A few weeks ago I bought a pair of shoes that retail for $410.
Absurd, isn’t it?
What about if I got them on sale for $225? (Which I did.)
To some people, $410 is an offensive amount to spend on a pair of shoes. And $225? Still obscene.
If you’re like me you read a lot of frugality blogs. Almost every day I come across a string of posts that scold people for wasting money buying brand names. “People who buy expensive stuff are only seeking status and attention,” they say.
There’s always a judgy tone, from afar: That spending “a lot of money” on clothes is not only wrong and stupid, but truly mind boggling. “A lot of money” is usually any amount more than what the author would spend.
Funny. Nobody seems to question spending on things like, $5,000 wedding dresses to be worn for a single day, or splurging on rent each month, or tithing to their church.
But when it comes to the “correct” way to spend on clothes everyone’s an expert, and their opinions are universal truths.
Look, I get it. It’s easy to dismiss something that you don’t understand.
Like for me, it’s foodies. You eat this amazing food, and then it disappears into your belly. And then that’s it. That’s the saddest thing to me; something you love just disappearing like that. I don’t necessarily understand it, but I’ve never felt it was wrong or stupid. It’s their money and they can spend however they want.
So when the topic of clothes provokes such divisive opinions, I can’t help but get turnt up. Because the people who make these judgments have no idea what they’re talking about. Their judgments come without any real context; they likely have no experience buying or interacting with nice things. To me, their point of view is incomplete.
Maybe you’ve even wondered, “What IS the purpose of spending MORE on clothes when cheap ones will cover you just the same?”
Today I’m going to try to explain the reasons why I don’t settle for the cheapest option. Spoiler: None of them have anything to do with keeping up with the Joneses.
My “Status Symbol” Shoes
The shoes I paid $225 for are a pair of plain black leather sneakers by Woman by Common Projects. There are no logos, no bling, no frills. The brand itself isn’t a household name. Besides the gold embossed serial number, they’re a pretty mundane pair of shoes. They certainly don’t scream, “Hey, I’m an expensive shoe.”
They’re so minimal, they’re almost invisible. Just like stealth wealth, there’s such a thing as stealth luxury.
Because they don’t stand out, they won’t make my friends jealous. Or make me sexier. Or make me seem smarter at work. Not really much of a status symbol, huh?
Specificity Is a Thing
So, if it’s not about status, then why not get a cheap pair from Target? “It’s the same thing,” people say. If all I wanted was a “black sneaker” I’d go to Adidas and grab a pair for $50.
But what if you wanted something more specific than that?
They have to be all black…
and low top…
and buttery soft leather…
and look good with dresses…
and have a sleek design…
but no logos…
By the time you’ve gotten down to the last criteria you’re eliminated 99% of the shoes on the market.
It’s not uncommon for me to dream up exactly what I want in my head. Once, when I was little, my teacher told us we had to choose a Christmas card from a pile on the table in the classroom. Most kids just picked one from the top of the pile. But not me. I was the weirdo who went through the full stack, not once, not twice, but THREE times. I wanted to find the card that represented “me” the most. To put it bluntly, I have been and always will be picky AF.
Having specific tastes is a challenge. Here’s a question for you: have you ever thought about how hard it would be to find a handbag that doesn’t use shiny gold hardware? It’s close to impossible to find on the mass-market level.
The reason I don’t shop at Target is not because Target is beneath me or because it carries bad designs. Target just doesn’t have the options that meet my criteria. It’s that simple.
So if you have specific tastes, you don’t buy expensive clothes just BECAUSE they are expensive. The clothes you want just HAPPEN to be expensive. Because the more expensive items will pay a lot more attention to the details you want.
The Five Details That Matter
If you’re a fan of aesthetics and love creativity and originality, you’re only going to get that with higher-end stuff. I think everybody knows that mass-market items are just copies of stuff from the runway. Nothing wrong with that, but forward-thinking they are not. If it’s wrong to value aesthetics, then let’s just do away with all art museums then.
