The problem with Marshall’s

And also with T.J. Maxx, Ross' and all the other name-brands-for-less discounters.

The problem is they make it more difficult to segregate the suckers.

We had a nice system going. The gullible, self-important and stupid had been convinced to advertise their membership in these categories through brand-name icons.

Consider the Polo logo — the little horse-and-rider symbol proudly worn on the left breast of the prodigal. You can easily find a well-made Oxford shirt for $20 or less. You can get a bona fide, Made-in-America by union workers, Oxford shirt for around $45. Or you can spend way more than that for the same style and quality shirt, except with a little horsey guy on it.

Seeing someone wearing such a shirt was a clear signal that here was a fellow who, with $60 or so in his pocket, couldn't think of anything better to do with that money than to "upgrade" to the shirt with the little horsey guy. "A fool and his money are soon parted," the logo proclaimed. "And I am such a fool."

This was a useful signal to the rest of us. It informed us that the wearer was not just selfish, but proudly so, and thus perhaps not due the usual deference paid to others as part of the give-and-take of human society. For those of a more entrepreneurial bent, the horsey guy also helped to distinguish an easy mark.

Marshall's has muddied the waters by selling these logo-emblazoned brand-name shirts for about the same price as the normal, not-for-suckers shirts. Thus now, when we see someone sporting these logos, we cannot be sure that they are a member of the frivolous spendthrift class or simply someone who found a cheap shirt at a discounter. (Although I still don't understand why, given the choice between two affordable shirts, you would choose the one with the advertisement on it.)

If there's a wasp in the room, I'd prefer to know where it is. Likewise, if we are to be surrounded by wealthy, gullible and self-absorbed people, I'd prefer to be able to keep track of them. Marshall's is making this more difficult.

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  • Jeff G.

    You forget also the effect that “down-marketing” has had. For instance, Levi’s produces jeans for Wal-Mart chains. They’re cheaper than the versions you get at your regulard department stores. But they’re also of poorer quality etc.
    However they ply their name as still being Levi’s and people expect a higher quality product.

  • JST

    What makes the situation even more confusing is that the expensive and trendy stores (e.g., Urban Outfitters) are selling clothing that is designed to look like it was purchased in a thrift store: edges and prints damaged in all the same places, logos and styles from the 1980s, text that refers to old-sounding businesses that never existed, etc.
    I have a friend who was given a Ralph Lauren sweater; it was a good sweater, but he refused to display their logo unironically. He cut off the sleeves and reattached them with safety pins so he could wear the sweater without being mistaken for someone who approves of logoed sweaters. That sort of highlights one reason why somebody might choose a logo-bearing shirt at Marshalls: Some clothing with logos just happens to be particularly well-made clothing. Surely, though, plenty of people just want to signal that they belong to a particular social/economic class (even if they don’t, really).
    I’d like to say that the secondhand and discount markets lead to a breakdown of old and oppressive systems of meaning. Sure, the use of clothing as a marker of status or worldview helps you to identify the consumer stooge (or, to be fair, someone whose life includes different cultural pressures) — but logos as status symbols also enable “the Man” to discriminate against people with fewer resources. Wouldn’t it be nice to take away the empty power of the brand image? But really, the people who manufacture clothing will always find a way to differentiate their product line, to help demarcate who is “in.”
    Actually, now that I think on it, maybe actively avoiding shirts with the little horsey guy (when you can get them cheaply and conveniently) contributes to the problem just as much as wasting money on a brand new shirt with the little horsey guy — after all, by avoiding the shirt because of the logo, we’re imbuing the image with power and meaning, agreeing with the manufacturers that that horse MEANS something about the person wearing the shirt…
    Okay, that’s enough public musing for now. Can you tell that I’m in a Consumer Culture class this semester? Thanks, by the way, for the link to justice clothing — I’ve been looking for a new, simple winter jacket without some silly horse or mountain or whatever printed on it.

  • Steve

    BTW, ever wonder why TJ Maxx, Marshalls and AJ Wright seem so similar? Because they are all owned by The TJX corporation, which by the way is a faithful supporter of project’s helping women and children, including the non-profit I work for that helps homeless single moms get back on their feet.

  • Lila

    Fred, the problem is even worse than you think. I, for example, buy most of my clothes at Goodwill. A lot of those clothes are quite expensive designer brands (though not logo-ized on the outside for the most part). Therefore people who see me in public possibly think I am several economic notches higher than I really am. This gets funny when they ask me “what I do” and I tell them I am a housewife and community college student. Usually I get that frozen faced “Oh. Um….” as they look for the nearest exit.

  • Jeff G.

    So the real answer is that Fred should stop being a materialistic bastard who judges people based upon the clothes they wear? ;-)

  • SPG

    You have no idea how this whole class/culture/logo/identity thing really works.
    Anybody who is really in one of the classes so derided here for wearing the logos will spot the Marshall’s shopper a mile away. By simply throwing on a logo garment means nothing. There is a heirarchy of logos, colors, styles, and fits that say more than just the existence of the logo on the wearer.
    The only people fooled by the logo are the ones who also shop at Marshalls and buy last year’s style thinking they look the same as the wealthy people buying the current style. Fashion changes very quickly and the only stuff that winds up in Marshalls or the outlets is the stuff that didn’t click with the fashionistas or seeemed too dated the day it hit the shelves.
    Sad but true, so in essence don’t worry about buying the logo… you’re not fooling the wealthy fashionistas.

  • kristina

    btw, another place to get sweatshop free clothing, besides what you linked to,is at American Apparel.

