Fickle Fashion

Can you tell where the necklace is from?

The other day on my way to class, two men sat behind me. Their conversation centered on things that are important to those in the Silicon Valley: VCs, being an entrepreneur, and starting a start-up. The type of things that as a bay area native with my specific background, I’m familiar with, sort-of*.

Back to those men and their conversation: it quickly spun into a discussion of wealth. One pointed out to the other that a friend of theirs had to be rich. Why? The friend always wore Armani.

Fashion’s one of those things that society thinks I ought to understand, by virtue of being female. To some extent I do subscribe to some norms, I manage to get dressed on a daily basis and on most days can look like I put some thought into what was on me. Present me with two sets of heels, though, and ask me to identify whether one’s a Louboutin or Jimmy Choo, and I wouldn’t have a clue.

From my work in marketing, I get that brands and branding are a thing and consumers (A.K.A folks like me and you) are supposed to want one product over the other. Coke vs. Pepsi, Armani vs. Abercrombie, Tiffany vs. Target. Inherently, those brand names are supposed to make us feel one way or another about the company’s products and draw unstated assumptions about the folks that choose one over the other, or another item entirely.

For me listening in on this conversation, the man who’d pointed out the label and stated whoever was wearing it had to come from money told me more about him than about the actual person he knew who wore all Armani. It reminded me of an interaction I had with someone on a date once, who had asked me what perfume I was wearing because it smelled so good. When I told him it just happened to be basic body lotion, he jumped into a diatribe about how a worthwhile woman wore expensive perfume, otherwise she couldn’t be taken seriously (I didn’t see him after this, I’d prefer to be with someone who cares less about how much I spend on perfume and more on whether I’m a decent person).

As a visual species, it makes sense that we’d have this fixation on brands in order to determine where we stood in society. A king would be distinguishable from a duke, the same as a pauper could be told apart from a princess because of what they were wearing and how they’d be behaving. Some products are geared to be luxurious, and others we’re aware are supposed to be cheap.

What bothers me about this, and why I don’t care that much about fashion, is because it seems like inherit in this is classic classism. There’s the unstated concept that what is expensive is “good” and what isn’t is “bad” and it bypasses any attempt to engage with the person aside from how they’re choosing to present themselves solely on what they’re wearing. Personally, I’d prefer for people to make judgments on me based off of my actions and their interactions with me, and not on whether I was wearing designer label clothing.

Is there a way to care about clothing band names without sounding like you’re obsessed with fashion?

*Granted, I’ve had stints at YouTube, Google, and was with some start-ups until they closed (I jumped ship before a place was acquired, too) so I do know some bits about how the Valley works. I’m just under the impression that without the CS/Engineering skills, I can’t be a vital part of the company. At the end of the day, people want a product that works, and all my customer service and marketing talent can do is maybe draw people in and make them feel good.

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