Stories / November 2019

Back to Basics: the Rise of the Super Staple

Never underestimate the power of a seemingly simple wardrobe staple: here’s why you should be investing in top quality basics.

Steve McQueen. (Photo by MARKA/Alamy).
There was a time, in the early 1990s, when the Japanese makers of upscale jeans had the tiniest of markets. They sold to the rare individual fascinated with denim or dyeing. In the home of Americana, their inspiration, this product made no sense at all: they cost, after all, 10 times a dependable pair of the 501s that the Japanese were, effectively, ripping off. Surely this was some kind of joke? Three decades on and the line between commodity and craft is an ever finer one. Plenty of basics - most famously coffee, beer and baked goods - have been overhauled using finer materials, workmanship and marketing. Indeed, the very definition of commodity - a product that isn’t discernibly different from other products of the same kind - has taken a battering as consumers claim connoisseurship. If there’s space for added refinement, and with it some status or oneupmanship, people will argue for a distinction between the most mundane of things: Whole Earth’s Saucy Organic Baked Beans are twice the price of a can of Heinz’s, which of course, many will argue, outclass the own brand variety. And so on.
As with a fry up, so with fashion, one of the last product categories to convince us that seemingly paying over the odds for a single example of what used to be bought for next to nothing in a three pack is a wise, rather than a mug’s, move. After all, basics - the likes of underwear, socks and t-shirts, sweatshirts and even plain white sneakers - are burdened by the very category name: if it’s basic, why pay so much for it? Why might a simple white Sunspel t-shirt - without pattern, print, buttons, branding or any other detail - cost £70, or a navy T from Ka/Noa weigh in at £170, a figure that once would have been considered preposterous? How can a pair of Pantherella socks, for example - and that’s one pair - cost £20?

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