Blazers shell out hard-earned cash for designer duds
At first glance, senior Tu Dang's small bedroom, punctuated with framed photographs and cluttered corners, seems like that of any typical teenage girl. But wait " there's a $600 silver Gucci purse draped over a hook on the wall. And a $1,200 Louis Vuitton purse on her nightstand. Not to mention a matching $285 Louis Vuitton belt tangled in a pile of accessories next to the laundry basket.
Dang has spent thousands of dollars building a wardrobe from high-end designer labels. She is among a number of Blazers who use their paychecks to indulge in extravagantly priced brand names. The temporary pleasure and even social status granted by these expensive purchases are a testament to the power of brand-name marketing.
"I spoil myself,” Dang says with a grin as she rifles through the dozens of shoeboxes stacked across one wall of her room. She comes across four pairs of the same Air Jordan sneakers in four different colors and at least two pairs of sneakers she has only worn once. But Dang no longer quests to buy every Jordan on the market; her tastes now turn towards more sophisticated footwear, like the $293 crystal-studded Stuart Weitzman shoes that she plans to buy for prom. While a $300 price tag may stop other Blair shoppers in their tracks, Dang is unfazed " she is willing to spend up to $600 on a single pair of shoes.
Teenagers: marketing moolah
Dang says she is primarily motivated by a love for fashion. Others, however, believe that less benign forces influence her tastes. Betsy Taylor, President of The Center for a New American Dream, an organization that advocates responsible consumerism, believes that most teenagers are unconscious of how manipulative marketing targets them. "There truly is an industry that spends all of its time figuring out the psyche of teenagers and how to exploit it,” Taylor says.
With more money to burn than ever before, teenagers are a crucial demographic for marketers. According to a 2004 study by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), American teenagers ages 12 to 19 spent $175 billion in 2003, averaging $109 per week. The study also found that unlike adult purchasing, teen spending is unaffected by economic downturn " even better news for corporations hoping to cash in on what TRU Vice President Michael Wood calls teenagers' "unbridled consumer optimism.”
Working hard for the money
Dang pays for her lavish tastes with the money she earns from her job. "Every time I get paid, it's gone like that,” she says, snapping her fingers. She has worked during the school year at Up Against the Wall and Underground Station, clothing and shoe stores with branches at Montgomery Mall and Pentagon City Mall.
Between April and October, Dang has also earned thousands of dollars working as a salon nail technician. By spending her after-school wages and drawing from her summer savings, Dang spends up to $1,000 each month on clothing and accessories.
Junior Raya Steinberg also uses almost all of her paycheck to buy expensive clothes. As a hostess at the restaurant Mi Rancho, Steinberg earns enough money to buy clothes from pop star Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. fashion line, where T-shirts are priced at $70 and leather jackets at over $450. Steinberg has no qualms about her steeply priced tastes. "It's going to cost more if it's nicer,” she says. "It's higher quality, and I don't really care [about the price].”
Dang doesn't pay much mind to price tags either as she peruses Montgomery Mall after school on Jan. 5, sporting a $295 silver Tiffany necklace and her Louis Vuitton purse. Stopping to examine a display of sheepskin Ugg boots in Nordstrom, she is approached by a shoe salesman who recognizes her.
"I have one pair of pink tall Uggs for you,” he says with a sly smile.
Dang's face lights up. "Size five?” she asks hopefully.
After further discussion and a quick review of the store's inventory, Dang changes her mind and arranges without hesitation to order a pair of chestnut brown Uggs priced at $185, identical except in color to the white Uggs she already owns.
The popularity of pricier shoes like Uggs may be indicative of the global trend called "snobmoddities.” First coined in 2002 by a global trend agency, the term refers to everyday products like shoes that are marketed as luxury items. Entrepreneur magazine named snobmoddities one of the top 10 trends to watch in 2005, saying that middle-class Americans are buying more and more "small indulgences” like designer clothing and Starbucks coffee. As this trend trickles down to more teenage customers like Dang, luxury brands benefit from a growing consumer base of younger, more sophisticated buyers.
Not all Blazers are totally comfortable with saving up for snobmoddities, however. Junior Nolan Burke had some doubts about her recent purchase of a $175 pair of jeans by Seven for All Mankind. "I feel shallow when I spend that much money,” she says. She knows that peer pressure contributed to her purchase. "I thought, 'Oh my God, if I don't get these now, I'm not going to have the pleasure of being the first one with these jeans,'” she says wryly. "I'll look back on this, and I'll be like, 'Why, why did I spend this much money?' I wasn't really thinking, you know?”
Senior Ashley Colbert, who owns four pairs of Sevens, has no misgivings about the money she spent, although now she must eschew designer clothes in order to save her paycheck to finance her baby daughter due in February. She says her taste for expensive labels like Seven, Marc Jacobs and Armani Exchange were passed on from her mother and older sister. When her baby is born, Colbert says, she will teach her to place the same emphasis on premium brands. "I want her to wear the same things that I would be wearing, quality things that I believe in too,” she says.
"The price doesn't matter”
Of course, Seven jeans also hang in Dang's overflowing closet. Her parents have tried to make her cut back on shopping by confiscating her paycheck and putting it into a savings account, but no strategy has worked. "I know for a fact that I spend too much money on clothes,” Dang says. But she shows no signs of flagging. "If I really like something, I'm going to buy it.”
For now, Dang dreams of buying a Gucci prom dress to go with her Stuart Weitzman shoes. "I can't afford it... yet,” she says. Since Dang is between jobs at the moment, she's not sure when or how she will be able to afford a several-thousand-dollar dress, but she remains optimistic. "When I find something I like, the price doesn't matter to me,” she says. "I almost always get what I want.”
Amanda Lee. Amanda Lee is excited to be a junior staffer and page editor this year! When she's not working on Silver Chips, Amanda LOVES "The West Wing," Chipotle burritos, and her family. She is also interested in improving her guitar skills and loves rowing on the … More »