Recent events have me thinking a lot about designer clothes and the inequality of luxury fashion. For a dozen years before striking out on my own, I worked in high-end stores where I saw people steal. That kind of low-level looting goes on all the time. But, the recent spate of nationwide looting highlights the inequality of luxury fashion in a whole new way. It also serves as a narrative for a story everyone seems to know, but hardly ever speaks of.
Regardless of who did it, the act of looting symbolizes a massive economic divide. I do not think that looters necessarily want the stuff they amass. In fact, my hunch is that among the looters, some did so to voice anger about lacking fair economic opportunity. And others, such as so-called anarchists, acted out to create disorder by attacking luxury retail stores that symbolize economic success. The inequality of luxury fashion exists because of greater economic inequality, and access to make one’s way.
Part of the American Dream?
Luxury fashion holds a lot of power in the eyes of the haves and the have-nots. Is it any wonder that the looters went after luxury fashion brands steeped in the mythology of money and power? These are brands and retailers that people aspire to wear and shop at when they have “made it.”
To be sure, looters also went after sneakers, fast fashion, and anything they could get their hands on. But among the spoils of their destructive behavior, a hierarchy still exists. Ask two looters which came out ahead. The one who got a more highly coveted Prada handbag, or the one who stole from Kate Spade? Which one does a top executive buy, and which one can a junior associate afford? Add to this the fact that the looters may not have the economic power to buy either item. This hierarchy is baked into the cake of American culture and society and anecdotally proves the inequality of luxury fashion.
The mythological American Dream seems steeped in the promise that everyone has a shot at reaching the upper echelon of society. It’s possible that the American Dream is complete bullshit because the playing field has never been equal. And maybe it’s also bullshit because lots of people really don’t care about social strata. Generally, people want to live decent lives.
Still, most of us passively participate in cultural and societal systems that we did not create. And yet, fashion does play a very interesting role in these systems because clothing contains all kinds of symbolic codes. This symbolism comes by way of wearing fashion as economic representation and as a means of personal expression.
It’s fair to say that some wealthy people don’t care about fashion and would rather get clothes from Costco. They have a choice. Conversely, young style conscious professionals might overspend on designer clothes because it’s a top priority. They, too, have a choice. But, people without an economic advantage don’t even have the opportunity to choose one way or another. The inequality of luxury fashion exists because inequality of opportunity exists.
The Intrinsic Value and Purpose of Luxury Fashion Today
I shy away from brandishing brand names festooned all over clothing and accessories. What does it mean to show off your economic status that you have a Gucci this, or a Fendi that? Or a Prada something else? Not much, except that you had the wherewithal to buy it. It doesn’t even matter whether you paid in cash or charged it to your card to finance your purchase.
Believe me, I own all of those brands. They stand for quality in design and craftsmanship. But, you’d never know it to look at me unless you were intimately familiar with what each fashion house produces. It’s my practice to show clients how to wear their style discreetly. Economic power, intellectual power, and corporate power don’t need flaunting when you’re confident in who you are. It’s a more sensitive approach to living a modern lifestyle while also enjoying the good life. And it largely eliminates one from experiencing adverse effects due to the inequality of luxury fashion and of general economic opportunity.
Mass Fashion vs. Luxury Fashion
Sure, Michelle Obama famously wore J. Crew for a hot minute back in her First Lady days. Her goal was to make herself appear more accessible to average Americans. But, her best personal style moments were her high impact designer looks, intentionally worn when looking the part mattered. And those times were often. Similarly, Kate Middleton, the future Queen of England, has attempted to also wear fast fashion from the high street. But what does Zara really get Princess Kate? Do people really expect to see her dress down, pandering to the people of England? Brits really appreciate how confident Kate is to wear luxury fashion designs over and over again. It shows her in a good light because she wears quality and shows value in quality.
It is important to note a significant shortcoming of these highly admired women’s embrace of mass fashion. Mrs. Obama wearing J. Crew cardigans didn’t help the company stay relevant, and it has filed for bankruptcy protection. Further, Kate Middleton’s dabbling with Zara also met backlash. This is because along with fast fashion’s lower pricing model also comes paying workers low wages. And Brits are not easily fooled by Kate’s dabbling her toe where the rest of her body doesn’t seem fit.
So, Should We Still Embrace Luxury Fashion Design?
The fact that they took to mass fashion points to the fact that fashion has a problem. But, my way to solve it isn’t to turn our backs to luxury fashion. If I learned one thing working in Silicon Valley, it’s to take a stealthy approach to luxury fashion. It is truly part of my philosophy to do so because income disparity exists within tech companies. I want my clients who are leaders and gurus to exude easy confidence and executive presence.
To do that requires wearing clothing at a certain level of quality, taste level, and style that radiates one’s authenticity. This eliminates the inequality of luxury fashion because we can do this with adherence to our budgets and desired outcomes.