Based on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of distinction, it would be fair to say that the social group you belong would be based on your class and that your habitus would be determined by both of these. For example, the habitus of a lower-class landscaper and a billionaire would be extremely different because it is a predisposed disposition of our surroundings. So people within the same class are likely to share similar habitus as well as similar taste.
In terms of Bourdieu’s theory of taste, the economically advantaged (in layman’s terms: the rich) don’t necessarily refer directly to their bank account to display how rich they are but rather by relying on strategic choices that will automatically label them as being rich. Looking at restaurant menus, for example, is one way of the idea of distinction by means of taste being put into play. Clothing store choice is another example that will give a clear demonstration of Bourdieu’s theory of distinction. For the purpose of this blog, I will use three different “levels” of clothing stores to demonstrate this theory: Family Thrift, H&M, and Chanel.
Although thrift stores have recently made a new name for themselves amongst young people, they have historically been classified as a place for a certain group of people, namely those whose habitus was likely passed down by parents who implemented a very tight budget. What makes a thrift store a thrift store, exactly? The store associates do not make a point to offer you any special sales because everything is already dirt-cheap anyways. There is generally a very big selection of clothing in terms of color, style, age, gender and season. The price tags are usually in plain sight. In general, there is likely only one of each item. The biggest giveaway of a thrift store—the clothing is at least second-hand. Family Thrift is a great example of this level of clothing store. The store itself has two levels and has hundreds of clothing options, tens of shoes to choose from and a countless number of home appliances. The clothing is organized only by what exactly it is (i.e. jeans, pants, jackets, short sleeve t-shirts, etc.).
Middle-end retail stores such as H&M tend to be a mix between low-end and high-end clothing stores, as does the population of people who choose these types of stores. The group of people likely to be found in this type of store would probably be those of middle-class families who are conscious of money but do not have as tight of a budget those who may shop at a thrift store. In places like H&M, there is generally less diversity in the clothing. There is more than one of each item (e.g. there may be 15 pairs of the same style of jeans on a rack, simply different sizes). The price tags are still in plain sight but the price itself has increased. There are sales on the clothing and salespeople to constantly remind you of them. In general, only clothing or accessories are sold in these types of clothing stores.
High-end retail stores such as Chanel present a whole new world. A habitus of no real consciousness of money would likely be the population in this type of clothing store. One is generally greeted by a personal stylist upon entering the store who will promptly suggest a style that would best fit you. There are never sales and rarely price tags on the clothing itself because most customers couldn’t care less about the price of the clothing. There is almost always one piece available because the buyer wouldn’t want to be seen wearing the same shirt as someone else. The selection is very small, generally only displaying a small amount of clothing. Furthermore, many of these stores require an appointment or special connection to even enter the store.
Tying all of the clothing stores together and contrasting the differences amongst them helps explain Bourdieu’s notion of taste. It is not just a matter of liking or disliking something but rather a dictation of your actions. As Bourdieu states in his conclusion of Distinctions:
So nothing is further removed from an act of cognition, as conceived by the intellectualist tradition, than this sense of the social structure, which, as is so well put the world taste—simultaneously ‘the faculty of perceiving flavours’ and ‘the capacity to discern aesthetic values’—is social necessity made second nature, turned into muscular patters and bodily automatisms. (474)
So someone who shops at H&M might go to either Family Thrift or Chanel but someone who regularly buys clothes from Chanel would not shop at Family Thrift or vice-versa. It is not simply a matter of preference based on interest or disinterest and it is not necessarily a conscious effort but more so a matter of preference based on habitus. The context in which you were socialized develops your habitus. So someone who was raised in a low income household with six brothers and sisters and grew up shopping at Family Thrift because of financial strain is not likely to just forget what it’s like to be in that situation. The same is true of the reciprocal. Someone who grew up a single child in an upper-class family and went shopping at Chanel twice a week is not likely to simply forget that lifestyle because as Bourdeiu also points out in his definition of the term, the habitus is durable and therefore likely to be remain as such for the majority of one’s life.
Distinctions. A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Conclusion. 1984, translated by Richard Nice, published by Harvard University Press, 1984.