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Why is good taste so expensive? - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Why is good taste so expensive?
Once upon a time I was under the impression that I just wasn't into clothes. This was actually a highly inaccurate assessment. I always like dresses. In fact, I really like old fashioned stuff, the fuller and longer the skirts the better; I was always a very girly girl. I like classic styles for just about everything. A more accurate description of my attitude was that I had very firm ideas about what I liked from a very early age, and thus hated most of what was actually available.

The truth of the situation gradually dawned on me as I grew older, especially as I started buiding my adult wardrobe. I began to fully appreciate it when I started to have enough money that I could purchase more expensive items. I do like clothes, but I only like good clothes. When I go to the mall, though, the vast majority of the stuff available is not stuff I'd want to wear. I keep asking myself who makes this stuff, and why can't they make anything nice? I'd search fruitlessly for hours for something I could live with. Then I started going to pricier stores, and my hit rate for stuff I liked started to go up. Shopping could be less of a chore, but only if I were willing to pay much higher prices.

Some examples are in order. I have been looking for a pair of brown shoes to wear to work for some time now. I lost count of the number of shopping trips I made looking for a said pair of brown shoes. I wanted a pair that was casual enough to wear with trousers, but that would still look good with a skirt. The first pair that I came across that were almost exactly what I wanted were $500. I was even considering purchasing them, except that they were also too tight across the ball of my foot; at that price I wasn't going to buy anything that didn't fit perfectly. The second pair I liked well enough that I might have purchased them were $260. I was not willing to pay that much for an online shoe purchase... in theory I could have returned them if they didn't fit right or whatever, but in practice I would have had to get them to the post office, and I am not good about running that sort of errand. I finally got a pair of shoes on Friday for a reasonable price (i.e. less than a three digit one). The heels were considerably higher than I'd originally wanted, but given that I can comforatbly wear three inch heels its an OK compromise.

Another example is my quest for a new winter coat. My old wool winter coat is in sad shape. The lining is wearing out all over and is torn in a number of places, and the coat was always a shorter than I really would have liked. What I want is a new coat that is some variety of wool, in black, dark grey, camel or brown. It needs to be long... ankle length would be best. I'd like something with simple, classic lines. I've been looking for a couple of years now. I did see a fabulous coat two years ago, but it came with $5000 price tag. I have yet to see anything in my actual price range (and I am willing to spend a decent amount) that I really like well enough.

Why is the stuff I like so expensive, or rather, why isn't anyone making stuff in the style I prefer more cheaply? The $5000 coat was cashmere and had a big fluffy fur collar. I'd have been quite happy to buy a coat that was cut in the same way, but made of much cheaper wool and minus the fur collar. Sure, the drape would not have been quite the same, etc., but still. As for the shoes, the reasonably priced pair is made of the same materials as the insanely priced pair. I'm sure the workmanship was probably better on the pair with the insane price tag, but I can't discern any reason as to why I was unable to find an affordable shoe in the same basic style as the expensive one. I know it doesn't have to be like this. I can find some great clothes at affordable prices whenever I go shopping in England. I have a fabulous dress that I bought in Montreal several years ago for a quite reasonable price. What is wrong with this country that you have to pay outrageous amounts of money to aquire clothes in what are classic styles?


12 comments or Leave a comment
arcanology From: arcanology Date: November 6th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
To a certain extent, you can't find stuff with cheap materials but expensive finish, in much the same way that you don't put a tiny home on a big lot. Once you have to pay for good quality construction and design, making it out of cheaper material no longer makes sense, and vice versa.

But other than that it sounds like you just have a style mismatch. Cheap clothes are made to appeal to large market groups, who apparently in general have different tastes than you do. I'd bet they don't like "classic" for one thing. Small market clothes are only worth making if they are expensive so there is profit in it.

Maybe you should take up togas.
From: treptoplax Date: November 6th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

Maybe you should take up togas.

Or perhaps not...
From: desireearmfeldt Date: November 6th, 2006 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a long (ankle-length on me), black, wool coat; I don't know what you consider either "classic" or appealing lines, but it seems pretty basic to me. I got it at Frugal Fannie's, I believe. Of course, this was, er, 8 or 9 years ago now...
jaedian From: jaedian Date: November 6th, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)


The cheaper stuff is made to appeal to fashion cycles. If you are going to buy the new fashion each year you need it to be affordable. And they keep changing the fashion so that you will have to buy more clothes....

