Guess Jeans were all the rage when I was in junior high. You know what I'm talking about, right? The iconic American fashion house with the easily-recognizable triangle patch located over the right-side rear pocket. In the year 1990 the kids at my school would practically murder one another for a pair of these hot pants. Each time my parents would visit the mall in Modesto, I would find my way over to Macy's, check the inventory of Guess products, and hope there might be something reasonably-priced I could afford. It was almost a certainty there wouldn't be. Guess Jeans were (and still are) expensive; especially for an eleven year old kid who'll probably fall down playing basketball at lunch and put a hole in the knee.
One day, however, Macy's was having a closeout sale and I managed to find a few Guess products in my size. Mind you, I wasn't taking into account the color or the style; just the fact that the pants had the triangle right where I wanted it to be. My mom allowed me the indulgence (due to the hefty discount) and the next day I went to school in a state of total excitement. When I got there, however, I heard some of the other kids snickering. One of the girls I knew was covering her mouth and looking at me, while her friend checked out my pants. In my haste to simply wear anything bearing the Guess logo, I hadn't stopped to consider whether I actually looked good in what I was wearing. It was clear within seconds that I looked hideous in tan-colored jeans and an off-green button up shirt—exactly the type of garments that would be on sale due to their homeliness.
I will remember that day at Somerset Middle School for as long as I live; not because I'm still embarrassed about what happened (because it was a great lesson), but because almost every day I still see adults falling into the same trap. Make no mistake about what I'm trying to convey here—the other kids laughing at my terrible outfit aren't the jerks in this story; ganging up to mock an insecure boy to his face. I'm the jerk. I was the idiot kid who thought that a designer patch on my jeans would make or break the difference in how his peers viewed him. I was the confused adolescent who obsessed about being cool and following the rules (two things that absolutely do not go together). Today when I walk around the city I see women carrying thousand dollar purses with an ugly, hideous LV (Louis Vuitton, for those of you who don't follow fashion) tattooed all over the casing. I see men wearing mis-matched Hugo Boss layers, in sizes that are completely unflattering, but at least alert the public to the fact they're wearing something somewhat expensive.
If someone looks good, it's apparent no matter where their clothes are from. Names and logos aren't fashion. Words don't make you handsome or stylish. But this isn't a story about how designer labels are just a rip off and that we all need to be comfortable in our own skin—that's the annoying kind of shit people say when they're bitter or jealous of the ways other people live. I wish I could afford to buy fancy stuff! I still love expensive designer clothes to this day. That never changed. I love clothes that fit well, look good, and make me feel good as a result. The right shoes, the right leather, the right cut, the right color—there's no beating it. If I can find a less-expensive version at Ben Sherman or J Crew; even better! It's all about the look and the fit, not the brand (it does so happen, however, that many expensive brands look good and fit well). I feel the same way about whisky: find me something that tastes good—whether it says Glenlivet or Glenturret—and I'm going to enjoy it because I like good whisky; regardless of who made it. Designer clothes don't make the man, just like fancy bottles don't make the whisky. Just because you're wearing Gucci shoes doesn't mean you look good. On the other hand, writing off designer clothes entirely as ridiculous or simply overpriced is also foolish. Stylish is stylish, no matter what it costs.
The trick in dressing well, eating well, drinking well, and—I guess—living well is to know and understand what "well" means. It might be different for me than it is for you, but the definition does exist somewhere inside of us. However, when you allow that definition to be defined completely by a label, unguided by your own inner feelings, well.......that's when people begin snickering at you.