The End of Brands?
From Richard Press’ Twitter (yes, of J. Press fame), I found this article by James Surowiecki on the decline of brand loyalty. Surowiecki writes:

It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos. “Absolute Value,” a new book by Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford, and Emanuel Rosen, a former software executive, shows that, historically, the rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment. When consumers had to rely on advertisements and their past experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality; if a car was made by G.M., or a ketchup by Heinz, you assumed that it was pretty good. It was hard to figure out if a new product from an unfamiliar company was reliable or not, so brand loyalty was a way of reducing risk. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, nearly four-fifths of American car buyers stayed loyal to a brand.
Today, consumers can read reams of research about whatever they want to buy. This started back with Consumer Reports, which did objective studies of products, and with J. D. Power’s quality rankings, which revealed what ordinary customers thought of the cars they’d bought. But what’s really weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data, in an array of categories. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that eighty per cent of consumers look at online reviews before making major purchases, and a host of studies have logged the strong influence those reviews have on the decisions people make. The rise of social media has accelerated the trend to an astonishing degree: a dud product can become a laughingstock in a matter of hours. In the old days, you might buy a Sony television set because you’d owned one before, or because you trusted the brand. Today, such considerations matter much less than reviews on Amazon and Engadget and CNET. As Simonson told me, “each product now has to prove itself on its own.”
[…]
And this has made customer loyalty pretty much a thing of the past. Only twenty-five per cent of American respondents in a recent Ernst & Young study said that brand loyalty affected how they shopped.

You can read the rest of the article here.
Some of this strikes me as too much like the techno-optimism found in politics, where people used to think (and some still do) that the internet will help spread democracy, “rationality,” and whatever else they think is good. A lot of that has proved to be very debatable. 
In menswear, I think it’s fair to say that an increasing number of men have become interested in buying well-made things, but exactly how many of us are able to accurately assess quality is an open question. For example, beyond looking for full canvassing, can anyone really determine the quality of a suit? We obviously know how a jacket fits us, and how it makes us feel, but these aren’t judgements that easily exist outside of branding.
In the last ten years or so, the “heritage movement” in menswear promised to bring quality back to clothing. Some of that promise has been fulfilled - the trend has encouraged more men to buy Goodyear welted shoes instead of glue jobs, for example. However, much of the movement has also been about the emotional appeal of anti-modernism - where modern, machine made things are “bad” and old-timey, handmade things are “good.” Of course, many of the things marketed today as “old timey,” “artisanal,” and “handmade” aren’t even so. The things we take to be indicators of quality are often just themes brands have come up with to help market their products - themes that aren’t any less superficial than the sex appeals used in the 1980s and ’90s. 
To be sure, things such as online clothing forums and (hopefully) blogs such as this one have helped give men more information about clothes and how they’re made. But to say that this has led to a meaningful decline in brand loyalty seems to me like saying the internet has helped us choose better restaurants. Few us really do serious research when it comes to finding a place to eat, just as few of us will really do exhaustive research when it comes to shopping for a shirt. Most of the time, our selection is boiled down to three or four brands we believe in (a priori), and we do our “research” from there. And, in doing that research, we’re just as likely to find bad information online as we are to find good information. 
Of course, none of this touches on how clothing is a way for us to signal that we’re part of an “in crowd.” Whether that’s a selvedge stripe on a pair of jeans, a “properly” designed button down collar, or the tri-color stripe that we pretend isn’t a logo on Thom Browne’s accessories, a lot of clothing is inherently about branding simply because they’re a way for us to brand ourselves to others. The snobby “avoid logos” adage is … in itself … a way to signal that you’re just part of a “better brand.” 
Like much techno-optimism, Surowiecki’s thesis seems to take one small good thing about the internet and overstate it’s effect. Many of us have become more discerning customers, it’s true, but whether that’s really led to a decline in brand loyalty - at least in clothing - is highly questionable. It’s possible that fluctuations in sales have nothing to do with a decline in brand power at all, but rather with a speeding up of trends.

The End of Brands?

From Richard Press’ Twitter (yes, of J. Press fame), I found this article by James Surowiecki on the decline of brand loyalty. Surowiecki writes:

It’s a truism of business-book thinking that a company’s brand is its “most important asset,” more valuable than technology or patents or manufacturing prowess. But brands have never been more fragile. The reason is simple: consumers are supremely well informed and far more likely to investigate the real value of products than to rely on logos. “Absolute Value,” a new book by Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford, and Emanuel Rosen, a former software executive, shows that, historically, the rise of brands was a response to an information-poor environment. When consumers had to rely on advertisements and their past experience with a company, brands served as proxies for quality; if a car was made by G.M., or a ketchup by Heinz, you assumed that it was pretty good. It was hard to figure out if a new product from an unfamiliar company was reliable or not, so brand loyalty was a way of reducing risk. As recently as the nineteen-eighties, nearly four-fifths of American car buyers stayed loyal to a brand.

