The Label Game: The Fashionable Art of Pretense

“They say the clothes make the man,” quipped Mark Twain. Well, if that’s true, then the brands must be making a killing.

Picture this: I’m on the phone with my dad, defending my latest splurge on a high-end branded t-shirt, and he’s schooling me on the merits of a thrifty $5 tee. Oh, the joys of intergenerational fashion debates!

Thanks to globalization, Indian malls have become the United Nations of international brands. Gone are the days when you had to jet-set abroad or have a globe-trotting relative to snag the latest designer threads. Now, you can waltz into your local shopping haven and get bombarded with more labels than you can shake a shopping bag at.

This retail revolution has spawned two distinct species of shoppers: the brand-obsessed trendsetters and the proudly indifferent bargain hunters. Both camps, however, seem equally convinced of their sartorial superiority. As Kanye West once said, “I am the number one human being in music. That means any person that’s living or breathing is number two.”

But really, what’s the appeal of shelling out top dollar for a branded item when a seemingly identical version is readily available at a fraction of the cost? Are we paying for quality, or is it all just smoke and mirrors? As Don Draper from “Mad Men” might say, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” So, is brand loyalty just an elaborate fa├žade in our quest for happiness?

Perhaps, the answer lies in our innate desire to present ourselves in the best light possible. We all judge books by their covers, whether we admit it or not. Our choices in fashion, be they branded or budget-friendly, ultimately express our identity and personal preferences.

But here’s the kicker: the “non-conformist” who shuns designer labels is just as susceptible to branding influence as their label-loving counterpart. Like a well-choreographed dance, businesses have created niche markets to cater to both types of consumers, ensuring that everyone’s wardrobe choices are, in fact, subtly orchestrated. Quiet Luxury is winning.

So, whether you’re all about that Gucci life or prefer the unpretentious charm of a local boutique, one thing’s for sure: you’re still playing the game. As Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada” astutely observed, “Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.” And at the end of the day, whether you don a designer label or a thrift store gem, all that truly matters is how it makes you feel.

In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” So let the battle for wardrobe supremacy continue!

By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.