  • Friend of the Predigtamt

    “A fool and his money are soon parted,” the logo proclaimed. “And I am such a fool.”
    Bitter much? (Just kidding.) Thanks for the quote…I’m looking forward to pissing somebody off this week. Watch me get kicked out of the department stores for saying that to a clerk. Or, at the very least, be condemned to sleep on the couch for insulting my husband.
    The Internet has helped me become much less of a fool since there are much better discounts than if I go to the store. Besides…as for teh moneyed class, they’re too busy making money/playing croquet/partying in Ibiza to be concerned about this middle class peon wearing last season’s sweater.

  • Vache Folle

    I don’t go by clothes. I go by cars and houses. McMansions and Hummers are on my discrimination matrices.

  • jackd

    The underlying dynamics of the logo/no logo distinction were elucidated by noted social commentor T. S. Geisel in a work known as The Sneeches.

  • Scott

    I don’t go by clothes. I go by cars and houses
    I go by their guns. Anyone who can afford to buy and feed (i.e. buy ammo for) one of those .50 caliber rifles Schumer hates has some serious bucks to blow on toys.

  • Steve

    Houses and cars aren’t always the best barometers of wealth. I’m known wealthy people with very nice houses that drive clunkers. And I’ve known low income people that live in very humble homes/apartments, but get in over their head in debt to get the Hummer or Cadillac. Seems some people value the house OR the car as a status symbol, but not both.

  • Constantine

    The hierarchy of brands is such that the “expensive” brands/logos found at in department stores (and ultimately end up at Marshall’s) are just the “popular conception” of what nice clothing is. So, Fred, a person proudly emblazoning a logo on his shirt is still that same fool, but he just might be a little thriftier than you might otherwise have assumed.

  • Friend of the Predigtamt

    Speaking of American Apparel…nice shirts, but there is this whole sleaziness factor that I find very squicky.
    BTW: Threadless prints their girl shirts in American Apparel (tho’ they print the guy shirts in Fruit in the Loom.) Great stuff, and lots of artsy designs. I even joined up with their street-team program, so here is my shameless plug– click on my name for shirts that are better than a fancy horsey.

  • Victoria

    American Apparel is not the way to go if you want to support workers’ rights–they are very anti-union, and the supposed living wages the workers now receive are pretty much at the whim of upper management. Being a “sweat free” workplace is not just about decent wages given by a benevolent CEO, it’s also about workers having a voice. As for other places to get sweatshop free clothes, is worth checking out.

  • Andy

    I see your point, but I work for a non-profit organization and the ability to purchase low-rise ass-hugging Kenneth Cole jeans for $40 at Filene’s Basement really rocks my world.

  • bulbul

    Wow, a thread about logo’d and non-logo’d clothes and expensive cars. Throw in some music issues and call me a geek and it will be just like high-school :o)

  • michael the tubthumper

    “fashion is merely a form of ugliness so unbearable we are compelled to alter it every six months” – oscar wilde
    its called TK maxx and not TJ maxx over here for some reason

  • Lila

    I love Filene’s Basement. I bought a nice shawl there on my one visit to Boston. The best part was seeing the $700 Neiman-Marcus bathrobes on sale for only $400.
    I thought to myself, “You people have no idea how much fun a person could have with $400.”

  • Edward Liu

    SPG: “Sad but true, so in essence don’t worry about buying the logo… you’re not fooling the wealthy fashionistas.”
    Oh, thank goodness. I was getting worried about that.

  • Matt McIrvin

    This was a useful signal to the rest of us. It informed us that the wearer was not just selfish, but proudly so, and thus perhaps not due the usual deference paid to others as part of the give-and-take of human society.
    Maybe I’m taking all this too seriously, but there’s something about this statement that rubs me the wrong way. Is it really such a good idea to spend your time and moral imagination on judging whether the people you meet deserve decent treatment from you? Even absent the leveling effect of Marshalls (where, yes, I’ve bought discounted designer-label pants because they fit me), I can easily think of several scenarios (some mentioned by previous posters) in which possession of the horsie shirt would not indicate a character flaw. Perhaps it’s a gift, worn out of a sense of obligation to the giver; perhaps it’s a thrift-store secondhand purchase; perhaps the wearer is a hard-bitten soul not accustomed to luxuries, who has come upon some temporary windfall and has decided just this once to indulge in a possibly ill-advised flirtation with a high-status logo.
    The brand hierarchy may be a dumb and pernicious thing, but I’d be careful not to assume too much about individuals based on contact with it.

  • Rebecca Allen, RN, PhD

    I was in Bar Harbor, Maine, years ago, when the Izod Alligator shirt craze was at its peak. (Bar Harbor was full of people in those shirts.) I remember seeing waiters there with buttons on that showed an upside-down, dead looking Izod Alligator on them with the international “NO” sign (the red circle with the slash) superimposed on the alligator. I thought the buttons were hilarious.

  • Jon H

    “Seeing someone wearing such a shirt was a clear signal that here was a fellow who, with $60 or so in his pocket, couldn’t think of anything better to do with that money than to “upgrade” to the shirt with the little horsey guy. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” the logo proclaimed. “And I am such a fool.””
    And then you have a whole ‘nother level of fool – the guy who, upon seeing my tattoo of Sendak’s Wild Things, felt compelled to display the *tattoo he had on his chest* of ‘the little horsey guy’. And it wasn’t even a good facsimile of the logo.

  • E. Nonee Moose

    If there’s a WASP in the room, I’d prefer to know where it is.
    Just thought I’d add the caps for you. Heh!

  • Dfde

    Kind of an asshole today?