Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Quantity Or Quality? Or Do You Really Get What You Pay For?

I was recently presented with a bit of a dilemma. If I were to get a pay rise sufficient enough to cover the bills and leave enough left over to have some frivolous shopping excursions, how would I spend it? Clothes? Shoes? A swanky handbag? An awesome new tv?

I do ok without a swanky tv - my £15 behemoth suits me quite well at the moment (although it is getting on a bit and needs a good whack every now and then to behave). And I would consider that a necessary purchase rather than a frivolous one.

How about a posh handbag then? Honestly, I'm not that much of a bag person, especially those that are apparently the most desirable things since Johnny Depp. No, the only "It" bag I would willingly pay the earth for is a Mulberry Bayswater. The rest - kinda fugly.

Clothes and shoes then. This is where the dilemma crops up - would I go for quantity or quality? For example £45 spent in Primark would buy me at least 5 new outfits including accessories. £45 anywhere else might buy me a sleeve or one item. But do you actually get what you pay for?

I've been re-organising my wardrobes over the past couple of weeks with a view to streamline and get rid of all the stuff that I really don't wear, doesn't fit properly and can't be altered or has been worn to death. And I have a pretty random mix of origins for my clothes. They go from vintage eBay bargains, through the cheap bracket up to designer (ok, so they're eBay bargains too but that's not the point here!). The thing is, the cheap stuff has worn just as well, if not better in some cases, than the pricier items.

Are we all just being conned then? Well, yes and no. Most people are savvy enough to recognise the marketing sheen that coats most high end labels. The high street has got in on the act too. Topshop advertising in Vogue anyone? And this was happening before the famed Kate Moss/Philip Green love-in.

(Let's talk about Kate Moss for a moment as this tale tells us pretty much all we need to know about the aspirational cost versus actual quality story. At the first launch of "her" collection, I was genuinely interested to see what would be churned out. After all, this was a woman who could start and end trends like an egomanical dictator. For the prices that were being touted, I was expecting good quality fabrics and finishes on detailed designs.

How wrong I was. Cheap fabric, shoddy finishing and seriously, £35 for a vest top?!?! Yet, it sold out. Ebay prices shot through the roof, all because people wanted a piece of the lifestyle that was being tantalisingly put in front of them. A triumph of aspirational cost and marketing over common sense then.)

The key is to know when to buy cheap and when to pay that little bit more. Basic classics that will be worn time and again are generally worth that bit more. It is an average truism in this respect that you do get what you pay for. That includes casual clothes, not just smart stuff. For one season wonders then it makes sense to head straight for Primark or the like - they're busy running up passable imitations before the catwalk shows have even finished.

The best way to get the most out of any of your clothes though? Love them, love them like they were your children. Wash them properly, store them properly, get them mended or altered - either professionally or by yourself if you're clever enough (I envy you if you are!). Then you'll not only get what you pay for but you might even get a little more.