Dressed to the nines: Is designer fashion really worth it?

Haute Couture, the most expensive, labour-intensive and unattainable garments that are in existence, sits at the top of the market levels pyramid. Then there is mass production, the cheapest, most affordable and most common-place garments in production, which sits at the bottom of the hierarchy of market levels. But what defines the different market levels and how does each sector truly perform?


Haute Couture

For a brand to create a couture line, they must be invited by the Chambre Syndicale, which provides guidelines for participating brands, including the employment of at least fifteen workers and for the practice to be situated in Paris. Also, a fashion show of at least thirty-five pieces in both evening and day wear collections must be presented twice yearly.

Due to the hand-made nature of the garments and the extreme detail and high-quality materials used, these collections are not made to be worn in the way garments from a prêt-a-porter collection might be. Haute Couture garments are loaned to high-profile celebrities for red carpet events and are also loaned to various museums for them to be displayed within related exhibitions, however, are not often used beyond that. If anything they are bought as an investment piece by buyers in some of the BRIC countries such as Russia or China.

Below is a film outlining some of the processes that go into how a Chanel haute couture garment is produced, giving some insight into why these garments can cost millions.

But is this level of ‘designer fashion’ a waste? With most Haute Couture collections being used as a way to build anticipation for the brand’s prêt-a-porter collection, rather than to sell directly to the consumer.


Prêt-a-Porter is what most people typically refer to as ‘designer’ clothing. It is set apart from mass-produced clothing due to the superior quality, involving the manufacture and materials used. The price level is above what the majority would pay for clothing, however, it is far more attainable than the prices of Haute Couture garments.

Due to the high price many cannot afford this, with the most likely customer being a consumer from the ‘baby boomer’ generation, who are thought of as having ‘money to spend and time to spend it’. Fashion resource WGSN has noted that ‘As a demographic group, the boomers – the last of which are moving into the 50+ age range – will have control of 70% of the disposable income in the US within the next five years’. This is huge news for companies, who may begin to think of marketing specifically towards baby boomers, to ensure the most profit.

However, it is not just baby boomers who are more likely to buy prêt-a-porter garments, but the upper classes who also have a higher disposable income than the rest of the population. Some consumers which circulate in these ‘upper circles’ may become ignorant, feeling superior through their access to a higher quality of clothing. This leads to a class divide, which can furthermore lead to class prejudice. However, it is important to acknowledge that some can only afford what is known as ‘fast fashion’, for those who want to remain ‘on trend’ but have a tight budget.

Mass Production/ High Street

Mass production garments sit at the bottom of the market levels pyramid and are known for a significantly lower price, due to cheaper materials and manufacture costs. This often means the garment is of a lower quality and may not stand the test of time, making this sector of fashion extremely disposable and consequently not very environmentally friendly.

Garments for high street stores such as Primark, New Look and Zara, are made in huge quantities from suppliers in Asia, who have much cheaper manufacture costs than those in the UK or US, enabling the retailer to sell to their consumer for as little as possible. Despite benefitting the customer purchasing the product, such low-cost garments has many ethical and environmental issues. Examples include the 2013 Savar building collapse, child labour, poor working conditions, e.t.c. A great documentary called ‘The True Cost, records the atrocities of ‘fast fashion’, and is definitely worth a watch, especially if you are thinking of pursuing a career in the fashion industry.


What do you think of designer fashion compared to the high street? Let me know in the comments below!

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