I’ve been writing about expensive clothes for about five years. No, that doesn’t mean it takes a lot to impress me these days, but I have learned a lot about the retail, fashion, and apparel industries, especially when it comes to what you’re paying for. This has totally put my priorities out of whack. Why? Because to a normal guy, a $150 dollar button-down shirt would not only raise some serious eyebrows—it would also make him feel poorer after simply having touched it. But for me, that’s considered “reasonable.”
Last year, Andy Selsberg wrote an article in The Believer about justifying the costs of “ethical fashion,” and he posited that a well-made, sustainably-manufactured men’s button-down shirt should ideally cost $60. And when you think about popular brands like J. Crew and Club Monaco, that’s usually their price of admission for a decent woven shirt.
But guys who are into fashion and style aren’t your average shoppers, because we care so much about fit, where it’s made, and details like mother-of-pearl buttons. Any of these factors can drive up prices, and become costly to picky shoppers like myself. I won’t pull the trigger on something unless I really, really like it. The notion of “buy less, but buy better” is often touted on menswear blogs, who champion American production and well-edited wardrobes over stocking up on hundreds of the same damn Uniqlo crewneck t-shirt. This is why I have no problem forking over $160 smackers for a crazily-patterned shirt from Nepenthes—because I’ll wear the hell out of it, and won’t buy any other clothes for a while (well…I tell myself that, but my liberal credit card use is a whole ‘nother story).
On the other hand, if you put me in a grocery store, or drug store like Duane Reade, I will pretty much go for the cheapest shit possible. The irony that I’m willing to spend a premium on clothes, but won’t pay $7 for toothpaste isn’t lost on me. Razors are probably the biggest culprit in terms of what I don’t wanna buy, but thankfully I’m Asian, and only have to shave about once a month, so that’s saving me some moolah. I also love generic brands. I grew up on a steady diet of Malt-O-Meal cereal (the kind that came in bags and cost a lot less per volume than their boxed counterparts), and although I’m not quite sure what Illuminati conspiracy allows Trader Joe’s in-house products to be on the same level as the brand-name stuff they’re bootlegging, I am so, so happy that it exists.
What’s my real point here? We choose our luxuries. People geek out about electronics, food, and concert tickets. I’ve chosen to be an absolute nerd about men’s clothing. When we immerse ourselves in the intricacies of a certain realm of consumerism, the costs seem justified because of our passion and desire for the product. This is why I can understand how $235 Nike shoes designed by Kanye West can cause people to camp out for weeks in hopes of a chance at buying a pair. The act might mystify others, but you can be damn sure that the same hype will follow the release of a new Apple product, or Justin Bieber tickets. Everything pricey seems ludicrous to someone who isn’t familiar with why it costs that much, and the fashion industry has always been a prime target to make fun of because of its esoteric nature, and, well, the fact that it kind of exists in a vacuum. But whatever. If given the choice between buying a Maison Martin Margiela cardigan and eating ramen for a week, or you know, living like a normal human being, I’m choosing the knit and noodles.
Why would I subject myself to this insanity? Why would people spend $200 on a meal for one? Why would you spend thousands restoring the Acura Vigor your mom handed down to you? We’re young and have limited funds, which for many of us, means escaping reality through consumerism is something we do, but we simply can’t afford to do it for everything. Buying nice clothing makes me feel slightly better about my tiny apartment and the fact that my luxury sedan is the L train. I mean, it could be worse—I could be spending most of my disposable income on a debilitating drug problem, right?
Jian DeLeon is a writer living in Brooklyn. He writes about men’s clothing until he can find a way to monetize his addiction to Wikipedia. He worries about having restless leg syndrome since he can’t type without bouncing his knees.