Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Are Fashion and Beauty Blogs Contributing to Overspending?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that discussed a recent increase in demand for designer goods, even as prices of luxury items continue to rise. The articles discussed a tendency among buyers to justify buying high-priced items when a product is inexpensive compared to others around it (a $300 shoe looks cheap when next to a $1200 pair).

The same thing tends to occur within social circles- when all your friends casually talk about dropping hundreds of dollars on a new Coach bag, you start to wonder whether you're cheap for buying discount, or you start telling yourself that you "deserve" better.

With the rising popularity of fashion and beauty blogs and forums, women with similar interests are able to connect and discuss these topics to their heart's content. This world is a fairly small one, with many longtime bloggers and forum contributors often setting the direction of the dialogue, and with a number of blogs connected by networks, the same topics are often discussed at length by many people at once. When one blogger goes gaga over the newest Balenciaga purse or Chanel lipgloss, others tend to chime in about loving it.

Many, if not most, fashion and beauty blogs spend most of their time recommending products, often with no thought to the price or the likelihood that their readers could afford them. With beauty products, many bloggers get products for free from companies, so it's not as if they have to go to the store and pick up a $200 eye cream to review each day.

I realize that these bloggers don't expect their readers to buy every product they recommend, but after reading these raving reviews day after day, it's hard to resist believing that these luxury items aren't the norm. You begin to feel like you're the only one who hasn't tried the product, and the encouragements from other readers that it's "totally worth the price" certainly don't help your resolve to stick to a budget.

When someone wants something but knows that it's not right to buy it, they look for excuses to make it acceptable, and blogs that extoll these products give them the justification they need. One of my biggest pet peeves about a lot of blogs is the guilty pride women express in being frivolous. "It's gonna hurt me later but I caved on the Louboutin's because they're just so gorgeous!" or "The La Prairie cream is pricey, but it makes such a difference that it's worth it."

Obviously worth is a relative term, and I have no idea what the financial situations of these bloggers, readers and forum commenters are like. But with the average American carrying over $8,000 in credit card debt, I think it's a safe assumption to say that a lot of us are spending beyond our means to follow the latest trends in fashion and beauty.

Here's a prime example of what I'm talking about. The blog Bag Snob wrote the following titled "Cheap Thrill of the Week" yesterday (emphasis below is mine):

Kooba Jackie Shoulder Bag in crackled laminated leather is full of interesting details; the ruching is tailored in by the double straps so it doesn't look a floppy messy plus it has oversized magnetic flaps in the front and the back of the bag, how convenient is that? The side pockets also have magnetic flaps for easy access to cell and valet tickets, even better right? You'll also love the price, $645, now I know to some of you this is not chump change but you have to admit it is easier to digest than the $2,000 price tag of the bags we usually review. Another thrill from Kooba is the clutch in pewter distressed leather; it is oversized so you can use it during the day but made of metallic grained leather which makes it appropriate for a glittery night out, the wrist strap has become a staple in oversized clutches and this one can also be tucked in. The best part is the $375 price tag. At eLuxury. Now what will you do with all the money you saved? You must splurge on the awesome and beyond amazing Burberry Prorsum Silk taffeta trench coat which will look gorgeous with either Kooba bag. Made of olive silk taffeta, this is the piece of the season from the House of Burberry. Fashion stylists and editors are scrambling to get this in the pages of magazines and on the backs of celebs. Lucky for you NAP still has a few sizes left. Grab it quickly before it sells out! Kelly said silk taffeta is not useful but I say who cares about useful when you look this fabulous! Another stand out coat is this mink wool and cashmere beauty , I can't wait for winter!

I'm not trying to pick a fight with anyone in particular, but I just thought this particular post was indicative of a larger trend within the fashion and beauty blogging community.

I'm certainly guilty of some of the same behavior as these other bloggers. While I try to limit the posts I write on products, I do think it's important to highlight reasonably priced items, and I do my best to stay credible by spending as much time talking about products I hate as I spend on products I love. And to be honest, it's a lot easier to do a post that links to pictures of pretty clothes than it is to write a 500 word article (which is also why I suppose a lot of bloggers do this). I only hope that my suggestions are helping readers make more intelligent shopping decisions, rather than just encouraging overspending.


