The word luxury is derived from Latin and actually means waste. Luxury, in general, can be seen in a positive or negative light – waste is definitely rather seen negatively. Personally, I wish I owned a quilted Craig Green workwear jacket with Japanese influences, I think the new Prada short-sleeved shirts are great and I find early Raf Simons sweatshirts and hoodies amazing. This leaves me wondering whether my longings are irrational or if they are logical because luxury is something good.
Well, first of all, and most obviously what differs between luxury garments and average clothing, from a consumer’s perspective, is the price. It is important to realize that the manufacturing costs of higher quality goods can simply not be much higher than middle-class brands’ prices are. Still, we have to pay a whole lot more for high-end clothing. One reason for this might be that if you invest a little more in manufacturing costs than the minimum, the final product will visibly improve in looks and quality. Ata certain point, improving quality gets harder and harder and a lot of thought is put into the final product: If Dries van Noten, infamous for his obsession with fabrics, wants the softest hoodie on the market he has to check all manufacturers and not only the local ones and fly around the world. He will invest a large extra amount of money to improve the quality a little. The improvement of the hoodie’s softness won’t be reflected in the price anymore. The softness will probably be better, but not THAT much better. In sum, this phenomenon does not justify buying designer wear, it rather suggests buying medium quality wear because, after the middle class, the higher price won’t be justified anymore through the resulting product. Medium-priced goods usually just have the best price-performance-ratio. From this standpoint, buying luxury is a waste – at least a waste of money. Due to the missing rationality in buying high fashion, people judge fashionistas as show-offs, as people who want to express their wealth through brands.
Yes, buying designer clothing is economically completely irrational and yes, therefore it can only be explained on an emotional level. I even agree that it is the brand making the price. I remember reading an article about a da Vinci painting, which could only recently be associated with da Vinci and then rocketed in value. I am pretty sure the picture didn’t get better, it just had more rich people willing to pay an insane amount of money. Ultimately, this shows that being recognized by a unique selling point is what a brand also promises. The only difference between the brands is often their recognizability: The Gucci logo is well known all over the world. The show-off-accusation seems to be legitimate for some people – or at least that they like being recognized. Whether people like being recognized as rich or as someone whois en vogue enough to wear today’s coolest brands, of course, can’t be told generally. Even though we now know the production costs can’t explain why we buy luxury but the unique selling point can. On the other hand, the owner of Perrier failed to recognize his own brand’s water on a radio show. So why is the Perrier water that apparently lacks a unique selling point a little more expensive than the average retailer’s water? Or why do so many fashionable people love Acne Studios which usually refrains from doing heavy branding?
Gradually, one could argue that Acne Studios is recognizable through its cuts by people of fashion while others won’t recognize it as expensive clothing. This is a very strong brand promise: Visibility for fashion experts but not for the wide public. On the other hand, nowadays newcomer-brands demand high-end prices without existing long enough to make these specific promises. So how is that? I bet as a reader of The Flow House you are interested in fashion and are not economically irrational or definitely not a simple show-off. You like to be informed about special collections, what they are about and everything to do with it. A popular psychological theory is that people are essentialists. This means they like to feel the pleasure that arises from understanding the essence of something. I think that this is very plausible. We enjoy books, music and art with a deeper meaning. And the same phenomenon explains why we are willing to pay irrational amounts for fashion. We do so because we believe to understand the intention of the designer. This can, for example, be a strong statement like Raf Simons consumed parachute bomber criticizing senseless consumption or, as mentioned previously, Acne Studios’ cuts that we recognize as distinct from usual minimalistic pieces. This is why fakes, even though they look identical, are not interesting for most people: They are an empty shell without a message or deeper thought. The reason for the pleasure of understanding books, music, art or fashion is, according to scientists, evolutionary. Understanding a phenomenon is very helpful in terms of survival because otherwise, we could not differentiate between the dangerous roaring of a lion and Drake’s new song.
I don’t believe you’re wasting money if you are a so-called show-off or an essentialist. As soon as you pay your new favorite garment you have a reason as to why you spent 100 dollars more than for a similar average piece – the essence. Being able to be recognized as rich is the essence for some people, even if it may not be yours. It is just way less understandable to many people that do not see the essence. Buying the designer clothing because you understand it often means you’re into fashion and you are ready to show it. It is like hanging a picture you like in your apartment. Thereby, the essence you see can often be overseen by others. I recommend not judging anyone, because if nobody judges anybody, you will not be judged. Furthermore, trying to understand other essences will probably improve your state of mind and make the men’s fashion community stronger.