I love fashion, but I often wonder if designer clothes are really worth the money. I have come to the conclusion that whether or not designer clothes are a good purchase depends on whether or not you can actually afford the purchase. What I am referring to, is not whether or not you have the cash to purchase it or whether or not you make that purchase off of credit. If you can make that payment by the end of the month, and a $100 dollar shirt does not end up costing you $350 bucks, because you never paid off that charge in full, then by all means make the purchase on credit.
Affordability has to do with your expectations. For example, if you need clothing that lasts you would do just as well with second hand clothing, or clothing purchased from stores that often deep discounts, than you would with buying expensive designer clothing upfront. I used to be very designer conscious, and I have tried everything from Dolce and Gabanna, to Christian Dior, to Burberry and Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren. I was a huge fan of Tommy Hilfiger in the beginning, but the quality changed over time. The quality was not any better than what anyone else was offering, and in those early days it was actually a lot worse than what more established labels like Polo Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein offered. In those early days it was all about style, and in time his materials improved and he began to offer clothing of quality that was equal to the competition. But every successful company that has stood the test of time is pretty much the same when it comes to quality. What I have learned, is that the only differentiation between Polo Ralph Lauren, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label, is the design of the clothing. The latter is more luxurious, softer to the touch and looks better, but there is no evidence to suggest that an article purchased from the Purple Label lasts any longer than an item purchased under the Polo Ralph Lauren label. Even the Chaps clothing lasts a long time, I remember a pair of khakis I had as a child that took a severe beating for well over ten years.
That means that a $85 dress shirt from Ralph Lauren will last just as long as a $500 dress shirt from Ralph Lauren. The only difference between the two is that the $85 dress shirt is heavier than the $500 shirt, and it isn’t as soft or luxurious. You aren’t buying quality, you are buying style and more importantly, you are making an artistic statement with your purchase. Burberry’s clothes do not last any longer than Ralph Lauren. Tommy Hilfiger does not last longer than Ralph Lauren. In fact even your best high end clothing, say Brioni, will not outlast an article from Ralph Lauren. Some people do not wash their clothes, but I have found that even with washing my clothes every single time I put them on they still last for ten years, even twenty. Some of these articles I purchased from Kmart, some of them were very high end that I spent hundreds of dollars to acquire.
What often happens in the fashion industry, is that the same sweatshops make clothing for everyone. The same companies often sell material for use in sweatshops that make clothing for different designers. So while a pair of jeans from Polo or Tommy Hilfiger looks better than say, a cheaper pair of jeans from Levi’s or Lee, the cotton that goes into those jeans is often the same. Now I am not suggesting that Brioni does not use the most luxurious materials known to man. But the only real differentiation between designers is whether or not the clothing is made by hand by tailors, as opposed to be ran off on a commercial sewing machine by a six year old.
In other words, you would find a high level of craftsmanship with a label like Brioni because they take their time. It would be the only reason someone would want to pay $450 dollars for a dress shirt. At the same time, you aren’t going to see 100,000 different styles in circulation. The collections are small, the retail outlets are rare and you feel as though you belong to an exclusive club when you pay several hundred dollars for a shirt that the average person does not even know where to begin to look for the item, let alone afford to purchase it. On the other hand, labels like Brooks Brothers are not quite as exclusive, but they only sell clothing in their own stores. The fact that you do not find Brooks Brothers clothing in the department stores and discount stores makes it a lot easier for them to charge well over $100 for a dress shirt.
This is the reason why you will never find such exclusive goods in a discount store like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, or Century 21. It is not a question of whether or not the clothing they offer is good, because a lot of it is good quality. But what they sell often involves companies that have delivered large quantities of clothing to a buyer that cannot use it, and experiments that they cannot sell to the buyer of a department store or boutique in the first place. You would never see a company that intentionally kept their collections small that are as efficient as older companies can be sell their clothing there. It amused me when Ralph Lauren tried to sell the idea of American clothing as a utility made by American workers using top notch American fabrics in a time when everyone else was exploiting cheap labor in child sweatshops 15 years ago. Premium clothing that was distressed and sat around in crates without any logos, the way that clothing used to be made. Designers still do this, they will sell a pair of khakis with the heaviest cotton known to man for $200, and remove all of the tags and logos to give it that feel of authenticity in hopes that people are hungry for clothing that has the look and feel of a utilitarian item from the twenties or thirties. A time when anyone without an education could work in a sweatshop and New York and sew clothes and make enough money to live in Manhattan. How romantic, and you’ll pay more money for the privilege because anyone that actually does have a pair of pants from that time will sell it to you for several thousand. This was before all of the hype and hysteria of designer clothing, just regular clothes. Imagine how much money a fashionista will pay for “regular clothes”; clothing that was not even fashionable back in the day, but rather a company uniform that everyone wore. In fact, clothing that someone who was poor would have worn at that time. Is it worth $200 to you, even if it does look like it is worth $5? I bought that clothing, even though it was faded and had holes and rips and tears it lasted just as long as a perfectly new garment did. Of course if you wear that today people would think that you were homeless, but I bought into it.
The other tactic that designers will use, when charging too much for clothing that a blue collar worker or a farmer would have dressed up in is to charge a lot of money for something a rich person would have worn a hundred years ago. When you see or hear of a label like Black Label or Purple Label, one should always realize that this is a way to get back to basics for American sportswear designers. Small collections in a highly controlled and exclusive environment, luxurious attire and the best materials available to man at that time and of course taking the time out to assemble the clothing by hand, as opposed to a sweatshop somewhere. The way that clothing used to be made back in the fifties. The consumer is someone that does not care about the price of the purchase, that is willing to pay extra money to look different than everyone else, not someone that is preoccupied with getting a lot for their money.
Quality is a very relative term. So you should never go into a clothing purchase preoccupied with quality if your purchase is going to be from a sweatshop on the other side of the world to begin with. Luxurious clothing does not come to the consumer, the consumer has to go out of their way to find it. True style cannot be found in a boutique in a department store. So one has to ask themselves, am I looking to make a statement or do I simply need clothing that will do what I need it to do? If you want a wool coat, and you do not have a lot of money you would do just as well to purchase that wool coat from Dockers or Van Heusen than you would to pay $800 for a high end wool coat. The $800 coat is not any warmer than a $150 wool coat.
Did you know that Phillips-Van Heusen owns most of the exclusive American sportswear labels in existence? That means that the same company is responsible for over 21 brands that people think are different. Then of course they still have their own brand. Most of these brands sell clothing for as low as $45 for a shirt all the up to $200. Chances are that $45 shirt, and the $200 one is just as good. The same can be said about LMVH the company that owns Louis Vuitton, they own a lot of brands. So it really does not matter what you buy or who you buy it from. Chances are all that you are paying for, is something that looks better than something else.
So save your money and buy designer clothing for as cheap as possible. If you see something second hand that you like, purchase that instead of paying top dollar for designer clothes. It simply is not worth the money, that is, if you can afford to part with the money …