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The rich people buy many luxury things like expensive cell phones, gadgets with brilliants, bags made of snake skin and other such things. They buy it in order to separate themselves from the “crowd” and to show others their social status and wealth. There are other people that want to look rich (or VIP) so they spend their lifetime scraping and saving in order to buy these expensive things. However, these things have no real use, these things are just expensive “trifles”. But many people are still sure that these things will make them happy!

The question is:
What’s the right American English term for “things that have no use which people buy, spending their lifetime, to show others their importance”.

Maybe trifles or trinkets are the right words?

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Trifles, trinkets and baubles all imply small things that are often inexpensive. You wouldn't refer to a snakeskin purse or a smartphone in that way. I think the word OP uses - luxuries - is best. Bling is a good slang alternative, though. – onomatomaniak Nov 22 '11 at 21:34
A related term is conspicuous consumption. – Marthaª Nov 22 '11 at 22:43
Status symbols would work here. – patrick Nov 22 '11 at 22:52
Your examples are confusing - an expensive cellphone is still useful as a phone, a snakeskin handbag can still be used as a bag. They have a use - but your question implies things that would not be used such as some modern art pieces - all you can do is look at them. – JBRWilkinson Nov 23 '11 at 0:06
@onomatomaniak: I don't think trinkets and baubles necessarily imply inexpensive, at least not in the ways I've actually heard them used. To say they imply inexpensive seems a bit subjective. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 23 '11 at 14:23
up vote 7 down vote accepted

So you are looking for the pricey version of a tchotchke. There are a couple in common use. Bling is an excellent fit to your criteria of expensive and highly visible. Trophy seems to be used especially when it refers to the toys (and girl/boytoys) of successful businesspeople.

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tchotchke should be very "familiar" to the OP, as in his native language, there is a very similar word, цацка :) – RiMMER Nov 22 '11 at 21:23
Thank you! Yes, these are the suitable terms. – ezpresso Nov 22 '11 at 21:25
@RIMMER yes, "цацка" - that is the word. We used "побрякушки" in the original text. – ezpresso Nov 22 '11 at 21:28

I agree 100% with onomatomaniak. Avoid trinkets, baubles and trifles as they all imply that the items are cheap. I also agree with onomatomaniak's suggestion to use the term "luxuries". You could also go with the very similar term of "luxury items".

Another term which you might consider (and which I quite like myself) is "extravagances". Oxford Dictionaries Online defines the terms as "a thing on which too much money has been spent or which has used up too many resources". An nice example sentence (from Urban Dictionary) would be "Nouveau riche - low class wannabes showing off their wealth with enthusiastic extravagance (aka bling)." Note that you can also use this term as an adjective, e.g. in a phrase like "the extravagant lifestyle of the nouveau riche."

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I think the term you may be looking for is positional good, which is the economist's term for things bought chiefly to prove you can afford them, rather than for any real use.

See also here.

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+1 That's an excellent contribution. It's not a word in general use outside of economics, but a great technical term. – MετάEd Nov 22 '11 at 23:27

Luxury and status symbol (from comments) are both good. There is a subtle difference between them: a luxury serves some purpose, albeit one that you could argue didn't need to be served. For example, you can go on a luxury cruise where you'll have spiffy accommodations and be waited on extravagantly, though a regular cruise would have provided most of the same benefits. The luxury status provides a boost (at some expense). If you call something a status symbol, however, you are focusing on the conspicuous consumption and not on any benefit it might provide. That doesn't mean it's useless, but that its point is to show status.

A Rolls Royce parked in front of your house is a status symbol. If you actually drive it it might also be a luxury. So, context matters.

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A white elephant is expensive but useless.

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A white elephant is normally a gift which comes with an impossible burden of maintenance, that is, a curse in the guise of a blessing. – MετάEd Nov 22 '11 at 21:11
I have no doubt it has secondary meanings; language mutates. I would only have to disagree if what you mean is that it's no longer primarily used in the sense of troublesome to possess. That is still the primary meaning reported in modern dictionaries. – MετάEd Nov 22 '11 at 21:27
I've only heard the non-gift usage. Also, it's not in the dictionaries but I think a white elephant should be something big. – z7sg Ѫ Nov 23 '11 at 15:16

I'm surprised no one offered gaud. Essentially synonymous with bling, denoting showiness and vulgarity without an implication of cheapness. It would edge out out bling in any context that antedated the late 1980s, or in contexts where the pop culture freight attendant upon bling is unwanted.

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I don't think I've ever encountered that word before.... – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 17 '11 at 2:52
More common nowadays in the adjectival form gaudy, but I still see the nominal case with reasonable frequency in modern literary prose. – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 17 '11 at 20:01

Trinkets is a good word for this. Baubles is also good. The phrase status symbols might also work, but it would only imply "expensive" not necessarily "no real use".

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Oh, Thanks! Seems it is just the right term I need. – ezpresso Nov 22 '11 at 21:22
@ezpresso: They are often used together, as in The shelves were covered in gaudy baubles and trinkets. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 22 '11 at 21:26
As noted, both trinket and bauble carry connotations of cheapness, exactly the opposite of what the OP (says he) wants. – Marthaª Nov 22 '11 at 22:42
I've found many examples on the Internet where people use trinkets and baubles when they talk about expensive things. Below is the example that was taken from here: 'When patrons weren't killing their cousins... they were commissioning endless trinkets and baubles for their own amusement and enhancement of status.' – ezpresso Nov 24 '11 at 16:33
@ezpresso: So have I, which is why I suggested it. Perhaps there's some localized or cultural conditions that in some people imply "cheap" and in others imply "expensive"? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 24 '11 at 16:36

Is folly appropriate here, or does it only apply to the spare tower you build on your castle, just to impress the neighbours? (i.e. old usage for wealthy estate owners)

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This word does not apply here but may be useful sometimes: mathom. It is in the Urban Dictionary and implies an item of too much value to discard or donate, but suitable to re-gift.

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Actually, mathom is—well, was—a forgotten word from Old English that got resurrected by J.R.R. Tolkien for use in the The Lord of the Rings, and has since regained some currency. – tchrist May 8 '13 at 3:59
-1 for not answering the question. – user867 May 8 '13 at 4:56

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