For a long time, we’ve been peeved by magazines’ skewed ideas of what constitutes affordable. (Never mind the debate over whether fashion prices are deliberately exclusionary.) So pervasive is the notion that $150 is a reasonable expense for a belt that we occasionally have to wonder why our wardrobe contains so few expensive pieces. Will we ever own a pair of red-soled Louboutins? Is there some expense we could cut from our budget to be better able to afford a Balenciaga bag? Are we flat-out deluded thinking that our ensembles look like they don’t come from H&M? Not that we want those things, exactly, but we want to be able to afford them.
And then we had a sobering experience. We were at MAGIC, talking to a sales rep. As she showed us a handful of modal t-shirts, we asked the wholesale price. “$37,” she replied.
Our response? “Oh, so that’s really accessible.” The sales rep nodded and moved on to pick up a hooded sweatshirt, and we started to hate ourselves. At a wholesale price of $37, that t-shirt likely retails for at least $70. Which, even if money were no object, is an awful lot of cash to spend on a mere tee, and $70 is certainly not a mass-market price for a little cotton shirt. But in the moment we deemed that particular price point “accessible,” we wholeheartedly believed it. We were sleep-deprived, we’d already spent days walking the never-ending aisles of the show seeing pieces whose prices were far more unjustified, and, well, the t-shirts were baby-blanket soft. (We just feel fortunate that we snapped back to reality before we broke out the Visa card at the Fashion Show Mall later in the week.)
All of which is a really long way of saying that, having been immersed in a fantasy land of desirable consumer goods, we sort of understand how writers for Bazaar choke up the nerve to refer to a $300 cardigan as a “steal.” So our interest was piqued by “Why Does It Cost So Much?” in the March issue. Why, indeed?
Unfortunately, the article devotes just one brief paragraph to the actual reasons why apparel and accessories bear exorbitant price tags. Discard any notions of getting an educational glimpse inside the industry! Rather, the focus is on “how to cope and still look cool.” Here’s what writer Nandini D’Souza had to say:
…I held up my beloved pair of silver Dries Van Noten leather sandals…“How much do you think these cost?” I asked my husband, playing devil’s advocate. “Flip-flops are cheap,” he analyzed in a finance-thinking way. “But since they’re designer, $40, maybe $50.”
Until then, I had never doubted the $300-plus I had shelled out a few years ago for them…I started questioning my sanity: More than $300 for flip-flops?…I had thought I was one of the more frugal fashion editors around. But I wondered, when did everything get so expensive, and when did I stop noticing?
This apparently sincere question is followed by a litany of agreement from people who can actually afford those $300 flip-flops. Which, you know, is annoying. Can you really complain that $500 is too much to pay for shoes when, in fact, you have the ability to buy $500 shoes? (Tangential whine: when did “social” become acceptable parlance for “socialite”?)
“Social” Nina Griscom says,
“The prices today are so astronomical.”
And designer Jenni Kayne weighs in:
“You can’t get a pair for less than $500; $300 used to be the normal expensive shoe.”
So who’s to blame for these ultra-pricey pieces? Designers! Phillip Lim explains himself.
“A dress can cost you $20,000. That’s a whole lot of money,” he says. “You can renovate your kitchen for that, or for some people that’s their salary or their child’s school tuition. You start to feel guilty.”
For one, lines like Lim’s 3.1 Phillip Lim and Kayne’s label are filling the yawning gap between high and low. Socialite turned designer Tory Burch says, “The whole reason I started my company is because fashion is expensive.”
Tory Burch also charges $195 for a striped cotton tee, so forgive us if we aren’t exactly in agreement with her assessment of “expensive.”
To be fair, the article does give some reasonably good (if not novel) advice about not buying things just because they’re on sale, and recommends that women develop a uniform that suits their body type and lifestyle so they don’t feel the need to give in to every passing trend. However, the article gets progressively more grating, predictably returning to the justification of the positively vulgar price tags of luxury goods. What else can be expected from people whose livelihoods are dependent on the public buying costly stuff they don’t need? A chorus of fashion people rationalize their expenditures thusly:
On a $1,300 pair of Chanel boots:
“But they’re worth it, and they make everything look chic.”
On an Oscar de la Renta dress:
“…I’ll have it for the rest of my life. You can wear it again, and it never looks like last season’s dress.”
On $800 Azzedine Alaia shoes:
“Outrageous. But I wear them a lot.”
About the $7,000-and-up Kelly and Birkin bags from Hermès:
“It’s more about what’s timeless than what’s trendy.”
And our favorite, on a handbag by Yves Saint Laurent:
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s only $1,595. It’s a deal!’” she recalls. “How sad is that?”
Very, very sad. Even worse is the article’s next implication. Can’t even manage to splash out on one of these “deal”s? You’re probably fat, too!
But let’s face it, not everyone can pull off those curved contours the way Jennifer Connelly did just weeks after Nicholas Ghesquiere introduced them. That doesn’t mean that that look can’t translate for a less-than-lithe nonceleb gal. “If you can’t afford the dress, get the shirt or scarf,” says [actress/designer Katie] Nehra. [emphasis ours]
Wait, we’re confused. What exactly is our problem again? Is it that we can’t afford or can’t fit into designer garb? Never mind! Here’s another plug for Phillip Lim!
…For spring, he has several alternatives to his own runway looks, including versions of a mint Grecian dress and a citron frock with a chain neckline.
At least he’s smart enough to knock off his own designs before Forever 21 does! Though we aren’t exactly sure how this reconciles with the guilt he mentioned earlier, especially when he suggests a way to acclimate to items whose prices contain a comma.
Lim’s advice for things that seem too expensive at first? “Sit on it for a few days, maybe a week.” [emphasis ours]
However, the most incredulity-inducing quote in the whole article has nothing to do with cash money:
Echoes Burch of seasonal hits, “They’re so identifiable, and I’d rather not wear something that screams what it is.”
Ultimately, the article concludes that we should approach our wardrobes and our retirement plans in a similar manner.
The best way to stretch your dollar while still looking like a million of them is to think long-term investment…
Designer clothes as a long-term investment? Rather ludicrous coming from a magazine that tells us we need new clothes every single month.