What’s in a (Designer) Name?

by Gina Blitstein · 0 comments

I once was browsing in a fancy department store when a sweater caught my eye. When I lifted the sleeve and read the price tag I nearly fell over – $495! I hadn’t noticed that I had wandered into the “designer” department where the high-fashion apparel was sold. It was a very nice looking sweater but there’s no way in the world I could ever conceive of paying that much for a sweater. Why, I wondered, would anyone?

That got me thinking about designer products. Why do they cost so much more than “regular” products. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

There’s no particular criteria for “designer” products that require them to be of higher quality or in any way “better” than any other product. It’s all about the name and the clout it carries. A consumer assumes that Emeril Lagasse’s line of cookware, Martha Stewart’s home decor products and Vera Wang’s eyeglass frames are “special” in some way because those names are known to be knowledgeable and talented people in their fields of expertise. We like to think that these who have a line of products that carry their name also carry their tacit “stamp of approval.”

That “stamp of approval” allows those brands to charge premium prices for their merchandise – and consumers are often more than willing to spend more for the status a designer name imparts. The reputation of the designer – rather than the products themselves – is largely what consumers are paying for.

That’s not to say that there’s no difference between designer merchandise and other brands. Because it’s the reputation of the designer on the line, their products are often of higher-than-average quality. It’s just important to realize that “designer” is not necessarily synonymous with “the best.”

Having watched the Academy Awards last night, I’ve been thinking about that ubiquitous question the celebrities are asked as they work the red carpet, “Who are you wearing?” This is a question that most people go their entire lives without needing to answer. For most of us, it’s a matter of what rather than who.

When you’re in the market for a new suit, for example, rather than looking automatically at the designer labels, find the qualities that are most important to you. Designer suits may be made with more comfortable fabric or be more durable. Consider fabric and quality of construction if you’re going to wear the suit frequently. If, however, you need a suit for one wedding and you won’t wear it again for a year, you can most likely find a great suit without paying more for that designer label.

The truth is, there is a lot of high quality merchandise on the market that doesn’t bear a designer name. That’s where being a savvy consumer comes in. Remember these two things to buy good quality merchandise without overpaying for designer labels:

  1. Don’t automatically assume that designer merchandise is better. There’s no guarantee that it’s superior to any other brand.
  2. Know what makes a quality product. If the designer product has those qualities and you can justify a price that is most likely higher than other brands, then go for it.

Of course, there are times when you discover there is indeed something extra-appealing about a designer product. If you find that your favorite fragrance is made by Chanel and you don’t mind splurging to get what you consider the best, by all means do. At least you’ll know that you made the decision based upon your real opinion. Bottom line – don’t let the designer name alone unduly influence your purchasing decision.

Do you pay more for designer brands?

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