Debt Pitfalls: “Aspirational” Products and Brands
As I discussed in my previous post, I often feel compelled to temper any wisdom I gain with an equal amount of stupidity and/or banality. So when I was at the library picking up The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros, I also wanted some light reading in the form of style books. I thought maybe these books would help me punch up my style since I used to be quite fashionable when I shopped a lot. I can now safely tell you that reading style books will NOT make you feel better/inspired about your own style. Instead, it makes you feel like any high-end fashion magazine will make you feel: my clothes are crap, and I will never wear the type of clothes these women wear, because each complete outfit is at least $300 (and that’s the “affordable” option put together by Isaac Mizrahi). Here were the books I checked out:
1. The ELLEments of Personal Style: 25 Modern Fashion Icons on How to Dress, Shop, and Live by ELLE editors Joe Zee and Maggie Bullock
2. Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion by Nina Garcia (she gave that away by putting her name in the title, huh?)
3. How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi
I got over the first two books in about 15 minutes. I admit I didn’t even read the full title of the ELLE book, since if I had read the part about “25 Modern Fashion Icons on How to Dress, Shop, and Live“, I would have tossed it in the trash on behalf of the library. Nobody tells me how to live, OK, ELLE? I picked it up because it had a shiny gold cover. This book turned out to be 25 gushy, celebrity-worshipping interviews of famous women and their things. “Oh, look how unique her things are! She has yellow polka-dot shoes! SHE’S AN ICON!!” Next up was Nina Garcia’s Look Book. This book is beautiful because of the illustrations of Ruben Toledo. I loved the colors and the watercolor-look of every image. It is truly gorgeous, but unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the overwhelming amount of detail in this book and somewhat tedious idea of going through 100-plus different occasions (What to wear to work on a Tuesday, what to wear to therapy, what to wear when getting your hair done) and figuring out what is the right thing to wear for all of these occasions beforehand. That is exhausting, and also, kind of creepy (example- What to wear to meet a potential surrogate). She also fell back one too many many times on the word ‘fabulous’ in her Look Book. Which brings me to the last book, How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi.
I thought the book was great. It was exactly what a fashion and style book should be, which is light and airy but still useful, and has more pictures than words. Don’t make me think, Nina Garcia, just tell me what to wear! Side note: one of the people in How to Have Style was someone I went to college with and we even played on the same sports team, although I didn’t know she was in the book until I opened it. Anyways, the book was useful. Mizrahi put different outfits together using many of the same pieces, and there was a makeover element to each profile, as they got their hair and makeup done as well. Even though the outfits in Mizrahi’s book were out of my price range, I got plenty of ideas on things I could do with clothes and accessories I already own.
Then I got to the last section: “What You Need” which was the basics in jewelry, watches, bags, shoes and bras. Isaac claims these are all the most basic items that every woman has to have, including:
-Aspirational handbag, shown was a Louis Vuitton bag
-Splurge bangle bracelets, which were Cartier LOVE bracelets that cost around $6,000 each
-Cartier tank watch
-Diamond evening watch
Oh really, Isaac? I need three luxury watches in my collection? Really? I was going to get mad and huffy about it, but then I remembered that the main purpose of fashion magazines and style books is to further the prestige around aspirational brands.
What is an aspirational brand?
Aspirational brands are brands that are marketed around a lifestyle and image that (as the name suggests) the masses will “aspire” to. The price point of aspirational products are their main differentiation, besides high advertising budgets. Luxury brands can be considered aspirational, especially those with high name recognition like Cartier and Louis Vuitton. But I consider aspirational brands to be those that are at the price point just below the luxury brands- stuff like Juicy Couture, Coach, Tory Burch, and Michael Kors. These items and brands are the pitfalls of debt for many women: they’re priced at a somewhat attainable point (you’ll consider the $300 bag much more than the $1,700 bag), and their marketing department has already done the work of making the product look cool, and a little confidence boost in the form of new shoes or a bag always feels good. But if you are buying one or two aspirational products a month, that could be $500 you could have spent on paying down debt, putting towards saving, or even taking a cool trip. And here’s the secret about aspirational brands: they have no special powers or features besides the perceived value of the brand itself. If you have a Michael Kors bag without the big MK gold hardware attached to it, does it still look as cool? It kind of just looks like any other bag right?
It’s not easy to start detaching from the prestige of aspirational brands, especially if you’re like me and love anything to do with photography, shiny things, and sensory overload. But I am looking at items with less of an emotional response and more of “What else could I do with my money?” and “Do I need to go into debt for more stuff?”. I think that aspirational brands hold lots of people back from achieving bigger dreams, and I’m no exception. I wonder how much less debt I would have if I hadn’t been such a sucker for brands?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on aspirational and luxury brands you used to love that no longer hold their sway!