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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Column: Label love

Although the fashion industry’s main focus is clothes, we all know the huge underlying factor: the brand name. Brand names are a huge element in high fashion, but they have also been shaping our wardrobe since childhood.

For the first few years of our lives we wandered around in whatever our parents felt the desire to strap us into. Shirts were shirts, shorts were shorts and no one was shopping at Limited Too yet.

A few years later, the winds had shifted and large brand names began to appear across the fronts of our peers’ sweatshirts, replacing the innocuous animals and princesses that once resided there. As children we began to learn these brands, and once recognizable, discern which ones were most often sported by the cool kids and which ones were abandoned without love in the lost and found.

Some brands surpassed others on the cool factor, claiming their spots as kings of the grade school fashion playground. At my grade school, by far the coolestshoe brand for both boys and girls was Adidas. The white sneaker almost sparkled in its pristine new state, and coming down the side, like bursts of fruity colored lightening, were three stripes that declared your sneaker to be authentic Adidas. The brand name was also on display on the back lip of the shoe to assure any fourth grader with lingering eyes that indeed, you were rocking the coolest brand on the playground.

I desperately wanted a pair of Adidas with baby blue stripes. I would be the coolest girl in classroom D3 if I had these shoes. My mother, however, did not share this opinion. While dragging my mom to the mall on the premise of needing a green shirt for Saint Patrick’s Day (an essential defense against pinching fourth graders), I slyly slipped into the sporty shoe shop and introduced her to The Coolest Shoe Ever. She was not impressed, and with expert mom prowess, quickly found an almost identical shoe (four stripes instead of three), at a greatly reduced price, by some brand that was not Adidas. For me, this just would not do. I had been seduced by brand power.

This seducement had developed into full-blown love by the time I hit high school. I arrived on campus proudly sporting my Roxy tees, top notch stuff in middle school, only to realize that these did not measure up to the bigger, better brands being flaunted left and right by high-schoolers. Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle were boldly plastered across students’ chests, declaring their dominance among the brand pool. I adjusted my standards for these new names and began to shop accordingly. Wearing brands that the whole school seemed to approve of and endorse made me feel safe. In my mind, there was no way my clothes could ever falter if I was wearing the right brands.

As I matured, I slowly lost this materialistic mindset. I began to realize that I was trying to conform to a certain image that I felt embodied the cool, popular girl. After further inspection, I found that I didn’t even like the style of these brand name clothes very much. I declared resignation from my position as a walking advertisement and decided to search for some clothes that I actually liked.

When you wear a brand that is widely known and approved of, you’re in a safe zone. People can see the brand, recognize its popularity and laud your outfit as cool, or at least normal. Your appearance will not cause controversy, and you will blur together with the hundreds of other kids on campus sporting North Face fleeces, brand name jeans and a pair of Vans.

There is nothing wrong with slipping into this safe zone, as long as you are wearing the clothes for their style and not their label. Certain brand names embody a certain image – sporty, preppy or punk – and it is natural to gravitate towards a brand that consistently provides a style that you like.

The best thing to do is shop without regard for brand names. Walk around the stores and look for things that appeal to your inner sense of style. Don’t avoid certain brands because you think they embody a style different from your own.

I once thought of myself as a person who would never wear something made by Liz Claiborne, and yet a wonderful sailor sweater by her hangs in my closet today.

Everyone, of course, will still have his or her favorite brands. I’m a sucker for Banana Republic myself. But as long as we shop stigma-free, we will continue to build varied wardrobes that reflect our true sense of style.

BRITTANY NELSON wants to know what labels you love, so reach her with your thoughts at blnelson@ucdavis.edu.


  1. I love this column! It’s cleaver and witty and extremely well written; and it’s nice to have something fun and light to read after all the serious and political pieces. Keep up the good work Brittany!


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