The word designer is overused: designer drugs, designer fragrances, even designer yoga mats.
But nowhere is the designer designation more confusing than in retail, where you are likely to be confronted with everything from $20 sweaters to $100 shoes being touted as "designer."
The truth is that only garments at the highest end of the range are considered to be designer goods in the fashion industry.
But don't feel bad about not being able to tell the difference between designer and a less expensive knockoff (after all, every fashion item has a designer behind it somewhere): even mass-merchandised labels masquerade as designer lines by throwing big runway shows.
There are many different levels of price points or classficiations in the fashion biz -- from budget to couture -- and there's a perfect price and look just for you.
The prices given below are just estimates: you can find any classification outside of this stated price range.
- Budget or mass market - The low end of the apparel spectrum usually retails for less than $50. Often casual sportswear -- jeans and Tshirts -- falls into this category. Mass market apparel sometimes is a knockoff of higher priced designer items (which are then sold at popular prices to the masses, hence the name "mass market.") Old Navy, Cherokee, and Mossimo are a few popular budget labels. Many designers are starting to turn to mass market retailers such as Target to introduce lower-priced, but well-styled merchandise: Cynthia Rowley, Todd Oldham, Liz Lange, Isaac Mizrahi are a few.
- Discount or Off-price - Could be any price originally, but is retailing for less now. Outlet malls or stores like Ross are example of off-price retailers selling a mixture of discount labels.
- Moderate - Usually retails for less than $100. Dresses, sportswear, career wear and nationally advertised apparel brands -- Nine West, Gap and Land's End -- are all in the moderate range.
- Private label - Designed specifically for a store, often offering the latest looks for less than a name brand.
- Contemporary - More of a fashion-forward look, than just a specific price point. This classification is often aimed at women in their '20s and early '30s who are looking for trendy apparel, but at an affordable (at least compared to designer) price. BCBG, Betsey Johnson and Rebecca Taylor are all considered contemporary lines.
- Better - Typically sells for less than $500. The fabrics and styling are also of better quality than lower-priced items. Sportswear, coordinates and dresses may all appear in better lines. Jones New York and Anne Klein are two examples of a better-priced line.
- Secondary lines - This classification is sometimes used by designers to offer much lowerpriced items than the designer category. The price points vary, but often secondary lines retail for less than $300. Some examples: Marc by Marc Jacobs, DKNY, Lauren by Ralph Lauren. Also called bridge, see below.
- Bridge - A "bridge" between better and designer, this category is often for career separates and dresses in finer fabrics -- Ellen Tracy, Dana Buchman. Usually priced under $1000.
- Designer - True designer collections often sell for more than $1000 an item. The fabrics, cut, detail and trim are usually superior to other ready-to-wear items. Some examples of designer labels are Gucci, Prada, Versace, Balenciaga and Marc Jacobs.
- Haute Couture - Made-to-measure apparel or couture costs tens of thousands of dollars and only a handful of clients can afford it. Couture often gets exposure for a designer through magazine layouts and from celebrities who wear the creations in public. Chanel Couture is an example of a haute couture label.