It’s important when analyzing clothes to buy (btw, when you are spending more than $5 on anything, you absolutely SHOULD be analyzing) that you know what you’re looking at and how a label or manufacturer got to the price point they are asking. As I’ve said before, typically you are paying for materials, quality, style, and the brand name itself. In the fashion industry, all brands have played with these factors to various degrees and have ended up merging into 3 main tiers: low-end, mid-range, and high-end. When you examine these tiers, you can go even further by expanding to 5, to include a junk category at the bottom and a luxury category at the top, or even by separating each tier into 3 more sub-tiers, similar to economic classes. For simplicity’s sake we’ll just focus on these main 3 and the fact that, unlike the U.S. economic equivalent, the mid-range is steadily growing, giving savvy shoppers many more options.
The 3 Tiers
Let’s talk about how the mid-range sets itself apart by first describing the other 2 tiers. The low-end is typified by taking all the aforementioned factors and reducing them to as low as possible while still being able to sell the garment. We’re talking brands with a large team of designers so there’s no unified vision, sweat-shop labor assembly, and no plans for pushing sustainability. You will also likely see them in most malls, including outlets. I don’t think people should be buying these brands in a sizable amount as it’s a gamble whether pieces will hold together after more than a few wears. Plus, because these clothes cost so little, it’s too easy to overspend and accumulate a lot of them, buying into the whole business model. Also, since considerate design for the garments is virtually nil, the way garments fit is often unflattering.
It’s easy to think harshly on these labels, but they do serve a purpose for those who just need a T-shirt or a pair of jeans and don’t want the hassle of researching. The tier is also great for those who haven’t developed their sense of style yet and/or don’t want to put forth a lot of cash to do so–AKA people in their 20s. Brands in the low-end include Old Navy, Dickies, Gap, American Eagle, Nautica, Perry Ellis, and Original Penguin, as well as any fast fashion brands like H&M, Uniqlo, ASOS, and Forever 21. Labels like J Crew, Banana Republic, Michael Kors, and Polo Ralph Lauren could arguably be considered at the upper edge of this tier as well. It’s also worth noting that many low-end labels do great collaborations. Dickies in particular has become quite popular lately with the rise of the workwear/normcore/dadcore trend.
By contrast, the high-end is largely going to be the labels you see on the runway and in magazines like GQ and Esquire. I’m not going to lie, pieces will seem obscenely expensive to the uninitiated, but there are reasons for those price tags, some understandable, some not so much, which make them a better value. The quality of the high-end labels is usually impeccable. Often pieces are made in countries where the laborers make a livable wage, and the materials are superior to the other tiers. It’s virtually guaranteed that garments will last for a decade or more. On the other hand, these labels have a brand to establish and extensive advertising to pay for, so part of the purchase is buying into that scene overall, especially if the piece is more stylish.
I used to say I would never consider buying anything from a high-end fashion house considering their prices, but lately I have softened my stance. If a person wants to buy a classic minimalist garment from one of those brands that they would be assured to be able to pass on to their son or grandson, the high tier is the best choice. Also, if one has the kind of disposable income that they can afford to buy that perfect “of the moment” piece under the assumption that it will look passe in five years, more power to them. I’ve almost done that myself, but never bit the bullet. Brands in the high-end include the likes of Prada, Jil Sander, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Zenga, Balenciaga, Tom Ford, Yohji Yamamoto…the list goes on.
The concept of the mid-range is kind of new as people got tired of being forced to choose between brands that are either inexpensive and designed horribly or super expensive and designed impeccably. There needed to be some sort of middle ground. Thus the mid-range was created to give consumers well-designed, stylish garments at a price point that won’t break the bank. The rise of the mid-range also seems to coincide with rise of menswear through the 00s, which led to the birth of Menswear Fashion Week in New York.
There’s a special place in my heart for Ami because it was the first label whose style I adored that I could actually afford to own. In 2011, Alexander Matiussi started his Parisian brand after successful tours at Givenchy, Dior, and Marc Jacobs, with a vision of creating simple, colorful, but not ostentatious, garments that can be mixed and matched. A lot of his looks can be adopted straight of the catwalk without needing to live in New York. They are adventurous and simultaneously subtle.
Saturdays has thrived as a lifestyle brand since they first opened their doors in New York in 2009, then known as Saturdays Surf. Though they dropped the “surf” out of their name, they still sell surfboards, wetsuits, and other lifestyle materials at their brick and mortar stores. Their clothing calls to mind California cool built with a New York mentality. I’m particularly keen on the Hawaiian shirts that they release when the weather gets warm.
Brendon Babenzien, the head of NOAH, began his journey at Supreme as the label’s Creative Director. This is part of the reason why so many comparisons are drawn between the two, both being considered skater brands. However, while Supreme exhumes more of a DGAF attitude in their streetwear, NOAH is much more considered and even preppy, complete with seersucker suit separates. The brand is also making efforts toward sustainability and social awareness, which our society needs much more of these days.
The style of ACNE is unapologetically minimalist owing to its home in Stockholm. Having been founded by Jonny Johansson in 1997, the label eschews many complicated patterns and instead employs alternative tailoring in their design. They also like to play around with off-kilter color combinations in their collections, drawing inspiration from Scandinavian art and culture. In my mind, the brand is remarkably similar to Our Legacy and Norse Projects.
The story behind Needles’ creation is quite a long one, as it’s just one of many labels (including Engineered Garments) founded by New York transplant Keizo Shimizu as part of his Nepenthes umbrella company, itself founded in 1988. Japanese fashion has really exploded lately due to the way the country’s citizens can take items popular in America, reconfigure them, and in effect create something entirely new and different. This is displayed most abundantly in Needles’ lookbooks. The brand’s trackpants especially have become a hot item for any menswear addict to own.
Gitman Bros. Vintage
Nothing sets off my alarms faster than seeing a brand that only makes shirts. It is easy and relatively inexpensive for labels to start up, invest some money in the design of one type of garment, and stop there, switching out different fabrics ad infinitum, charging whatever they want for doing virtually minimal design work. However, there are a few that have perfected their version of the button-up and can justify charging a bit more for them. Gitman is one, owing partially to the age of the company, having been founded in 1932. Hamilton Shirt Co. is another. I’m going to use the former as my example here since they are a bit more casual and trendy with their offerings.
It’s notable how young most of these brands are compared to the other tiers, leading to a more youthful, trendy, and modern image. There are many more labels worth your consideration such as A.P.C., Steven Alan, Stüssy, Officine Générale, Todd Snyder, Solid Homme, Sid Mashburn, Rag & Bone, John Elliot, Wacko Maria, Billy Reid, and Folk. In fact, some labels that had already been well-established have created other spinoff lines to compete in the same market, Rugby Ralph Lauren (now defunct), Carhartt WIP, LL Bean Signature, and Land’s End Canvas among them. Of course, discussing every single quality, mid-range brand out there would get exhausting.
The key is to find the ones that fit your personal style the best and get on their mailing lists for updates. This is the best way to score pieces that fit exactly what you’re looking for and keep informed on sales to buy those items for even cheaper. Using Mr. Porter can also be great because you can get their updates for multiple brands. Of course, that’s only for the pieces they’ve curated for their collection, but that can keep you from getting overwhelmed.
Your mileage may vary, but if you’re in a style rut, I encourage you to go forth and explore. Let me know what labels you feel inspired by in the comments.
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