I want to start this blog by saying I’m not a clothes snob, nor am I blessed with a wardrobe brimming with designer clothes…

I have some great clothes that cost quite a lot of money, sure, but I have some cheap and cheerful bits and pieces as well. I’m realistic about my clothing choices, I buy what I can afford, and I pay a bit more every now and then for something special.

As a stylist and fashion writer I’m in regular conversation about all things clothes and fashion every day. One of the most common and contentious topics that comes up without fail is around why clothes cost what they do. An interesting example of this came up this week.

On a prime time current affairs program a few days ago there was a story about a chain store releasing a new range of clothing.

“What if you could get quality clothes at bargain prices?” said the host in her introduction.

The story went on to detail a set-up where shoppers were lured into a high-end boutique-looking retail space and filmed selecting garments from beautifully merchandised racks under soft mood lighting. When the women took the items to the counter they were told they weren’t actually the price on the tag (say $95), but much cheaper ($35, for a top). The women were suitably shocked and, when told they could find the items at a store they’d ordinarily never go to because they only sold cheap clothes, their eyes were magically opened to said store’s possibilities.

Great marketing campaign, but kind of annoying as well. The implication was the women were only interested in the items because they were presented in a beautiful store rather than a fluorescent-lit bargain chain store.

“What it’s taught me is you can get good quality items and fashionable items at a low price,” said one of the shoppers.

Well no, nobody mentioned anything about the quality, and if anyone really looked at those clothes they couldn’t honestly compare them with a better quality garment and convince themselves they were on par. The implication is that people who pay more for clothes are snobbish, stupid even, and that frustrates me. The clothes on display in the mock store were fashionable, sure, but only in so far as they mirrored trends watered-down from the original designs of the labels that produce the more expensive clothes their target market won’t spend more on.

My argument is this – there’s nothing wrong with cheap clothing if everyone in the supply chain to produce that clothing is being paid fairly and treated equitably, which is not always the case but there are some instances where the buying power of big business means they can keep their prices very low. However, let’s call it what it is. Cheap clothes do not have the same design integrity, fabric quality, construction and exclusivity (and by this I just mean there are fewer of the same item floating around) as more expensive, better quality clothes.

This rant of mine isn’t even about what is better – I’m not advocating everyone rush out and buy more expensive clothing. I’m just saying the implication that higher priced clothing is some sort of rip off and you can get exactly the same thing for a fraction of the cost is taking us all for fools.

I would bet if the same group of women was handed two tops, one of the $35 standard and one of a $350 standard, and told they could buy either of them for $35 but they had to choose one, the very vast majority would take the $350 version – because it would be an obviously better quality garment. The fact they might not ordinarily be able to afford the $350 top, or want to spend that sort of money on clothing even if they could, is a separate matter all together.

My advice: buy the best quality you can afford, shop locally whenever possible, educate yourself on where your clothing comes from, and know that even in fashion, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.