High-Low Fashion (and Drinking)

Esquire's graphic for helping men navigate the perils of high-low fashion

There's a trend in the fashion world called "high-low," which essentially means pairing expensive, "high"-end pieces with affordable, "low"-end options. For example, you might see a woman walking down the street with a Chanel purse and Alexander McQueen shoes (at least $2000 and $1000 a piece), yet wearing a dress from H&M and a belt from Target (maybe $40 and $10 each). Or maybe you'll see a guy at the supermarket wearing $700 Cole Haan shoes, but an $80 Banana Republic suit. The theory behind the "high-low" trend is that some things are worth spending the money on. You're going to wear shoes and a watch much more often than you'll wear a sports jacket or slacks, so you might as well spend the money on those items, while looking elsewhere for less-pricey versions of the basic essentials.

In reality, however, "high-low" fashion isn't so much a trend as it is just basic intelligence; you have to actually know what looks good in order to do it well -- you can't just follow the rule, copy the idea, or buy based on the label. I liken this to what I mentioned yesterday about specs versus quality. You can look at a bottle and read all the details, but you'll never know if it's good or not until you taste it. While information on the label can help lead us to better whisky, you're still a label whore if you buy a bottle based purely on those details -- you're just a more modern version of it. Smart fashionistas can spot a $1000 dress at Yves St. Laurent, see that it looks amazing, but know that they can get a similar dress at Zara for $120. At the same time, they'll know when a $400 pair of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes are worth the price -- even with the designer name mark up.

The same "high-low" principle can be applied to drinking as well: a smart spirits aficionado knows when to splurge and when to look elsewhere for alternatives. There are times when $100 for a brand name label is definitely worth the money (i.e. Glenmorangie 18) and times when you might look outside the major players to find better value. Ultimately, what I love about high-low drinking is that it combines the skeptic's mindset of being smart with one's money with the free-spirited mentality of enjoying oneself -- without the penchant for following trends, labels, points, or ratings. Being a high-low shopper means you know when to employ the basic tenets of $8 Spanish garnacha, but also the supreme pleasures of the $60 aged Bordeaux. It means you know when $10 Prosecco will do the job, but also when to shell out for the $50 bottle of Champagne. High-low drinking requires an understanding of alcohol that goes beyond the label and into the personal -- you alone have to decide what is and isn't worth buying.

Of course, you have to taste the booze in order to know for sure, but that's where experience counts; you have to take risks every now and again. Those who live in fear of buying the wrong bottle and painstakingly analyze every purchase will always be governed by that anxiety (and that takes the fun out of drinking!) You'll never know what is and isn't worth buying until you make a few mistakes.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll