Once coveted designer labels are losing their allure as discerning shoppers head for the thrift stores, says Clare Coulson
Research published yesterday which revealed that high-earners are increasingly buying their clothes and accessories from the high street will come as no surprise to most women.
Steetwise: Naomi Campbell models Cherokee designs in a television advertisement for Tesco
Over the past couple of years, the astounding improvement in the quantity and quality of chain-store and supermarket clothes has brought about a huge shift in our shopping habits.
At the same time, the survey found, many people on lower incomes who would have shopped at the cheaper end of the market are indulging in exclusive brands - thanks partly to society's obsession with celebrities and designer labels.
There's a certain satisfaction to be gained from telling your friends that your wallpaper-print camisole (inspired by Miu Miu, of course) came from Topshop, or that your tweed jacket was snapped up at Zara for a fraction of the price of the Chanel version. Mixing cheap and expensive clothes has become an essential part of the game for women who know the season's trends.
Foraging for bargains also displays shopping savviness, and this, perhaps, is one of the key reasons why women who could easily afford to kit themselves out at Harvey Nichols are choosing to spend just as much time rummaging around high-street stores. If you have the cash, it's easy to wander down Bond Street and drape yourself in designer labels, but it's much more challenging - and satisfying - to hunt for genuine bargains at the high-street stores, searching through endless rails of tat before chancing upon the real gems.
"It's so much more individual to combine the two," says Navaz Daruwalla, a London barrister. "I buy lots of casual tops at Topshop, but all of my jeans are designer labels. I certainly buy more from the high street than I ever have before; the quality and the design are so much better than they have ever been."
Designer Anya Hindmarch has always been a fan of the high-street stores. "I think you have to be a bit of a mug to wear top-to-toe designer," she says. "I have always mixed everything up. Today, I am wearing a Miu Miu coat with a pair of Hennes sunglasses that cost £3.99, and a new cashmere sweater with a white shirt from Zara."
Kate Jones, a successful, London-based literary agent, is typical of many of her contemporaries. She shops at Topshop, Uniqlo, Jigsaw, M&S and Camden market as well as Maxmara, Kenzo, Amanda Wakeley and Joseph. "I will shop anywhere at all," she says. "My only requirements are a changing room with enough room for me and a five-year-old."
Coleen McLoughlin wears Matthew Williamson
Affluent women are trawling the high street more than ever, but there are some things that they still seem to prefer to buy from more expensive labels. Daruwalla, for instance, continues to buy tailoring and suits from department stores such as Liberty, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, as well as the season's key accessories. "And I wouldn't buy evening tops on the high street: not because I don't like them," she says, "but because I would worry that someone else will be wearing the same thing."
Cara Goodley, a company director from London, who wears items from Topshop and Mango with designer pieces by Marni, Chloé and Pucci, says: "I don't like people to know what I am wearing, so I tend to look for things on the high street that people can't really identify. You can buy a pair of Marc Jacobs wedges which look really expensive and wear them with a cheap high-street dress and feel much more original than if you had flicked through Vogue and then bought a whole look from Yves Saint Laurent."
Goodley agrees that there are some areas in which affluent shoppers such as herself are unlikely to compromise: "I never buy cheap bags or shoes."
But while high-earning women are flocking to the high street, traditional high-street shoppers are increasingly buying expensive, aspirational labels - whether they can afford them or not.
Emma Seares, a 23-year-old graduate from Essex, is typical of the new breed: "I live at home and I don't pay bills, so I can spend all my money on clothes and going out."
Seares has a vast collection of accessories from Prada and Gucci, and clothes from Missoni and Julien Macdonald, which she buys from Harrods, Selfridges and www.net-a-porter.com.
"Sometimes, I go shopping three times a week," she says. "I don't buy things just because celebrities have them, but if I had something that Kate Moss was wearing, I would think it was a privilege."
Yes, says Cassandra Jardine: As far as possible, I buy my clothes exclusively from supermarkets. Everything about the experience gives me pleasure, from the straightforward way the T-shirts are arranged like cereal packets, to the joy of simply bunging them in the trolley like any other household necessity. And then, of course, there is the price.
So whenever anyone asks me where I got something from, far from throwing a hissy fit if the downbeat provenance is revealed - as Naomi Campbell does in the latest ad campaign for Tesco - I take a smug delight in quoting the store and the modest cost.
In fact, I am becoming a tiresome evangelist on the subject. With three daughters, aged 13, 11 and nine, I feel an urgent mission to demystify the shopping experience before they all head down the carrier-bag-strewn path to debtor hell.
