Branded: When to pay extra for a name and when to not


I’d like to introduce you to my favorite song of 2013. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve already heard it, but it never gets old and neither does the video:

Despite what you’ve just witnessed, this post isn’t about thrift shopping (like most PF bloggers, I’m an advocate of buying things secondhand), but my favorite part of this song is actually the criticism of buying brand name clothing:

I hit the party and they stop in that motherf@#$%&
They be like, “Oh, that Gucci – that’s hella tight.”
I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant b@#$%
I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t
Peep game, come take a look through my telescope
Trying to get girls from a brand? Man you hella won’t

Swindled and pimped? Tricked by a business? Ouch. Those are harsh words, but they’re certainly true!

I used to be so into brand names. It’s actually a bit embarrassing… but I also think it’s a symptom of youthful ignorance and misplaced values that I’ve thankfully grown out of (almost).

Just to show you how deeply into brand idiocy I really was, I want to point out that I owned a Herve Leger dress as a early-twenty-something undergrad and I subscribed to the personal tradition of buying a piece of Tiffany jewelry everywhere I traveled. In addition to that, I owned a LAMB purse, Dior glasses, BCBG dresses and really a quite impressive collection of completely unjustified brand BS. To add insult to injury, I even set “goals” to acquire more branded crap. All I wanted was a pair of Louboutin shoes and a Louis Vuitton bag. Uh..?

Now I’m happy to report I sold my Herve Leger for more than I paid for it, I ended the Tiffany jewelry nonsense nearly two years ago by not purchasing a new piece since 2011 (despite traveling like crazy), and my LAMB bag is getting so much use it’s showing signs of appreciative wear.

Buying pieces of clothing that cost hundreds of dollars when my income was laughable and my expenses were high was in no uncertain terms, STUPID.

There is no reason for a 21-year-old girl to buy a Herve Leger dress or other designer clothes/purses/jewelry. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “I’m irresponsible with money” or “I have grossly misplaced values”.

I was both irresponsible with money and had misplaced values when I wanted and bought those things. Pricey designer items are not made for low-income students! (I hope that either set off a light-bulb inside your head or you muttered “duh!”)

The most ironic part of all this is now my income has more than tripled and I’ve completely lost interest in buying brands for the sake of owning something made by so-and-so. I have no idea why I thought I was justified buying a $600 dress when I made less than $60,000 a year, but can’t even stomach a $200 dress when I make $60,000+ a year now. I’m finally in a position where I can afford more expensive things and now I think they’re not worth the cost.

My personal finance hero Gail Vaz Oxlade has described brand-buying as a symptom of insecurity and an attempt to establish identity. Young people do it because they don’t really know who they are yet, and they’re hoping buying certain names will buy them the constructed identities of those brands: cool, hip, affluent, cultured, etc. You could get a plain leather bag from a place like Coach with the branding considerably less obvious, but many will still choose the monogrammed items. Do they like monogrammed purses better or is it just so they can be recognized from a distance? This is why the knock-off market is so popular: you get the brand identity without the price tag, because that’s what people really want. Yikes!

That isn’t to say I’ve given up shopping. My clothing spending has increased dramatically since graduation, and I drop more on what I wear than ever before — but there is considerably more hesitation when it comes to expensive items. The only thing I can think of that I’ve bought in the past two years that crossed the $200 mark was a pair of boots (and you can’t tell their maker unless you look inside!). What changed?

I simply have better things to do with $200+. Like, buy 2 dresses instead of 1/3 of one.

I’m becoming ultra-sensitive to where my clothing is made. While I’m not 100% local yet, I make a sincere effort to buy items that are made in the US and Canada and not an Asian, Indian, or South American factory. Herve Leger dresses? Made in China. I don’t know about you, but I feel guilty picturing my t-shirt sewn by a 9-year-old.

I no longer define my identity by the brands I wear. I still love to be fashionable in my own unique and kind of awkward way, but you wouldn’t know at first glance what names I’m dressed in.

I read a lot of books by Martin Lindstrom that killed my enchantment with instantly recognizable brand identities. The Tiffany blue box & white ribbon does not stir even a hint of want in my heart anymore. Nothing will take the magic out of an item faster than taking a hard look at the company’s marketing tactics and recognizing that you’re not the winner, you’re the pawn. Sigh.

So at the end of the day I still buy brands (do we even have a choice?). I have my favourites and still exhibit some pretty solid brand-loyalty to certain names, but I like to think my choices and allegiances are made with more scrutiny and caution than when I was younger.

Occasionally I will still swoon for something completely out of my price range. The only difference is I no longer follow through with the buy. I approach both expensive and cheap items with the same skepticism, and I would argue, discount both the outrageously expensive (OVERPRICED!) and the unbelievably cheap (SWEATSHOP!) equally quickly. Here are some questions I ask myself when I want something:

  • Am I buying this for the name or because I really like it?
  • Is the price reasonable when I consider my income and net worth?
  • Do I want it just to communicate and image or will it actually serve a purpose?
  • What are the values of the company that makes this item?
  • How and where was this made and by whom?
  • How will this improve my quality of life? Will my life be lessened without it?

What brands to you buy? What for? How much brand loyalty you exhibit is out of sincere appreciation for the product vs. what you hope owning it says about you? How did we get into this branded mess in the first place? Why aren’t we trying to get out??

