The Emperor has no Gucci and the Beautiful Lies We Tell Ourselves

I enjoy getting dressed up, playing pretend. I love a well-cut suit. I’m not brand loyal but it’d be lying to say I’m not happy with the Calvin Klein jacket I got cheap. My job and I are a good fit, tailor made. Off-price designer brands is no racket, but we have our doubters. A guy asked if the designer leather jackets we’re selling were real. It’s not that they're badly made, but they’re very cheap. Too good to be true, he thought. Sure, it was faux leather but the label! In his hands a well-made jacket, and he’s worried about the label.

It was like  a hundred bucks!

It was like a hundred bucks!

You have to maintain appearances after all.

Designer clothes mean prosperity. “Look! I can drop $300 on jeans!” Naturally, there’s a robust counterfeit market. Worrying about fakes makes sense at full price but when they’re cheap, what’s it matter?

Adam Smith observed:

“A linen shirt […] is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. […] But […] a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt […] which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty [that] nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct.”

For some, designer labels are a façade in a Potemkin village. Potemkin supposedly built fake villages to impress upon Empress Catherine that her Ukrainian/Crimean possessions were well governed. Make Novorossiya look like it’s full of fat, happy peasants, but this is a Saxon Ambassador’s spiteful gossip. Fake fakes! Pure hyperreality. That the idea stuck anyways is suggestive. You don’t have to be an empress to worry you’ve built everything on a sand foundation.

To spot a fake you’ve got to know the real, and if all you’ve known might be fakes, well, that’s a recipe for top-flight anxiety. The emperor has no Gucci. You might not be the Christian in Christian Dior. Like Kanye, you have questions:

With clothes, there’s often no difference between good counterfeits and the real thing. You’re paying for the label, not craftsmanship. The same mass reproducibility keeping designer profits high denies certainty of authenticity. If the real thing is easy to make then so are fakes. This is the absurdity of worrying your jeans were made in the wrong Chinese factory. No one can tell, but oh God, what if they can? They’ll spring from the bushes and expose you!

In a way, we all worry about that. Imposter syndrome is real.

Like the villages Potemkin never built, fakes don’t need originals. Like Smith’s day-labourers, we’re judged, but it’s against a standard no one ever met. As kids, we thought adults had it together. We realized it’s all maintaining appearances.

Fake it ‘till you make it, kids.

Sean Stone

Sean Stone is a lover of the idiosyncratic, esoteric, and obscure. An old soul born at a young age on Vancouver Island, he now lives in Ottawa. He has a degree in Political Science and still finds that sort of thing interesting. He’d like to find some stimulating work to pay for new suits and old books.

Twitter | Tumblr | I subscribe to: Tedium