This Saturday, I was extremely tempted to buy a Burberry jacket for $400. The fit was far superior to anything else I've tried on. The only drawback was that it was a slightly lighter weight than I wanted. Still, the fit was so good that I was nearly ready to plunk down the money on the spot even though the price was greater than I wanted to spend. It hugged my shape in the right spots, and clearly could be dressed up or down, and wouldn’t go out of style any time soon. I’d consider it a legitimate clothing “investment” piece that would last for years. (And “years” it could give me--when I went up one size from the XS to the S, I suddenly was swimming in it and looked like a 50 yr. old well-to-do housewife.)
I held off, kept looking around, and picked up a nice but clearly inferior and more casual Kenneth Cole Reaction jacket, which I was able to get for $100 on sale on the assumption that I would just return it if I got the Burberry. I tried on the Burberry again for about another 30 minutes. In the end, I decided to pass for the moment because it was an item I could pick up in the city (we were in a large suburban mall) and there was no need for an immediate purchase. V, on the other hand, found something a lot more unique—a Mackage trench coat. Mackage makes the hottest jackets around. V bought herself the “Lujane" in black and it's incredible--looks like she should be pulling major weaponry out from under the jacket and spinning in slow-motion a la The Matrix. It's better a) in person and b) in black
But back to Burberry. On Sunday morning, I opened the New York Times and saw an ad for some new development on the Upper East Side depicting a doorman holding the door for a woman with a stroller and two children wearing the very same Burberry jacket. I nearly tossed my cookies. Not because of the children. Because of the particular class and type of woman that was represented. Is this the Burberry-wearing self-image that I want to show the world? I have no doubt I can rock the Burberry. I have a Burberry bikini that I wear with irony because it's so not who I really am, yet it’s cute at the same time. I am naked with the bikini, my barest self--and yet I somehow feel I can “win” and be more than just $140 worth of skimpy tartan spandex.
But there's nothing ironic about the jacket. Per that advertisement, that kind of jacket says, "I have money. I am socially conservative and tasteful. I have a wealthy husband. I'm popping out the requisite 2.2 children so as to genetically replace ourselves in fulfillment of our reproductive duty. And I am flaunting it all in my Burberry way." Egads! This is so not the style in which I choose to live my life. That kind of grossly conspicuous consumption is sort of sickening to my ingrained Western sense of individuality, but clearly that’s just my own internal set point. Is my wearing the Burberry jacket a subversion or a sign of complicity that I long for a social status that is the envy of the majority of the population? I’m drawn to it, so in some way I must want what it represents. I do like representations of power through wealth. But at the same time, I’m frightened of being overshadowed by that very brand. This brand is iconic. I’m not sure I can subvert the implications of that jacket merely by my very existence. Do we control brands or do they control us? Is our individuality eroded? And to what degree? It’s never erased in the spiritual sense that what we are inside is indelible, but people make assumptions about us based on our style every day.
Style is important—what we wear can make a world of difference in our self-esteem. However, we risk being trampled by the meanings associated with brands. Take a brand like Mackage—it’s a luxury brand. No denying that. But, it’s also not a household name, and the designs are very, very stylized, which means it’s not something that will be worn by very many people simply because few can carry it off (and for the record, that trench coat looks a LOT better on V than me—it doesn’t fit my body). However, that trench coat can make a person feel powerful, but seemingly in a way that I personally find less threatening to my sense of self, or rather, sells me a version of a person that I want to be that is very different from Burberry. The trench coat gives the person a fantasy of looking like a kind of comic book hero—a high fashion maverick, full of autonomy and agency, imbued with super powers to save the world. Maybe that fantasy appeals to me more than the fantasy of an Upper East Side socialite, and my own personal illusion of control over a brand to augment or diminish my personality is really the arbiter of my taste and the appeal. After all, brands are castles in the sky, or co-ops on Central Park West or the Bat Cave. And through our brands, we show people where we emotionally live.
So, where did I decide to live? I couldn’t find an exact match online, but this will give you the idea.