Today, consumers can read reams of research about whatever they want to buy. This started back with Consumer Reports, which did objective studies of products, and with J. D. Power’s quality rankings, which revealed what ordinary customers thought of the cars they’d bought. But what’s really weakened the power of brands is the Internet, which has given ordinary consumers easy access to expert reviews, user reviews, and detailed product data, in an array of categories. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that eighty per cent of consumers look at online reviews before making major purchases, and a host of studies have logged the strong influence those reviews have on the decisions people make. The rise of social media has accelerated the trend to an astonishing degree: a dud product can become a laughingstock in a matter of hours. In the old days, you might buy a Sony television set because you’d owned one before, or because you trusted the brand. Today, such considerations matter much less than reviews on Amazon and Engadget and CNET. As Simonson told me, “each product now has to prove itself on its own.”

[…]

And this has made customer loyalty pretty much a thing of the past. Only twenty-five per cent of American respondents in a recent Ernst & Young study said that brand loyalty affected how they shopped.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Some of this strikes me as too much like the techno-optimism found in politics, where people used to think (and some still do) that the internet will help spread democracy, “rationality,” and whatever else they think is good. A lot of that has proved to be very debatable. 

In menswear, I think it’s fair to say that an increasing number of men have become interested in buying well-made things, but exactly how many of us are able to accurately assess quality is an open question. For example, beyond looking for full canvassing, can anyone really determine the quality of a suit? We obviously know how a jacket fits us, and how it makes us feel, but these aren’t judgements that easily exist outside of branding.

In the last ten years or so, the “heritage movement” in menswear promised to bring quality back to clothing. Some of that promise has been fulfilled - the trend has encouraged more men to buy Goodyear welted shoes instead of glue jobs, for example. However, much of the movement has also been about the emotional appeal of anti-modernism - where modern, machine made things are “bad” and old-timey, handmade things are “good.” Of course, many of the things marketed today as “old timey,” “artisanal,” and “handmade” aren’t even so. The things we take to be indicators of quality are often just themes brands have come up with to help market their products - themes that aren’t any less superficial than the sex appeals used in the 1980s and ’90s. 

To be sure, things such as online clothing forums and (hopefully) blogs such as this one have helped give men more information about clothes and how they’re made. But to say that this has led to a meaningful decline in brand loyalty seems to me like saying the internet has helped us choose better restaurants. Few us really do serious research when it comes to finding a place to eat, just as few of us will really do exhaustive research when it comes to shopping for a shirt. Most of the time, our selection is boiled down to three or four brands we believe in (a priori), and we do our “research” from there. And, in doing that research, we’re just as likely to find bad information online as we are to find good information. 

Of course, none of this touches on how clothing is a way for us to signal that we’re part of an “in crowd.” Whether that’s a selvedge stripe on a pair of jeans, a “properly” designed button down collar, or the tri-color stripe that we pretend isn’t a logo on Thom Browne’s accessories, a lot of clothing is inherently about branding simply because they’re a way for us to brand ourselves to others. The snobby “avoid logos” adage is … in itself … a way to signal that you’re just part of a “better brand.” 

Like much techno-optimism, Surowiecki’s thesis seems to take one small good thing about the internet and overstate it’s effect. Many of us have become more discerning customers, it’s true, but whether that’s really led to a decline in brand loyalty - at least in clothing - is highly questionable. It’s possible that fluctuations in sales have nothing to do with a decline in brand power at all, but rather with a speeding up of trends.



