Style is the reason why Starbucks can charge so much for a Latte or Mocha. Put simply, you arenâ€™t just paying for the coffee. It goes well beyond that. As Postrel investigates further, she finds that Starbucks is about the artwork, music, layout, design, even the smell, and general feeling you get when you walk in. As Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz explains all those factors, "have to send the same subliminal message as the flavor of the coffee: Everything here is best-of-class."
So the Mocha may be $4, but you also get music, comfy chairs, and new perks like wireless internet. More important, those aesthetic imperatives might be the only difference between two products or two businesses. That is why it is so important.
The cool thing about Postrel and this book in particular is that she digs into the popular culture of today and finds a vibrant, dynamic, and interesting landscape. It is one that is easy to navigate as people have choices between styles and brands.
More importantly, these ideas, that aesthetics matter is coupled with the proposal that this new world is not one burdened or overtaken by idle superficiality, far from it. They are a part of other values and not just stand-ins for those values. These ideas and examples of style and aesthetics are best seen as vehicles to enhance our enjoyment of other things and places, from restaurants to business reports.
It's not as easy as thinking of things as simply 'style over substance' or even 'substance over style'. Instead they both must be seen as a wonderful one-two punch in perfect harmony. The exceptionally good thing about Postrel is that her writing is heavy on example, long on interesting ideas, and completely absent of the typical gut reaction against frivolousness of style.
The fact that there are more toilet brush styles than you can count isn't a misallocation of resources. No one's been duped into buying them. If you have to buy something you might as well be happy with it. It's the style, stupid.
Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right and the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.