Outfit Post: Will wearing designer labels make you rich and influential?

When I was in my very early twenties, I went through a phase where I became obsessed by designer labels. If it was recognizable, I wanted it. I scoured the internet for designer jeans; stalked logo-ed bags in department stores; and went to bed praying for a lottery win so I could afford the trendiest item from some expensive label. Rather than focusing on fit and whether the item was truly "me," I was much more concerned by who made it and what logo it displayed.

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


  1. The title of your site should be "Blog with Courage." Thank you for talking about what many will not. I love this!

  2. I never buy designer clothing with visible logos, I find it distasteful. Certain items I buy will inevitably have logos (all my glasses have them) but I always try to find the most discreet ones.
    The reasons for purchasing designer apparel should be fit, superior quality of fabric and construction and durability.
    I have a keen eye for spotting quality garments and footwear in particular. I can tell at first glance whether it's a high quality piece or not. Same goes for fakes with flashy logos, I can sniff those out too.
    I never could quite understand what compels people to buy fakes. The only thing more distasteful than wearing a flashy logo is wearing a fake flashy logo.
    All that said, my wardrobe isn't all high end brands, Carrie Bradshaw-esque walk-in haven. I have only certain (basic) pieces that I've collected over the years that are the absolute best I could afford.

  3. I really enjoy your thought-provoking posts. I don't get this out of most blogs I read.

    I, too, went through the "it must be designer/name brand" phase. I had the logo-ed handbag and everything. But now... I still have some designer things, but it's more so for the quality and less for the status. I'll always buy a nice, leather handbag... but it doesn't have to be designer.

    People, myself included, do still see some brands as "status symbols" just because it's been engrained in our heads. But I'm more impressed when I ask someone where they found a certain item and they say they thrifted it, found it in a vintage shop, etc.

  4. When I was 23, I was obsessed with owning a Louis Vuitton Papillon bag. I stalked Ebay in the hopes that one might avail itself at a (relatively) low price. I bid several times, was always outbid, and always came THIS close to realizing the dream. Now I am so glad I never won. Louis Vuitton bags are just plain hiddy to me now. They are so blatantly about the label and nothing else. Yeah, they may be well made, but beyond that they're nothing more than symbols of consumerism.

    As for designer denim: Yes, I am in total agreeance with you. They just look, fit, and feel better.

    And yes, I am shallow and easily manipulated. :p

  5. I specifically and purposefully NEVER EVER EVER buy/wear apparel with advertising on them. So much more creative to hide it in an insiders visible detail or just to have such a unique style and vision as a design house that the maker is obvious.
    I'm baffled by the success of, as Kimi wrote about, the Louis Vuitton bag. I think they are rather hideous and of course solely sell on the basis of the owner being able to show off that she (or a gifter) could afford it. hurumph!
    That being said - GENERALLY when I find high end designer vintage, it has held up amazingly and of course is (usually) better fabric and craftsmanship than "lesser" brands.
    However, no matter how awesomely vintage and designer - I wouldn't sport a vintage sweater with GUCCI splashed on the front of it, etc. ha

  6. I have a long history of trimming OFF visible logos on my clothing. I hate them, and not even because of the "walking billboard" implications; I don't like the visual interruption.

    Since I've been able to afford more expensive pieces, I have found that in some cases (like your example of denim) designer or "name" brand often translates to better quality and cut -- but even this isn't always true. (Example: the complexgeometries jacket I recently ordered, which when it arrived turned out to be as clumsily constructed and awkwardly lined as a piece of cheap importwear from a street vendor. I sent it back.)

    I hate the current proliferation of items that are NOTHING but logos -- those terrible Coach bags and shoes, Guess stuff, Ed Hardy. I think it's horribly tacky.

    Count me on the no-logos team. (That's actually rather funny now that I see it, as I am a professional graphic designer.)

  7. i don't care much about labels and almost 90% of my closet is from Forever 21. i do, however, love designer purses. i'm not sure what it is, but i just have a weak spot for anything Chanel or Louis Vuitton. sigh... thanks for the honest post! it was definitely an interesting read.

    cute & little

  8. I like clothing that looks unique and in this day in age with all the branding, more and more women look like clones. No thank you.

  9. It is true with a lot of denim, the "designer" jeans are infinitely better in durability and fit, but I still can't justify (or even afford) spending $180 on a pair of jeans, so I will look for them thrifted instead (how I got my Joe's Jeans and 7 For All Mankind). And honestly, I when I shop, I look for clothes that fit me well. And I honestly do not like noticeable labels, on anything I wear or own. Often I feel as though labels are just ways to brag about your financial status, and I do not like that, and not because I do not have money, but simply because bragging about how much money you have is not polite.

    Nowadays, I shop for and buy clothes that fit me, are comfortable, will not break my bank, and convey who I am. You will NEVER catch me owning certain brands just because they are "designer", because often, they are ridiculously ugly (Juicy Couture, Guess and Bebe all come to mind for this).

  10. In my early 20s I wanted a Coach bag so badly. In retrospect, I didn't even like Coach. I don't see what makes a bag with Cs designed all over it so special. Well, I do because I figured out the answer 5 years ago. Everyone else had one. Anyone who had one received more attention... even if a split second more worth of attention. I craved that back then. As I've gotten older, I know who I am and I'm secure with it. I don't need a Coach bag to be an icebreaker or to feel important.

  11. I've never been much of a "label whore" but I have a very good friend that is. She has teased me for years because I bought "Tiffany inspired" jewelry from Blue Nile (heart tag without the Tiffany stamp..I didn't care) She promptly went out and bought the real deal and did so with everything. It always seems everything is a competition with her. If I buy one Coach bag (on clearance marked down like 3 times) She goes and buys 5. I'm not kidding either. It's sad. I could care less what brand is on something...if I like it that good enough for me! Sadly, as a result of this "keeping up with the Jones" they are in financial ruin. I can't imagine how trying to keep up would cause you to abandon using good sense. I do agree though that some brands offer better quality.

  12. you know what's weird...i don't even know many "high designer" names to even be impressed by them. but, yes, in my subconscious, i think i DO tend to gravitate more toward names i like (not even that high-end, stuff like j.crew or banana). it's something i'm working on, like you said, to go for the true cut/fit of the garment rather than the maker. and i agree with your other commenters--NO on logos no matter who it is!
    p.s. LOVE your dress. you look fabuloso. always.

  13. I do think there are many people out there who are easily manipulated by branding. I used to care more about designer labels in the past but now not so much. Now I just like a high end makeup product here and there (on sale of course). Sometimes I want it for nostalgia reasons or quality reasons or just that the print is amazing. I am stimulated by certain graphic prints that can only usually be found by designers. Prints on purses I mean. Logos on clothes, nah I tend to stay away.

  14. Since I've caught the thrifting/vintage bug, I don't even thinking about going into boutiques for clothes anymore. I used to LOVE going to boutiques because I felt like I wanted what no one else had. I've paid $150 for a blouse before. I don't even wear it because I would rather where my skirt that I bought for a $1.

    I never was super into name brands but I never liked buying cheap stuff. Purely because of the quality. Now I'm all about vintage pieces with a touch of classic style mixed in.

    I can't remember the last time I went to the mall!


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