More Fuel for the Anti-Logo Fire

Just popped across this interesting little tidbit from the New York Times, that essentially says what I’ve been saying –not nearly as well but with about three times as many words– for years.

Rather than rely on obvious logos, expensive products use more discreet markers, such as distinctive design or detailing. High-end consumers prefer markers of status that are not decipherable by the mainstream. These signal group identity only to others with the connoisseurship to recognize their insider standing.

It’s a secret handshake.

I think it’s tough for aspirational big girls because accessories are often the only things that fit and there’s a temptation to use visible logos to signal you’re fashionable, except it’s almost always a losing bet. There is nothing more cringingly middlebrow than seeing a perfectly nice, stylish-ish girl dressed in perfectly nice, stylish-ish clothes with a pair of sunglasses whose enormous D&G you can see from space.

It goes straight from decent girl in decent clothes to “As You Can See From My Name-Brand Clothing, I Am Not Poor

29 Responses to “More Fuel for the Anti-Logo Fire”

  1. Debs July 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Is the “Comments” section broken? Love the link to the Onion. I too think it is very difficult to do a good look with designer lines’ logo print bags like the basic LV bags (all the manicurists here in upscale suburb have them) and the Coach printed logo cloth bags (carried by the manicurists’ customers).

    Less expensive, but non-logoed and/or unsusual seem to work better. Of course, I’m old enought that some of my old, but expensive, bags now seem practically “vintage.”

  2. Beth C. July 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    As a professor of mine once said, “I refuse to pay money to serve as a walking billboard.” I’ve lived by that ever since. That’s how youcan tell who knows what, the person who buys the low end cloth Coach bags with the obnoxious logo all over it, or the lady who lunches who buys the high-end, saddleleather Coach purse with out even a tag to show who made it. You just know a good Coach bag when you see one and if you don’t, well, it doesn’t really matter that much because it’s the quality and style that count, not the label.

  3. Lisa from SoCal July 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

    If I am too stubborn to care about the stares and glares and judgments I get from family and basicallyallresidentsofplanetearth about being fat, I’m not likely to care if the cognoscenti consider me “middle-brow” or not for wearing a logo on my sunglasses. I had to spend years figuring out the capricious status hierarchies of my profession, the academy: I’m not going to spend time fretting about the status hierarchies and secret handshakes of clothing. It’s Plummy’s job to do so and interpret for us, here, but for me, I don’t have time to select my clothing on whether old-money trust funders or new-money glitterbabies or no-money vintage mavens approve of my choices or not. My choices are my choices. As I’ve said before, I know who I am and what I am, and if I like something and something works for me style-wise, I’m wearing it, logo or no logo.

    That said, sunglasses are an understudied accessory. We should discuss them. I live most of the year in SoCal and part of the year on the Mediterranean, and I am sensitive to light, so sunglasses are a big-ticket item for me, like coats and boots are in places where the weather commands them.

  4. La Petite Acadienne July 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    For me, it’s not a class or status thing — I’m not particularly concerned about that, as much of what I own is temporary anyway, due to being a) prone to yo-yo dieting and b) the mother of a toddler.

    But I agree with Beth’s prof. If a company wants me to walk around with their logo emblazoned on my person, and expects me to pay for the privilege, then they definitely have another thing coming.

  5. Wendy July 27, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Fantastic post, and thanks for the link to The Onion; I’ll have to read that aloud to my husband, aka Mr. Logo (né Mr. Brand Loyalty).

    Pretty much the only items in my wardrobe that have logos on them are my workout gear (there seems to be no way of escaping it, there) and my glasses and sunglasses (both Oakley, both with comparatively tiny, subtle logos). My beloved, however, can be relied on to have a logo on his shoes, shirt, sunglasses, and ball cap at all times. Drives. Me. Crazy. He’s wonderful, but he’s not SuperFabulous.

  6. Abbe July 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    Now I’m with you for the most part. Avoiding the brand labeling was a big part of my “see I am so different” adolescence. When all the popular junior high girls were in Tommy Hilfiger carrying their ugly as sin Dooney & Bourke purses I would have nothing to do with it. When all the girls in my dorm ran around in shorts with Pink written across the ass, I barely held the vomit down. In a way being fat helped me avoid the brand of the moment because it was rarely available in my size.
    But so help me god, I love my D&G sunglasses. They were the most stylish and least obnoxiously logo-ed pair I could find for my prescription but they’ve still got rhinestone D&G written on the sides. That tasteful bit of brand name bling has gotten me through a couple hellacious Texas summers and I will wear them until they fall off my face in pieces.

  7. zuzu July 28, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    The ones I really love are the ones who get logos TATTOOED onto them. Because paying to have a multinational corporation’s marketing tool permanently etched into your skin is so transgressive.

    I avoid logos like the plague, unless and until said corporations start paying ME to plaster ads across my ass like a crosstown bus.

  8. Plumcake July 28, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    @Abbe, and I say this as someone who has a LOT of Dolce in her wardrobe. There is no such animal as a tasteful rhinestone logo.

