July 29, 2010
The so called “understated elegance” of rich people’s fashion was all about the fabric, the cut and the tailor – most outsiders didn’t know a suit was made from fine imported silk or that the designer was none other than that famous Italian. The luxury was the feel of the fabric against your skin or the cut that made the suit fall so elegantly on your body or the quality of the garment. I’m sure some of the luxury also came from knowing that most ordinary people didn’t understand that the clothes you wore were expensive or made by a famous designer or exclusively made for you; ordinary people only knew that they themselves couldn’t find clothes that looked or felt like that.
This is in striking contrast to today’s fashion where the brand name of the designer being emblazoned across clothes becomes the fashion itself. We are moving away from quality and towards perceived quality. It seems more important that the world knows what you are wearing than how it feels. It is the grasping of the newly rich or the want-to-be-rich for an accelerated sense of belonging. I am wearing Dior eyeglasses, so I must belong…don’t you dare ignore me and my D&G sunglasses…do you know how much my Chanel dress cost? I find that most of the people who need to show off or fake their status in life are people who are craving to belong. You rarely see people who have been historically rich showing off their labels or gaudily flaunting how much things cost.
It is no longer about the beauty and feel of the little pink dress (which just happens to be Chanel), it is about wearing Chanel the brand and making sure everyone knows it. An easy way to determine if a brand label is important to you is to ask yourself if that little dress would still be as attractive (all other things being equal) if it was made by Sears. Would it feel as soft or flow as beautifully to your senses. (And while we’re at it – why are your jeans better than mine because someone ripped them on purpose ‘oh just so’ while mine ripped by mistake? They look exactly the same!) This brand name phenomenon is not specific to clothes, bags and shoes; it applies equally well to cars and jewelery and electronics. If I replaced all the BMW decals and emblems on a 760Li with something generic, would the drive feel as sweet and the seats as luxurious? Would you be fine with driving one if no one knew it was a BMW and no one knew you spent $140,000?
Another illuminating point is the huge prevalence and acceptance of fake “brand name” items; it seems unimportant to many people whether their purse is real or not, just as long as it says Gucci or Fendi or Coach. It seems to me that this sense of needing to belong to the elite class in order to determine your self-worth is problematic in the financial, emotional and ego realms. Pretending to be someone you are not is rarely safe for your mental well-being; and basing your self-worth on a contrived class system is an insult to yourself and to all the beautiful, intelligent and wonderful people that make up the strata of humanity.