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20 Comments. Leave new

  • I am a brand buyer – but I hate logos. I just have certain brands that I like for certain things, but I rarely buy without a sale or a coupon. Personally, I think logos are tacky. I have a Coach purse, but it is a classic leather bag and Coach is printed on it once in very small print. I hate those “C”s!

    I do want to get better about buying locally though. I pay attention to other products I’m buying – but for whatever reason I never look when it comes to clothes.

    By the way, that song is not the style of music I’m usually into, but I crank it when it comes on. It amuses me to no end.

  • I buy things for how they look and their quality, not *for* the brand name, but the brand name does give me a little extra thrill – I usually pay 20-30% of the retail price (second-hand) so it feels like a score. I could go and buy a $30 shirt at the mall, but it’s not as much fun as finding a Prada shirt for the same price. And certainly not as much fun as paying $200+ for a Prada shirt at Holt’s or wherever. With that said, everyone makes ugly crap from time to time so if someone is buying for labels alone, their style is probably going to suffer for it at some point.

  • Wow this is an amazingly timed post! My little sister (undergrad, one year left) just got back from a trip to TO and she came back with a haul of expensive brand name items. She’s currently financing her lifestyle with student loans.

    I definitely went through this phase that you’re describing, but I’m over it now. I’m still brand loyal but it’s mostly because I like the quality of the product, not the image. For example, lululemon is a huge status symbol for people, which is the reason I started buying it in the first place. Now that I’m over my brand awareness, I buy it because it’s hands down the best performing work out wear I’ve ever worn.

    Good post!

  • Thrift shopping. You can get nice things for a lot less.

    I spend a lot more on clothes now but I’m buying less.

    Things that are really well made (like Wolford tights at $70 a pop) are NOT CHEAP… but the last, and are made in Austria.

    • I’m not necessarily opposed to expensive items if the quality and ethical assembly is there. I recognize that if I insist my clothes are made by first-world citizens in first-world employment conditions, it’s going to be expensive.. but at least I can sleep at night!

      $70 tights are pricey but you have me interested… and tights are part of my daily wardrobe so it’s justifiable. The problem with owning a Herve Leger dress was I only wore it to special occasions, so it came out of my closet 2-3 times per year — waste of money! But my $160 jeans? 3 wears per week!

  • “Fashion” and “brands” are proof that we are so weak as a society that we’d rather pay $$$$$ for something made my children that look absolutely terrible so that we look wealthy in the eyes of others while indebting ourselfs. Case in point: Louis Vuitton brown bags with brown lettering. I’m sorry, but I don’t own anything that matches with a crap-coloured purse.

    • bahahaha I have nothing against the color brown, but I hear you on the LV. I actually really like LV luggage — but I’ve seen how airport staff treat my baggage! Why would I give them thousands of dollars of it??

  • I agree with you 100%. I primarily shop at places like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx where I can get a few designer pieces at a discount and I usually buy a lot of those items off the clearance rack. I have found that the materials in brands like Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors tend to be a little better quality than the no name brands.

    There are a few classic designer pieces that I would love to own one day, like a plain jane pair of Louboutin pumps. I’m a sucker for shoes and think the red soles are sexy. If and when I do purchase such items, they will be few and far between and I plan to keep them the rest of my life.

    As stated above, I hate logos with a passion! Also, I am a firm believer in buying Made in the U.S.A. products and don’t mind paying a little extra when I know that I am helping stimulate my local economy.

  • Ooh, sometimes we even pay extra to avoid having brand names plastered on our clothes.

  • I’ve never really fallen into the brand name trap, though I did buy a few fake designer things at the markets in Thailand. I couldn’t not! $3 for Raybans? Yes please!

  • Brands are a short-hand way for consumers to understand what they are paying for – whether it’s a feeling, a recognition, a level of quality or service, etc. That’s why I see strong brands as GOOD things – for businesses and consumers.

  • If I buy brand shoes or clothes, it`s not for the brand per se,it´s for the quality. For instance, I have bad knees, and my feet are killing me when I wear cheap shoes, so I pay extra to get a certain brand that has superb quality, so that I can walk around without getting horrible pain in my legs/knees/feet.

    I do own a couple of brand purses, 2 Marc Jacobs, and a couple of Guess, but I got them all as presents, so that doesn`t count! 😉

  • I’m not much for brands. I think the only fancy-pants brand thing I own are a pair of Coach sunglasses. Mind you, I didn’t know they were Coach glasses – I just picked the ones that fit my face the best.

  • Wow. What an incredibly well written, thought provoking article. I found you through krystalatwork. Glad I did. I really enjoy reading your writing, namely the questions you posed at the end

    Thank you

  • Awesome post! The older I get and the more money I make, the less I find I am interested in brands or believing marketing. I find myself questioning a lot of things people just accept like the “you need to spend 3 months salary on an engagement ring” or “the latest iPhone is soooo much better than the last one.” I’m more interested in buying something quality, once, and then using it for a very long time since the pursuit of the newest latest thing is a pointless one. There will always be a newest, latest thing, so your latest gadget ot trendy fashion piece will only have a short moment in the sun. Experiences are my favorite purchases.


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