Why Fashion People Should Stop Using The Word ‘Affordable’

I’m not what you’d call a spendthrift, but there’s nothing that incenses me more than fashion people using the world affordable to describe brands that charge several hundred dollars for the privilege of owning one of their tank tops.

The concept of affordability in fashion, like Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, is one of those things that shouldn’t be fungible but is. You have some people who will say that buying a $45 sweater at The Gap is affordable, and others who write that dropping $255 on one from Rag & Bone is more or less the same thing. What we’ve noticed is that when fashion writers talk about what’s affordable, they often consider about what’s affordable for them, or for a certain set of people, not necessarily what makes sense for all of their readers. In an ideal world, that’d be the consideration everyone would make.

And let’s be honest here: Most fashion (or rather most clothing that is deemed headline worthy by fashion bloggers and writers) tends to be pretty expensive. You can only get so much news value out of the private label brands at most department stores, because innovation, pretty fabrics and good quality costs money. But while there are a lot of designer brands that make clothing that costs far less than couture or ready-to-wear, the fact that Alexander Wang costs less than Givenchy Haute Couture does not make it affordable.

No, no. Alexander Wang is still pretty expensive. The $375 tank top I mentioned earlier is Wang’s Moving Ribs top. It’s a lovely garment made entirely from Mako cotton, a very fine material best decribed as Egyptian cotton on steroids. It’s semi sheer and dry-clean only. Let me remind you though, in and of itself it this not an entire outfit, just a really pretty piece of one. And yet it costs more than most families of four spend per month on groceries. (It’s also worth nothing that most Egyptian cotton sheet sets, which require a lot more Egyptian cotton to make than one tank top, cost less than $375.)

Even really wealthy, fashion-obsessed people have to realize that a garment like that isn’t something most people can just go out and purchase, which is the standard by which we judge what’s affordable. This tank top and most of the other things people in fashion like to call affordable don’t meet that very simple qualification.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with spending a lot on your clothes. If you have $260 to drop on a threadbare cardigan from Eileen Fisher, or countless thousands for a closet full of stilettos from Christian Louboutin, that’s fine. But calling those things affordable makes clothes and shoes that cost less seem cheap, and not only is that insulting, it’s just not true.

Just face up to it, fashion people: some of you spend a lot on your fashion. (And we mean a lot.) Admit that to yourselves, your accountants and your readers, and we won’t have a problem here.

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