Untruisms: You Get What You Pay For

Today price is another marketing tool.  We’re still told to think otherwise, thanks to regular posts and articles that helpfully compare the differences between, say, a $500 and a $2,000 leather jacket.  Those articles make price out to be the proxy for quality, with all the differences between the two presumed to indicate lower quality in the cheaper version and higher in the dearer. Price does not mean quality, as those comparisons suggest. And $500 is a huge amount of money for a piece of clothing to almost all of us. 

That is, price doesn’t necessarily mean quality.  Most of us veterans of the #steez wars carry the scars of at least one skirmish with the too-good-to-be-true.  The new maker who turned out to be a fly-by-night or the guy with an impressive pedigree from the best houses who turned out to have nothing but that. Far more of us admit to those scars rather than the scars of paying way, way too much for mediocre quality, because the former are cheap.  It’s a lot harder to admit to yourself, let alone to others, that you paid an enormous amount of money for, say, a custom suit from a famous, historically significant maker whose current staff pushes you out the door instead of making right their errors. And far fewer of us can or will pay the high prices anyway, so there’s fewer of us to report that.  

You have to know what you are paying for.  There are many very, very expensive makers and sellers of nice things out there.  Some charge what they do because their price reflects the high price of their labor, the years of training their key staff have had, the quality of their materials, and the potential cost to them of doing whatever it takes to please the customer, including remaking a botched garment.  If all of these qualities have made them famous and successful, their price will also often reflect the high rents of the address they are at.  Others charge a similar price without offering all of those things, because that high price, and the heritage they market, suggests all of the rest without them actually providing it.  

Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to tell one from the other without some difficult trial and error. One easy hack for many is used clothing – even the finest clothing, custom or otherwise, rarely sells used for more than 10% of what it costs new.  Sometimes, as with my favorite knitwear, the quality of some of the relatively cheap old used stuff is irreplaceable today, simply because there’s little commercial reason to make them the same way anymore.  

What are we looking for?  What, really, do we want to get? If you’re reading this, then it’s probably more than just a piece of clothing.  It’s something that attracts and resonates with you, that feels almost transformative, something that is both beautiful and somehow more than just durable, but enduring.

Lasting beauty and a feeling beyond price, a feeling of revelation. No wonder we suppose it’s expensive. It doesn’t have to be, but knowing what we’re paying for is hard – costly – as well. 

You can get a lot for a little in cufflinks and other somewhat disfavored articles of men’s clothing, like ties and tie clips, if you know what you’re looking for in the vintage market. My search for the links pictured here was inspired by the vintage links selected for the most wonderful store I’ve ever seen, itself too long gone.  These are tiny seed pearls set into smoke-colored iridescent mother of pearl in a chased octagonal frame, double-sided like (one of my prejudices, to which my shirtmaker takes strong exception) all good cufflinks should be.  They are objectively beautiful and cost me all of twenty dollars.  They were exactly what I was looking for to wear with a formal shirt (my silk #tactleneck evening shirt).  Mother-of-pearl, which is obtained from various oyster, mussel or abalone shells, is not very expensive.  The seed pearls may be real, cultured, or sham, but they’re mounted exactly the way I wanted, looking almost free instead of imprisoned in a cabochon setting.  The frames might be white gold plate (if anything) over base metal, but the pattern is delicate and the metal, however base, wonderfully patinated.  I’ve seen versions of these in solid white gold or in platinum for far, far more, sometimes rendered far less elegantly.  We can find cheap joys – handsome old cufflinks that do justice to the elegance of a formal shirt are just one example.  

In recent years marketers have realized that they can make these sorts of objects, too, pay, an example of the new meaning of curation.  Beautiful consumer goods of any price point collected, with customers now paying for someone else’s eye, and someone else’s work collecting such items.  If you care enough to read this, you care enough to know that your eye, too, can be quickly trained to recognize what will give you genuine enjoyment.  Often at little expense, and instead the thrill of personal discovery. 

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