Why is "Quality" so Freakin' Expen$ive?

Say it ain't so, Cathy Horyn.

Thursday breakfast contains a little extra frisson for me: the Styles pages of the New York Times, and yesterday's looked extra-promising.

Horyn shopped with three stylists charged with creating looks for the 40+ woman, with a close eye to value and quality.
"Perfect", I thought, and devoted laser-like focus to the piece. Read Cathy Horyn's article, "You're Choosy. So Are We." here. The site also features a slide show, so you can really see the pieces.

(Note: This link will expire; if so, Google the name of the article, originally published April 30, 2009, or go to the NYT's o
nline archives.)

The classic Michael by Michael trench ($200) and big bag ($348) recall
Deja Pseu's Ines de la Fressange post.

But they are paired with dark green Vera Wang stretch pants ($995) and admittedly killer Lanvin sandals ($885). Why can't they show us pants priced less than a coat?

And while I admired this impeccable Alaia zip-front cotton piqué dress, $2, 600, I felt a flush of pique, not piqué. Going on 61, I am not interested in skirts five inches above the knee. (Maybe they meant over forty, but still in one's forties?)

It's clear that what stylists think is "worth it" is nearly always too costly for me, even though I appreciate the quality of a Cucinelli leather jacket ($3, 300). But I guess that's what happens
when they shop for women who are downsizing from Prada to Phillip Lim.

Horyn adores a Balenciaga shirtdress, ($1, 195) and sees it as a practical purchase, worn for day with sandals and for evening with gold chains and heels. Wearing floor length silk crepe for day would feel uncomfortably overdressed to me.

In the same section, an article titled "'09ers Take a Turn as '49ers" describes how the Madison Avenue location of the boutique Olive and Bette's (who make great casual wear) have hosted a Sell Your Old Gold Night, with on the spot evaluation, purchase and payment.

This novel promotion attempts to recapture business, down 40% (and more) from last year, and keep the doors open. The owner said, "We're going to be fine. I just want to keep them shopping- from me."

I wonder how Horyn and her stylists drifted so far of touch with women not willing to drop thousands this season... if they ever were. Even in New York, these choices will be met with rolled eyes by the many women who buy carefully, and whose price point is lower than the "solutions" presented here.


Imogen Lamport said…
I read that article and my first thought is that these stylists are not living in the real world.

Unless you're a movie star or mogul, who has that kind of money to splash around?
Frugal Scholar said…
Fabulous, as always. But what gets me too is that a lot of super expensive stuff is NOT of particularly high quality. Every now and then, I see a coat or suit of truly exquisite wool. A lot of high priced stuff is made of OK fabric with poor construction. Generally, I do not think "you get what you pay for." If only one did!
Northmoon said…
Who would wear a full length shirt dress? Too casual for evening wear and I agree with you, way overdressed for day.
Nancy (nanflan) said…
I saw that article too, and I liked several of the pieces. But the prices? Yikes!!
mom huebert said…
This is one of my pet peeves: super-overpriced clothing. I mean, really! It reminds me of another thing I've noticed.

The fashion people are always telling us that we should buy classic pieces and update inexpensively with bags and shoes. They've got to be kidding about the "inexpensive" part, because in my neck of the woods, the shoes and bags are the most expensive items in a wardrobe.

(For example, at a store like TJ Maxx, you can get nice shirts for $10 or a nice wool pea coat for $20, but the bags run in the $100s, and the shoes are at least $30.)
Deja Pseu said…
I think they go in the right direction with the styles, but the prices, mon Dieu!!These stylists must have customers who inhabit a very rarefied atmosphere indeed. I can't see any working woman wearing a floor length dress to the office (well, I can, but they're the 20-somethings who haven't figured out how to dress for a corporate environment yet). I can't imagine spending almost $1000 for a pair of pants, especially with kids, dogs, squeezing by dirty cars in parking lots, etc.

Who HAS this kind of money, anyway? I know a few women who are very well off financially and even the ones who are into clothing and style just don't spend that kind of money on a single garment.

Ms. Horyn, how about something for the rest of us?
materfamilias said…
A pair of $1000 pants end up costing so much more than that in dry-cleaning costs. There's no way, after paying so much for a pair, that you'd trust any other cleaning process. That would also mean, for me at least, having to have several OTHER pairs of too-expensive pants because I'd lose all kinds of days of wear finding time to drop off and pick up from the drycleaner! To me, clothes at these price points are rather like the yachts that, if you need to know their price, you can't afford them!
darla said…
Jump suits? They seem to be back. I shudder.

Anonymous said…
Excellent post! This always bothers me when I read articles about "dressing over the age of 40." They always assume you're a CEO with tons of money to spend on clothes. I'm not. I'm actually "between opportunities" (unemployed), and possibly looking at a whole career change. But I've still got a 50 year old body and can't even fit my arm into most shirts at Forever 21. Where am I supposed to shop?
metscan said…
Per moment, I might consider paying something like this for a coat of fine quality; for a skirt, shirt or dress=no.
Thanks for the rant on an issue which confounds me ... . as a former Park Ave. resident, now happily living in a mud house in the desert Southwest - I find these articles to be not only "out of touch" but absolutely insulting.
May Cathy and her stylists be doomed to even a single day in the real life of many women ... . sale racks at Target!