Avoiding Buyer’s Regret
When you’re shopping for clothes, there are probably a dozen or more variables to consider before you make a purchase. Unfortunately, most of these considerations can get muddled, and if you don’t parse them out carefully, you can buy something for the wrong reasons. So I thought I’d rank some of the principle considerations: fit, style, construction, and branding, in that order. When deciding whether or not to buy something, go through these considerations in order of importance and you’ll minimize your likelihood of ending up with buyer’s regret. 
Fit
As they say, fit is king. The first thing anyone notices, even before style, is whether your clothes fit well. A man would look better in a well-fitting pair of jeans and a t-shirt before he would in a sloppy suit. 
What fits is what flatters. This point may seem basic, but it’s amazing how rarely you see it practiced. Men who aren’t style conscious tend to wear clothes too big, while men who pay a lot of attention often wear things too small. Proper fitting clothes hit in the right places and give you clean lines, no matter what your movement or position. Shoulder seams should end around the shoulder bone, and clothes shouldn’t be so baggy that they fold, nor be so tight that they pull. 
Style
Always remember that fit comes before style. There’s no quicker way to catch buyer’s regret than to buy something that’s stylish, but doesn’t fit perfectly. Once you find something that fits, however, consider whether the garment has all the design details you’re looking for. If you want something that will last, avoid things that veer too strongly towards one design trend. As a very general rule of thumb, I find simple, classic designs to be best. 
You may also want to consider how versatile the garment is. Basic blues, greys, and browns will help you build in that versatility, as all those colors are easy to incorporate. To be sure, there’s a lot of room for dark greens, burgundies, and other livelier colors. However, make sure you’re not buying something that you can only wear with one pair of trousers or one jacket. You should seek to build a wardrobe, not a collection of outfits.
Construction
Some may be surprised that I rank construction so low on the list of considerations. However, a garment’s design will always be the bigger determinant of its lifespan. Most clothes are made to last at least a couple of years now. If a jacket is made with skinny lapels, for example, its style will give out much sooner than its cloth. Thus, while I strongly believe people should invest in higher quality purchases, I also think that they should prioritize fit and style above quality. If it doesn’t look good on you or work with the rest of your wardrobe, the quality of its construction will mean very little.
Branding
Finally, there is branding. Everyone succumbs to this to some extent. We buy clothes partly to express the person we are, and partly the person we wish to be. We may also buy something because of the lifestyle it represents. It may not be the most “rational” of considerations, but it’s no less real or enjoyable. Clothes in this sense are romantic; they make life less dull. It would be crotchety to deny or condemn it. At the same time, you should be aware of what you’re doing, and only do so if it meets the other criteria above. 
Conclusion
Of course, ideally, you should make purchases that fulfill every one of these categories (with the exception of maybe branding). However, people have limited means, time, and patience for such things, and not everyone is going to spend the next few months searching for the perfect shirt. Thus, for the non-neurotic, you now have neatly parsed considerations that you can prioritize in order to make better buying decisions.
Purchase things for the right reasons. Buy something because it’s well-made before you buy into a brand; buy something well designed before you buy into its quality; most importantly, buy something because it fits well before you consider anything else.

Avoiding Buyer’s Regret

When you’re shopping for clothes, there are probably a dozen or more variables to consider before you make a purchase. Unfortunately, most of these considerations can get muddled, and if you don’t parse them out carefully, you can buy something for the wrong reasons. So I thought I’d rank some of the principle considerations: fit, style, construction, and branding, in that order. When deciding whether or not to buy something, go through these considerations in order of importance and you’ll minimize your likelihood of ending up with buyer’s regret. 

Fit

As they say, fit is king. The first thing anyone notices, even before style, is whether your clothes fit well. A man would look better in a well-fitting pair of jeans and a t-shirt before he would in a sloppy suit. 

What fits is what flatters. This point may seem basic, but it’s amazing how rarely you see it practiced. Men who aren’t style conscious tend to wear clothes too big, while men who pay a lot of attention often wear things too small. Proper fitting clothes hit in the right places and give you clean lines, no matter what your movement or position. Shoulder seams should end around the shoulder bone, and clothes shouldn’t be so baggy that they fold, nor be so tight that they pull. 

Style

Always remember that fit comes before style. There’s no quicker way to catch buyer’s regret than to buy something that’s stylish, but doesn’t fit perfectly. Once you find something that fits, however, consider whether the garment has all the design details you’re looking for. If you want something that will last, avoid things that veer too strongly towards one design trend. As a very general rule of thumb, I find simple, classic designs to be best. 

You may also want to consider how versatile the garment is. Basic blues, greys, and browns will help you build in that versatility, as all those colors are easy to incorporate. To be sure, there’s a lot of room for dark greens, burgundies, and other livelier colors. However, make sure you’re not buying something that you can only wear with one pair of trousers or one jacket. You should seek to build a wardrobe, not a collection of outfits.

Construction

Some may be surprised that I rank construction so low on the list of considerations. However, a garment’s design will always be the bigger determinant of its lifespan. Most clothes are made to last at least a couple of years now. If a jacket is made with skinny lapels, for example, its style will give out much sooner than its cloth. Thus, while I strongly believe people should invest in higher quality purchases, I also think that they should prioritize fit and style above quality. If it doesn’t look good on you or work with the rest of your wardrobe, the quality of its construction will mean very little.

Branding

Finally, there is branding. Everyone succumbs to this to some extent. We buy clothes partly to express the person we are, and partly the person we wish to be. We may also buy something because of the lifestyle it represents. It may not be the most “rational” of considerations, but it’s no less real or enjoyable. Clothes in this sense are romantic; they make life less dull. It would be crotchety to deny or condemn it. At the same time, you should be aware of what you’re doing, and only do so if it meets the other criteria above. 

Conclusion

Of course, ideally, you should make purchases that fulfill every one of these categories (with the exception of maybe branding). However, people have limited means, time, and patience for such things, and not everyone is going to spend the next few months searching for the perfect shirt. Thus, for the non-neurotic, you now have neatly parsed considerations that you can prioritize in order to make better buying decisions.

Purchase things for the right reasons. Buy something because it’s well-made before you buy into a brand; buy something well designed before you buy into its quality; most importantly, buy something because it fits well before you consider anything else.