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  • The Levels of Fashion

 

The fashion world is busy and fast paced. Trends come and go in the blink of an eye as season’s change, but there is a system to all this madness. 

 

The fashion world is built in levels. Trends start at the top and trickle their way down as new ones come along. We are going to take a closer look at each one of these levels.

 

Haute Couture

 

The highest level of fashion is haute couture. Haute couture is French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking”, it originates from France in the 19th century and refers to garments which are painstakingly handmade from start to finish by only the most skilled of seamstresses out of expensive fabric for a very exclusive clientele, there are only roughly 2,000 women in the world who can afford couture since the average entry level price for a garment is $10,000 with no limit on how expensive it can get. Couture garments are one of a kind and custom made.

Haute couture is a legally protected term in France by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, with the government regulating which houses have the right to call their work couture by certain requirements which must be met. Some of these include having an atelier in Paris as well as producing a 50 piece collection twice a year. Some couture houses are Chanel, Dior and Schiaparelli.

Haute couture showcases imaginative or unusual design to cement a brand’s identity and allow the designer to create without limits. Fashion houses don’t profit from haute couture shows due to the expensive nature of producing these garments and so in turn the clothing designed is not meant for everyday wear but to wow and inspire. It is at the couture level that trends are made.

 

Luxury

Luxury fashion is a step below couture. Although still very expensive and exclusive, luxury fashion is not handmade; it is manufactured in small quantities out of quality materials and exquisite craftsmanship. All couture houses are considered luxury, but not all luxury brands are couture. Fashion at this level takes inspiration from couture collections to create wearable pieces for the high level clientele it caters to, the entry level price for a luxury piece stands at roughly $5,000 and can go upwards to prices of $50,000 depending on materials, type of garment and exclusivity.  

Trends seen at the couture level take a wearable approach in luxury lines via colour choices, design details, silhouettes and overall mood for the season presented in “Ready-to-Wear” collections. Luxury brands are worn by the likes of Hollywood elite, royalty, and industry moguls. Examples of luxury level brands include Gucci, Prada, and Hermès.

 

Bridge/Diffusion

Brands at the bridge level of fashion offer consumers quality and durability at a lower price point than luxury. The name is meant to symbolize the bridging between high street and luxury fashion by creating a middle market tier. Bridge level brands manufacture high quality items at a higher rate than luxury, thus losing exclusivity value. The average starting price for bridge level brands sits at $500 and goes up to roughly $2,000. Examples of bridge brands include Michael Kors, BCBGMAXAZRIA, as well as many independent designers.

In the same tier as bridge level brands are also diffusion lines. Diffusion lines are more affordable extensions of luxury brands, they are well known names offering similar pieces to their luxury tier at a lower price point by lowering the quality of materials used and manufacturing higher quantities. Luxury brands with diffusion lines include Armani, Moschino and Marc Jacobs. 

Both branches of this tier take inspiration from couture/luxury and create very wearable everyday pieces with some nods to trends in less extreme ways such as prints, and toned down silhouettes. 

 


High Street

High street fashion is a step below bridge/diffusion but also a tier that is on its last leg. High street fashion became popular with the rise of department stores, it offered consumers a higher quality than economy or fast fashion and garments that lasted longer. The price range was also very accessible with prices ranging between $50 to $400 depending on garment and brand. The aim of high street fashion is to create clothing that will last and so the garments are usually classic cuts and colours, trends are incorporated via prints and colour in the lower priced items. This tier of fashion is slowly dying out as consumers move towards fast fashion. Examples of high street fashion brands are The Gap, Alfred Sung, and Guess.

 

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a growing and controversial tier of the fashion industry. Fast fashion focuses on providing consumers with trendy pieces at a very low price point. Fast fashion price points start as low as $10 and rarely exceed the $100 threshold. These brands aim to sell as many pieces as possible at the lowest possible price, often using unethical labour practices and environmentally damaging processes. Trends cycle through fast fashion very quickly, so garments are very low quality and not meant to last more than a couple months. 

Recently, fast fashion has faced backlash for these business practices and has aimed to improve their image via environmentally friendly campaigns such as using recycled materials and ethically sourced labour, however it remains a hot topic of debate in the industry. 

Even through the controversy, fast fashion continues to be a growing sector of fashion due to the accessibility of online shopping. Fast fashion brands include H&M, Bluenotes, and Forever 21.

 

Economy/Second Hand

 

The last tier of fashion is economy and second hand. This is the last tier trends travel to before they’re on their way out, economy fashion lines emulate fast fashion brands at even lower price points. Economy lines tend to run from around $10 to $50, their main purpose is functionality so they are often the last tier to adopt a trend if they do so at all. Quality on economy clothing is comparable to fast fashion without the trend aspect, so clothing tends to be worn longer. 

Some economy fashion lines are George, Joe Fresh and Target.

 

Second hand is also on the bottom of the fashion tier since this is where most clothing tends to go after trends have passed. Prices depend vastly on the store they are at but most consignment and second hand stores will offer very accessible prices with some garments being sold for as low as $4. Second hand is currently having a surge in popularity due to people growing more environmentally aware and trying to reduce their consumer footprint. This in turn has resulted in prices of second hand clothing being raised. 


 

By the time trends reach the bottom level of the fashion tier, the top is already 2 seasons ahead. And so the cycle continues.


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