Duchesse said…
dollcannotfly: I amg going to post on your predicament, which is mine too. (For sure not Forever 21!) I really enjoy your blog!

darla: Jumpsuits prove that 'wore it once, don't wear it again' adage.

mom h: The advice I've heard is a "buy the best shoes and bag you can afford." In other words, that's where to put serious money, because good shoes last and a good bag elevates even thrift shop jeans. And of course you can pay way too much for either!

Frugal: There has been a definite erosion in some brands' quality (Gucci, Chanel); other big brands (Bottega Veneta, Hermes, Balenciaga, Van Noten) as well as less-known local or limited-distribution designers are holding the quality fort.
Duchesse said…
judith; The online version does not have a Comments feature; if it had, bet Ms Horyn would receive a trouncing. I'm not so much insulted as mystified... the same section talks about how stores are struggling to stay open.
Leah said…
I read this article like a read a Vogue, I looked at the colors and layering used but I really ignored the actual articles once I saw the prices. I do wish there would be more articles written by fashion insiders on where to find the best quality at a lower price. If you only have $100 to spend on a dress, where is it best spent? In looking for style info I missed the fact that they were featuring women who were selling small amounts of gold for shopping money in an article with $3,000 yellow leather jackets :)!
Leah said…
Sorry, different article, same newspaper!
CompassRose said…
This is the NYT though. If you're reading, then you KNOW that these weird, out-of-touch, oh-poor-rich-people articles are a staple of theirs (remember the one about scraping together some sort of edible meal for the paltry sum of -- what was it, a hundred bucks? Or the one about the poor, poor trust fund babies struggling to keep their $200 haircuts and upscale clubbing habits going?)

Like Leah, I'd read an article like this more for silhouette and shape ideas. (And I for one LOVE that silk maxi shirtdress; with the maxi silhouette being in, and me being of the chunkier persuasion, I'm certainly not going to wander round in the trendier ones with twisted rope halter straps, but this? This, I could wear! To the office even, and I'm forty, though a "creative" and therefore possibly given more crazy allowance in my dress.)

And it's really nice to see an article on clothing the mature woman that doesn't immediately pop her into boxy primary colours and prim below-the-knee skirts, and at the same time, isn't expecting her to have the figure (and the lack of shame) of Madonna. Even the maligned short dress is something that most of the forty-to-fifty year olds of my acquaintance could pull off. (Besides, the woman in the pics is clearly a model, and as such, Amazon-sized; on any normal human, that dress probably hits the kneecap anyhow.)
lady jicky said…
It must be nice being a "stylist" - you get given these cloths or you get paid to flog them.
Duchesse said…
CompassRose: I can try on many if not all these options either in my city or NY. At 5'10", nearly all dresses are cut way too short, including the tippy top of price range.Either had them made for me or grab the few not many inches above the knee. And climbing up and down subway stairs, or into streetcars in floor length silk crepe is not appealing, though the dress is lovely.
Mardel said…
I agree, completely out of touch. But the New York Times, like Vogue seems to cater to an extremely small subset of the population and blindly assumes that everyone else worships at the alter of covetousness. I find the whole idea of pairing TopShop with Lanvin to be a rather specious form of "economy". Really, why not try to find a wardrobe among the mid-price ranges?

Like Frugal Scholar, I have often noticed that much expensive fashion is not that high of quality and I find this sad. I can find most of these options if I shop in NY but even if I could afford the choices, I don't find much that is truly worth the money.
CompassRose said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
CompassRose said…
Duchesse, at 5'10" you're another of those Amazons! At the other end, 5'3", I'm constantly shortening skirts, since long skirts trail, and "short" ones always, always hit at that horrible stumpy point right across the fat bit of my knee joint.

I wear a lot of ankle-length skirts and dresses, and have ever since I started picking out my own clothes, and it's just a matter of mastering an Edwardian one-handed "sweep" for stairs, and gathering them into your lap in cars or public transit. But I can certainly understand that this is a near-dead skill that few want or need to master!

But the real point stands - the NYT has no clue! In fact, I sometimes visit a news/pop culture blog (Jezebel) which counts a pretty high number of NYC-based women amongst its posters and readers - and working women spend much, MUCH less on clothing than I would expect based on me and my peers! They are being eaten alive by insane rents on top of health insurance costs, so a single woman making $30 to even $50 or $60 grand there seems to be really scraping by, and by and large isn't even shopping at mid-level designers or better boutique ranges. They are big fans of Target over there...
sallymandy said…
I'm so glad you posted this, Duchesse. You said it all. I don't even read stuff like that any more. Well, sometimes for ideas to copy. I'm pretty sure I won't be wearing a black silk maxi dress on my next business trip over to small town, Idaho.

And I agree with Frugal. I'm not sure one always gets what one pays for.

Do you think stylists just write for each other?
s. said…
GREAT post (although I'm coming late to the party). Plenty of women in New York still have huge shopping budgets and, guess what? Most of them are being financially supported by wealthy husbands/ fiances/ boyfriends/ clients.

I'm doing just fine, financially, but since my money is my own and not handed to me by a sugar daddy, I am dumbfounded by the thought of spending, say, almost a thousand dollars on a pair of green stretch pants, even tho' I can afford them.
Duchesse said…
s.: I feel like I have a duty to eschew the highest end imports and either buy local designers, so they survive, or buy bridge ilnes to send the message that women need affordable clothes.

Occasionally splurge on designer but only on sale.

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