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Budget Fashion Bridge Lines – Worth the Hype?


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If you’ve paid attention to the fashion industry in the last decade, you might have noticed something new in the world of couture: budget fashion lines. Budget fashion lines, which are referred to as “bridge lines” in the industry, offer you a chance to score high-end goods on a low-end budget. By teaming designers up with a mass-market retailer, you can now get the coveted name brand at an affordable price.

But are budget fashion lines worth the hype? Like any purchase, common sense and personal budgets must be taken into consideration.

History of Budget Fashion Lines

While bridge lines might seem like a fairly new fashion development, they’re not new to the world of retail. In fact, Halston was the first house to test mass retail waters by teaming up with JCPenney back in 1983 with its Halston III for JCPenney line. Unfortunately, the licensing deal and subsequent line outraged current designers, and the idea was eventually scrapped.

Fast-forward 20 years, when the economy began to nosedive. Suddenly, cheap was chic, leaving designers clamoring for retail licensing deals to sell more goods. It was Isaac Mizrahi who pioneered the modern bridge line – his Issac Mizrahi for Target clothes and accessories actually outsold the original brand goods at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue.

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When the Missoni for Target line went live in 2011, the Target website crashed under the pressure of thousands of shoppers clogging the online store. But some buyers were disappointed when the quality of their purchases didn’t necessarily live up to the Missoni name.

Considerations for Budget Fashion Purchases

While it’s exciting to see the designers you love at prices you can actually afford, it’s important that you don’t get so excited that you make a poor purchase. Quality and cost-per-wear is key, so you should consider the following factors when buying bridge lines:

1. The Quality
An original Missoni piece is pricey because it is high-end knitwear made from wool. The Target pieces, on the other hand, were mostly acrylic, which had some buyers crying foul. Remember that designers have to create bridge lines that are affordable, which often means compromising on the quality of a piece. You can’t expect catwalk quality when you’re paying bargain-basement prices, so check for signs that the pieces have been made relatively well. I always give any piece of clothing a once-over for loose threads, a sure sign that quality is lacking.

2. The Cost-Per-Wear
Cost-per-wear is a way to describe the amount of money it costs each time you wear a specific item. A low cost-per-wear means you’re getting a great deal on something you wear often. For instance, I’ve splurged on a pair of boots before, but I wear them so often that I feel like I scored a good deal.

When shopping budget lines, consider the cost-per-wear as you would for any other purchase. Having lower-priced cocktail dresses available at your favorite store is great – unless, of course, you never actually wear cocktail dresses. Budget fashion lines might persuade you to purchase items that you don’t really need, just to get the label in your closet.

Figure out the cost-per-wear before you buy. For instance, a dress might cost $49.95, but if you only wear it once per year, it works out to be a pretty high cost-per-wear. On the other hand, a $49.95 pair of flats worn every week for an entire year works out to less than a dollar per wear.

Budget Fashion Purchases

3. The Purpose
When the H&M by Versace line came out, I was excited to check out the goods and see if I could snag some Versace for my own closet. However, when I actually hit the store, I found that the items weren’t really my style and I ended up empty-handed.

But that’s okay! Don’t splurge on items unless you’re sure that you’ll actually incorporate them into your daily wardrobe. You can often preview the collections online to see if there’s anything you love before hitting the store. Just remember that a lot of the marketing material is about hype, so check out blogger reviews and articles for non-biased opinions before you break out your credit card.

4. The Price
Yes, a Jason Wu dress at Target is less money than a higher-end dress at Barney’s, but that doesn’t automatically make it a bargain. Some designer lines still command a premium price, even at lower-end retailers. If you wouldn’t normally drop $60 on a skirt, don’t get sucked in by the designer hype and go over-budget just to snag a piece by a couture designer.

When I’m considering a purchase from a bridge line, I ask myself, “Would I normally spend this much money on this piece?” It’s a good way to remind myself to stay within budget.

5. The Exclusivity
Most fashion bridge lines are very limited edition, since the designers don’t want to tarnish their name by it becoming too common. Because of that, it’s usually a small collection that is available, and when it’s sold out, it’s sold out for good. Some of that exclusivity helps to drive buyers to purchase more items, just in case it sells out.

Don’t get caught up in the excitement of a new line. If it sells out before you get to the store, it just means more money stays in your pocket. Besides, you can always check sites like eBay as a way to find gently used and even new items with the same label at a cheaper price.

Final Word

Budget fashion lines can definitely be a great way to finally afford designer goods on your current budget. But that’s only true if you make sure that you’re purchasing a pair of shoes because you really love them and they’re well-made, not because they have a coveted label sewn on the inside. Whether it’s Jimmy Choo for H&M or Simply Vera by Vera Wang at Kohl’s, it is possible to buy designer on the cheap. Or, at least, cheap-ish.

Have you ever bought anything from a bridge line? What’s your favorite?


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Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.