The price of clothes is insane right now
Trash jawns are too cheap. Slappers have gone $trato$pheric. A major Spyplane Essay on value and swag
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— Jonah & Erin
We put out a call for Personal Spyplane questions a couple weeks ago, during which we got a provocative lil’ dash of spice from a price-conscious IG follower—
“why are most of yalls recs assuming we have like 300$ to drop on random objects” — __lukec
OK, we aren’t crazy about the tone here — random objects?? These are beautiful garments & home goods 1. made with love & ingenuity by beautiful humans, 2. hand-picked for the sletter by two more beautiful humans (Jonah and Erin) with taste & intention!! Also we always write about secondhand gems and other slappers coppable “for the low” so please recognize the totality of the Spyplane experience.
But this reader is responding to something real & nutty in the market. G-d knows we routinely get sticker shock ourselves these days perusing big-gas slappers. Before we dig into that, let’s affirm some foundational BBSP positions:
Our focus is on small & smallish ill lines where, between the time, labor and cost of materials involved — and absent the economies of scale that mass-apparel brands enjoy — prices can get high for sure. Sure, other “non-material” factors can drive jawnflation, including hype, manufactured scarcity and perceived exclusivity, but these are all inextricable parts of how value is determined in our economy. Blackbird Spyplane doesn’t make the rules. But we do try to be as savvy and bulls**t-averse as we can — and we succeed stupendously, so chill broe.
Many (most?) contemporary clothes are artificially cheap. We’ve been conditioned as a society to expect all kinds of things to cost peanuts that shouldn’t: A hamburger shouldn’t cost $1, a new cashmere sweater shouldn’t cost $29. When you encounter this kind of artificially low price it’s because of inferior products and/or wack externalities that simply push the costs elsewhere: exploiting workers, harming Gaia, depleting the local tax bases necessary for vibrant neighborhoods, etc.
Our ability to afford things that aren’t cheap is under assault. Enormous companies hoard power, and ultra-wealthy people siphon wealth upwards (then spend it swaglessly). If these people didn’t control the economy, if the rest of us made more money as a result, and if we were forced to spend less on artificially expensive things (housing, education, healthcare), we’d have more discretionary dough to cop fly s**t, and people who make fly s**t wouldn’t have to charge as much to make a living. Mach 3+ clothes-rocking wouldn’t feel like the increasingly grotesque economic proposition it feels like right now.
We’re not some W*recutter-a** operation dedicated to “finding consumers the best deals.” We’re an enlightened anticonsumerist dope-jawns sletter miracle and we identify & celebrate rarefied achievements in culture and the art of jawnscraft — expanding and ennobling your horizons with erudition and panache for a mere $5 a month.
Blackbird Spyplane is reader-supported, so we keep some of our best material behind the Recon Curtain. Join our Classified Tier today if you haven’t — Jonah & Erin
All that said, we can’t deny that…
THE PRICE OF CLOTHES IS INSANE RIGHT NOW!
This is true at s**tty brands, at mids brands, and at great labels we f**k with heavy. For example, some of Casey Casey’s (excellent, high-end, French-made) “paper cotton” button-ups list for $700+ this season, up from something like $400 for the same shirts just a few years ago. Or, the other day, Erin pointed me to a sick-looking SS24 dark-yurple satiny cotton Lemaire snap-front button-up, made in Romania… priced at $720!
These might be cases where (among other factors) a label hikes up prices to get out ahead of deep discounting: Casey Casey and Lemaire’s (fantastic) clothes have started to routinely hit markdowns of 40% off and up at their ever-expanding stockist networks. Raising prices to preserve margins in our sales-drunk landscape is a wildly jawnflationary phenomenon covered in our landmark piece about whether clothes should ever go on sale.
But $700+ cotton button-ups are just the tip of the iceberg, and __lukec is not alone in wondering what the f**k is going on. A few days ago, two nuanced questions about prohibitively pricey slappers popped up in the SpyTalk chat room.
First, reader Jack saluted the Plane with accurate compliments, then wrote,
“As a person with a medium-paying job and no family wealth, I struggle to imagine a day when I can have a wardrobe as blessedly stacked with so many gems.
