The Gatsby Wears Prada…or an H&M Knock-Off

I have a love/hate relationship with Vogue magazine. Their elegant photographs of beautiful garments are always a visual treat; I can open the magazine and escape into a swirling mass of color, pattern, and texture. And then, I look at the price tag. Two thousand, eight hundred dollars for a Prada dress? Who can afford that? I get angrier. How can Vogue claim to be a magazine for women, when only a tiny percentage of its readers can afford the fashion featured in its pages? I’ve come to realize, however, that Vogue is not about being able to afford a $2,800 dress. Vogue espouses taking culture and fashion and infusing it with one’s own individuality to create a lifestyle and look that’s distinctly one’s own.[1] For me, that involves drawing inspiration from places like Vogue and from my own style to create a wardrobe that’s more in my budget.

Is this stylish gal wearing designer or H&M? Who cares! By Anette Bähren via Wikimedia Commons

Many affordable stores, like H&M and Zara, have recreated high-fashion looks for style- and wallet-conscious women. If you see a chic woman walking down the street wearing an H&M dress, it could beg the question: is that dress a designer piece or a knock-off? This, in turn, leads to broader, more significant questions: How do we know if someone or something is authentic? Should it even matter?

Last week in class, we discussed authenticity as it related to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby came from humble beginnings and made his fortune through questionable means. To the old money aristocracy, nouveau riche Gatsby did not have the same social standing. To woo his lost love Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby acted as he thought a wealthy person should, spending money on a mansion, cars, and lavish parties—conspicuous consumption spurned by old money. To Long Island aristocracy, Gatsby was putting on airs and was therefore inauthentic. In other words, Gatsby was an H&M copy of a designer dress.

The old money’s opinion, however, shouldn’t even matter. The only true judge of authenticity is the person being judged—in this case, Gatsby himself. Only Gatsby knows Gatsby’s intentions. From this perspective, I would suggest that Gatsby exhibits both authentic and inauthentic behaviors. His parties and conspicuous displays of wealth are solely for the purpose of reconnecting with Daisy; once he and Daisy rekindle their affair, the parties cease. By canceling the parties, Gatsby acknowledges that they were a “fake” display. However, Gatsby’s motives for throwing these parties were authentic to him. He was being true to his dream of a renewed relationship with Daisy. But who am I to say? Only Gatsby knew if he was being authentic or not.

So, is one inauthentic when they adopt the symbols and behaviors of a so-called “higher class?” It depends on his or her intention. Should you feel “fake” when you walk down the street in an H&M dress inspired by Prada? Absolutely not. You know that this dress is “you”—it’s lovely, flattering, unique, and the right price for your budget. As long as you’re staying true to your style and yourself, you’re as real as can be. And it’s nobody else’s darn business.

[1] This theme is reiterated in nearly every issue. In the most recent issue of Vogue, designer Carolina Herrera says, “It doesn’t matter what it costs, rather how you put it together and make it individual.” Esther Adams, Pure Country. Vogue, March 2011, page 552.

One thought on “The Gatsby Wears Prada…or an H&M Knock-Off

  1. I really like this analogy. I wonder how many people who shop at H&M etc. are as highly aware as you are of the high style fashion they are copying. It is kind of like that part in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway on the high style origins of her sweater. Do people wear H&M because they are trying to be part of the top classes or because it is what they are fed by those same people?

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