  9. ChaChaHeels July 28, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Personally, I find avoiding logos easy to do: either the clothes I want come in my size and they make me look as good as possible, or they don’t. Logo clothing is usually not going to fit me–and if it does, it will be in a t-shirt or polo-shirt or yoga pant shape (so, no way). I don’t find that stuff flattering or well made at any cost so it can all stay on the rack.
    I don’t buy by brand name but I do consider well made clothing to be about making me look good, and not about me promoting a business as a free advertiser. If it happens to look great but it bears a logo, there is no room for it in my life.

    There are terrific accessories out there that are well made and logo free–shoes, bags, eyeglasses, you name it; they come in a wide variety of price points, too. Those are the items I want.

  10. daisyj July 28, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    I have one truly high-end bag, and you have to look very closely at the clasps to find the designer’s name on it. I absolutely carry it as a status thing– apart from being beautiful and very well-made, it gives me the confidence to walk into just about anywhere, wearing just about anything, and know that People Who Know will recognize, and respond accordingly. Plus, it has handy pockets.

  11. Chiken July 28, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    I don’t wear logos of any sort because it’s not my style, but I’m not going to judge people who do. The Onion article is particularly tacky, in my opinion. I don’t find it funny when people of means laugh at how dumb poor people must be to do the things they do and buy the things they buy.

  12. Thea July 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Manfacturers and designers specifically create ‘down market’ items to peddle to the aspirational classes. And please don’t snark at me, it’s not judgement on my part, it’s marketing.

    Part of the reason the fashion week and runway world are so big is not because Dolce and Chanel expect the masses to buy their high dollar clothes (or would deign to make them in my size) but so that we will go out and buy the sunglasses and the Chanel No. 5 that the masses can afford and will make us feel fancy by association.

    Branding can also backfire on designers when a name become associated with a ‘less desirable’ demographic. An example is when Burberry became the must have for Chavs in the U.K.

  13. dcsurfergirl July 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    I agree with Chiken. It’s good to know about fashion, style and what it can signify. But I draw the line at passing judgment. In the end, it’s all about personal choice.

    Take a deep breath and let it go.

  14. SusanC July 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    Not that this excuses the practice, but perhaps there is a silver lining to the rise of counterfeited luxury goods. That LVMH-bepoxed bag could have been $25 from the street vendor. How can one tell? Probably by the fine details and how well it holds up to years of abuse- i.e. the inherent craftmanship and quality of the item.

    And love the Onion link! I’m always amused when some students claim not to have $40 for some class materials, but are bedecked with designer logos and carrying an iphone. It’s all about priorities, I guess.

  15. raincoaster July 28, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    If you’re not here to judge people, what in HELL are you doing on the internet?

    Also, this is the perfect opportunity to mention that my handbag made out of (really!) recycled French lawn chairs was recently complimented by not one but TWO women carrying real Hermes bags.

    Visible logos except if ironically overdone are as tacky as stripper nails; you know, those three inch long French manicure acrylics.

  16. Broad July 28, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    @ raincoaster: Plummy, is that you?

  17. Plumcake July 29, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    @Broad. No, that’s our lovely and talented Admin Queen and Social Media Taste Sensation, Raincoaster. You should check her out at lolebrity.net, the eponymous raincoaster.com and our very own ayyyy.com

  18. Lisa from SoCal July 29, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    @Chiken Amen.

    Of course marketers market to aspiring people. Marketers would market to *dead* people if dead people bought things. What exactly is wrong with aspiring?

  19. tartandtreacly July 29, 2010 at 2:42 am #

    Chanel jackets, Hermes bags and scarves etc are not exactly a “secret handshake”. They broadcast themselves pretty loudly too, only instead of saying “LOOK HOW I’VE MADE IT THE LOGO TELLS YOU SO” they say “I’VE GOT MONEY AND SOME TASTE”.

    I dislike obvious logos because they’re frequently a poor substitute for design and craftsmanship. Not necessarily because they’re the mark of a fashion neophyte or upwards-striving prole.

    Anyway, in my experience, the truly fabulous and stylish don’t care about perceptions of luxury vs. midmarket, because they’re too busy being themselves to fuss about whether the image they’re projecting is appropriately “high-end”.

  20. tartandtreacly July 29, 2010 at 2:43 am #

    Visible logos except if ironically overdone are as tacky as stripper nails

    Irony itself is overdone.

  21. raincoaster July 29, 2010 at 5:35 am #

    Plummy, thanks for the pimpage!

    Irony is overdone? Big words, coming from someone called “tartandtreacly”. But at least we can agree that stripper nails are overdone.

  22. tartandtreacly July 29, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    A rose by any other name yada yada. Weakass jab.

    “Ironic” apparel and accessories (i.e. indie Chanel supermarket bags) are often the most pretentious and obnoxious of them all.

    On the other hand, I do love a lot of the humour of Moschino. (“I am large I contain multitudes”)

  23. Plumcake July 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    @Tart: If you want to start a slapfight with one of the blog employees, do it on your own turf. I’m not having it here. This is your only warning.

