In Money, Style

Is designer clothing actually worth it?

While the majority of my wardrobe is not designer, I do own a few pieces by “designers” from well-known ones such as Burberry for their incredible trench coats to more independent labels like Toronto-based Smythe for their coats.

Not to mention as well, I do have a few thrifted items like my Manolo Blahnik heels (originally $700, found for $60!), or my Herve Leger cashmere and silk wrap ($300, originally $2000!).

.. but is it all really worth it?

Do I really feel a difference in wearing said designers over something that is a fraction of the price (at retail that is)?

Why yes.

I can honestly say that I do, but it doesn’t apply to everything, only to major pieces that require proper tailoring or craftsmanship such as coats or shoes.

NOT ALL DESIGNERS ARE THE SAME TO ME

Some designers for me, make such low-quality, kind of cheap-looking clothing that I inwardly roll my eyes when I pass their stores, such as Michael Kors.

I like his style aesthetic as being clean and sporty, but I find his line of clothing rather gaudy and cheap-looking, even though the price points are anything but! I’ve touched some of his pieces in-store, and always come away disappointed.

Michael-Kors

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I rank him in the designer range of J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Coach.

Coach-Purses

 

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Other designers, I just don’t like the style of, such as Louis Vuitton or Gucci even if they’re well made. It’s just my personal preference that I loathe that ubiquitous brown print with symbols, or that flash of the tri-colour red, green and white.

There are some pieces that I could like from those designers, but their overall look is not my style.

Louis-Vuitton-Purses

 

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While I do think the Burberry check is hideous as well, I can feel the quality in their clothing for trench coats, which is why they’re my go-to designer for a really great coat.

Otherwise, I tend to prefer lesser-known, preferably local designers such as Smythe (Toronto) for coats and blazers, or independent artisans like Erin Templeton (Vancouver) for bags.

THE DESIGNER STYLE AND CUT IS ALMOST ALWAYS NICER..

I find this especially true with designer coats and shoes but not so much in other categories.

Lower retail chains like Jacob, Dynamite, Forever 21 and so on, may have the LOOK of expensive designer coats (navy blue peacoats and the like), but the cut is almost always more general.

Their coat cuts have to fit a range of body types and styles, so an XS will look shapeless compared to a designer’s XS.

For instance, I bought a wool winter coat in an XS back when I was a student, and compared to the wool winter coat I have now from Burberry, the tailoring and fit is of no comparison.

Burberry makes an impeccably tailored and fitted coat, and lower-end retail stores simply don’t have the time, money or resources to produce such a coat and stick to their lower price points.

trench-coats-celebrities-burberry

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Of course, this is both good and bad — it’s great for us women who fit into those tailored shapes, and bad for those of us who don’t (although you can just buy one size up and have it tailored).

As for shoes, well.. if you have worn cheap $20 heels and came back home with blisters and pinched toes after only one day of working, you will know what I mean when I say that the right pair of heels can make all the difference.

I have found for my foot, Manolo Blahniks are the best, and that’s also due to the fact that they offer lower heels in the 2″ range rather than in those constant clownish 6″ – 7″ platforms that Jimmy Choos and Louboutins tend to sport.

Other items such as dresses, tops and pants, are a little more forgiving in this area because you can find great dresses for $30 that look and feel like their expensive $500 counterpart, just without the fancy label (Diane von Furstenberg).

THE MATERIALS ARE GENERALLY BETTER..

The materials in general, are better.

They tend to be silk, wool, cashmere, cotton, even rayon, over polyester or nylon (which makes you sweat like a pig in winter).

While this is not always the case, it is more likely that a blazer at H&M is going to be 90% polyester and 10% spandex with a polyester lining, whereas a similar looking blazer from a designer is going to be made of wool or cotton, with only the lining as polyester.

What’s the real difference other than the price?

The materials.

It’s not that H&M blazers are badly made, it’s that they don’t make them in nice materials (too expensive!), but if you don’t care about keeping it forever and are interested in disposable fashion trends, then it’s perfect for you.

Me, I tend to buy something only if I can see myself still wearing it when I am 90. That eliminates a lot of things I find interesting like leather leggings and skirts, but it does make me edit my shopping habits.

THEY GENERALLY LAST LONGER..

