Things changed , as I recall, when labels appeared on the outside of ready-made garments instead of on the inside. You were no longer just wearing a garment, you were advertising it as well. The manufacturers ought to have paid you a fee for displaying their logo or label on your person. Instead, you were paying them larger and larger sums for the privilege of advertising their goods. No longer was the appearance, cut and fit of your garment paramount. It had to be good because it was such-and-such a brand. Inexorably, the concept of brands entered our lives. An item was a desirable possession primarily in terms of its pedigree.
Obtaining this pedigree used to take years and years. Since there were fewer goods available to begin with and fewer choices to make, the concept of a 'brand' wasn't very significant a few years ago. Some particular goods were generically known by the names of popular brands, as, for example, the ubiquitous steel almirah was generally known as a Godrej, and a photocopy is usually called a Xerox copy. Some brands did creep into our psyche, especially with the advent of radio jingles, and advertisements on the newly introduced colour television. But these were goods where the price was linked to the quality of the product. And garment manufacturer's labels were where they belonged- on the inside the garment.
The first logo that I remember seeing on a garment was the tiny, fairly unobtrusive embroidered horse and rider on a collared tee-shirt. Of course, I forget the brand. Perhaps it was Jockey, and it was probably given to my husband by some NRI member of the family. (Sorry, my brand recall is very poor- it was actually Polo by Ralph Lauren- had to Google it to confirm!) The next logo I became aware of was the Louis Philippe coronet- our niece was getting engaged, and her fiance` was wearing this smart striped shirt with little embroidered coronets on the cuffs. Till then my husband had been getting his shirts sewn by good old Diplomat Tailor(Lucknow), and we had just started buying the occasional ready-made shirt, a brand called Four Seasons, which was well made, cool, comfortable and affordable- a mere three to four hundred rupees, compared to the approximately thousand rupee basic price of Louis Philippe. This was in the early nineties. Logos were still tiny and very discreet, like the tiny crocodile on another popular brand of tee-shirt. There were some brand labels that were proudly displayed even then - the Levis jeans label was displayed with great pride, but it was visible only on the rear of the wearer, and so was not really obtrusive.
One fine day this dinosaur discovered that the labels had overtaken the garments- I'd see youngsters wearing tee-shirts with a great big BOSS written in front, and I'd wonder who was the boss anyway, and why did it have to be announced in such bold letters. And then more and more names began impinging on my consciousness, and a veritable alphabet of logos appeared, associated with new and strange slogans.
Nike exhorted us to 'just do it', without telling us what 'it' was. The sardarji joke had it that the sardar could never buy an Arrow shirt, because the arrow on the sign always guided him to the shop next door. Children became passionate adherents of particular brands, to the great mystification of their parents, who were mostly dinosaurs like me. What is interesting is that several 'international' brands are manufactured locally, under franchise, but are still sold at far higher prices than similar, non-branded versions.
When I was newly married, living in a small industrial township far from the rest of civilisation, where everybody was most concerned about everyone else's business, there was one thing that really irritated me. Whenever anyone wore a new sari, the first thing asked was the price. Apparently a sari was good only if it was perceived to be expensive. It was also good if it had originally been expensive but you managed to buy it for less in a sale. The beauty, colours, design or anything else were never considered. I guess my response to labels on clothes stems from those early associations. Good garment design involves a great deal of creativity, knowledge and skill. A well designed, well finished garment will look good. Surely it doesn't have to wear its heart on its sleeve, as it were. Imagine going around with our parents' names tattooed on our foreheads- as though we are stating the names of the people who made us. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It's just about as ridiculous as garments announcing loud and clear who made them. Aren't they confident of the quality of the product? Are they selling quality, or are they simply selling a brand?
What is the value addition? The saddest part is that young children become brand conscious very early in life, and tend to stay away from the unbranded, unknown segment of goods, which may be at least as good. And people tend to pre-judge others by the little tags or big bold names they see on their clothes. It seems like a very superficial short cut to actually knowing what a person stands for.
Let me clarify that brands definitely do help in choosing what to buy. Branding per se is a useful concept. Carrying it to an extreme is what I don't like. The entire rant is about 'spoiling' clothes by affixing brand names or logos on the outside of the garment, where I don't think they belong.
I may be a dinosaur, but if there's one thing I'm quite sure of, it's this:
really good quality never needs to label itself- it simply is.