For many people, dressing in designer clothing with visible logos or brand names is a sign of wealth, success and a positive self-image. Due to their quality, style, design and the fact that endless celebrities model for these brands, there’s nothing wrong with splashing out the cash. And though I have no issue with people spending money on clothes they like and will get good use out of – I sometimes wonder if, for some people, it’s just the logo they’re paying for. Could this be clouding judgements about the financial impact their purchase will have, and make them blind to unethical production processes? I’d like to look at this question and why it’s important to think before you buy.
Why do people like designer clothing?
- Status Symbols: As Dr. Baumgartner states, ‘Our clothes help place us where we think we want to be’. By wearing a Rolex or sporting a Gucci bag we show the world our greater societal position because we had the money to spend, and we believe this impresses people. In fairness, Rob Nelissen and Mrijn Meijers in their study on logos found that expensive brands could make people appear approachable and aid them in getting jobs. They concluded that people equate logos and labels with quality. Do quality clothes really mean quality people though? Talk about judging a book by its covers…
- Self-Image: We can feel better about ourselves too, and this can influence our behaviour. For example, one study found that participants dressed in white coats (typically associated with doctors) performed better on tests than those who were made to wear street clothes. Doctors are clearly intelligent so that these participants performed better is really quite interesting. This process is called ‘enclothed cognition’ and further states that if you associate a certain brand with power, beauty and confidence, you’ll take on those attributes. As Professor Karen J. Pine states, ‘When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it’.
In some cases, however, putting so much emphasis on the power of clothing could be a sign of poor self-esteem.
- Better Quality: Some people buy designer clothing because they want clothes that will last longer, that are made from better materials, uses colours that won’t fade after a few washes and have more appealing designs than cheaper counterparts. The logo is there, but not required. In fact, a trend of de-logoing clothing is taking hold, with YouTubers showing their audiences how to remove logos so as not to advertise those brands, but showcase their own unique personality.
What should we be aware of?
- Designer Flaws: As mentioned, clothes can convey meaning, but sometimes that meaning can become flawed with negative press surrounding the designers. For instance, Elton John led a boycott against Dolce and Gabbana in 2015 because they claimed they were against gay marriage, adoption and IVF. More recently, H&M (collaborates with designers for special collections) came under fire for its clearly racist advert, featuring a black boy wearing a hoodie that stated, ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’. Protests and outcry occurred in both the online and offline space and celebrities such as The Weeknd and G-Eazy refused to continue working with H&M. Many people even subverted the advert, calling the kid, ‘coolest king in the jungle’, for example.
- Animal Rights: Ever heard the saying, ‘fur is murder’? Designers are finally waking up to this fact, especially with reports that some animals are skinned alive for their coats. Cruel treatment, inhumane conditions and just the unfairness of it has sparked protests from animal rights groups for years. Gucci announced last October they were going fur-free, joining a list including Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. However, some designers continue to use it, and some have even got back on themselves by reintroducing fur to their collections (e.g. Harvey Nichols). In a world where fake faux exists, animal treatment is known about and designers have the choice not to use fur, you should think about what the brands you wear stand for.
- Human Rights: Treatment of staff is also an important consideration. I’m sure many of you will remember the Nike scandal, with Indonesian factory staff claiming physical and verbal abuse, such as kicking, slapping and shoes being thrown at them by contractors. Poor pay (approximately 50 cents an hour), unfair dismissal and long working hours contributed to mass protest and criticism, and for a long time, Nike were branding piranhas. Though it has largely changed its way, many will still not be associated with the brand, nor wear it. In fairness, these issues happen at the High Street level too, most notably the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of 1138 workers and injured a further 2600. Brands such as Primark, Matalan and Mango sourced from this location.
Just as designer clothes can symbolise power, wealth and authority, they can also symbolise the processes that made them. By wearing brands that treat their workers horrendously, animals cruelly and release offensive advertising, you’re showing the world that how you look is more important than anything else. I’m all for delogoing but even more for buying ethically sourced apparel, or simply from shops that have good CSR in place.
Each to their own, but what does what you own say about you?