When did fashion get so expensive?

Chloe jacket £3305                                    Stella McCartney dress £2435                     Gucci dress £2190

Reading Lucinda Chambers honest account of her sacking, the state of the publishing world and how the fashion business is more about profit than creativity, got me thinking.  Over the last few years the fashion cycle has becomet even faster and trend driven due to the constant onslaught of our image based world and as Lucinda said ‘there are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden, for not having the right kind of dinner party, setting the table in the right kind of way or meeting the right kind of people’.

She also said ‘the clothes (in Vogue) are just irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive’, which of course is true – who are these people who flick through the pages of Vogue and decide to buy a dress for £2000? And why are the clothes so excessively expensive?

On a recent episode of Desert Island Discs Kirsty Young asked Stella McCartney about a dress she’d seen online for £3,500 and about the “ethics” and “morals” of someone paying a lot of money for an article of clothing.

“Look at some of my competitors and that’s probably fairly well-priced. I mean, I do struggle with that concept, but I work really hard to have a lot of products that are available on a better price point. I have things that I think are very well-priced, but I also really struggle with fast fashion and fabrics that aren’t beautiful, that don’t use the best mills in Italy and in Japan and in England…I think you have to also keep those crafts alive in order to make something that will last you a lifetime, that you can give to your daughters, that they can give to their daughters. I’m in that business and I think that is luxury.”

While there is no doubt that Stella uses the best quality fabrics and her clothes are beautifully made, but they are not timeless, in a Jean Muir or Marni sort of way – therefore I would question their longivity. And a quick scroll through the website left me questioning how a relatively basic denim dress could cost £630?

Not wanting to single out Stella McCartney however, my cynicism with the luxury fashion industry extends to all the big luxury labels, as the price points are similarly extortionate across the board. Once upon a time a pair of Gucci loafers cost £175 ( I know because I bought some in the 80s) and now they cost £540. They are more or less the same shoes in similar leather, with the same details – and I’m no accountant – but do the maths – isn’t that a 400+% increase?

It seems to me the reason these clothes cost so much is because they can. A little like a terraced house in London costs over a millions pounds – it isn’t actually worth any more than a terraced house in Hull – but people will pay it, because that’s what houses in London cost.

As we get older, most of us love the idea of buying less and buying better – but just who are these brands targeting? Apart from Dries, Marni and the occasional piece from Miu Miu and Prada, even if I had the money, I would find it hard to buy from brands who seem to target fashion obsessed women with more money than sense.

The gap between cheap fast fashion and high end luxury brands is bigger now than ever and while there are some interesting labels in the middle who offer well made, timeless style (Acne, Maje, Margaret Howell etc) at more reasonable price points, there is still lots of room for more – as I for one, won’t be buying a pair of trainers for £545 any time soon.

Gucci £545

Gucci £545



  • Rachel says:

    I agree luxury fashion is terribly expensive. But the price increase you mention is mostly due to inflation: for example £175 in 1985 is equal to £518 today. (Inflation calculator: http://inflation.stephenmorley.org/).

    Maybe it seems more expensive now because high street fashion has become cheaper?

    Also, I guess we’re all feeling poorer, since wages in the UK have been falling in real terms since 2010, while housing costs keep going up.

  • Msd says:

    Perhaps it’s because it isn’t really about us at all in Europe and North America anymore; the real market is in Asia and the Middle East? We’ve been left out in the cold, but haven’t quite realized it yet.

  • Linda says:

    Thank you for taking up this issue on your blog.
    Here in Canada, we still have what I call basic clothing manufacturers which put out good quality, items. This is foundation clothing which easily facilitates the addition of something fantastic that turns the results into a personal statement look.
    The best company that I have come to rely upon is Northern Reflections: their products work very well for me – partly because I can usually find 100% cotton for wearing in our increasingly steamy summers (climate change experiences here).
    I don’t work there, I just shop there.

  • Jan says:

    I agree this is an interesting debate and sets so many hares running not least of which is ethical trading. When I first got interested in ‘fashion’ in my teens it was the mid to late ’60s in the UK and I benefitted from the rise of boutique shops such as Fifth Avenue, Bus Stop, Chelsea Girl etc. They afforded fashionable clothes on the High Street at affordable prices. I think a dress for a Saturday night out would’ve been about £5.00 so about £70 now taking in inflation. I’m willing to be corrected but I believe most garments were made in the UK. I still have a Dollyrocker dress from the ’60s which says Made in England. When manufacturing moved to Asia clothes began to get cheaper and cheaper. Shops like H & M sell the equivalent of my Saturday night dress for £30 or less and none of the garments are made in the UK. Go into any UK charity shop and you’ll see racks of high street clothes being recycled, which is good but it’s also an indicator of how many clothes folk are buying and discarding. Go round the sales in high street shops and they are awash with clothes. We all buy way too many………. and I include myself in that although I mostly buy second hand these days.
    I’ve never bought seriously expensive clothes but I have a friend who does and on occasion when I’ve shopped with her I was hugely surprised to see big name Italian label clothes such as jackets selling at close to £1000 with made in China labels.
    There are still UK manufactured clothes but they are more expensive than those from China etc. Perhaps if we were a tad more selective and bought better quality and less, British manufacturers would get more of a look in.
    As for £500+ trainers well I guess they’ll always be folk with more money than they know what to do with.

  • Fashion has become more expensive, partly due to inflation but also due to higher markups taken by stores and brands, especially now since many companies are publicly held and must answer to share holders. Another factor is the corporatization of fashion. In the late nineties I worked at Oscar de la Renta. We were four assistant designers and Mr de la Renta, that was the entire design team. Now there are much larger teams doing more specialized jobs, in turn segmenting the design process. More salaries to pay adds to overhead and the necessity for higher margins. This is why I’m consciously seeking out smaller more artisanal companies, which is what luxury houses were years ago, instead of the corporate behemoths they’ve become. I write about this more extensively here http://www.primadarling.com/fashion/year-of-living-designer-free/

  • Sue says:

    I remember when I was a student in London in the 1980s and I became aware of lovely clothes, and the possibility of buying them, for the first time. (I had previously lived in the North in the middle of nowhere with no shops in the London sense). I basically ate rocks/very little so that I could (occasionally) go to Joseph Tricot and Kenzo. The stuff seemed incredibly expensive to me then, and also there did not seem to be the constant sales that are around now. But, it does sort of hook you for life.(although now I mostly sales shop). I don’t know who is buying all this stuff full price. My guess , as mentioned in the comment above, is not us. And, if my daughter would rather a pair of expensive trainers than a piece of jewellery as a present, then why not? She will get more pleasure from wearing them to death every day.

  • Karen says:

    I love fashion and being on trend but I agree it has become ridiculously expensive – I now buy vintage versions of the trends after all nothing is never new in fashion there are only so many ways you can re-event a frock!! Designers always draw from the past for their inspiration. I first stated wearing vintage as a teenage – wanting to wear the clothes I saw in Vogue but not having the budget I hunted in vintage and charity shops to find my own individual version.

    Now even more with the rising price of fashion in more ways than one – in terms of money and environment – vintage is the way to go!!

  • Micheal says:

    Fashion is so expensive because the designers are no longer wooing the working class or want them wearing there designs. They are aiming for the rich people to splash out on extortionate prices, why? Cause the rich people can afford to pay top dollar for fashion that is made like high street brands. Just like the rich pay extortionate prices for everyday food to be delivered to their yachts at an extortionate price.

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