Fundamentally most high street shops purport themselves to be democratizing agents of fashion, making high quality and stylish pieces available to the public at lower prices. One only need glance at their advertisements, which usually resemble designer fashion shoots; indeed H&M uses such images to clash an aesthetic of top quality clothing with low, low prices. Next to the image of a bikini top or t-shirt a price like “£3.99” loudly attests to the value of any suggested purchase.

Many other brands, I believe one was F&F at Tesco, have used identical systems of advertising. The unexpected juxtaposition between high fashion images and prices I think works on two levels. Firstly the obvious one, as expanded upon above, in that the brand seeks to challenge our expectations of what looking good ought to cost. Secondly, and perhaps more brilliantly, the technique implicitly contrasts itself with the unwillingness of more exclusive brands to publicize cost. With designer clothes the price might put you off. High fashion is, arguably, in possession of an elitist and limited market however companies like H&M and F&F seem keen to show that they are willing to discuss cost. This makes several statements regarding their envisaged customer but most of all it shows that they understand and are in touch with their market.

You know in fashion magazines, when they display a spread of numbered items with brands and prices at the bottom? Well I know that if the first word after the number for something I like runs along the lines of Dior or Chanel then I’m in trouble. This is a given, and my first clue that I may be overreaching my modest budget, yet I find myself especially alarmed when the name is accompanied by the caveat “price on request”. Oh my God, I mean oh my actual god; my first thought is that the price is so high that displaying it would put me off, and considering that some magazines feature prices up into the thousands this is ridiculous. Perhaps they don’t necessarily know the price, maybe the item is customizable but given that they could have said, “prices start at…” even this isn’t particularly reassuring. Also, generally speaking, made to order fashion is never cheap in any case.

Not featuring the price, unless you contact the company directly, is more than a little intimidating. It makes the brand seem inaccessible to “ordinary” people and gives the impression that the company is desirous of an elite, vetted clientele. Most likely this is the intention; I mean look at the effort Burberry went through to recoup some exclusivity when their trademark pattern went viral. These companies attract the “best”, and wealthiest, celebrity clients exactly because they are so select. Image is everything here, and designer labels need to appear out of the reach of most of us otherwise they cease to be special and become part of the everyday.

Even shop design can extend its efforts into this area. Go into a designer store and you can’t help but feel like an interloper in a strange new world. The displays are polished and slick, sometimes extending to forms of art or retail theatre in certain cases. You can get this on the high street too, after all novelty will attract custom however the chances are that luxurious displays deter those who know they can’t afford the products on show; after all you are unlikely to walk into Chanel without realizing the likely costs involved.

Given this a more accessible style of advertising offers an incredibly strong method of putting people at ease and encouraging their custom, especially given recent economic unrest and the nature of the high street trade. Online shopping is growing however big brands like Primark, Topshop, New Look and H&M (among others) still rely upon the fact that their customers feel comfortable with the idea that they could “just walk in” and therein, it seems, lies the central focus of most high street campaigns.

Even so a demarcation remains and it is interesting to contrast, for example, Topshop and River Island with brands like H&M and F&F. The former use hyper stylized fashion shoots to appear designer, even featuring designs by celebrities and certain, more costly, pieces. This is one, and the more expensive, side of the high street market; on the other hand the latter seeks to emphasize affordability alongside design, placing prices in their ads in order to do so more effectively. Topshop and River Island, I think, seem to be getting pricier; and this would tend to suggest an attempt to intimate themselves into the designer market. Featuring a designer section on their website, with names such as Boutique and Unique, indicates an attempt to garner some of that, hithertofore high fashion, exclusivity. And with some celebrities now appearing (in public of all things!) wearing certain high street brands perhaps we can consider their mission to be partly accomplished. It doesn’t do celebrities any harm to appear understanding and in touch with their fans either; furthermore the fact that items usually sell out within hours of being photographed on elite clients makes an alliance with the high street beneficial for both parties.

A “Unique” take on high street chic?