April 14, 1997

What’s In A Label? New Clothes Are Expensive Enough, So Why Pay Extra For That Chic Designer Label? Here’s Why Some Teens Do And Others Don’t

Patrice S. Williamson, Rogers High School
 

Tommy Hilfiger. Donna Karan. Polo. Mossimo.

Exactly what comes with a designer label? Popularity? Identity? Self-esteem? Or is it just an overpriced sales tag?

According to The Spoke, a high school newspaper from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, teens spend more than $60 billion on clothing and other necessities every year. Being a bargain shopper by choice, I often wonder what possesses people to spend more than 30 bucks on anything, especially when you know that expensive clothing usually doesn’t cost that much to make.

I don’t have a job, and therefore can’t afford $200 sneakers that won’t make me run faster, jump higher or even look athletically fit. But that’s beside the point. Who are the people that feel like they need to have top of the line designer clothes? What makes them feel that way?

“I don’t feel the need to buy designer labels,” says Harrison Grafos of University High School. “I think the people who need to have them feel like (the clothes) make them a part of something, or make them fit into a certain crowd.”

Many cliques tend to mirror each other in terms of dress. But having a certain pair of jeans is no guarantee that a person has friends for life, or even for the rest of the semester.

One recent Saturday morning at Mission Park, East Valley High junior Sarah Emami said she tends to look for designer brands like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, not for popularity, but because she believes the products are more durable than unknown brands. “The quality of the fabric and the quality of the fit is better,” Sarah said.

But is the difference in the quality big enough to justify a 150 percent mark-up?

A boy in the park who overheard our conversation nodded his head and pointed to a hole in his sleeve. It was not a designer shirt, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that holes can appear in expensive shirts too. Take care of your stuff, no matter what you pay for it. It will probably last longer.

The shopping motto for some teens doesn’t seem to be “less is more” but rather “more is more.”

But sometimes the pursuit of a designer label can lead to a life of misery. Mikki Cash was featured in the April 1997 issue of YM magazine. Mikki was addicted to shopping. Her trouble began on her 18th birthday when she received her first credit card. Mikki lost control of her buying. Before she knew it, she was $6000 in debt and had to receive professional credit counseling.

Wanting designer clothing is not necessarily a bad thing, but if making these purchases leaves you in debt, or makes you miss out on other activities, you could have a serious problem.

Do you buy things you don’t need when you’re upset? Do you feel the need to hide purchases, constantly lying about the price of items you’ve bought to friends and family? Do you have a closet full of clothes that still have the price tags attached to them? These are four signs that you’ve lost control of your shopping.

At Rogers High School, the question of how much is too much to spend on clothes was debated recently during a second period English class.

“I only buy designer labels if they’re cheap and on the sales rack,” said sophomore Paula Zammit, a self-proclaimed bargain hunter. Paula chooses her clothing based on price, comfort and then style.

She admitted that once she gave in and purchased a high-priced pair of shoes. “The most expensive thing I’ve bought were my Doc Martins. I loved them so much, but they never went on sale. So I just saved up my money for a long time to get them,” Paula said.

Molly Abrahamson said that she doesn’t spend a lot of money on clothes either. “The most expensive thing that I wear are my basketball and volleyball shoes. They were about $80,” Molly said. “For basketball shoes, I think that’s a cheap price.”

Not everyone agreed with Molly. “I think paying $80 for basketball shoes seems like a cheap price because everything else costs so much,” said sophomore Tasha Buckles. “Paying that much for any shoe is too much, especially since I know they were put together in some other country for about five bucks.”

The girls proceeded to talk about the fact that some designer clothes are made in sweatshops - factories where people work long hours in bad conditions for low wages.

“The fact that some of my clothes are made in sweatshops bothers me,” said sophomore Jenny Johnson. “The companies charge over $50 for one garment and they pay the people in the sweatshops less than five bucks to make it. That’s unfair to everyone.”

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert agreed. He wrote in a June 1996 editorial, “There is no better way to get rich than to exploit both the worker and the consumer,” which is a good reason not to rush out and buy new Nikes or any of the fine products on the market from Kathy Lee. Herbert explained that many companies choose to pay children in other countries a nickel a day so that Americans can be on the cutting edge of fashion.

The Spokesman-Review reported last May that some of the underage and pregnant women who worked in a Honduran sweatshop making Kathy Lee Gifford’s signature line only made 31 cents an hour!

Owning some designer clothing should be OK. Actually, a Polo sweat shirt is on my Christmas list. But it would be wise for young people to learn how to budget their money. Pay attention to what you spend your money on and where your favorite clothes are made. This will help create good spending and saving habits in the future.


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