Saturday, September 24, 2011

What's In A Name, Really?

Paul Smith Blue Tonal Multi Stripe Knit Tie R950/ $106/ £69.00

I've had a whole week to think about this; the cost of men's clothing. And this thought was prompted by a Paul Smith knit tie I saw in a local magazine. For the life of me, I can't seem to justify paying R950 for a tie, even if it's by a revered and vaunted designer. There are a lot of important things in the world and a knit tie that costs almost half of my monthly grocery is not one of them. This is not an indictment of high end men's clothes because there is a place for them in society. However what is more important, a presentable look or a name brand look?

The average gentleman probably can't afford items like this knit tie. Therefore alternatives are essential. And in a South African context alternatives abound. I happen to fall in the alternatives collective particularly because of my income bracket and, what I can and cannot afford. I read so much on the internet, people's personal testimonies, on how they go about buying name brand clothes at dirt cheap prices. They look for sales, end-of-season sales, clearance sales, closing down sales, etc. These scenarios might make a difference in a monetary sense, however, I feel that in the South African context it doesn't apply and is not pragmatic. For instance if the pictured Paul Smith tie is slashed by 50% that is still too much money for the average South African gentleman to spend on a tie. I know I wouldn't.

The difference between the name brand, designer stuff and the alternatives I am talking about is quality. More often than not brand name clothing is made with high quality materials. This accounts for the high price, however, it's almost always worth it because the clothing is likely to last. An alternative or garment of lesser quality can also last just as long if it is taken care of meticulously. Back to the point about quality; quality is the key determinant on anything, men's clothing notwithstanding. The quality aspect manifests in the design of a garment, usually they are unique, and more special than non brand name garments. Special attention to detail is also a factor; buttons, trimmings, lining, etc, while non brand name garments lack precision and detail. This renders them plain and boring. What sets us apart in South Africa and the rest of the sartorial world is that attention to detail is neither make or break. Whether your garment has special fittings and trimmings, people will most probably not notice. So, why the fuss when style is both personal and subjective?

To support my explication above, I often look at the window displays of high end men's stores such as Levisons, Hugo Boss, Grays, and a host of others and I see that attention to detail is not really important. For me, any of the aforementioned men's stores and their ilk, when it comes to attention to detail, I expect for at least their jackets to have working cuffs. Believe me, I always check for this minor, seemingly inconsequential detail and I never find it. Now, where is the quality in that, when an off-the-rack Hugo Boss jacket is egregiously lacking in a simple sartorial detail that is standard in the design world? These are some of the things that make me stick to my guns in as far as the alternatives are concerned, people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a R500 and a R1500 suit.

In conclusion let me proffer three tips on how to navigate the world of brand and non brand name shopping:

1. Try to strike a balance between cheap and brand name garments. Know which garments you can compromise on when it pertains to price but not necessarily quality; under shirts, underwear, socks, coats. I feel that there is a plethora of these garments; cheap but with good quality. Only a fool would ignore end of season, clearance, closing down sales, since they are a gold mine for unearthing brand name and good quality garments. So utilise them.

2. Don't pay an exorbitant price for a garment if there is a cheaper, almost as good, option available. My best fitting pair of jeans is a light blue pair by Watsons. I bought these jeans for R20, and these are the jeans I use as a prototype for all other measurements for jeans I buy. Don't focus all your energy on brand name clothing, as long as it fits, looks presentable and the price is right, then go for it.

3. Factory shops, factory shops, factory shops. I can't say enough about this concept of stores, particularly, because they are a cornerstone of the textile industry in South Africa. In terms of men's clothing this is a rarely explored domain. I would encourage any gentleman looking for quality men's clothes to look in the direction of factory shops because you're likely to find more than a fair share.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.


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