Labeling Theory

I’ve written before about branding.  You know that I think it’s kind of a weird thing.  But I’ve seen a new version of it over the past couple of years, and it troubles me because it seems to indicate that we’re buying into branding on a whole new level.  I’m talking about the cuff label.  You know, like this:


The function of this label is the function of all labels—just like the ones on your jeans (the paper ones that go over the waistline and are sewn or stapled or plastic-riveted on, or the ones that are stuck to and/or hang off your shirts.  It’s a brand identifier.  When you’re going through a stack of jeans, and you have a reasonable idea of what fits, it’s nice to be able to tell Levi’s from Wranglers.

Similarly, when you’re looking for a jacket or suit separates, it’s nice to be easy to tell at a glance what you’re looking for.  I know that a particular brand of jackets fits me well, so I tend to look for that brand.  Etcetera.

But while these labels are there to identify the brand, it seems to me that we have become so used to having massive labels all over everything that people are starting to invest them with meaning.  I mean, I’m wearing a CHAPS jacket.  I have class.  That sort of thing.

We’re used to having labels on T-shirts and jeans, and so it must seem kind of natural to keep labels on things like suits.  Or perhaps unnatural to remove them.

This all came home to me when I was acting as a guide at a rather fancy function lately.  And saw not only teenagers, but also a number of males closer to my age wearing their hearts—um, labels—on their sleeves.  I guess that when all of our other clothing has been so thoroughly branded and labeled, it’s hard to see where to stop.

Here’s the poop:  That label is tacked on with maybe two to four stitches for a reason:  so that you won’t damage the fabric of the suit when you remove it.  Once you’ve purchased a suit and before you wear it out of your house or apartment, remove the tag.  You may want to wear sweatshirts or leather jackets or jeans or whatever with someone else’s name on it, but when you wear a suit or sport jacket, you are not shilling for someone else (I would venture that whenever you pay more than $10 for an item of clothing you should not be shilling for the manufacturer), you are presenting yourself.

What will matter is the fit of the item.  Whether it fits the setting (don’t wear a shiny maroon suit to court), and whether it fits you (I strongly suggest a read-through of Paul Fussell’s remarkable 1983 book, Class:  A Guide Through the American Status System, with particular attention to the topics of “legible clothing” and “collar gap”:


Or maybe I’m just being cranky today.  And trying to avoid speaking ill of Donald Trump.




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5 Responses to Labeling Theory

  1. Patrick Moore says:

    Take a look at Matthew Crawford’s new “The World Outside Of Your Head.” Crawford is arguing that interaction with physical objects and other people, ie hand work and clients, strengthens and even causes a true idea of oneself; he opposes this to the the Enlightenment ideal of the autonomous individual, radically free because, free of dogma, he has individually analyzed all viewpoints and selected his own; and who has morphed into the post-’60s-liberation model of the libertarian-capitalist (Burning Man!) consumer fulfilled by the unrestricted multiplicity of goods).

    Me, I’m trying to decide if frayed collars and cuffs on name brand shirts (*old* Gap, *good* Ralph) display tasteful well to do disdain for material things, or if they are just sloppy.

  2. Patrick Moore says:

    So do I — that’s what lets me be picky.

  3. winklepickerjoe says:

    Well, I’m English, and my daughter bought me a sweater from a charity shop (that’s how bad things are now in the UK) which turned out to have a classy leather label on the cuff. So now I’m advertising the Columbia Sportswear Company, with the option of turning the cuff over to hide the label. That’s class.
    While (not) on the subject, I have to say that Donald Trump’s conflating his campaign with the Brexit process seems highly fanciful. To most of us in the UK, even those in favour of leaving the EU, the result of the referendum was a shock from which the country is still reeling. Would there be a comparable shock if Trump became President?
    In both cases, it seems that, as in war, the first casualty is the truth.

    • Unless I seriously misunderstand things, “charity shop” = GoodWill/Salvation army pretty closely. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my favorite place to shop. As to the sweater, there are always scissors or seam rippers…

      Trump seems to think that Brexit is plucky little Britain’s way of showing the big bully EU who’s boss. And since he sees himself in the same way…I do think there would be a sense of shock should Mr. Trump be successful in his bid for the Presidency. Perhaps even (and maybe especially) among his Trumpkins.

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