In society, labels tend to have negative connotations. For the most part, people resent them and the idea that their whole being can somehow be reduced to one. Not so in fashion, where a fetish for designer labels is a common thread.
It’s understandable to a degree. Haute designers — Armani, Pucci, Valentino, Dior — produce works of art that epitomize style. The opportunity to wear them is indeed special. More accessible labels — DVF, DKNY, Rachel Zoe — are highly desirable, too, and offer a means to express ourselves fashionably.
Then there’s top American designer Michael Kors, whose stuff is super fly and wearable on the daily, but (insert scratchy record player sound) what’s with the “MK” all over everything lately? And the C’s for Coach? And the quilted paisley prints that scream Vera Bradley everywhere?
And why do some people treat dressing like an extreme sport, with the most points scored for looking like everyone else? It’s a costly game (that can easily break the bank) and worse, it lacks originality.
Label lust has a lot to do with the desire to fit in. True, anyone who dares to be different risks stepping out of a comfort zone. But these days, there’s not much to fit into anyway. Yes, there are trends. But there isn’t an exclusive “IT” style anymore (except perhaps in high school hallways). Designer labels or not, and no matter what size your wallet, there’s a place for individual style on the streets.
The economic downturn of recent years made dramatic impacts on fashion. Even the wealthiest fashionistas pulled in their belts, and in some circles it was considered poor taste to flaunt luxury in the face of collective hardship. On the bright side of tough times came the rise of street style, a highly individualized approach to fashioning outfits that involves mixing things up creatively. This trend didn’t necessarily occur out of desire; for many it was out of necessity to do more with less.
But it works. Mixing colors, mixing patterns and mixing seasons, mixing pieces picked up at the mall with others sourced at Salvation Army, and mixing things that may have never mixed before (think combat boots with dresses, for instance). Suddenly, it became okay — cool even — to wear a Chanel bag with a Hanes t-shirt and thrifted no-name jeans. Hooray!
If we have learned anything from red carpet presentations at award shows, it is that wearing a luxury, or even couture, label does not guarantee a fashionable result. It’s still possible to wind up on someone’s worst-dressed list.
And there’s another reason to kick the label habit: The status associated with certain fashion brands has been diluted. People donate high-end pieces to thrift stores all the time. Many coveted brands wind up at TJ Maxx, too; so how exclusive are they really?
Celebrated British fashion designer Peter Pilotto currently has a collection hanging in select Target stores, as did genius-of-the-moment Prabal Gurung. Isaac Mizrahi and Missoni came before them. Long gone are the days when luxury brands wouldn’t be caught dead mingling with the likes of Target. Now these types of collaborations crop up all the time and the masses scoop them up for a song.
And consider: When was the last time you were truly impressed with someone’s Louis Vuitton bag? If you even noticed and paused to consider it, did you think:
a) She’s wealthy
b) She’s maxed out her credit cards
c) Why is she advertising someone else’s initials all over herself
d) Saw that bag 3x last week
e) Who cares?
For those hopelessly stuck in fashion clonedom, the idea that it’s acceptable to mix high-end with lower-end fashion should be liberating. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t give up your favorite fashion labels — that would be blasphemous. Just accept that while it’s okay to embrace them and to aspire to wear them, the rise of street style boldly demonstrates that anything goes — which means you don’t have to cover yourself in labels from head to toe.