Readers have recently commented, on a couple of posts, about pricing of goods like jeans and blue French jackets. We might add t-shirts to the mix. Duchesse of Passage des Perles (known for her informative and tempting pearl posts, as well as mince-no-words comments) said,
I always wonder when institutional clothes like this are offered with hefty price tags- is this an improvement on the original functional piece- or is someone fleecing us?
Let me say right up front, I don’t think we’re looking at fleecing. That term implies an unfair market transaction, and I don’t see too many of those in today’s online, legitimate brand, American, e-commerce. At bottom, I believe in Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand theories, as long as we acknowledge the associated known market failure types. In Smith’s framework, the free market is fair, absent coercion, secret information, or promises made and not kept.
So, is the luxury good market free, and therefore fair? Let’s try a few deconstructing questions. (Note to self: why is deconstructive not a more popular word?). We ask:
- Is there physical or legal coercion? Luxury good retailers do not hold us in thrall, they cannot take our first-borns. Tony Soprano’s guys will not ice us, if we back away from Blahniks. Nor do we live in Bill Gates Oligopolyland, where if we buy gold all silver suppliers immediately refuse our trade.
- Do insiders have access to secret information? I imagine that on today’s Internet you can find anything you want to know about luxury goods. Admittedly, they may never behave like commodities, all percentage-point margins of value and exchange. Closest is eBay auctions for widely held Louis Vuitton bags, which are not too “thinly traded,” as they say on Wall Street, for true transaction transparency.
- Is the business rife with false promises? While laws prevent deception around quantifiable facts, one might argue that luxury branding relies on false emotional promises about our identities. But that calculus is imagination, which we do not legislate, and economics doesn’t deem unfair.
- Does the concept of “fancy” or “dressy” or “formal” subsume all of luxury, and if so, is any workaday good by definition non-luxe? If luxury is personal, rather than societal, that cannot be true.
A little more economics. If I’ve got any of this wrong, actual economists, pipe up please. There’s even a theory that luxury goods have inelastic pricing. In standard elastic pricing, the lower the price the more demand. Inelastic pricing means that the higher you price a luxury good the more people will want it. Sturdy Gals think that’s dumb and show-offy. But we do believe the right question is:
“How much do I desire this good, and how often after the purchase, and how strongly, will I experience the satiation of said desire?”
No more, no less. It’s a pretty substantial question, one that often requires some soul-searching around unmet needs for comfort, recognition, and beauty. On beyond fleecing.
We price on desire alone – it all depends on what the market will bear and we are the market.
None of this is to say that luxury goods are actually Good. I’m not addressing the question of morality of purchase, only the market fairness, en masse, of the sellers. Neither does any of this imply we ought to spend money on clothes. It doesn’t feel right, for some of us, all deconstruction and economic theories aside.
And finally, returning to fashion, it turns out luxury jeans , jackets and tees are happening. Vogue’s most recent issue had an article on casual luxe. I can’t find it online to save my life, and my paper copy has gone missing, but it’s there. The fashion world wants to luxe up our sneakers, our jeans, our workout gear, etc.
One can imagine a cartoon CEO pounding a terribly cool mid-century desk saying, “Damn you Casual Fridays!” and in the next frame a designer presenting a wall of Japanese machinists coveralls.
Wait. Maybe I want them. And with that, what might be the only emoticon I’ve ever put in a post.
Tee by Kenzo, via Nordstrom. Art, contextual fashion moment, or money wasted on a t-shirt? You decide. This post contains affiliate links which may generate commissions.