Lusting after high-end fashion and designer pieces, season after season, is a habit for many. It’s not difficult to fall in love with the alluring designs on the pages of glossy fashion magazines that were created by noteworthy designers such as Chanel, Marchesa, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and many more.
Unfortunately for a vast majority of the population, owning more than one or two pieces by some of the world’s most well known designers, is beyond the realm of possibility. After all, designer pieces with such prestige can easily sell for thousands of dollars. This still doesn't prevent us from dreaming of one day affording a Chanel jacket or Louboutin heels. In the meantime, discount brands and retail stores can offer knock offs of famous designs and provide trendy pieces.
In addition, the prices of some fashionable labels such as, Diane von Furstenberg, Halston Heritage and alice + olivia aren’t completely out of the scope of most shoppers. With a little bit of saving, chic pieces from these high quality brands can be accessible.
With all that said, who can really afford a designer dress that costs thousands of dollars? The price tag attached to fashion varies dramatically, from $50 for a floral print Gap dress, to around $2,500 for a floral print Dolce & Gabbana dress. What kind of salary does one need in order to realistically fill a wardrobe with such high-end pieces?
With that question in mind, let’s do an exercise to try to figure out who can afford which fashion labels. First, we have to know how much the average person spends on clothing. Generally speaking, most financial planners agree that about 3-4% of a person’s net income should be spent on fashion. Indeed, the natural average spent on clothing in the U.S. is around 3.8%.
So, let’s take 4% of some sample incomes, reflecting the amount a person should spend on clothing each year, and divide it by 12, to obtain a monthly clothing “allowance.” For the sake of comparison, we’ll assume that a woman is spending this allowance on 1 new outfit per month, or 12 new outfits a year. Which labels or designer pieces can she purchase each month with that allowance?
The results are revealing: they show approximately how many women can comfortably afford designer brands. The short answer is that, unsurprisingly, not many can realistically buy designer labels, considering the annual median household income in the U.S. is $51,000, about U.S.D. $68,000 in Canada and U.S.D. $67,000 in the UK. However, keep in mind this isn't a scientific study, since it doesn't take into account the fact that someone could buy fewer new outfits a year from higher end brands, nor does it take into account that savvy shoppers might be able to afford more exclusive brands if they shop sales (prices for clothing listed here are approximate and reflect full retail value). Let's take a look!
10 $20,000 U.S.D. annual income ($66 clothing budget per month)
$45 Peter Pilloto for Target dress
$20 Old Navy ballet flats
Those who have a $20,000 income can benefit from trendy clothing brands that can be found at discount retailers such as Target, Old Navy, and Walmart. Interestingly, as this outfit example shows, high-end designers such as Peter Pilloto are increasingly creating lower-priced capsule collections in collaboration with retailers such as Target. Although Peter Pilotto’s designer dresses sell for thousands of dollars, Target has made the label accessible to the average consumer through this special collection.
9 $50,000 annual income ($166 clothing budget per month)
$110 Topshop dress
$60 Zara pointed ballet flats
Retailers that are common in malls and popular shopping streets such as, Topshop, H&M, Zara and Forever 21 offer designer-looking pieces at a fraction of the price. The popularity of these stores is in part because they provide clothing that is accessible to many: as this example shows, someone who makes a median household income can probably shop for these or similar brands. With that said, clothing made by retail shops have also become desirable by those who could likely afford higher end labels: Kate Middleton has famously worn Topshop pieces, including a black and white polka dotted dress that retailed for £38, or about $63.
8 $90,000 annual income ($300 clothing budget per month)
$65 Mango jeans
$60 Aritzia camisole
$100 JCrew cardigan
$60 Tom’s shoes
Those who earn incomes that approach the six-figure range, still benefit from retailers such as Mango that provide a higher-end look at an affordable price. Trendy labels such as Tom’s, and other higher-end retailers such as Aritzia and JCrew, become a little bit more realistic at this income level, but are still attainable for those who have to watch their budget.
7 $120,000 annual income ($400 clothing budget per month)
$245 Diane von Furstenberg dress
$119 Nine West heels
$45 Banana Republic scarf
Higher end labels such as Nine West are more comfortably attainable for those who have a $100,000 income. Many professionals such as managers, lawyers and doctors fall into this salary range and would agree they enjoy looking professionally attired for their jobs. Labels such as Diane von Furstenberg and Banana Republic are a good fit for these professional needs.
6 $200,000 annual income ($666 clothing budget per month)
$395 Halston Heritage crepe dress
$119 Charles David nude pump
$165 JCrew statement stone necklace
Similar to the $120,000 salary bracket, those who make $200,000 are professionals that probably need to have a sleek and sophisticated wardrobe to match. Labels such as Halston Heritage, Charles David and JCrew fit the bill. Most of these wardrobe pieces might still be attainable by those with lower income brackets if they save their pennies.
5 $350,000 annual income ($1,166 clothing budget per month)
$265 Thakoon Addition t-shirt
$300 Seven for All Mankind jeans
$550 Moschino Cheap and Chic loafers
Within this bracket, we start to see higher end labels such as Thakoon and Moschino. They appear to become a little more attainable when the income bracket approaches the $350,000 range. This is where it begins to be more comfortable to shop for some higher-end trendy pieces.
4 $500,000 annual income ($1,666 clothing budget per month)
$920 Marc Jacobs metallic skirt
$470 Étoile Isabel Marant top
$360 alice + olivia pumps
The fun really gets underway at the $500,000 income range as pieces by higher end designers such as, Marc Jacobs, Isabel Marant and alice+olivia become more affordable.
3 $1,000,000 annual income ($3,333 clothing budget per month)
$1,200 Jonathan Saunders print dress
$1,196 Christian Louboutin ankle bootie
$855 Helmut Lang blazer
A seven-figure income will make chic, high-end designer pieces much more easily attainable. With over a $3,000 budget per month, it’s time to splurge on those $1,200 Louboutins.
2 $2,500,000 annual income ($8,333 clothing budget per month)
$2,775 Balmain skirt
$4,710 Chanel jacket
$1,250 Giuseppe Zanotti black leather open-toe boot
Finally, an outfit consisting of the ever-classic Chanel jacket – retailing at Chanel boutiques for thousands of dollars each – makes an appearance. Thousands of dollars for one clothing item probably isn’t a very comfortable purchase for anyone earning less than a seven-figure income.
1 $4,000,000 annual income ($13,333 clothing budget per month)
$4,950 Saint Laurent cropped jacket
$2,495 Dolce & Gabbana floral dress
$2,100 Jimmy Choo pumps
$3,695 Alexander McQueen embroidered clutch
With a 4 million dollar income, a closet (preferably walk-in) can certainly be home to many high-end designer outfits, shoes and accessories.
With that said, even those who have multimillion dollar incomes will have to save up for a haute couture gown to wear to the next Met Gala or Academy Awards ceremony: costing $25,000 and upwards (over the monthly allowance of someone with an $8 million income), a couture gown is not exactly for those with a budget.
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