The Hierarchy of Fashion
Haute couture is often considered the pinnacle of designer clothing. Its origins can be traced to Paris more than 150 years ago. Haute couture involves craftsmanship, the skill of the dressmakers and embellishers (feather makers, embroiderers, milliners) who create the finery of the exceptional. It is tailored and carefully produced for each client. Although couture apparel is seen almost exclusively on the supremely wealthy or on the runway, designers of haute couture influence all levels of the fashion industry. There are only eighteen houses of haute couture in France today since requirements are stringent: Balmain, Pierre Cardin, Carven, Chanel, Christian Dior, Louis Firaud, Givenchy, Lecoanet Henant, Christian Lacroix, Lapidus, Guy Laroche, Hanae Mori, Paco Rabanne, Nina Ricci, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Louis Scherrer, Torrente, and Emanuel Ungaro. Prices range from $16,000 to $20,000 for a woman's tailored suit to $60,000 and up for an evening gown.
Designer (or Prjt ` porter)
Designer is the step down from couture. Prjt ` porter can be translated as "ready to wear." While not as exorbitantly priced as couture, designer apparel is nevertheless still expensive. Designer clothing is sold in specialty stores, department stores and boutiques -- almost everywhere. Some prominent designers are Anna Sui, Chloi, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss and Junya Watanabe.
Bridge is the step down from designer fashions. This apparel is generally much more affordable and available at better department stores. Although several steps down from fashion's pinnacle, bridgewear is nevertheless considered more exclusive than "better" clothing. Top designers such as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein knock themselves off to produce very popular bridgewear lines such as DKNY and CK.
Nationally recognized brand names, such as Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, or Nordstrom's private label. Customers usually expect a particular image, quality, or price point from a better brand.
Moderate describes many nationally known sportswear brands or lower priced "better" national brands. Examples of moderate brands include Dockers, Limited and The Gap.
Budget falls into the least expensive category. Many brands include private labels for discount merchants, such as Jaclyn Smith or Kathy Ireland (for K-Mart house brands). Old Navy is one of the most prominent budget brands.