Quality vs. Image
In the “Back-to-School” mentality we’re left to wonder what you’re shopping for. What’s more interesting, however, is what will drive you to the point of purchase.
Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. Really! And we’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.
Written by Mattie Kahn
We’re rounding on the last week of August, and so, of course, I’m getting ready to go back to school. Again. Frankly, it feels like I’ve done it a million times. But no matter how many internal debates I’ve waged in an attempt to choose between binders and notebooks (thus far, inconclusive) or decide whether I really need a new set of highlighters (I do), the thrill of the impending September season remains as genuine as ever. Somehow, despite my ever-growing cynicism, this annual rite of passage seems as exciting and foreboding and exhilarating as it did when I was six-years-old and gearing up for kindergarten.
I’m told—by my father and older brother and infinitely cooler friends (hi, Team Man Repeller!)—that even after you’ve celebrated your final graduation and stopped suffering minor mental breakdowns at your local Staples store, this final stretch of summer always feels anticipatory. Like: maybe the Gregorian calendar has it wrong, because, in fact, each year begins after Labor Day.
Certainly, the fashion industry seems to think so. For the sartorially minded, September is all-but synonymous with style. Between fashion week(s), magazines that moonlight as exercise equipment, and the unveiling of drool-worthy designer campaigns, it’s not just your neighborhood nine-year-old who feels compelled to go “Back-to-School” shopping. We all do. Up for classroom discussion, however, is what exactly we intend to buy.
This morning, Fashionologie spotlighted a nearly $1,000, hand-finished J.Crew top. According to the retailer’s website, “the embellishment of this design required more than 35,000 crystals, sequins, beads and paillettes.” The process of applying each one of those suckers reportedly took more than three days.
In other words, this is not Balmain’s $1,625 cotton T-shirt. Finished with hand-sewn silk embroidery and produced in what I have to imagine is a seriously limited edition quantity, the design is about as close to couture as a massive, international retailer is ever going to get.
PS: the so-called popover is already backordered.
And yet, while I’m in no position to purchase any iteration of a four-figure topper, honesty compels me to admit that I could sooner see myself forking over thousands for Christophe Decarnin than I could for Mickey Drexler. Not only because I’m hopelessly guilty of label driven lust, but also because—relatedly—when some colleague or co-ed asks me where I got my shirt, “J.Crew” just doesn’t provide enough metaphoric bang for my buck (or as Leandra argues, ego).
What I mean is I love J.Crew’s wares for knit tees and cozy sweaters, but I don’t see it as the kind of brand from which I’d purchase an “investment piece.”
Basically, there’s a limit to what I’m willing to spend on a single item from a supposedly high-street store, and it maxes out at three digits. Maybe it’s shallow, but, for me, the provenance of clothing tells a story, and the quality of that narrative is built into its price tag.
Of course, I recognize that this conversation is related to earlier ones we’ve had about label blindness and Carol sandals and Zara, but a slightly different facet of it fascinates me. If we’re all secretly going back-to-school shopping in anticipation of September, what drives our flights of fashion fancy? Brand? Batch-size? Slowly building the investment-oriented wardrobe of our dreams? How much does recognition from our “classmates” matter? And finally: would you ever preorder that top?