When Status Accessories “Jump the Shark”

Michael Kors ToteOne morning as I was driving the kids to school, I noticed a woman standing at the bus stop with a Michael Kors logo tote bag slung over her shoulder. Later that same day, I stood behind a woman at the grocery store who pulled a food stamp EBT card out of her Coach logo handbag.

So?

Well, if low income households are wearing these brands, then it points to one thing:  they have officially “jumped the shark.”

Now I know that sounds really snobby.

But it’s the economics of supply and demand. Luxury is based on exclusivity; if low income earners are consuming en mass, then it’s no longer exclusive.

It’s like that scene in The Incredibles (2004) where Syndrome talks about everyone having super powers:

When everyone has it, it’s not special anymore.

It also dilutes the brand.

Remember the designer jean craze of the early 1980s? Jordache. Gloria Vanderbilt. Calvin Klein. They were “the” jeans to have in those days.

Calvin Klein JeansBrooke Shields for Calvin Klein Jeans (c. 1981)

But within a matter of years, it was all over. Calvin Klein filed for bankruptcy in 1992 and was bought by the Phillips van Heusen company in 2002. Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt are still available, at Walmart and Kohls, respectively. They lost their hip factor thirty years ago, when everyone and her mother owned a pair.

Same with Pierre Cardin, Halston, and Tommy Hilfiger. More recently, True Religion, Juicy Couture, Abercrombie & Fitch, and L.A.M.B. By Gwen Stefani have all seen better days. Even red bottomed Louboutins are starting to reach critical mass.

So what does all of this have to do with you?

Be very careful when selecting your status accessories, especially if your work with high end clients. People who were raised with wealth typically don’t wear designer initials – they wear their own, if they wear any at all. With few exceptions, logos are strictly a middle class thing.

So if you know people who make a lot of money but they still wears lots of logos, chances are, they’re “new” money – first generation – and were raised in the middle or lower class. The nouveau riche, as they were called in the Industrial Age.

Here’s a list of some of the oldest fashion brands still in existence:

1781 – Asprey (silk printing)
1815 – Pringle of Scotland
1818 – Brooks Brothers
1828 – Guerlain
1834 – Rimmel London (perfume)
1837 – Hermès (saddlery)
1837 – Tiffany & Co.
1847 – Cartier
1851 – Aquascutum (sporting apparel)
1853 – Levis (dry goods)
1854 – Louis Vuitton (trunks)
1856 – Burberry (sporting apparel)
1889 – Lanvin
1909 – Chanel (hats)
1919 – Jean Patou
1921 – Gucci
1925 – Fendi
1933 – Lacoste

(The words in parentheses are the products the company originally sold.)

A quick look tells you that with the exception of Levis – and these days, Rimmel – they all have one thing in common: products that cater to the rich. Jewelry, perfume, saddles, sporting apparel – items consumed by the leisure class. They’ve all stayed in business for over a century because they know their target market and cater to it exclusively with quality goods that have withstood the test of time.

Hermes Scarf Ad

Hermès Scarf Ad – with a nod to their carriage trade beginnings

But Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel all have logos, you might be thinking.

And you’re right – they do.

In fact, Louis Vuitton was the first to put a logo on their trunks back in the 1890s to discourage counterfeiters.

Louis Vuitton Trunk

Vintage Louis Vuitton Trunk

Chanel started stamping her interlocking Cs on her Chanel No. 5 perfume bottles in the 1920s for the exact same reason – to ensure authenticity.
Chanel No. 5 Perfume

Chanel No. 5 Perfume

Hermès started adding an H to their Constance bag in the 1950s.
Hermes Constance Bag

Hermès Constance Bag

So why haven’t their brands been diluted by all the logos?

Some would argue that they have. One fashionable friend said that seeing all the “trashy” reality stars wearing Louis Vuitton and Chanel means those brands are “done.”

I don’t think so. These products are still very expensive and out of the reach of most middle class consumers. That they’ve been counterfeited so much does hurt them, but those who can afford to buy at this level simply avoid the most-copied styles.

So should you. Especially if you work with – or aspire to work with – high end clients.

Why?

Quality speaks for itself. It doesn’t need a logo to prove its worth. Neither do you.

Which would you say is more expensive?

Ralph Lauren Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren Totes

Michael Kors Michael Kors

Michael Kors Bags

Coach Coach

Coach Bags

When you see them side-by-side, it’s easy to discern the difference.  The texture, the shape, the construction – it’s like the difference between haute cuisine and fast food. There is no comparison.

So if you stop wearing the logo styles favored by the masses, what should you wear instead?

Well, aside from the pieces you love and cherish, you might want to check out the under-the-radar styles that the fashion cognoscenti are wearing. Look at the reviews on high end retail sites like Nordstrom or Net-a-Porter.com to see what luxury consumers are rating highly. If people who spend this kind of money all the time like something, it might warrant your attention.

Nordstrom

Nordstrom.com

Do you have to buy any of these things?

Of course not!

