Breaking up with brands: Are we emotionally attached to the brands we wear?

I spent my first year of college at a preppy, insular university tucked away in a rural town in upstate New York. This school was a drastic contract to the arts high school I attended in New York City, where students were likely to wear thrifted clothes and Doc Martens and put on performances in stairwells and dye their hair colors not ordinarily found in nature and, on occasion, do drugs in the bathroom. Truthfully, the only reason I enrolled in the college was because they offered me a substantial scholarship - money that gave me the chance to attend college, period. I was broke, and needy, and kind of desperate to attend a college with a leafy campus on a lake and Gothic-looking buildings and a library that dwarfed the one in my neighborhood. So off I went.

Every fall and spring the campus would become blanketed with catalogs from J Crew and L.L Bean. This was back in the day where J Crew was defined by preppy, boxy silhouettes, the kind of clothes that could be monogrammed. Cable-knit sweaters, cashmere cardigans, pastel oxford shirts and chinos comprised the uniform of most students. After a semester of feeling like an outsider, I decided that if I adopted the same uniform, I'd fit in too. The clothes seemed nice enough. I ditched my ripped Levis for chinos, my vintage tees for polo shirts, my Docs for loafers. The J Crew catalog became my bible. I folded down pages and used my meager savings from a part-time campus job scooping ice cream to order pastel twinsets and wool sweaters.

I asked my friends how I looked.

"You look...constipated"
 "Like you're being strangled or something."
"I think my grandmother has that exact cardigan."

I was baffled. But eventually I realized that underneath my J Crew and L.L Bean I was still me, a broke music student from NYC with a penchant towards ripped jeans. I was never going to fit in. Eventually, the mere sight of the J Crew catalog made me twitch. I couldn't leaf through it without triggering the desperation I felt as an eighteen year-old. I never put on another twinset again.

I thought about this experience when I came across an article in the New York Times about the relationship women have with specific clothing brands. The article hints that whether we leave a brand due to a shift in personal style, disappointment with the brand itself, or lifestyle changes, it causes an unexpected emotional toll. One woman mentioned that her decision to stop shopping at a particular store was "as devastating as a romantic breakup." Another talked of her difficulty getting rid of Juicy tracksuits, explaining that keeping them was akin to "hanging onto photos or mementos of an old relationship."

J Crew aside, I've has other brief, passionate affairs with clothing brands and stores. I was once hooked on embroidered blouses and twirly skirts from Anthropologie. I stalked store displays and hoarded catalogs. Wearing Anthropologie made me feel special, in a way expensive boutique clothing can. Eventually I became disenchanted with the brand due to their rising prices and manufactured atmosphere and stopped shopping there regularly. Now I rarely visit at all. Sometimes I miss my trips there. I still slow down when I pass an Anthropologie display, and occasionally imagine myself stopping in for a ruffled tank or maxi skirt. But the store no longer has the same appeal.

It's no surprise that the relationship we have with our clothing is psychological. What we wear, and how we wear it, is a way we communicate with the world. It's a tool we use to define who we are, what we do, and what we value. For example, my $8 thrifted silk vintage dress says that I'm an individualist, a cheapskate and lover of the past. It also says that I hate shopping at the mall and value luxurious fabrics and classic styles, rather than fast fashion and less expensive materials.

Now I ask you: Are you loyal to brands you've worn for years? Have you ever become disenchanted with a clothing brand?  Are there brands you once loved that you no longer wear? Why has this happened? Do you believe we are emotionally attached to brands?


  1. Wait, what preppy, upstate NY school on a lake did you attend? It sounds shockingly similar to the college I attended, but at least I was lucky enough to find the artsy folks there. They didn't mind my ripped jeans.

    1. It was Hobart and William Smith College, in Geneva, NY. I was there in 1992-1993 - I only lasted one year before transferring. No artsy folks there when I attended. Hopefully things have changed since then!

  2. I am definitely emotionally attached to Lululemon... I've never loved a brand so much before in my life.

  3. I am definitely having an affair with Prada shoes. Their lasts fit my feet!

  4. This is an interesting question for me not so much for the brands I like as the ones I consciously avoid. As you know, I'm an avid thrifter too...of a certain age. And though I'll pull something off the rack there by Coldwater Creek and actually like it, I won't buy it--because it smacks to me of elderly wear. It is totally illogical, but I guess I'm a bit of a snob.

  5. When it comes to clothing I am loyal to none. I never am in style and it is more likely that style catches up with me. :) If a clothing company sells something I like or need I will buy it, especially if it is on sale. I don't really care who made it although if I can avoid "Made in China" I will and that is where vintage shopping tends to meet my needs.

  6. Interesting post, because I do think we enter into and sometimes break up relationships with brands. Going through my closet I can see phases I've been through, either with a style or brand or both. Some of those relationships last, others change--perhaps a store changes its styling or sizing or quality or selection--or maybe it's me, a time I just felt was right to move on. Fortunately we're not required to stay in love with stores or styles or brands, so we can eye what else is out there with abandon.

  7. Interesting, thoughtful commentary as usual. I have brands I like but I've never felt attached to any one brand. However, I do thrift a lot of J.Crew and stalk the online sale site. I have a style that mixes(I think)high-low, vintage-new and hopefully comes off as my individuality. I'm curious, did that upstate NY college town look like this?

  8. First off, this is so well written! I am an anomaly however because I grew up relatively poor. Mine and my mom's favorite thing to do Saturday morning was to get up and go to yard sales. I learned from a young age that what I liked was more important than the brand. Of course in junior high/high school I wanted clothes from the surf shops and Wet Seal, but I couldn't always have that. Funny thing is all my wealthy friends still raided my closet! I college it was hard b/c I went to a "fashion college" If I ever see a monogrammed LV or GC bag again I think I'll barf :D I didn't fit in there either, but I was used to that. Alas, I have found my calling in a Thrifty fashion blog. Now I have a ton of people asking me for advice and being dare I say jealous of my mad skills :D Don't get me wrong I would love a gorgeous Chanel suit... but I'm not emotionally attached to anything I can't afford!!



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