In coats, I have purchased in the past, what was an expensive coat for a struggling student — $200 for an ivory coat that had 10% cashmere in it from Jacob.

I wore it on and off for nice events and interviews, but after a few trips to the dry cleaners (white tends to get dirty very easily) I noticed that the coat started to look shabby and threadbare.

It pretty much lost it shape, looked like a cheap throw-on shapeless lump of a formerly-awesome wool coat, and made me rather sad because I had basically wasted that $200 when I should have just waited until I had more money to buy a far better coat.

Compared to the few trips I’ve taken to the dry cleaners with my significantly more expensive coats of today ($500 – $2000), they show no such signs of wear.

THEY ALSO TEND TO FEEL BETTER..

Due to no small part in the more natural fabrics used, the perfect cut of these coats and the overall higher quality, designer items TEND to feel better.

This is not always the case, but I can immediately tell by touching the fabric whether it is cheap cotton or not.

They wrinkle less, hang better, drape nicely, and it’s all partly due to the materials used in its construction.

Proenza-Schouler-PS1-Large-Smoke-Satchel

BUT IS IT ALL REALLY WORTH THAT MUCH MORE MONEY?

The real trick for me is whether or not they’re X amount of money better than a cheaper version.

For instance, you need to gauge that it is worth an extra $300 more on the price tag for a sweater that uses wool instead of acrylic?

Perhaps not.

This is why I tend to buy coats in higher price points ($500 – $2000), and am open to buying shoes at a higher price point than $100 (just for the sheer sake of comfort) but am more resistant to spending the same range of money on a handbag or a pair of gloves.

I usually go through a thought process that starts with:

What I am wearing this for, how frequently, and how important is it to me for my personal style?

If it’s a pair of gloves, I am not inclined to fork over $1000 for a pair of designer leather gloves with a cashmere lining, or for a silk scarf just because it’s from Hermes.

I am perfectly happy with Lord & Taylor leather gloves with a cashmere lining that look and feel like the same thing, or other styles of silk scarves from artisans, just without the price tag.

Gloves and scarves, rank low in terms of designer and style importance to me, as do handbags.

With handbags, I can see WHY you would spend good money on a purse (so it looks and stays timeless), but I can’t bring myself to break the $300 point mark on a purse, because I personally don’t place a high importance on purses.

If it’s something that I wear constantly such as a coat, blazer or leather jacket, I am more inclined to spend more money. Coats in Canada are important, and they are also the main clothing item people see.

Smythe-Les-Vestes-Reefer-Coat-Camel-Model-Side

For me, if you get the coat right, you can wear a cheap white t-shirt underneath with a pair of beat up jeans, and still look instantly polished.

The same goes for shoes, but I say this mostly because I enjoy comfortable, practical, 2″ high or less shoes. I could certainly buy cheap leather boots at $100 for the same look, but if I am wearing them day-in and day-out, they better be comfortable.

FINAL WORD: Designer or not, it better look and feel like a quality product

I ignore the name or the label of who made it, and I focus on the big three:

  1. The materials — is it made of cheap polyester and acrylic, or cashmere and silk?
  2. The craftsmanship — where is it made, is it tailored well, will it last beyond a few washes?
  3. The style aesthetic of the piece — can I wear it until I am 90?

Afterwards, I look at the price only after I have determined what I would pay for such an item.

If the price tag says $500 and I am only putting an importance price tag of about $50 on it, I am not going to buy it.

If the price tag says $1500 for a coat, and I have researched and exhausted all other avenues of finding a similar trench coat without the brand name but with equal quality and craftsmanship, I am more inclined to bite the bullet and buy it.

So what say you? Is designer clothing actually worth it?

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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17 Comments

  1. Magalys

    Thanks for this valuable information. I love a lot of designer clothing but never know if it’s worth investing in.

    Reply
  2. Lila

    Just like you I look for quality materials, craftsmanship, and style. I also avoid any clothing, designer or not, that requires dry cleaning.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      For drycleaning, I just throw it in the wash on gentle.