They need some counter- balance to all the glossy marketing to remind them that clothes are just schmutter and that those who spend a fortune on what they wear are not to be envied, but pitied.
Kaftan, sizes 8-18, Cherokee at Tesco, £10
Some say that supermarkets are wicked because they drive out small retailers by undercutting, but let's get real. They are producing limited ranges of clothes for everyday purposes and they can afford to sell them cheap because they are more efficient.
The notorious £3 Tesco jeans are possible not because the workers are starved and have no rights (so I am assured) but because the shop sells 50,000 of them each week, and has dropped all the fancy loops and whistles that some fashion victims spend hundreds of pounds to acquire - and then quickly tire of.
It is not as if I am alone in finding that super-markets do the job of making and selling clothes as well as, if not better than, fancier outlets. So many others have seen the light that clothes are now edging groceries off the floor. George at Asda, now the third biggest clothing retailer in the UK after Marks & Spencer and Next, has opened eight shops which don't sell any oven chips, only clothes.
Last September, after dipping its toe in the water with Jeff Banks, Sainsbury's finally launched its own brand, Tu, in a third of its branches - and I recently pounced on some aqua pure linen trousers reduced from £22 to £17.50.
As for Tesco, growth is far higher in clothes than in groceries and it's not all pile-it-high: its £35 green chiffon dress, the hit of last summer, was so sought after it was trading at inflated prices on eBay. Though I have just bought a cheery embroidered orange kaftan top from its Cherokee range for just £6.
No, says Justine Picardie: I can see why supermarket chic is such an appealing idea, with the promise of getting something for almost nothing - though to be honest, at least in my experience, the much-hyped products seldom live up to expectations.
Take, for example, Florence & Fred's cream corseted prom dress, "inspired" by Jil Sander and sold in huge quantities at Tesco for £45: it looked great in the advertising campaign, modelled by Kristin Davis, but, in reality, the polyester and nylon layers were a bit of a disappointment.
More importantly, cheap clothes often come at a high price to those who make them: the garment-manufacturing industry in developing countries is notorious for low wages and dangerous working practices. (Last month, for example, hundreds of workers were killed or injured after the collapse of a Bangladesh factory that supplied some of the major mass-market brands.)
What is shocking is that we (and I include myself in this) usually know more about how our food is produced than our clothes: so that consumers who have successfully demanded ready access to organic free-range meat in supermarkets are often unaware that cut-price clothes may have been produced in conditions as barbaric as those suffered by battery-farmed chickens.
What, then, is the alternative? As yet, there is no widespread equivalent to Fair Trade food in the clothing industry, though companies such as People Tree have been established along those principles, investing in schools and hospitals for its producers, as well as promoting organic cotton farming and ecologically friendly dyeing techniques.
At which point, you may sigh and say that you're not keen on hippy-dippy clothes that look like they've been made out of knitted yogurt.
But before you dismiss clothes with a conscience, take a look at the People Tree catalogue (www.ptree.co.uk; 020 7739 0660): it's very stylish - which is one of the reasons why Sienna Miller is such a fan of the label - and it's affordable, too.
Pumps, Chanel, £235
Elsewhere, the innovative online company moreTvicar.com has limited edition American Apparel T-shirts that are guaranteed to be sweatshop-free (prices start at £11).
As for the big brands: Gap has made clear improvements in its factories; or you could always save up for Chanel, which owns six Paris ateliers where the workers are rewarded for their expertise, and craftsmanship is cherished.
True, a pair of Chanel shoes, such as those pictured above, costs far more than a cheap supermarket equivalent: but they haven't cost a life.
hmm...interesting article. thanks for posting. I think high street fashion can be a good thing...it's just about all I can afford at this point in my life. I have to say though that the manufacturing conditions of a lot of these high street clothes does bother me. but there are fair trade options that are not necessarily 'knitted yohgurt' nor are they very expensive - I made a thread on it a few days ago which I think is relevant to this article: http://www.thefashionspot.com/forums...ad.php?t=26273
i am forced by necessity to buy chain store stuff. I love sportsgirl things- they have great interpretations of trends and most things are decent quality. I wouldn't do the "head to toe trends" looks they market, but a nice sportsgirl top with jeans and great accessories is fab. I also like Country Road for better quality stuff. I just got a nice sweater in there for $120 which is fantastic quality- it's going to last for ages. Nice long length tops too, that look fairly "anonymous"!