But I want you to at least be aware of what high income earners like. Not everyone can afford to pay $200-$500+ per piece, so it behooves you to know what this demographic is buying, particularly if you work with or aspire to work with people at this level. Their buying habits offer insight.

As do those on the lower end of the spectrum. When you see low income earners buying status goods, it means that brand – or that style at least – has “jumped the shark” and is on its way out. Remember: luxury is about exclusivity. If everyone has it, it’s not exclusive.

So think about that next time you go to buy a status accessory. If you’re going to spend the money, spend it on quality pieces that will last you for years. Forget the logos that everyone has and buy under-the-radar pieces instead. You’ll signal to high end clients that you’re one of them instead of someone who just follows the crowd.

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Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and author of Executive Style Bootcamp. Ready to to look like the leader your are? Executive Style Bootcamp shows you how.

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25 Comments

  • MEL810

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    Personally I don’t give a fig what label my clothes and accessories sport as long as they fit, I like them and they are appropriate to the occasion/place I am wearing them.
    I will pay for quality but I always buy at a discount ( I got a very nice, high quality leather bag for under $100.00 at DSW using DSW points and a 25% off sale + it being off season and in the clearance bin!) or I buy used. I bought some nice bags used.
    I think, for the most part, wearing labels is a way for marketers to market to socially insecure consumers who feel naked w/o a trendy designers logo on their bad or butt.
    And I would bet that 98% of those Coach & Kors bags you see on lower income ladies arms are bootlegs that they got at a flea market or from a street vendor.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2015

      I totally agree with you on this. I’m more interested on how it looks on me than who designed it. Glad to hear you got a nice piece on sale. 🙂

  • Alina

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    The status (let’s call it status) handbag I bought myself is by no means a logo type of brand.
    What caught my eyes was the beautiful burgundy colour and the embossed pattern. Made of leather. Sturdy. I LOVED it! It was love at first sight! At 200 Euros, was not cheap, but definitely not obscenely expensive. I thought it had the correct price.
    That bag took me to interviews. It got me compliments from my husband. 2 years later, I still love it.
    Recently I read that movie stars are wearing these bags on the red carpet. I guess who knows quality, knows 🙂

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2015

      That’s the way to buy clothes – get what you like and enjoy them. And yes, people who know quality KNOW.

  • Nancy

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    I carry Longchamp nylon bags now. I gave up on Coach and Vera Bradley. Too often seen everywhere. I loved my classic Coach bags but no longer see the same quality in their new styles.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2015

      Hi Nancy – yep, when you see it everywhere, it’s time to call it quits.

  • Jess

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    Diane,

    Welcome back! I was organizing my emails the other day and noticed that I saw no recent activity. I wondered about how you were doing. You last had communicated some close-out offerings and so I thought I guess that-is-that.

    With regard to the sense and sensibility of being fashionable and making a statement I appreciate the tone of your article. A real plus was seeing just how long brand, quality, design can go back. That is astonishing.

    I am not exactly sure how to weigh-in on the commonness of buying a design label. But, I remember a long while back a future millionaire family member was on target to being there and hearing the remark that ‘when he is a millionaire then it wouldn’t be a great deal (because it would be so common).

    Yes and no. Yes if you are on the plus side of that statement and no if you have never quite got the traction.

    Nothing trumps: fit, classic-sensibility, and then design. Of course, price is part of the equation as well. There are some brands that never make it to for fore-ground for me because these other variables are not pronounced. But, say with shoes the designer branding is much more consistent.

    Handbags as you show are visually showing up their worth without the label. So, these are easier pickings.

    Some of these are just too much with their branding and I just for the most part think that it detracts from the package. Most of the time it is a no from the start. It is a lot like wearing a big fat logo without the benefit of compensation.

    Well, I guess it is called disposable income for a reason. The amazing thing to me is that there is consistent leadership and that there is consistent following-ship. Much like twitter, right.

    Anyway, love knowing that you are back. Maybe you are due to a Colorado visit to really kick-in the new start. As you know, Springtime in the Rockies is gorgeous.

    Best of health to you and your family.

    j

    • Diana

      Reply Reply April 30, 2015

      Hi Jess,

      Thanks for your note! Yes, clothes and accessories that fit and flatter pretty much trump everything. And I agree about the logos – it’s like uncompensated advertising sometimes.

      We had planned to visit the Springs over spring break, but that didn’t work out. Maybe sometime soon. I miss the mountains!

  • Shelly

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    Great article – I look specifically for clothes and accessories that DO NOT have any labels. I am average middle class, but I don’t have to look it! I shop Talbots for many of my classic wardrobe pieces and I lean toward unmarked store brands (read: inexpensive) for everything else and trendy stuff. One of my all time pet peeves: I refuse to buy a handbag with a major brand name logo. Some of the bags I’ve seen lately look like they have old fashioned hood ornaments attached! Hideous! Something funny – I’ve had people stop and ask me the maker of my un-marked bag! This has happened twice (same bag.) Of course, I’ll never tell…

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Funny! Stopping to ask you the name of your NON-branded bag – probably because it looked nice.

