“Designer” vs. “High Street”, Worth Wise

One of the worries of dispensing advice is that someone might actually follow it. It’s all very well to talk airily of this and that; to send people off to the battlefield of the high street with a convincing but perhaps unproven battle plan. I often wonder of the times when people might have followed my advice, only to discover, to their chagrin, it was the wrong advice; for those collective moments in my imagination, moments which might or might not have happened, I have a deep and unrelenting shame.

It’s dashed difficult to get it right all the time. Only in fiction do they seem to manage perfection – we unfortunate beings make mistakes. A remedy for our imperfections might be to temper our convictions; a ready knowledge of the subject followed by ‘…but it’s up to you really’ might help to satisfy that advice has been dispensed, even though that advice was retracted, unnoticed at the last moment, by the qualification.

One piece of advice about men’s clothing for which people frequently ask, especially in relation to expensive items is; ‘is it worth it?’ The problem with this question is that it is usually subjective. One man might spend a month’s salary on a suit, whereas another would prefer to spend it on a season’s collection of luxury denim – even arbiters of style find it hard to objectively rationalise such purchases.

Having said that, there is one thing that assists in analysis of worth: comparison. Comparison is a fantastically useful economic tool that shapes not only our monetary success but also our eventual satisfaction. If a man goes into a shop and finds exactly what he has been looking for, he is likely to be prepared for considerable purse-string loosening. The truth is very few men shop by the same book as women. Men like to think of themselves as rather practical beings. They do not like to be taken for a ride and are more likely to find thrill with an exposing swoop than having what all the others have. So, in the interests of obtaining this ‘swoop’, let us examine the market for three common items of clothing or accessories that a man might purchase.

The ‘designer’ overcoat vs. the ‘high street’ overcoat

Given the ubiquity of opinion that the high street has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, many men who were perhaps sceptical of the quality and/or the aesthetic value of high street clothing, will now embrace the possibility of a high street overcoat. Having said that, whilst I acknowledge the greatness of certain high street brands, with large and important items like overcoats I recommend that one should proceed with caution.

One thing I noticed about my Cordings Covert coat was the weight of material used and the level of fine finishing. While there is no doubt that standards in ‘basic’ high street fashion stores are rising, there have been frequent complaints of weakly sewed buttons, linings coming loose within a month and unattractive ‘bobbling’ of material. Some chaps are content with this level of craftsmanship – willing to forego quality for a temporary fashion, but if you really do want a decent overcoat, you’d be better off paying more.

The ‘designer’ jeans vs. the ‘high street’ jeans

Considering the humble beginnings of denim, it is somewhat out of product character to be contemplating ‘high style’ jeans. However, there are such jeans out there and, with so much variety, how does a man choose? Your basic GAP denim will ‘do a job’, but frankly, I doubt anyone reading these columns is necessarily interested in the most fundamental and practical parts of clothing – a lot of it is, unfortunately, flat and lacking in style.

Desired fit of denim is very important and if you are particularly finicky on this score, you are much more likely to see the value in a pair of ‘designer’ jeans. For my money however, denim styles come and go far too quickly to invest too heavily. And no matter how much one might splash on designer jeans, they rarely look as expensive as they are.

The ‘designer’ sunglasses vs. the ‘high street’ sunglasses

The modern market for sunglasses is, for me, rather ridiculous. Despite the fact that more and more designs are utterly hideous and actually detract from the individual appeal of the wearer, they actually use the poor person as an advertising board; and the amazing thing is, more and more people stump up more and more cash for ever bigger logos; ever bigger writing. It is the bizarre reverse of the world of advertising space; where larger fonts and space cost the manufacturer the premium. Huge sunglasses, emblazoned with the gilt interlocking initials of a designer are usually massively overpriced. They are made using the same plastic as high street glasses and have the same levels of protection from the sun.

However, I have experienced ‘quality’ problems with high street sun-specs. Screws have come loose too easily, nose rests have mysteriously been lost and, due to the lack of a complementary proper protective case, lenses have become scratched. In comparison, as an example, my mother has a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers, still going strong after 25 years. With sunglasses, you are likely to get better value for money with a ‘designer’ pair, despite what people might scoff about ‘losing them’ – personally, when I pay more for something I generally take better care of it. Choose a brand like Oliver Peoples, Persol or Ray-Ban to avoid turning your head into a billboard.


  1. Adolfo said:

    I think “designer” is almost always a better choice if you choose the right designer for each specific item, known for making them well. While Prada goes as “designer” it wouldn’t be a very good choice for watches. You’d rather want to buy Louis Vuitton bag than sunglasses, etc.

    February 21, 2008
  2. Victoria said:

    I think designer when it comes to things such as shoes, bags or coats. No high street shop in the world can make a better bag than Miu Miu or a better pair of heels than Christian Louboutin (in my experience anyway). However, designers have made me disapointed so many times in clothes quality, etc, whilst some of my H&M pieces has lasted for years. Of course it depends on what designer you choose, I don’t understand how people can spend 100s of pounds on a Stella McCartney bag or boots, since she doesn’t use leather, which makes her bags/shoes no better than from a cheap shop (and the design is no good anyway), and Armani is just awful; do good design, no quality, no good cuts and simply awful.

    So, I agree – very often it is not worth it!

    February 21, 2008
  3. Simon Crompton said:

    I think it’s important to tell the difference between designer and quality manufacturer. Both will be expensive, but with the former you a necessarily paying to buy into a brand or an idea.

    The Cordings coat, the Church’s shoe or the Mulberry bag is always going to be better made and last longer. Wear better, as in gaining individuality, as well.

    The Gucci suit may also be made well. But it’s no guarantee (some don’t even use a floating canvas any more) and they have to pay for that advertising somehow….

    This is much easier in men’s formal wear than casual wear. I’d be interested in people’s opinions on quality manufacturing in contemporary, casual pieces, as it is an area I am less familiar with.


    February 21, 2008
  4. Adolfo said:

    While the likes of Mulberry and Church aren’t designers i think they are still considered ‘designers’, or at least I think they are in this article. And nobody can assure me that even in case of famous quality manufacturers you aren’t paying a bit for brand and the idea.
    These guys: http://styleforum.net/forumdisplay.php?f=13 know a lot about quality contemporary clothing.

    February 22, 2008
  5. As ever, a thought provoking and stimulating article. It’s only recently that I have started to buy into the quality costs less principle by looking at the lifespan of the product. So my shoes are Loake Goodyear Welted; my belts are a quality calf leather from Cheaney, my shirts are Charles Tyrwhitt (non-iron mind) and I have a quality messenger bag by Mulberry and a classic Dunhill watch. I get a good return on these items because they are used. I don’t view myself as a designer label shopper, perhaps because I don’t think that I have my finger on the fashion pulse but I do find that by buying quality I am growing in confidence to do my own mixing and matching. Sure with Mulberry I am paying for the brand too but I’d only opt for their leather luggage products because that is where their expertise lies. All of these products are going to stand the test of time as they evoke style and quality. Generally I’ll seek refuge in quality but if I’m off on holiday to spend two weeks on a beach I do buy low value high street because I see these purchases as disposable. I have recently started to purchase Oska knitwear, hardly designer wear, hard to come by though on most high streets but it oozes quality and style. I’m really pleased that I stumbled upon this excellent site a couple of weeks ago. Well done to all of the contributors.

    February 22, 2008

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