What Does It Mean To Wear Designer?

“Fashion is not necessarily about labels.  It’s not about brands.  It’s about something else that comes from within you.”  The words of Ralph Lauren, ironically, a man who created one of the most powerful and iconic labels of all time and is referred to as “the designers’ designer”.   The search term “vintage Ralph Lauren” is more than 25 times as popular as “vintage Hugo Boss”!

How Ralph Lauren changed the world of designer clothing  

So, if he’s right, how could we interpret that statement?   One way would be to see Ralph Lauren as responsible for ending the notion of high-end couture as something exclusive - and unattainable to most people.  Think of the famous name designers before him: Chanel, Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy etc.  They were unapologetically creating pieces that were never intended to be for mass consumption - ‘event’ pieces for the best occasions.  Ralph Lauren changed that: without resorting to cheap materials and low-grade construction he created clothing that enabled people to look cool and sophisticated at any time of the day, whether in jeans, blazer, traditional shirt or, of course, Polo shirt!  You are as likely to see Ralph Lauren on a skateboarder as on a city executive.  As Brendon Babenzien, founder of NOAH, said “…the core lifestyle he was representing was already around us.”

So now, in 2021, more than 50 years after Lauren set up his studio in the Empire State Building and launched himself with a trend-bucking collection of handmade ties, what does designer-wear represent and what does it mean to buy it?

Designer wear everywhere

It would be difficult to argue with “designer wear means whatever you want it to mean – you can make it your own”.  What happened in the 1990s is important here.  It was during this decade that fashion ceased to be something that happened overwhelmingly in ‘waves’ (think about a ‘definitive’ look for the 1970s or the 1980s – images will quickly spring to mind) and became more eclectic.  By the end of that decade it seemed ok to wear anything if you could do it in style and, thanks to what Lauren initiated, that includes designer wear on the street, in the skateboard park or in the pub!    

Pre-owned designer wear as an ethical choice

The motivation for buying high-end garments could be pure aspiration, it could be a statement of attainment or it could be driven by an expert understanding of fabrics and textiles allied to an appreciation of the designer’s art and how it feels to wear something that is beautifully cut.  Best of all, because designers like Ralph Lauren make clothes to last, pre-loved designer pieces are a smart option for many.  As mentioned above, vintage Ralph Lauren attracts a lot of hunters and they aren’t just buying to grab couture at bargain prices; many recognise that sustainable fashion has to be the way forward.  Production of garments that won’t stand the test of time is terribly wasteful, especially of water and now, more than ever before, we need to leave throwaway culture behind and instead seek out quality first and foremost.  Pre-loved designer wear can be an ethical choice. 

So, Ralph Lauren was right.  It’s not necessarily about labels and brands but about something else that comes from within you.