Kelly said...

I honestly don't like or read blogs that highlight only couture lines of overpriced bags, shoes, and clothes. They featured item is usually WAY too expensive and not really something anyone in their 20s could get away with wearing, unless you live in the spotlight. I take $500 a month out of my spending money and put it towards buying something REALLY worthwhile: a house. That's $500 I suppose I could spend on something ridiculous like a pair of Manolos, but what is smarter? I think it is self-evident.

EthidiumBromide said...

I think that this also certainly occurs to a smaller level with moderately and inexpensively priced items. While I would never spend $645 on a bag (not my kind of a deal), I will easily throw down $25 for the new must-have mascara or blush that blogs are reviewing, which I probably would have never considered if I did not read fashion/beauty blogs. While $20 here and there doesn't seem like much, it has added up to an entire cabinet full of cosmetics that probably total the $645 bag.
That said, I still get much more use out of my cosmetics than I would out of one expensive bag...

Deja Pseu said...

I agree that it's easy to get caught up in spending (or overspending) when 49 different blogs are lauding a certain product as "must have!" I got caught up in the designer bag frenzy for a while, but now I've stepped back from the precipice, and my threshhold price for any one item has come back down out of the stratosphere. And as someone who didn't make a lot of money for many, many years, I always get a bit tweaked when I see a blog or a magazine labeling a $400 jacket as the "affordable" version of a hot designer item.

sparkler said...

I actually find it really irritating when I read blogs that only review products I can't afford. I don't carry designer bags because I can't afford them; I get my shoes at Payless and Target. Style isn't about a price tag. But so many blogs want you to think otherwise that you'd swear they're on someone's payroll.

I find it especially annoying when they pat themselves on the back for reviewing a "budget" or "bargain" product that still ridiculously expensive.

Dear Blogs: Reality's over HERE. Thanks.

beth said...

BRAVA, FGB!! I think this is a great post and I commend you for bringing up the topic. I agree with sparkler that true style is not about money. We spend so much time in our society on celebrity worship, and making sure we have the best of everything. Problem is, you can't take it with you, folks! Even if I did have unlimited funds, I still could never find enough outfits to go with an $800 pair of shoes, if I lived to be 100, and that's assuming I could still even wear the same size all those years. Don't let someone else tell you what's a "must have" or "so worth it," decide for yourself. Thank you for addressing this topic in your very good and informative blog.

Kori said...

I agree- I find it annoying when blogs highlight item after item that I can't afford. My blog is sort of like a reality check for me; I pretty much promised myself I would only write about cheap things, so I find myself searching for and coveting things within my price range.

Katie said...

i agree with this so much. it's actually been something on my mind but i didn't really have any way to express it (i don't blog, myself). i also read bagsnob and beautysnob mostly for entertainment and exposure, you might say. i like to know what's out there, so i can recognize bags in stores on others, and so i can identify trends i like for my own much less expensive purchases. but posts like that definitely bother me to no end. from what i can tell, the snob girls are (literally) millionaires. one of them claims to have a 3-digit bag collection, and at ~$1500 a bag, you do the math. i can't begrudge them too much when it's simple observations ("look at the great detailing, this would look great with...") but statements about what one *should* be spending really irk me. as a blogger you can't choose your readers. you're just as likely to have poor college students (most of us) as you are to have executives. and i can appreciate a gorgeous designer item as much as the next person, but don't just brush it off as "worth it" when it's going to make a dent in my bank account that will take two months to fix!

Leah said...

I also agree one hundred percent. I actually just finished reading that BagSnob post a little while ago and laughed out loud at the comment about $645 not being chump change. I love that site, I really do, I love seeing the gorgeous bags, and I can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating each and every one of them... However... It REALLY irks me when bloggers consistently feel like they're doing charity work by reviewing "affordable" items. Yeah, it's nice that they have Black Amex cards that carry no limits, but most people on this planet don't and never will.

