditure on dress has this advantage over most other methods, that our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance… Our dress, therefore, in order to serve its purpose effectually, should not only be expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor.” Dressed in well-fitted suits and restrictive dresses, the gentlemen of leisure and their respective companions seem out of place, not meant to be resting on the seaside. Their dress seems to suggest a stroll through the city, possibly to meet other gentlemen of leisure for brunch, not an afternoon watching boat races while sitting in the sand. The people stand out, as if they are in the wrong place, but, then again, that is the whole point of conspicuous consumption and leisure. Everyone passing by the beach would notice the well-dressed men and women who seem to have no worry about getting sand and water on their clothes. If their clothes do end up getting tarnished from this outing, they will just buy more expensive and showy clothes. The men and women appear to be completely at ease with their parasols and top hats, living the blissful life of leisure while spending their time on the shore, doing anything but work, and making sure everyone is aware of their conspicuous presence.

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