“My tactic, I think, is to just add a really nice thing to my rotation now and then, preferably IRL, on that pro-friction mindset. But how do you find a balance between the sublime and the more-workmanlike stuff that will probably have to make up a decent chunk of my wardrobe for the next while?
Reader s.c. chimed in with a reply, feeling Jack’s whole MF gestalt. After correctly affirming that BBSP is a treasure, they introduced their own spin on the topic:
“I make $800 more than my state’s minimum wage annually. I’m stoked to be turned on to people making ethical objects of beauty and craft (& believe people deserve to be paid for that! I’m a f**king poet) but when I visit C’H’C’M’ or Evan Kinori I’m just there to appreciate how something that nice (expensive) feels, how the cut looks on me & how the textiles feel, fantasize about the goods, and make mental notes for my eBay dives and the next time I’m at Savers…
“Obviously one can live happily thrifting thru life with monk-like patience and devotion. But I’d love some BBSP deep thoughts / wisdom / strategies / hard-hitting journalism on bottom-shelf affordable clothes-gathering in 2024! If there’s anything more than thrifting like a hawk and balling out on <$15 eBay purchases, it would be sick to hear from the pros. <3 love & bless u <3”
Blessings upon these thoughtful and kindvibed readers. Spy Nation truly is the greatest virtual community across all media.
Here’s a germane, overarching point we’ve made before and will make once again:
⚠️ When it comes to Mach 3+ clothes-rocking, a gift for styling pieces together will win out every single time over a deep-pocketed ability to cop mad expensive fly s**t. ⚠️ That’s why we wrote recently about, e.g., FW24 runway shows primarily in terms of styling insights, here, and why we analyzed Our Legacy’s genius layering techniques, here.
Because you can rock head-to-toe The Row in a rote & sauceless way and, despite each piece’s individual beauty, still look like a rich dweeb marooned in the blighted netherzone known as the State of Shopping.
Meanwhile, a humble sauce lord next to you rocking a brown Camber pocket tee under a flambéed faded-black ‘90s J. Crew rollneck with some worn-in gray Dickies and a pair of cooked Chucks will look 10,000x doper for 1/10,000th the cost!
BUT LET’S GET EVEN DEEPER —
The subject of affordability and lack thereof in the world of clothing is a sprawling minefield, subject to all kinds of mindf**kery and mystification…
We’ve published a profound essay about how the so-called “democratization” of fashion is, on balance, sales-boosting hokum posing as populism, focused squarely on the “rights” of more consumers to buy more things and not at all on the rights of the workers who make the clothes or the natural world that clothesmaking extracts from and pollutes.
Similarly, we’ve published a profound essay about how the concept of affordability itself has been “drained of virtually all meaningfulness by people whose mission, knowingly or not, is to make you buy clothes you don’t actually want and won’t actually love.”
And in our 2023 Year-End Profound Essay we observed that the middle of the jawns market has been steadily decimated. On one end there’s ultra-low-end nightmare merchants like Shein. On the other end there’s big-gas slapper-crafters where paying $300+ for a banger piece feels “normal” if not increasingly “cheap.”
In between is a vast empty canyon — and charmless, mids-tier D.T.C. timeline brands are not helping!!
SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
The two Spyfriends who asked about navigating a jawnsworld on limited budgets acknowledged much of this. But they still wanted some mindsets / brand shout-outs / practical advice for saucing the f**k out regardless…
As far as balancing “the sublime and the more-workmanlike stuff,” I know some extremely stylish people who dress almost exclusively in jawns of top-dollar elegance. They are a sight to behold and I often feel cleaner just by being in their spotless presence. But they’re by no means the goal that all of us should be striving toward. Juxtaposing pieces that speak in different registers of “luxeness” — cutting against each other and giving fits a fun & lively frisson — is a technique we’ll always champion.
Jack already senses this, talking about tossing one “really nice” well-chosen thing into a modest wardrobe. Imagine if the humble Sauce Lord invoked earlier had on a pair of pleated wool Margaret Howell pants instead of Dickies, or a baby-cashmere Auralee sweater instead of the roasted ‘90s rollneck, while changing nothing else about his/her fit. Not only would all the other pieces be enhanced by proximity to the “hero piece,” but the “hero piece” would look cooler and less fussy for its proximity to the chill & swaggy unimpeachable-regs jawns.