Reviews of high-end items (whether it be bags, beauty products, clothes, shoes. etc) are great, but a lot of bloggers out there really need to stop acting like their version of "afforable" matches everyone elses.

jackie said...

I do think that it's getting out of hand ...

Cate said...

hear hear, kelly and katie! i stay away from blogs that espouse ridiculously expensive items regularly. it gives me label-envy and i start looking at my (lovely!) cobbled-together wardrobe with disdainful eyes. NOT how i need to look at my attire! however, as katie said, i like to see pictures and keep on top of trends so i can identify lower-priced pieces that work within those parameters...but unlike katie, i just use style.com. i find that the couture runway shots give you an idea of the essence of the season without bogging it down in specific pieces. give it a go, it's wonderful!

Elizabeth said...

I say it's all relative--
I know that you keep shoes recommendations to under $100, but that's still ridiculous on my budget ("I could pick up the dinner tab for that much!"). So while $645 for a bag is silly, to us it's probably not to your average Bag Snob (note the use of the word 'snob' right there in the title) reader.

People buying things they can't afford is a problem with causes above and beyond blog-generated peer pressure. We're living in a credit illiterate society right now, where women are still being paid less than men on every hour they work.

Not to be mean, FGB, but I think the person who's really being influenced by the group they're in is you: writing articles about how women flitter away their financial security because they "have to have" a $700 bag is a favorite media standby. It's right up there with writing about the 'opt-out' revolution.

Cin said...

Personally I tend to avoid the high-end only blogs. In my world, style isn't dependent on dollars spent, but on how you spend what you have. I like being able to see variety - in price points as well as possibilities :)

Katie said...

cate - i love style.com too! i agree that it's much more useful for looking at clothing, and as you said, the "essence" of the season. i often look at my favorite designer's collections before i go shopping so i can keep in mind colors, silhouettes, etc. i tend to read blogs for things that are harder (for me) to get a good feel for, like bags, or that i can't always test myself, like beauty products. i seriously read like 6 different beauty blogs, it's pretty bad! i think it's hard because (and my family and boyfriend will attest to this) i have rather expensive tastes, so i end up falling in love with everything on bagsnob and love reading about all the bags.. i just can't buy any of them! expect one, i bought a gerard darel on sale for like $250. but that's just pocket change, right?!! isn't that like, what a cheeseburger costs?! *rolls eyes*

Oxanna said...

I came over here from Between My Peers. I love that you addressed this issue! I tend to avoid blogs that are mainly product reviews/product highlights, because I prefer content, and I don't have much to spend on clothing. ($645 for a bag. A *bag*!) I realize that to some people this isn't that much money. (Whether it's cash or on credit is another discussion...) Me, I think it's somewhat a moral issue - who truly needs several $500-1000 bags, even loosely defining "need"? As Lily said in the Princess Diaries, "You could feed an entire Third World country with that!" ;)

As an aside, remember that some blogs are often given money to blog about certain products or companies. Or, they receive free product. Some reveal this information readily, some don't. I haven't read any of the aforementioned bag blogs, so I don't know if they're part of this. Personally, I think if you get money or free product for blogging, you should inform your readership.

Kori said...

Thanks for being one of those bloggers who actually takes time to write an article, not just posts with 500 picture from style.com that take an hour to load!

Christine said...

I completely agree with you. I don't write too much and my blog isn't popular, but I rarely write about what I can't afford (unless it's a "fantasy" posting haha). I don't even read blogs anymore that feature mostly expensive goods...it just doesn't apply to me. I understand getting "exposure" and that's why I read magazines once in a while. But whole blogs reviewing products that are more than rent? I'll just stick with the friendly, smart bloggers like you!

dcbellwether.blogspot.com said...

Miss FGB - I came to your post through Cap Hill Barbie, and I must say - I agree with you! Of course everyone's idea of "affordable" is relative, but with most fashion magazines touting all the things an average American can't afford (I'm talking to you, $2000 handbags), I look to fashion blogs to find out about less expensive solutions for finding stylish goodies. These days, it's all about a good hi-lo mix.

