After a late-September city break largely spent lusting after designer clothes, be it in boutiques or on other people (not to mention a lifetime of expensive taste), I have been in no mood for cheap-and-cheerful since returning to Oxford. Not that I can afford this mood: I do my best to scour the internet and Mayfair charity shops for great quality clothes that are still in double figures (I am still very proud of myself for a recent £20 spend on a pair of jeans worth £200).
It’s not just the label that I care about, or the victory of saving money (I haven’t actually saved anything, considering had the jeans been £200, I would have simply had one fewer pair of jeans, but the fact that they were £20 leaves me with twenty fewer pounds). I am convinced that designer or higher-end clothes usually look better, feel better, and last longer. I’m sure most people with an interest in fashion would a free that the quality of design, materials and manufacturing would be better on a pair of Russell & Bromley boots than a pair of New Look ones, for example.
Despite my best efforts, though, it’s difficult to fully convince myself that some of my value judgments aren’t made very much in relation to context. If Russell & Bromley were to display a pair of boots from New Look, complete with hefty price tag, while I might notice that they were not as nice as the rest of the boots in the shop, I would no doubt want them more than I would if I’d seen them in their natural habitat.
Surely what this means, then, is that it’s perfectly feasible for cheap clothes to look good in the context of the person wearing them. There is little more satisfying than making something cheap look expensive, or simply detract from the fact it’s cheap by styling it well. While Primark has the ability to make me feel slightly sick, it has been known, on occasion, to produce a basic item of clothing that might never be mistaken for Whistles, but might pass for Zara or Topshop – for ten times less cash.
The real test, though, is the impeccably accessorised high street vs. the not-done-justice designer. I still see several upsides to the latter. First, it will be rarer. I find it incredibly frustrating walking around Oxford and seeing ten of the same dress in an afternoon, as a result of Topshop designing it in the full knowledge that it will go with every hair colour and flatter a 6 or 16 because it’s essentially made of elastic, whilst kindly ignoring the fact that the seams will fray and the fabric will disintegrate within two months and charging a sweet £38 for the privilege. For the same money, and perhaps a little more time obsessively watching eBay, it’s possible to get an infinitely more flattering and better quality dress that nobody else will have because they will have instantly written off All
Saints or Jigsaw as too pricey. The second upside is the fact that the better quality and more thoughtful design will ensure staying power in your wardrobe, and the third upside is that the more thoughtful design will make you look better.
I am a clothes snob. I like expensive clothes. The more expensive, the more I want them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a bargain like everyone else. Once I graduate and get on that six-figure salary that’s almost inevitable after my pretentious Arts degree (ha), I am determined to spend the day shopping on Oxford High Street without worrying about how much I’ve spent (and hopefully avoiding Jack Wills). But for now, let’s all just make cheap things look expensive, and not spend more than we can afford – but look for things you think you can’t afford and you might be pleasantly surprised.