Perhaps not coincidentally, my label whore years coincided with a relocation to a high-income suburb, the birth of my daughter, and the changing role within my marriage. With the adoption of my new identity as a mother, I searched for legitimacy among the women I met in baby music classes and mom support groups. And the easiest way for me to do so was by wearing what I considered the "right" brands. On some level, I believed that if they saw the designer logo on my handbag, they'd be impressed. This would spark their interest and secure me an invitation into their social circle. And, sadly, it did.
It came as no shock to me when I learned of a new study on The Economist illustrating just how powerful a designer label is on social acceptance. Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers of Tilburg University in the Netherlands examined people’s reactions to volunteers who wore clothes made by recognizable designers. In the first experiment, volunteers were shown pictures of a man wearing a polo shirt. The photo was digitally altered to include no logo, a designer logo (Lacoste or Hilfiger) or a logo generally regarded as non-luxury, Slazenger. When the designer logo appeared, the man in the picture was rated as of higher status (3.5 for Lacoste and 3.47 for Hilfiger, on a five-point scale, compared with 2.91 for no logo and 2.84 for Slazenger), and wealthier (3.4 and 3.94 versus 2.78 and 2.8, respectively).
To examine if this perception had an effect on actual behavior, researchers performed a number of other experiments. For instance, one female volunteer asked people in a shopping mall to stop and answer survey questions. One day she wore a sweater with a designer logo; the next, an identical sweater with no logo. Some 52% of people agreed to take the survey when faced with the Tommy Hilfiger label, compared with only 13% who saw no logo.
In another experiment, volunteers watched one of two videos of the same man being interviewed for a job. In one, his shirt had a logo; in the other, it did not. The logo led observers to rate the man as more suitable for the job, and even earned him a 9% higher salary recommendation.
According to Gawker, researchers found that logos act as a "status-boosting talisman." Those wearing logos were judged to be wealthier, more powerful, more intelligent, and more capable. The Economist reported that this effect can be attributed to the fact that designer labels are seen as symbols of quality, meaning only the best can pay for them. However, some might take this study as proof of how the fashion industry has turned us into a society of Pavlovian shoppers, drooling over logo bags and high-profile designers. We have become culturally wired to love logos, and have assigned an iconic quality to expensive things, treating them with a level of respect and power. This explains the billion dollar counterfeit industry that churns out knockoff handbags, jewelry, and even shoes. Knockoffs are used to gain the same illusion of power and wealth as the original. A fake LV bag might be made from faux leather in China, but it's message is the same as the genuine article.
I've largely abandoned my designer wardrobe in favor of vintage and thrifted pieces, though I'll forever be a fan of designer denim - it seems to hold up better, and I believe has a more flattering fit than less-expensive brands. And it's true that, in most cases, luxury and designer clothing is better made and longer-lasting than less-expensive pieces - I only have to compare Ralph Lauren polo to those I purchased from Old Navy as proof. But largely, what I wear has much more to do with whether it's an expression of who I am than who it is made by.
So what do you think of this survey? Have you ever purchased clothing and accessories from high-end designers to fit in and impress? Do you believe wearing logos makes you more influential? Do you think the fashion industry has brainwashed us into craving logos over quality and fit? Are we as shallow and easily manipulated as this study suggests?
|Vintage thrifted J Crew denim shirt; Nordstrom Rack dress; Frye boots; thrifted Coach belt; American Apparel tights; Plato's Closet leather bracelet; World Market Catholic saints bracelet|