Friday, November 17, 2006

Smart Shopping For Discount Designer Clothes

Every semester during high school I looked forward to picking out a dress for the school dances- Homecoming in the fall and Sadie Hawkins in the spring (where the girls ask the guys out...I think this may be a Midwestern thing) and during my junior and senior years, Prom. As much as I considered myself a non-conformist in high school (quiz bowl represent!), I totally bought into the idea that the senior prom was a momentous occasion, the highlight of high school social life.

And of course, finding the perfect dress was my top priority, because the right dress was key to having the glamorous, memorable night I was hoping for. I went to all the local malls and tried on lots of dresses, but I didn't find anything I loved until I came across an Elie Tahari silk floor-length gown at Nordstrom. It was beautiful on the rack, a dark red, gorgeous fabric, and there was only one left, which happened to be in my size. When I saw that it was marked down from $450 to $110 I was so excited. I tried it on, thought it looked great, still could NOT believe that I was wearing a designer gown and only paying $100, and bought it right away.

This may be predictable, but it turns out that it just didn't look so great on me. The reason that it was so cheap was because it had been returned after someone ripped the hem (they altered it for me for free) and got a small stain on the back. And the biggest thing was that it just didn't flatter my body, although it would've looked great on someone else. On top of this, it wasn't very comfortable. It was only once I was at the dance that I realized this and felt stupid for buying it just because it was designer and I'd gotten such a discount. Nobody knew that but me, so what did it matter?

Anyway, what does this story have to do with anything? Well, I was reading the New York Times yesterday and came across this article about the new Viktor & Rolf line for H&M. I think it's awesome that so many big designers (Karl Lagerfeld, Paul and Joe, Behnaz Sarafpour and Stella McCartney among others) are doing lines for discount stores like H&M and Target. For those of us who can't afford "the real thing", being able to get great design at affordable prices is fantastic.

But reading this article, and hearing about the crazed reactions of fans who waited for days outside of the New York H&M for the unveiling of the new line, reminded me how the combination of status symbol brands and major discounts seduces people into buying things they'd normally never take a second look at. That isn't to say that there aren't great pieces in all of these designer discount lines, but inevitably, most of us are so seduced by the prospect of buying from a luxury brand (and because they're limited edition, there's pressure to get it first before someone else snags it) that we buy things for all the wrong reasons.

So, while I encourage everyone to check out the designer discount lines, make sure you're still buying things because they're cute, flattering, interesting, etc, and not just because you're overjoyed that you were able to buy something designed by Karl Lagerfeld for $10. Because like I said, no one else will know that it's a limited edition Viktor & Rolf dress, but they'll definitely know if it's ill-fitting and ugly. Just a warning.

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