Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Kate Spade & Tory Burch: The Truth about What We’re Buying

Flashback to 1987…

Growing Pains is on the TV and the Seaver home has been burglarized. Every family member has been robbed of valued possessions and they come together in their ransacked living room to talk about it. Carol (the smart one) comes up with idea not to have anything worth stealing. “No name brand clothes!” she announces. Then her father, Jason, the wise psychologist asks,

“What about our sense of security? Can they take that away, too?”

Flashback to my freshman year of high school…

I was listening in on a conversation between two senior girls. One of them said,

“My grandma got me pajama pants from Target for Christmas. I wanted pajama pants from J.Crew. My grandma said, ‘Well aren’t these the same thing?’ I wanted to say, ‘No, Grandma. They’re not the same thing at all!’”

I thought a lot about her words. I knew they were true, but I didn’t know why.

Flashback to my freshman year of college…

“I couldn’t believe she got me a Kate Spade bag for graduation,” a sweet metropolitan girl from down the hall said.

“Who’s Kate Spade?” I asked.

She looked embarrassed for me. She tried to explain, but knew it was lost on me.

Shortly after this conversation, I was walking down South University in Ann Arbor (home of the University of Michigan), when I had one of those “everything changed” kind of moments.

Walking towards me was a gaggle of girls wearing black pants, dark sunglasses, and Tiffany “Bean” necklaces. Many of them carried “Sam” bags (Kate Spade gives her bags names so you can talk about them like they’re friends or pets). On the street, the driver of a black Range Rover honked at the driver of a black Land Rover. And I suddenly felt like Eve in the garden of Eden. My eyes were opened and I realized that I was naked. I had no status symbols.

Truly, before I went to college, I had never heard of TAG Heuer or Louis Vuitton or a slew of other brand names, but I began to see them everywhere I went. And I wanted them. I was desperate for fig leaves with the right labels to cover my insecurity.

Flashback to my “freshman” year of marriage…

“You’re going to wear that?” I asked disappointment woefully evident in my tone.

“Yeah.  What’s wrong with it?” He retorted frustrated with my preoccupation with his attire.

We had exchanges like this before heading to the airport, church, family gatherings, and movie dates.

The night I met my husband, he had on the ugliest pants I had ever seen. They were baby poop, yellow brown and too big.  His fashion sense was something I was sure I could improve.

I can’t even tell you how many strained conversations it took to get him to give up t-shirts with holes in the armpits for traveling. I’ve talked him in to collared shirts for airports, but it took A LOT of work.

When I look deep at my motivation, I see the same insecurity I had in college. When we travel, I want to look like the kind of people who have the money to travel.

Flashback to a few months ago…

“Oh my goodness, I love your shoes!” I gush to another mom at my child’s school function. They are Tory Burch and they are pretty fabulous. Tory is having a moment right now and every time I go somewhere with wealthy people, I am surrounded by women decked out in Tory Burch. They look so put together and radiate confidence.

Flash to now…

It has taken me over twenty years, but I finally know the difference between Target and J.Crew pajama pants: it’s how you FEEL when you wear them. Every time I change multiple times before I get dressed to go somewhere – I think of how great it would feel to have a perfectly put together Tory Burch outfit – something I could put on and know I look good.

Of course there is something to be said for wanting a particular brand because it suits your style, but there are thousands of styles of ballet flats that resemble Tory Burch’s. Hers just cost a lot more. The price difference is only a little bit about materials and quality and a lot about the feelings and perceptions we buy with them.

We’re willing to pay a lot for the perception of wealth and power and having it all together. You may not be able to buy love, but you can buy confidence. And the price of confidence (for many of us), is the price of an awesome bag and a great pair of shoes.

I know my desire for these things comes from insecurity, but I still want the brand name fig leaves. I carry Kate Spade bags now.  Thankfully I don’t care enough to know their names or talk about them like friends/pets, but I still crave the confidence I feel carrying them.

Jason Seaver from Growing Pains was right. You can’t be robbed of a solid sense of security. That kind of security feels exactly the same in a pair of Target or J.Crew pajama pants. That kind of security is incredibly valuable, but unfortunately, unlike confidence, it can’t be bought.

 



Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as…the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  (1 Peter 3:3-4, NIV)

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Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Author of the viral post: 10 Things to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Emergency Department. Board certified emergency medicine physician, wife, mother, aspiring novelist.
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6 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Labels belong inside the item. You have a medical degree for God sakes. You really need a label to put together an outfit?. Go to Paris and pick up some style tips!

    1. Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (Post author)

      Hi Kathy – thanks for taking the time to write. From your comment, I’m guessing you’ve been to Paris – lucky you! I would love to go to Paris (although probably more for the culture, architecture and food than the fashion). If I live long enough, I’m sure I’ll go someday. Anyway – what I really wanted to say is that this article is meant to be more about insecurity than fashion. I think a lot of people can relate to putting on more than one outfit looking for something that not only looks good, but FEELS good…the kinds of clothes that make you feel confident/self-assured and ready to take on anything with eyes up and shoulders back… the point is that some of us use clothes to make up for/supplement our sense of confidence/worth. The label shouldn’t matter at all…inside or outside… $15 dollars from Target or $1500 from St.John. I’m getting better about this, but I’m not all the way there yet. If you can’t relate at all to feelings of insecurity, you are indeed one lucky lady and I would like to be more like you!

  2. Marlo

    I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it that way- that what we’re buying with the higher price tag is a bit of confidence. I want to buy that at a lower price tag- which is why I am absolutely thrilled to find high-end items at consignment or thrift stores- but it’s definitely different than buying the high-end item brand new.

  3. Kassi

    I have to add, that first, as my sister worshipped (not wirshipped) at the alter of Vogue magazine from the age of 12, she was also the first (I was the 2nd) to wear major Twiggy eyeliner in grades 8 & 9. I look back and have only one thought…how could my mother have allowed us to look like that! Carry On, Kristin. Your originality is a Joy!

  4. Chewing Crayons

    So good. 🙂 Great writing.

  5. Kassi

    “My eyes were opened and I realized I was naked. I had no status symbols”…just brilliant, Kristin. Your honesty is so refreshing about how innocent you were, and the feeling of being ‘other than’.
    Because my older sister wirshipped Vogue magazine as early as 6th grade, I was privy to all kinds of names & labels early on. My sister could also afford them. I never rarely felt the sway toward the ‘brands’ but I think in my case, it was easier because I knew them, and I choose not to partake. Kind of a ‘non brand’ snob in my own right.
    Yet, I still catch myself talking, for example, about our new Sephora shop in town, only to get blank stares in return from friends who care very little for overpriced makeup.
    This column is beautifully written and speaks honestly about the push/pull of our advertising world and the self esteem that comes with being ‘in the know’.
    But you make a point, beautifully, that this does not make us better people. Just differently informed!
    And yes, sometimes I do want the best, because I want to feel the best! And there’s not a darn thing wrong with that!

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