  24. Thea July 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Lisa, nothing is wrong with aspiring, but there is also nothing wrong with acknowledging which items are truly ‘luxury goods’ and which are shoddy lower price products plastered with the logo name and targeted specifically for people who buy for a logo, not for quality merchandise. Noting of course that quality is not defined by how much you pay for something. And I think Ralph Lauren’s polo ponies have gotten ridiculously big on shirts – and don’t get me started on his logo on the US Olympic team uniforms. Oops, too late!

  25. Lina July 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Plumcake — did a comment not get posted, or did raincoaster just insult Tart’s name and then Tart got accused of starting a fight? That’s not how “starting” works in most places.

  26. Lisa from SoCal July 29, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    @Thea I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that logo items are shoddy if my 70 year old LV trunk and my 25 year-old Gucci logo print bag are any indicators. I tend to take care of stuff, but still.

    Here’s the problem I have: is it really a secret handshake if the *New York Times* (mainstream-o-rama) is castigating logos?

    At some point if the luxury conversation continues the way it feels like it’s going to me, we’ll be listening to people say redonkulus things like “you can only see real luxury via special eye implants we of multi-billion dollar trusts are given at birth which allows us to truly savor *quality* items like the milk of a one-armed, edamame-fed Tibetan Blood Squirrel handmilked in June by my robot butler who is an exact replica of Cary Grant**.” And yeah, it’s kind of too bad that this would sprout an industry of knockoff implants that don’t work very well and robots that look more like Brad Pitt when he’s gone off grooming than Cary Grant, and still another industry of robot butlers that look more like Ed Asner than Brad Pitt even, but I have trouble believing the latter types of status-seeking are any more pathetic than the first. See: the Paris Hilton story, where money and luxury weren’t satisfying enough: she needed fame, too, and spawned many celebutantes in her platinum blonde wake. Aspiring indeed.

    I actually know person who worked as a stripper. A lovely woman.

    One of the things I like about Plumcake’s advice is that if she finds a product she likes she passes it along–regardless of whether it’s super-expensive or not. DuWop lipgloss–awesome, affordable, etc. right along with shoes that make you swoon with the price. That’s as it should be.

    **Nobody steal this idea as I am warming to it.

  27. Thea July 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Lisa I don’t know what you are drinking but shove over and share with me cause I like where it’s going :-) and then when I get you really liquored up, I can use my army of albino yaks from the left side of the Himalayas (not from the right side, cause right side Himalayan albino yaks are just TASTELESS) to try and escape with your LV trunk.

    OK, fantasy aside, there are status seekers and secret handshakes in every venue from the Ivy League to cowboys to Goth. Discussing what those status items are for any group doesn’t mean we approve, just that they exist – and isn’t that interesting from a sociological perspective?

    When I was in my 20’s I had a pair of red patent leather stilettos from PayLess that made me feel like a rock star and got me into all the best clubs. They cost $18 but the lines and the proportion were perfect for me. They LOOKED expensive and lasted forever. They were quality shoes.

    But I don’t see what is wrong with being able to recognize and have a conversation about the differences between a well made item (whatever the cost and logo or absence of a logo) and a shoddily made item (again, whatever the cost and logo or absence of logo). And I don’t think it’s snobbery to acknowledge that the designers and manufacturers themselves create A and B lines for different socioeconomic status groups. That’s the conversation I see and enjoy on this thread – quality vs crap – regardless of the label. It makes me sad if we can’t hold that discussion without being labeled as elitist.

    That being said, I would like my robot butler to look like William Powell….

  28. daisyj August 1, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    Will there be a Gene Kelly model, circa An American in Paris? If so, I’d like three.

  29. AnthroK8 August 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Hook me up with the Gene Kelly robot, please! Oh my!

    Also, my head’s about to explode from the sociological perspective on quality and branding and marketing because…

    Agh… okay, so there’s research (U of Arizona’s trash project being some long term) that shows wealthy people buy and repair and repair and repair goods until they are dead. People from lower to middle income demographics buy and discard when an item breaks because it’s not worth repairing cheap goods.

    The idea of having one really good thing (shoes, lamp, jacket, whatever) only works if you have the resources to save up and buy later. But, you know, if your kid needs a jacket THIS season because they grew three sizes over the summer… you have to buy. Or, if you’re not educated through direct instruction or by example from your context on how to manage to buy really good stuff that will last, you do what you know.

    So… throw into that mix the research that shows by and large middle class Americans are spending about 17% less discretionary money than we were in 1970 (see Elizabeth Warren on bankruptcy in America- we get into bad debt for homes in good school districts), and it suggests we’re not actually wasting huge amounts of money on stuff we don’t need at all, just stuff we kind of pretty much need and can’t afford. (Shirts wear out even when they don’t have polo ponies on them.) And we know well enough that you have spend some money on nice-enough stuff because employers and peers and so on notice how commodities mark class, and it’s not helpful to look really cheaply dressed.

    And on top of THAT marketers are jacking up prices on low-quality, high-visibility items we buy (we need shirts, after all) and… it’s kind of upsetting how much the system is designed to make middle and low brow types pay and pay and pay, and then play on aspirational desires so we pay some more.

    This doesn’t make me wonder at the aspirational classes. It makes me mad at late stage capitalism and the people who profit from it.

    Late stage capitalism