  • Joan

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    Glad you’re back and your daughter is doing well.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Thanks, Joan!

  • Valeria

    Reply Reply April 30, 2015

    It is so wonderful to hear from you again. We were getting worried! Prayers and speedy recovery for your child!
    Your lastest article about assessories “jumping the shark” is on point! Clothes should not be billboards. Style should stand on its own. I knew a guy, a single father who told his young adult daughter to choose clothing that sets her apart from the others. Make your own statement instead of “seeing yourself coming and going”. Smart man!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Thanks, Valeria. Wise advise, indeed! 🙂

  • Janet

    Reply Reply May 1, 2015

    Fit and appropriate will beat price and status any day. I have been chairing a search committee for my university to fill a vice president position. Of the final four that interviewed for the position, two were dismissed immediately by the committee for their appearance. One gentlemen was obviously wearing an expensive suit, but it looked like it was tailored for someone three inches taller. One of the ladies was immecabbly groomed, but was dressed for a garden tea, not the boardroom. The two that made it to the final interview with the president did not have the most expensive outfits. They had outfits that were perfect for the occasion and were tailored to fit them.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Janet, I’ve been on similar search committees, and it always surprises me how few people at those levels know what to wear. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Paula

    Reply Reply May 1, 2015

    Glad to have you back, Diana. Great article on wearing the “brand’. I dress so that I’m the shining star, so to speak, not the supporting player to the cast of clothes. When I see a big brand logo on a person, reminds me of a herd of cattle where no one stands out.

    My style of dress is simple, but I love to pair it with unique accessories and whenever possible, handmade by a local craftsman. That is something I can wear with pride, afford to own and are great conversation pieces.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Hi Paula – thanks! I like that analogy – shining star versus supporting player. Beautiful!

  • Mary Lou Wright

    Reply Reply May 1, 2015

    I missed hearing from you. Glad you’re back!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 4, 2015

      Thanks, Mary Lou! Appreciate it!

  • Karen

    Reply Reply May 11, 2015

    Hi Diana,

    So glad you’re back! I’ve missed you. So sorry you have illness in your family…it can be so difficult sometimes….on so many levels. Hope the worst is behind you and your child. Sending love!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 12, 2015

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks so much! It HAS been difficult, but we’ll survive. Thanks so much for your kind note!

  • Magdalena

    Reply Reply July 8, 2015

    I just found your log and I found it very interesting and informative.
    I am not sure though if I agree with your choice of styles for comparing logo and non-logo bags from the same brand. You compared canvas/fabric logo bags with leather non-logo bags. I think a leather bag will almost always win the “expensive look” competition with a canvas bag. Does any of the brands make canvas bags without logos, or maybe leather bags covered with logos, so we could have a more fair comparison?

    Maybe the article made me feel a little insecure because I have very recently purchased what I consider expensive bags for the first time, and one of them happens to be a Coach. The other one is a Dooney and Burke. They are both leather (I looooove those leathers), they have the functional features I want and need (outside and inside pockets, long and short strap or handle, light colored lining), and they both have moderately prominent logos. I think in both cases the logo is a design element that ads to the over all pleasing effect. Would I buy them if the logo was not there? Yes, I think I would, but there would have to be something there instead of the logo, to maintain the pleasing balance.

    I must admit though that while I like the Coach logo fabric a lot – I think it is a very good design – one of the reasons I did not purchase a logo fabric bag is that everybody and their brother have them. Hmmm.

    I guess the important thing is that I don’ work with very wealthy people, and in particular I am not charged with attracting wealthy clients. So I did not think about my work life in that way when I bought the bags. I just made sure my phone would be easily accessible and that all my things will fit in the bag.

    Question – on the navy Coach bag, should the little logo tags be taken off, or should they be kept on? I took mine off.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 9, 2015

      Hi Magdalena,

      I chose to compare the fabric bags to the leather bags because most designers tend to put their biggest logos on their least expensive bags, which are typically fabric and canvas. While some of their leather bags have prominent logos (like Louis Vuitton), most are more subtle. You may certainly continue to carry your new bags if you like, but I would think about non-logo bags in the future – particularly if your job changes and your find yourself dealing with high income clients. As for pulling off the logo tags, do whatever you see fit.

  • Julia

    Reply Reply September 12, 2017

    I have read this article on several occasions and I am never sure about the lady on the bus. I have my own quite nice car, the cash to run it and the skills to drive it. I could also afford a taxi if I needed to. Yet there are some occasions when the bus becomes a practical, convenient and alternative solution to getting somewhere. I don’t ride them often, but I have seen the times when I have made the decision to use them. Surely it is possible that the lady you saw was just making a practical transport decision?

    I do think you talk a lot of sense though and I am currently trying to obtain some better makes of accessories, most recently Osprey belts and handbags. How about bespoke items which don’t have a brand? I recently commissioned a specific item of jewellery which is suitable (and I actually intended) for business use – it is a quality item in my opinion, but how would it be viewed?

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