      Reply
  3. Tania

    I used to answer yes to this question but like you, I now say “it depends”. I’ve found wonderful (stylish shape and durable) $100 leather made in Italy bags at off price stores (like Ross) that are a generic never heard of brand. They aren’t as well made as say a $2,000 bag but they are more than sufficient for a great professional work bag especially in the more minimal styles, not too trendy and logo free. I’ve gotten a few rehabbed vintage Coach bags that are fantastic. Designer in Macys is usually not better made than fast fashion stores in most cases IMHO, prices reflect trends and marketing, not materials and fit. I never ever buy super cheap shoes anymore like I used to when I was younger (i.e. Payless). I have found a few moderately priced lines like Dolce Vita that serve me well on a few pairs but in general a leather insole will last longer and you can only find that on more expensive shoes. I also cover expensive pairs with a protective bottom at the cobbler. My Pradas from ten years ago still look new because I did that. My weight fluctuates way too much so I’m hesitant to spend too much on clothes unless it’s a style that can handle a ten pound variance either way.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      OH yes I’d agree with this. This is why I don’t discount going into random leather stores because I can find things for cheaper without the name.

      Doing that, means a lot of time spent shopping…

      Reply
  4. Sylvia

    I am not one of those people who needs all their items to be designer labels, but I do have a navy blue Michael Kors purse (no initials all over) that I got from TJ Maxx and a Louis Vuitton Key pouch (from 10 years ago). When I purchased the MK purse I wanted a purse that wwould be able to withstand my day to day activities. Compared to other purses I’ve had, the MK purse is still going strong.

    As for clothes, I shop at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Burlington. I look at the quality of the clothes and not what name is on them. Because most of my clothes that I have had for years are names I have never heard of.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I actually prefer things without a name. If I could find the same quality WITHOUT a name from an independent artisan, I am all over it.

      Reply
  5. NZ Muse

    I don’t live in a very cold climate, so coats are something I don’t want to spend tons on. It does rain a lot though so quality boots, yes!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      For me, coats are #1. Then purses and shoes for #2 in terms of price.. the rest, I can take it or leave it.

      Reply
  6. Aleksie

    I buy things secondhand, so it doesn’t bother me as much if things last a few years (which I don’t consider to be a bad deal).

    I haven’t shopped this around, but with some of the price points of high end designers, would you be better off getting a custom made garment?

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Good point. I looked into custom made boots and they were $1500. About the same price as a pair of Hermes boots so… hard to say.

      I am seriously considering custom-made clothing so that I can pick exactly what I want.

      Reply
  7. Kathy

    I will buy a Kors or Coach bag but never if it has the initials all over it. I don’t like being a walking billboard for the brand so I choose a bag that has a simple hang tag or medallion instead. I’m not sure exactly what clothing brands are designer and what isn’t. Is St. John or Ann Taylor designer. What about White House Black Market? The thing I don’t like about designer brands -other than price, or course- is how insulting they are to larger women. Many of them don’t have a size beyond a U.S. 14 and they label that extra-large. 14 is the average size for U.S. women so they are deliberately cutting out a huge portion of the population from purchasing their product. Fortunately, I’m retired and don’t need a lot of clothes for work so it isn’t a problem for me.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      WHBM has gone down in quality lately 🙁

      Designer brands work on me because I’m smaller. I experience the frustration at the other end of the spectrum, not being big enough…

      Reply
  8. Aaron Field

    Awesome post- A lot of people, here in the UK included, just deem designer clothing as overpriced for no reason but you’ve hit the nail on the head, the quality, the attention to detail and the craftsmanship is what you pay for- high street retailers just don’t have the time or money to create something that is as close to perfection as designer items are

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      It depends on what you want in a garment. Cheapt / trendy — don’t expect it to last. I’m really evaluating for fast fashion as of late. I don’t want something I won’t wear for a long time..

      Reply
  9. Kemi

    I have to say as someone who lives in Europe and does have access great mid-range clothing brands I do think that the designer name can be overrated. I have been making an effort to buy items with quality fabrics and generous fittings. Some designers are names without substance. I agree Michael Kors clothes are not very good, the fabrics are awful. Other high end designers like Roberto Cavalli are dire. I don’t understand how people can buy their clothes.

    Meanwhile, there are great mid-range brands here (UK) like Hobbs, Reiss and Massimo Dutti which look and feel great.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Oh, lucky!!!!!

      Hobbs, Reiss.. *sigh* I’d love to shop at those places here.

      We have Massimo Dutti! I like that store but I don’t really see it here in Montreal.

      Reply

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