$5,000 For a Pair of Sandals: The Rich Are Different, Right Down to Their Shoes
The fashionista world has been having a collective snit this spring over a huge and sudden increase in the price of designer shoes. A choice quote from Jezebel summarizes the outraged screams rising across the nation:
Any dedicated observer of shoe culture knows that over the last decade or so, something very strange and concerning happened to designer shoes: they got really fucking expensive. In the early 2000s, a pair of Pradas or YSLs could be had at full price for around $400.
$400 is pretty damn insane, but that was then: at the most recent Barneys Warehouse Sale many of the sale prices were higher than that. One struggles to name a consumer item whose price has inflated more dramatically in recent years than the designer shoe (and it's not like $400 is "cheap," as baselines go, to begin with). Basic designer pumps now often hit in the $700-$900 range. Even newer designers, like Brian Atwood and Camilla Skovgaard, feel justified in pricing some of their offerings at over $1000. Christian Louboutin's zippered heelswill set you back nearly $1600. Anything with embellishment or exotic leather might top $2000.
What. The. Fuck?
Safe behind its paywall, WWD -- the fashion industry's paper of record -- has apparently defended the increase, explaining that materials prices have gone up, and the US dollar has lost ground against the euro, and also admitting (in many more obfuscating words) that designers and retailers are working overtime to exploit the already absurdly high profit margins to be found on statusy shoes and handbags.
The Wave wedge
So why should we care? Progressives are, by definition, pretty much not the target audience for these shoes. Beyond the ridiculous price tags, they're too high to walk in, and most of us don't have anything in our closets that would remotely go.
Here's why we should care. WWD's reedy rationalizations don't explain the crowning absurdity of N-M's spring collection: the above-pictured black-and-gold sandal. Far and away the most expensive shoe in the collection (more than double the price of the next contender, in fact), it was designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen -- the woman who also designed Princess Kate's wedding gown, and is clearly making her bid to cash in.
This should be enough to give us pause. I mean: Five grand for a pair of shoes? In a world where kids are starving and ice caps are melting and we're closing public hospitals and libraries?
As Jezebel so aptly put it: What the fuck?
I tried to contact Neiman-Marcus' PR chief, Ginger Reeder, to ask her what could possibly make a shoe worth $5,000. I wanted to ask her: what's the value proposition here? Historically, designer shoes were at least good value: they were well-built, comfortable, durable, and had classic good looks that ensured you'd keep loving them for years.
But clearly, this shoe is not remotely about durability, quality or enduring style (and it's sure as hell not about comfort). Its sole reason for being is to show off. The fashion statement here is direct and clear: "I'm so ostentatiously rich that I can throw around gobs of cash just to have the newest thing. Suck on this, peons."
How does this happen?
It was probably predictable that I got no response from Ms. Reeder. (I mean, honestly: what sensible thing could she have possibly said?) So I turned to another expert on conspicuous consumption: Pulitzer Prize-winning financial writer David Cay Johnston. What, I asked him, does it say about us as a country that a store can market something like this, and find buyers for it?