“Taste”, status symbols, and visible branding

“Taste”, status symbols, and visible branding

There is a truism (which I’ve heard many times) that the most expensive products do not have splashy logos, and that it’s mainly the entry-level products with the most visible branding. Compare a $400 purse with a huge logo pattern to a $10k purse with a tiny subtle brand symbol.

EXAMPLE: [$18k Michael Kors bag has no logo, $200 bag says “MK” on it.](https://imgur.com/a/3LLiUDU)

EDITED TO ADD ANOTHER EXAMPLE: [$10k Tiffany necklace has no branding, $150 Tiffany necklace says “RETURN TO TIFFANY”.](https://imgur.com/a/XwgemtG)

I have often heard this explained in the following way (which I now see as rather classist and about to critique; stay tuned….): the “real, tasteful” rich people (who buy the really expensive stuff) are “secure” enough in their status that they don’t need the splashy logo; they just want the quality (and they can also trust that the people they want to impress can recognize more subtle signs of quality in their clothing). They also have enough “taste” to NOT want splashy logos (which are assumed to be “tacky”). That’s why the $10k purses don’t have big logos.

The “tasteless social climbers” want to show off the designer logos because they’re insecure in their status, because the ignorant people around them only recognize logos rather than subtle quality; and because these people have a “tacky” taste for logos. That’s why the $400-range purses have logos plastered all over them.

Then I realized that this explanation is very classist and simplistic. It seems to rely on an idea that people buying $10k purses inherently have more “taste” than those buying $400 purses (problematic, classist). It seems to assume that splashy logos are inherently tacky (questionable, classist?). It also seems to suggest that people who can spend $10k on a purse are automatically more secure in their status than people who can spend $400 (questionable, classist, problematic).

Has anyone else been exposed to this sort of myth about taste, status, and logos? How do you think about it?

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Comments ( 13 )
  1. atrahal
    June 30, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    I haven’t heard that before, honestly. The reason I assumed “lower-end” designer stuff had larger logos, visible branding, and so on is because it’s free advertising for the company. Not only are they going to sell more of the cheaper goods ($$$), but other people can look at a bag and go, “Oh, I like that, and it’s from Michael Kors! I’m going to go buy one!” ($$$)

    On a personal level, my thinking large logos are tacky is a reactionary measure to my middle school days of MUST HAVE VISIBLE BRANDING EVERYWHERE. For clothing I also don’t want, like, “adidas” blazoned across my ass or chest. Words draw the eye. Additionally, I’d rather have people judge me for who I am and the image I portray rather than a brand name.

  2. BlueberryTheBantha
    June 30, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    I always think obvious branding is tacky, but I tend toward snobbery.

  3. ecospartan
    June 30, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    I’m definitely not secure enough to spend $18k on a purse at the current stage in my life, but I love fashion, makeup, accessories, etc and would certainly spend that much if I had it available to me. Personally I like things more minimally, I have a $350 MK leather bag in a gorgeous emerald green color that has a “small” metal logo on it. But I would do the same with any item, not into all of the graphic logos, even if it was $18k. But I do agree with the point you’re bringing up. A lot of high fashion items and other accessories really don’t have their logos plastered all over. I don’t necessarily know if that would make all others “tasteless social climbers” I just like quality pieces and I’m not into the logos.

  4. Dawn36
    June 30, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    Meh, my Coach purses have the all-over logo print, hides stains, and doesn’t bother me. If I had crazy money, then I’d probably buy the really high-end bags, but we’re barely middle class, I’m damn happy to have my “tacky” Coach purses.

  5. CaliGurl209
    June 30, 2018 at 11:26 pm

    I think it’s also about recognition. If you are rich and carry an expensive purse, all your rich friends will recognize it regardless of logo. They are rich, they shop at the same stores as you, they KNOW. Meanwhile if you are saving for a year to get a name brand bag, you better make sure everyone knows it’s a name brand bag, hence the logos.

    I think this is a relic from fashion history, where the peasants used to copy royalty and aristocrats. Whatever the royalty was wearing was a fashion trend, merchant wives started copying it and it trickled down to peasants as well, maybe several years after it was originally fashionable. Because several years ago, brands like Michael Kors were only accessible in malls, it was a fashionable destination, not available to everyone, so only “royalty” shopped there. Now you have Michael Kors in every Ross or TJMaxxx, therefore available to “peasants” as wel and the royalty needs to find something else to distiguish themselves, so they are wearing brands with no logos. Until, they of course, find something else with prominent branding (cough cough Gucci), for a while celebrity and rich people will wear it, until your local Ross will get a fresh delivery of GG belts and the rich and famous will move on.