Taste in design is highly personal. For instance, I don’t care for Chanel or Burberry or Gucci, because their designs don’t resonate with me. Also, throwing a honking logo on a bag does not automatically equal good design.
Designers of higher-end clothes will have spent more time making sure the fit jives with actual human anatomy. Almost nothing mass-market fits me off the rack. And I’ve seen plenty of shoes where the cut is shaped more like a Christmas stocking than a real foot.
If you ever go into a Barneys or Saks and touch the clothes, you’ll notice the fabrics feel different. They’re more likely to be thicker and sturdier. When you pull on them they feel durable. Higher-end clothes also tend to use natural fabrics. Fabrics like silk, wool and cashmere cost more than synthetic materials like polyester and viscose.
Craftsmanship involves the hand skills and labor put into actually building the shoe. I follow Common Projects on Instagram and I always enjoy it when they post videos of their workers making the shoes. I appreciate the process.
Common Projects don’t advertise, because they don’t need need to trick people into thinking their shoes are worth it. Their product is good enough to speak for itself, and their fans spread the word for them. There’s something appealing about a brand that isn’t afraid to be different.
In the list above, you’ll notice one key detail missing that everyone loves to talk about.
Quality is a crapshoot. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t mean it will last longer. It really depends. In general, if you pay more you’ll get better quality, but at some point, there’s a threshold where it’s just not true. If you spend 5x more on a T-shirt, doesn’t mean it will last 5x longer. Especially as most people treat their things like utter crap.
Status Symbols Be Damned
So expensive clothes as status symbols be damned. That may be an incentive for some, but for others, like me, there are a host of other reasons that matter. You see, to some of us, clothes are more than just utility, a shell to protect you from the elements. We can see and appreciate all the small details—the ideas and the artfulness behind a piece of clothing.
And when someone tries to say their $30 jeans are “just as good” as a pair of $300 jeans, I can’t help but laugh. Just as good, for sure, but as thoughtful and detailed? Not a chance in hell. And can people really be the judge of this if they’ve never even touched a higher-end garment before? It’s like saying an expensive restaurant isn’t worth it when all you’ve eaten at is McDonald’s.
You Can Afford It, You Just Don’t Want to
And then there’s the question of cost. People say they can’t afford $80 for shoes, much less $225. Barring extenuating circumstances, I’d guess that most people reading this have a decent amount of disposable income and have an extra $225 laying around.
“Yeah, but, I don’t have the budget specifically for shoes,” they counter. That’s a lot of control you hand over to those little pieces of paper called money. And wait, don’t you tell your budget what to do? Because if you really want to buy something and your budget doesn’t like it, you’ll tell your budget you’re moving this here and that there, finding a way to make it happen.
PSA: The phrase, “I can’t afford this” needs to be erased from everyone’s vocabulary. What you’re really trying to say is that you don’t prioritize spending on a pair of shoes. That’s totally fair and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just use the word ‘prioritize’, and not ‘afford’, OK?
You can go ahead and get a version that’s good enough, but when it comes to things I’ll wear a lot and plan to keep for a long time, I don’t want to settle for a substitute.
I’ve learned my lesson: Every time I’ve settled for anything I’ve always regretted it. And don’t we all want to avoid a life of regret?
To me, intentionally spending money on clothes that I truly want is the ultimate representation of my values:
The little details matter.
Less, but better.
Tomorrow I’ll wear my favorite sweatshirt (also outrageously priced at $200) to work: it’s navy blue and seemingly plain, but with a slightly twisted hem. By design. And that little detail, the one that only I notice, makes all the difference. There’s power in dressing for yourself and no one else.
So for now, I’ll sit at my desk in my overpriced sneakers and not-worth-it sweatshirt. None of my coworkers will compliment me on my outfit. But I don’t care. I’ll continue to buy exactly what I like, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be me.
What about you? What are your reasons for not buying the cheapest options? Have you ever felt judgment for choosing to spend more?