Teresa said...

I only read bagsnob once a month or so, because I like the pretty bags, but I don't have the discerning eye for what makes one crinkly leather bag with chains a classic and one a tragic error.

I did nearly choke when they said a week or so ago: "I don't want to hear any whining about the price of this bag, at $695 your budget surely will not bust."

At my brokest, $695 + 8% sales tax, that was my grocery budget for OVER TWO YEARS (107 WEEKS!) in college. They are completely divorced from my reality, I fear. I'm with Katie - they're probably literally millionaires, AND get free bags AND income from BagSnob. I'm happy for them but... just... no.

AJK said...

I completely agree with this post. As Elizabeth (I believe) said, this is a credit-illiterate society. However, I don't agree that FGB is the one perpetuating this problem. She is voicing the experience of many women, as is obvious from the other comments.

I used to read Bag Snob, but it was precisely this, er, snobbery that turned me off. Speaking of $300-$400 as "pocket change," which they often do, bothered me. However, the blog does ring true with a small group of women (you can see this by reading comments to their posts).

There are a number of other popular, middle-class–directed blogs that daily offer up products that are outside of most readers' budgets. A shirt or pair of pants for $300, a dress for $600, etc. In my opinion, these are the more (unintentionally) dangerous blogs because they are more subtle about the price ranges and target markets of the manufacturers. These blogs are quite common, and when readers link from one to another, they read the entries and comments and see that the price ranges are all similar. This frequency, and the fact that the prices usually aren't half your month's salary, makes those prices seem reasonable.

Who wants to feel behind the game, especially at a time in which appearance can supposedly be life-changing (see image consultant blogs/web sites)?

ayomide said...

I totally agree with this post!! I stay away from blogs like that. I usually shop for what I like not for what some Hollywood stars wears and how I can get it cheap (supposedly). There are way too many fashion and beauty blogs and they all say the same thing. Recently, I have been drawn to craft blogs that tell you how to make things or inspire me to be creative.
I like to blog on fashion related articles that will give you info on shows or a designer's background or industry related information or fashion school advice.

budget babe said...

Fascinating post, and as far as I know, the first of it's kind!

You've really struck a chord with me, so please, bear with me...

I don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but I grew up with very limited means, and seeing all the stuff you're supposed to have--on TV, in magazines, etc--and what things are supposed to cost you, well, it starts to bring a girl down...no matter how hard you try to shun materialism and march to the beat of your own drummer.

I personally avoided blogging for a looong time because well, I didn't think I could hang with all the "bag snobs" out there. Then I discovered The Budget Fashionista, and this girl was singing my tune! In fact, she inspired me to embrace my inner budget fashionista and start a blog of my own.

So now with my blog, I try really hard to stay true to ME, but I haven't had the balls to write a post like yours, although I've often thought about it!

I've also always wondered if I'm contributing to people overspending, even if it's just racking up a $100 at Target and a $100 at Forever21...it all adds up, as you've said. Then again, I certainly don't endorse buying everything I write about--and I would hope any readers know that, too.

On the flipside, sometimes I get just as much satisfaction writing about something as I would purchasing it...so maybe the bloggers on Bag Snob are finding that sort of bizarre gratification, too?

In defense of fashion bloggers, I think you simply can't ignore the overwhelming element of fantasy in the digital age and throughout cyberspace--from gamers to fashion bloggers, we all enjoy creating larger-than-life avatras and personas online. As long as you can differentiate between reality and fantasy (easier said than done for some), then I think the pros far outweigh the cons of the worlds, communities, discussions and trends we create.

judyo423 said...

WOW...I am kind of newbie to fashion/beauty blogging and I must admit that it is having a not so subtle effect of making me want to "try" new products. Not expensive ones but ones I wouldn't have considered had I not read about them. Of course I only read the "budget beauty" blogs but as has already been observed...it can still add up. AND WHEN DID EVERYTHING BECOME A MUST-HAVE? Thanks for the wake-up call!