  6. abbrains
    June 30, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    That’s a good question. It makes me wonder what the actual price difference is between a $200 bag and an $18,000 bag. Like how much more do the materials and labor really cost, and how superior really is the quality? Are the richest really getting THAT much better quality? Or they too just want to prove they have the money to run in their socioeconomic circles.

  7. maybeasupervillian
    June 30, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    Idk…. Celebrities who are rich do the logo thing a lot too. For example Fendi a few months ago was everywhere.

    Logo’s are obviously to flaunt wealth…. but in the world of Instagram flaunting wealth is less tacky than it was 20 years ago.

    Maybe it’s just tacky when it’s on a product that isn’t as well made as it is presenting itself to be. ( MK bags, I’ve never had one but I don’t think the quality matches the price for lower end bags )

  8. weeburdies
    June 30, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    I think it is more fun to go with small designers. There is no bag on earth worth what is charged for the Hermès, etc bags. They are so obvious.

  9. palimpsestnine
    June 30, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    Taste is an interesting thing. I literally have a whole chapter on taste and class in my PhD thesis; it’s about literary taste, not fashion, but the main concepts are the same.

    The tl;dr is that basically, ‘taste’ is just a reflection of social hierarchy, and it’s not an inherent trait but rather a construct designed to distinguish upper class from lower class. Simply put, because upper class people have both money and influence (and own media etc), they can pretty much dictate which things are tasteful/valuable and which are not. They make it seem like they are naturally drawn to classy things because they’re superior, but in reality, they have been raised and educated in a way that taught them what they should value. With bags, this means things without big logos.

    That said, classes are more complex than just high and low. What can very easily happen is that what suggests low status within one class signals high status in another. Logos, for example, mean low status for upper class but high status for lower class. (Btw, this is where the ‘new money’ stereotype comes from – people who are supposed to be upper class but have no inside info on how to be ‘classy’, so their idea of fancy is, to an upper class person, tacky). This is because luxury products are built around scarcity – they are often limited and always prohibitively expensive. A rich person can afford them no problem and has no reason to go for cheaper products with more prominent logos, but a lower class person will not be able to get them (because if they had that much money, they’d be upper class by definition). So the best a lower-class person can get is a cheaper product with a huge logo on it (which exists because otherwise there would be nothing to separate luxury items from everything else).

    So all in all, a person with a very expensive ‘tasteful’ bag is likely as secure in their status as someone with a logo bag – they are both signalling they are wealthy to other members of their class. The rich person does have more ‘taste’ though, because they grew up learning about it. On one hand, taste is a social construct dictated by the upper class, so it doesn’t really mean much – it definitely doesn’t make a person objectively better. On the other hand, our society functions in a way that recognises taste as an indicator of a person’s status, so even though it’s literally made up, it still has a lot of impact on one’s standing in society.

  10. wanna_live_on_a_boat
    June 30, 2018 at 11:58 pm

    The book “Class” explains this well. People want to show off their wealth to people one “level” above/below them. So working class people care about having a large TV or a fancy car, because that’s something difficult to get for their class. But if you’re a millionaire, you can buy any tv or car you want, so you no longer care to “show off” having a TV or a car. (Increasingly, rich people don’t have TVs in their living rooms. Or microwaves in their kitchens.)

    Similarly, for some people, a $400 purse is a big deal, and people around them will only know it’s expensive because it has logo. The way for wealthy people to differentiate is to wear the $10k purse, and everyone who they care about will be able to identify it the way poorer people can tell what LV stands for.

  11. lawproftress
    July 1, 2018 at 12:04 am

    I think the whiff of classism in this argument is semantic. Replace “taste” with the more academic “signals high socioeconomic status” and “tacky” with “signals low socioeconomic status” and you mostly fix it. I don’t think it’s inherently classist to talk about how different social classes perform their class, particularly in an age when belonging to or passing in a particular social class can be a significant element of one’s identity (for better or for worse). That said, I think the quality argument is more suspect, particularly when “overbuilding” (making things nicer than any remote claim to function or design requires) itself is a signal of social class.

  12. BoxElderDr
    July 1, 2018 at 12:09 am

    Does Louis Vuitton not have logos over absolutely everything they make or am I just seeing their cheaper stuff and not recognizing the ridiculously priced items?

  13. harvestmoon360
    July 1, 2018 at 12:11 am

    I was juat thinking about this idea the other day and how it actually doesn’t hold up in an argument. Take for example most of the Chanel line, I love Chanel but they have a lot of pieces (bags, jewellery, shoes) that I would consider tacky AND the logo is splashed all over it. The same with many Gucci bags yet these brands are extremely pricey compared to Michael Kors, etc.
    I think it honestly depends on the piece. Every brand has the potential to be tacky (imo) and have their name plastered all over the item.

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