Jack also asked if we have “a go-to brand for basic stuff that you find acceptable?”
For me and Erin it’s personally much more satisfying to just hunt for secondhand treasure from, e.g., pre-’00s-era L.L. Bean, Gap, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, Y’s for Men, slept-on Issey Miyake sublabels, Land’s End, etc. It comes already worn-in and tends to be very well made, so it looks great, and you can find great dealskis readily.
For new stuff, the answer is, “Kinda but not really.” There are contemporary smallish brands we’ve shouted out over the years who make rad new pieces at relatively low price points (some people will call them “surprisingly affordable,” others will still call them “ridiculously expensive,” that’s the nature of the beast). I’ll put some of them in the comments of this piece, along with some obvious mass-apparel sources known for good design, and maybe some solid if sort-of-timeliney-feeling places, too. We’re curious what Spy Nation suggests in the comments along these lines as well.
But generally speaking, big corporate and/or VC-backed “disruptor” brands operate outside of Spyplane Swag Jurisdiction, and definitely don’t need P.R. from us.
As far as “deep thoughts / wisdom / strategies for bottom-shelf affordable clothes-gathering in 2024,” how about:
Linking and building with artisan slapper-crafters and bartering services in exchange for jawns
If there’s a skilled maker on like Etsy you could contact them about custom commissions, i.e., ‘I love your cotton pull-on pants, they’re a bit tapered for my taste, could you widen the leg opening to 10” and use this beautiful Japanese corduroy I found?”
Learning to make your own (simple, forgivingly roomy) clothes, where your primary expense will be nice fabric and a learning curve but ideally you will reap 1-of-1 slappers and personal gratification.
Realizing that you really don’t need to own that many clothes, unless you have some version of jawns-enthusiast “collector brainworms,” like Erin and I do, in which case you simply gotta accept that you will spend less money on other things so that you can spend more on clothes, because that’s where your affinities lie.
BTW we don’t have “family wealth,” either — our parents taught us the value of extreme thriftiness and would be dismayed to know the sums we have dropped on, say, pants!!
TRULY, though, the strategy we thrill to most in all of this is reflected when reader s.c. talks about getting up close and personal with beautiful, well-made clothes at places like C’H’C’M’ and Evan Kinori, even though they’re out of his price range, to take “mental notes for my eBay dives”1 — YES!
We’re living in dark times in many ways, but a silver lining is that it’s a boom moment for secondhand treasure. Even with the Death of Thrifting looming, if you dial in your digital bin-digging skills you will be GOOD MONEY.
If you have the dough to cop from C’H’C’M’ or any of our other 35 Slappiest Stores in the World, it’s money well spent, and special places are worth supporting. But even if you cop nothing there, the more you know2, the smarter and more assured you’ll be about the clothes you do cop — new and secondhand. And again, you’ll radiate a much higher level of lived-in, molecular-level sauce than some unimaginative autopilot “cop-by-the-numbers” MARK for whom money is no object.
That’s probably our no. 1 piece of practical advice, not merely for keeping costs down but for keeping swag levels high. Learn as much as you can about how to style clothes together and about how well-made clothes are actually made — touching fabrics, trying on garments, seeing them move IRL, flipping them inside out to discover whether the interior seams are flatlocked or flatfelled or French, peeping care tags re: materials, reading Mach 3+ style & culture sletters, etc.
Navigating new clothes and secondhand troves while armed with that knowledge is pimp, fire and — for the time being, anyway — inflation-proof ☮️☮️☮️!!
The B.L.I.S.S. List — a comprehensive index of Beautiful Life-Improving Spyplane Staples — is here.
The SpyTalk Chat Room, where Spyfriends trade elite intel, is here.
I happened to write about one of my favorite secondhand-searching strategies just the other day, here. Also, keep in mind that if you bring secondhand finds to tailors to really dial in the fit, your overall cash outlay can remain low as you look disproportionately DOPE.
Erin grew up hitting museum retrospectives dedicated to the work of masters like Balenciaga, Schiaparelli and Dior, and she still makes a point to catch such shows to see greatness up close & personal.