Thursday, August 18, 2005

Upgrade, downgrade

Today I bought two t-shirts at $8 each. There's nothing extraordinary about this, in theory, but these are special t-shirts. Special because they're neon-colored, yes, but also because they were once $46 a piece. Why $46? Presumably because "nice" jeans now cost upwards of $200, and t-shirts, too, are now considered things worth upgrading.

There's nothing new about warehouse or sample sales, and there's certainly nothing new about sales in general. What's new is that the clothes being sample-sold are in no conceivable way worth what they originally cost. They are neither dressy nor office-appropriate, nor are they things that could, if the situation arose, be used as extreme sports equipment (thus the North Face phenomenon). They are just slightly-better-designed versions of what everybody in the Western or Westernized world wears in their spare time. One could argue that the clothing is by definition more valuable, since it goes for more than other, similar clothes. But clearly enough people aren't prepared to spend that much on basic items, since there are many available, all over NYC if not elsewhere, that cost no more than their chain-store equivalents.

This is one hell of a good marketing scheme: 1) Make people think certain t-shirts and jeans are worth ridiculous amounts. 2) Some people will buy these items at full price, yet many more will not, but will still absorb the notion that these brands are important. 3) What is this? A warehouse sale? With those brands? 4) A whole lot of t-shirts and jeans sold, for normal enough prices, but purchased by super-enthusiastic, fashion-crazed individuals, all of whom are convinced that they are getting a fabulous deal. Basically, everything ends up back where it should have been to start with, but with far more drama.

And yet, this cycle may ultimately lead to the end of the upgrade trend. Combing through the racks at the Intermix warehouse sale, hearing the continual announcements that jeans were only $60 and t-shirts only $10, with %20 taken off at the register, it occurred to me that walking the half-block to the closest Old Navy would mean, if nothing else, trying on clothes in a dressing room more private than a giant, curtained-off area filled with women wearing thongs. (This would thrill some, I suppose, but it's nothing but a nuisance if you're not attracted to women and you're trying to get a look at yourself in one of the mirrors.) There's something to be said for the thrill of the hunt, and the difference between high-, mid-, and low-end clothes, even casual clothes, is not always negligible. But still, there's something about this trend that strikes me as a bit off.

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