It used to be that wearing clothing emblazoned with labels was cool – it spoke of value, taste and wealth. And somehow it seemed that this wealth was inextricably linked to this taste and this value. Money = taste = value. A strange deduction to make; easily dismantled by the old adage, oft employed in conjunction with a wistful shake of the head: ‘Money can’t buy you style’. White t-shirts shouted Calvin Klein! Armani Exchange! Diesel! Fiorucci! It was indeed the 90s, and the logo t-shirt was in its hey day. If you didn’t have one you might as well not have been a 90210 fan. You might as well have ditched your frayed denim cut-offs and your black choker with the heart pendant. Without said logo they’d look cheap. Like they came from nowhere. If it didn’t have a label it was nothing.
Somehow, some way, things have evolved. I’ve started to notice less and less obvious branding gracing the chests of t-shirts and the derrieres of jeans. Absence of label, ironically, has come to signal exactly what its polar opposite did in the 90s: wealth, value and most importantly, taste. I grew up with a mother that steered me away from branding of any kind. ‘Don’t get the printed one,’ she’d say, ‘it looks cheap’. My natural predisposition towards one offs developed into a love of vintage at a young age, meaning that labels only symbolised homogeny to me. Labels were for the masses.
The gradual shift in attitude towards labels is fascinating to me. Huge chain stores are abandoning brash branding and opting for unadorned chests, sleeves and backs. Why? So that they can be taken seriously alongside other labels. So that no one knows where it came from. Is that not the biggest irony of all? In a way it is refreshing: the cut of a garment and the fabric it is made of must now speak for themselves. Cheap, ill-fitting white t-shirts can no longer hide behind big, rhinestone-studded names. Clothing must stand up and be counted.
Not only does this shift mark a change in our psychology as consumers, it also heralds a dawning of fashion consciousness that countries like South Africa have never seen before. As retailers wisen up to the fact that the masses have more access to trends than ever before, they begin to cater to a more fashion savvy audience.
In a country where value for money is an imperative, it really is a revolution. It’s a sign that consumers, collectively, expect more from brands. And that what most people are looking for is true value – unadorned, unembellished and authentic.