The non-blonde said...

Meg, while there's a lot of truth to what you're saying and I can definitely understand why a young woman who has limited means and different needs would feel frustrated reading many of the fashion, beauty and fragrance blogs, this isn't the entire picture.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but my blog is written from a very personal point of view and is reflecting me and my lifestyle.

I'm 36. When I write that an eye cream is worth the price tag, I say it based on getting up in the morning and looking less like death than usual. For many of us, this is an important consideration in purchasing a product.

While I do get free samples and products on a regular basis, I'm in no way obligated to actually review them (or to recommend any of it). I only blog if I have something, good or bad, to say about an item, and if I think I can make my post interesting enough. The result is that most of what I'm writing about are products I pay for. I'm very lucky I can afford a certain lifestyle, and I'm aware it's not the case for all of my readers. However, I will not apologize for writing about what I know and use.

Another point worth mentioning: Just like you're not supposed to buy every product you see in a magazine, a TV show or on the shelf in the store, you're not expected to buy everything all the blogs are talking about. We provide the information (and if the blog is worth its bandwith, also a point of view), while you take it for what it's worth. Also, people who don't read the blogs on a daily or weekly basis are actively searching for reviews of products to help them decide and choose. Those who are interested in Chanel makeup and niche perfumes find their way to my blog. For those looking in a different price range there are other blogs.

As for fashion, once again, it's a matter of age, taste and budget. When I blog about clothes and accessories it's either a "look how pretty!" or a "what were they thinking?" post. My vocabulary doesn't include "it bag" or "a must have". I prefer to buy fewer items, but have them be the best I can afford.

Were I to gush over a pair of Payless shoes just to appease and to appeal to a bigger audience, it would have been dishonest of me.

Apologies for taking up so much space, but I felt the need to present a different angle.

ambika said...

I don't read the Bag Snob. Or other blogs that focus on couture & luxury items. I don't read magazines like Vogue or Bazaar for the same reason (though Lucky is rapidly getting to the same unfortunate place.)

I just don't like reading about items that not only can I not afford, but whose price tag is deplorable as an entirely separate issue from my own personal means.

Anonymous said...

MS. FGB....on point!! The amount of "luxury blogs" out there is quite frankly getting outta hand. I do review some luxury lines however those are sent to me by the companies or PR agencies - I am a single mom with a hungry 11 year old boy at home. I know that most women in America are just like me...that's why I like to do my "Drugstore Diva" and "On The Cheap" posts mixed in. I can't afford a freakin $645 handbag (hell to the naw) nor can I afford a $200 face cream BUT I will review it...provide an unbiased opinion and let you make the call. After all, would you rather I review it before you spend your hard earned $$ on it??

Avin said...

I gotta say I totally agree with you on this one. I guess sometimes its nice to see high end stuff but I am far from movie star status and I dont even entertain the idea of blowing my hard earned cash on most of that stuff.

In fact, I never blog about anything that I cant personally plunk down the cash for and maybe that makes me one of the "little" people or not in the "fashion or beauty forward" crowd, but if thats the case then oh well.

I love beauty products, and if I didnt I wouldnt spend my time telling other folks about them, but I draw the line at some of the put down and guilt tactics I've seen used in the bloggosphere. I just wish some of the PR people who supply these goods knew how the supposed "high end blogger" set really felt about them and where their products really end up.

Anonymous said...

It isn't just blogs. I subscribe to Oprah magazine, where shoes in their editorial layouts are routinely $500 and up--what Oprah herself can easily afford. But in the current issue they surveyed their own readers and 41% say that $50 is the most they would ever spend on a pair of shoes while only 6% would spend $500 or more on a pair (not to mention the handbag discrepancy) http://www.oprah.com/beauty/fashion/fashion_omag_200709_poll.jhtml
So it made me wonder whether or not they're going to really read the results of their own survey or continue to promote items that the vast majority of their readers would never buy.