It sounds like the expensive stuff you saw was "classic" and it is likely easier to get someone to pay a high price for something that is timeless, not just this season.

Wow, that is a lot for shoes. I typically pay in the 100-200 range but I shop for comfort a bit before fashion. And for dress shoes I had to find specially made ones that would accompany an orthotic since they rarely have arch supports.

My big frustration beyond fashion is fit. Most clothes seem to be designed for women with no or very little bust. (even in nursing shirts!) I have all but given up on anything not stretchy. I can't wear fitted jackets or blouses etc. The only place that seems to cater to this is in England and I haven't quite goteen myself up to mail ordering from them.

Maybe England is less concerned than the US with this trendy fashion stuff. I would believe there are a lot more people in England who dress in classic styles.

Really, you might be able to have a coat custom made for you at much less than the $5000. I can't imagine paying that much for anything clothing-wise and I thought I tend to buy more expensive things. (although I seem to change sizes a bit, both gaining and losing, so I tend not to buy really expensive things for that reason) Heck for $5K you could just about go to England and buy yourself a coat!
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 6th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
What they said, but also:
One of the things that drives the way our current markets work is that better stuff => more expensive. Even if better stuff is just the same amount of money to produce as the less good stuff. Once we believe that as part of our worldview, then we are also willing to believe that more expensive => better, regardless of any measurable quality. (The only way this isn't a complete disaster is that the forces of making-stuff have to put some amount of "better" in to keep us believing it.)
merastra From: merastra Date: November 7th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree that it's goofy that classic styling is largely only found at the expensive price range.

I can point you at one or two seamstresses that do custom work if you want to try that for your coat. One of them has a tried and true business and seems like a decent bet.
sorceror From: sorceror Date: November 7th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Dear God. And all those prices are in American dollars, aren't they?

I have a fabulous dress that I bought in Montreal several years ago for a quite reasonable price.

I was just going to suggest that you come here... ^_^
twe From: twe Date: November 7th, 2006 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Shopping Fu

I've actually had good luck looking for coats at the Burlington Coat factory, though I've always gone to the really big one in MD. There is a small one in Porter Square, but I suspect the selection there will be too small. You do have to be willing to wade through a lot of coats.

You might also want to consider outlet stores in general. My mother loves Coach handbags, but I don't think she's ever bought one anywhere but a Coach outlet store, often with the extra discount the coupon books you can pick up there give. This usually makes them a fairly substantial percentage off the department store price. Talbots also has a big sale right after Christmas with huge discounts too, which might also be up your alley. There might be one another time of year. I think you get notice of their sales, and possibily extra discount coupons if you have one of their credit cards.
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: November 7th, 2006 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't explain it.

But I can offer suggestions of how you might find clothing that's more reasonably priced.

- Consignment shops (like Poor Little Rich Girl in Davis Square)
- High end thrift shops. Goodwill is so-so, but places like the children's hospital thrift store downtown might be a better bet.
- Finding somebody who knows about fashion and taking a trip to NYC to visit the garment district.

I admit that none of those make shopping easier. The only easier option I can think of is to find a catalog you like the styling of and either make regular trips to its outlet stores, or get in the habit of dealing with returns.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 8th, 2006 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
As you might imagine, I once had this complaint too. Now I've become resigned to it and just cough up the money.

I believe there are two major reasons why the price tag on classic styles tends to be high.

First, if it's classic, it doesn't go out of style. That means customers won't buy a replacement until it wears out. Sales volumes will thus be lower than for quickly dated items. To stay in business on the lower sales volumes, margins have to be higher, which pushes the prices up.

Secondly, because people will be wearing these things until they wear out, they'll put a premium on quality of workmanship and durability. That will also push the price tag up - though it won't push the cost of ownership up, since the price will be amortized over more years of wear.

What bothers me is when the classic merchandise lines are discontinued. I guess I could get resigned to that, too, if it were just a matter of market economics at work. A lot of times, though, it seems like a new generation of management at the respective companies has just gotten bored and wants to try something different. That happened with Ethan Allen, and now seems to be happening to Coach, unfortunately.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: November 8th, 2006 06:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Sigh, forgot to sign in....
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: November 8th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
So why is Marks & Spencer still in business? I can get nice stuff at affordable prices from them... if you don't take into account airfare to the UK.
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