January 29, 2008

Embarrassment of Riches: Dress Well not Wealthy

Print More

Success can be worn in a variety of ways, from humble confidence, to ostentatiously displaying academic achievements on a college sweatshirt, or financial success in an assortment of designer labels. People are proud of their accomplishments and want others to recognize their success. Yet success is a relative term and what one may think is impressive may not be so remarkable to someone else.
It would seem that people would be embarrassed by blatantly flaunting high status items, whether they are academic, occupational or wearable. If success is tangibly rewarded in paychecks, report cards or acceptance letters then why display that success so pretentiously? What are people trying to prove, or compensate for, by hiding behind these names and labels?
People may be using such items to hide their insecurities. But on a less psychological note, people are simply proud of what they have done. Many people don’t cling to their college gear simply for status recognition. They are fond of their alma mater and are happy to wear its name or logo. Similarly, others don’t seek out luxury items to prove their success, but because high-end designs are generally ingenious, durable and pleasurable.
Well-made luxury items and cutting edge designer creations have their place in the fashion world and the consumer’s closet. A designer bag can make an outfit, but when that outfit already consists of a number of obvious designer labels, the outfit goes from tasteful to tasteless.
There is a point where nice items reach total excess. Although most people enjoy designer items, there is a line between being well dressed and obnoxious. Wearing an assortment of overt designer labels is neither fashionable nor impressive. Status does not equal stylish. If an outfit reads like an issue of Women’s Wear Daily then the wearer should probably take off a few of their labeled items.
Often the nicest designer items are those that are not covered in a logo but are subtler. For example, the most expensive and luxurious Louis Vuitton (or Gucci or Fendi etc…) bags are those devoid of their traditional monogram print. Sometimes having people struggle to notice a designer label is the best way to look mysteriously chic.
With the democratization of the fashion industry it is possible to dress fashionably without wearing any designer labels at all. One can look successful and stylish without screaming an assortment of European names, which we Americans should stop screaming so loudly, given our tendency to mispronounce them. Likewise, college educations have been democratized as an overwhelming number of high school students go onto college.
Fashion, intellect and wealth are all relative. As Cornellians, we are regarded as a “low level” Ivy League institution. But an Ivy is an Ivy. So where would Cornell fit into the fashion scale? Are we a top notch, established, designer label like Ferragamo? Or are we a lower level luxury brand along the lines of Michael Kors? Regardless, Cornell too is a brand name. How we wear our education, whether physically or metaphorically, is important. It is one thing to wear a Cornell sweatshirt; it is another thing to wear a Cornell sweatshirt with Cornell sweatpants and a Cornell hockey hat to be the corporeal incarnation of the Big Red.
Intelligence, wealth and fashion are all in the eye of the beholder. The point is to be confident in your accomplishments, what you are capable of and what you wear without being pompous. So dress well, not wealthy.