style & clothing book cover

There is an old saying that you get what you pay for. When it comes to fast fashion, that statement is true. You pay low prices because you get low quality. When it comes to high-end designer clothing, that old saying is false. You pay far more than what you get in return. Neither is a good deal.

The prices at fast fashion retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara are cheap because the fabric and construction of their clothes are cheap. That is why fast fashion is sometimes called “throw-away” fashion. I spent a brief stint as a commercial model and a fellow model told me he would buy shirts at H&M, wear them one time, and throw them away. No wonder our landfills are filling up with fast fashion rejects!

Smart people understand that value is about what something is worth, not just what it costs. Spending $20 on cheaply made pants with uneven seams and a zipper that sticks is not a good value. Clothes that start to fall apart after a few washes are not bargains.

A spokesperson from California Closets said the average person only wears 20 percent of their clothing. I have no doubt that fast fashion is a contributing factor. Who wants to wear clothes that look and feel cheap? Raise your hand.

On the flip side, who wants to overpay for their clothes and accessories? Spending $500 on a top that is the same quality and style as one you can get for $50 is also not too smart.

When I was doing research for my latest book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Style & Clothing, I flipped through a number of fashion magazines. I saw a Saint Laurent top in Marie Claire for $850, a Miu Miu dress in Vogue for $3,500, and a Giorgio Armani handbag in Town and Country for $31,045. Yes, really.

A naïve person might assume that you are getting what you pay for when you buy high-end designer brands. While the fabrics and construction are generally much better than fast fashion, you are mainly paying for marketing. Advertising in Vogue is not cheap, you know. The conglomerates that sell high-end designer brands spend massive amounts of money to convince buyers that their brands are prestigious. That is what you are paying for.

Customers of luxury brands pay for the designer name. However, smart people do not feel the need to impress others and therefore do not fall for the hype. They confidently wear what makes them look and feel good. Celebrities may be paid to wear designer clothes, but the rest of us are not.

If we choose to avoid luxury brands at one extreme and discount and budget brands at the other extreme, what other options do we have? If you said off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx or outlet stores like Nordstrom Rack, that is a good guess…but, sadly, wrong. In a Huffington Post article, Shannon Whitehead stated, “The reality is that outlets broker deals with designers so they can put designer labels on the cheaply made clothing manufactured in their own low-quality factories.”

If you want to shop smart, then focus on mid-tier brands. This is the sweet spot where price equals value. The mid-tier level includes both premium brands and moderate brands. Premium brands are great quality at a great price. Moderate brands are good quality at a good price.

Premium brands are sometimes called affordable luxury brands. They include brands like Tory Burch, J. Crew, and Coach. This tier also includes bridge brands, which are the lower-priced lines of the top designers. You can often tell the bridge brands by their labels. For instance, Michael Kors is a luxury brand, but MICHAEL Michael Kors is their more affordably priced bridge brand.

Moderate brands provide good value and are a great place to find “casual” and “dressy casual” clothes, shoes, and accessories at reasonable prices. You can find many of your essentials here, like T-shirts, blouses, jeans, sportswear, and swimwear. Examples of moderate brands are Gap, Levi’s, and INC at Macy’s.

Through clever marketing, the fashion industry tempts us to continue buying new clothes to keep up with the latest trends. Fast fashion tempts us because we think we are getting a bargain. High-end designer brands tempt us because we think we are paying for quality. Smart people avoid both extremes.

Coincidentally, “smart” has two meanings. It means intelligent, but it also means sharply dressed. There is no reason why we cannot be both kinds of “smart” and mainly stick to mid-tier brands that make our bodies and our budgets look good.

Kara Lane is the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Style & Clothing. © 2016. You can find more information about all of her books at
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