Splurge, Steal, or Something Original: Maximalism and Graphic Prints

Hi, my name is Emma (Phileda) and I write a blog called Stolen Style about intellectual property in the fashion industry. Our goal is to inform college-age consumers like you of the prevalence of legal copies, legal and illegal knock-offs and illegal counterfeits in the fashion marketplace. You can visit the blog here, but also check back every Thursday for this series on BlogDailyHerald entitled ‘Splurge, Steal, or Something Original’ . Each post will focus on a current trend and feature one splurge purchase, a cheaper copy of the splurge for your instant retail satisfaction, and a third option—a well-priced, on-trend purchase that isn’t just a cheaper copy of the original splurge purchase but is something special. An example of this third option might be a vintage piece, a piece from an unknown designer, or a handmade find. I hope that this column will make shopping and getting dressed each morning just a little bit more fun for you —I really believe that being able to evade pressure from the marketplace to simply buy ‘Stolen Styles’ is a key to finding joy in fashion.

Right now I’m absolutely obsessed with Jil Sander’s Spring 2011 RTW Collection, which is all about maximalism and couture gigantism (think t-shirts and ball gown worthy skirts) and the inspiration for this weeks post.

These images courtesy of Style.com, which has been making Runway shots available to the public for years.

Of course, most of us aren’t going to wear anything like this sauntering down Thayer Street, so what the retail industry has done is taken Raf Simon’s work for the house of Jil Sander and made bright color, maxi skirts and graphic prints a major trend. Let’s try to channel that this week.

So first, the Splurge for this week.

This is this week’s splurge. $395 at Neiman Marcus. The gorgeous Jil Sander floral-print tee that you see going down the runway above. Image courtesy of Browns.

For the Steal? We’ve got plenty.

First, Forever 21’s DAISY SUBLIMATION TOP, $13.50.

Second, Forever 21’s FLORAL BOUQUET TOP, $15.80.

Banana Republic’s Floral Print Tee, $34.99.

And finally, an original design. What can you do to set yourself above the crowd of retail shoppers?

First, for about $30 you could take a photo (or find an artsy friend, or look online) of a flower, turn it into Pop Art using Photo Booth or Photoshop, and visit Uber Prints to make a t-shirt. Talk about personalizing your style.

Second, check out pop art t-shirt artist James Anthony, whose shop on Etsy is here.

$36. Wouldn’t this look great tucked into a long white skirt? Sure, it’s a skeleton…but it’s so cool!

Finally, why don’t you use a t-shirt you already have, and go to Etsy or Ebay to look for a full length twill skirt (or any fabric). The Jil Sander look you see above is really just a long twill skirt with a tee. I know searching on Etsy makes you think ‘crochet scarves and grandmothers’, but you can find really great vintage stuff. The key to searching on Etsy is changing the category (next to the search box in the top right corner) to Vintage. I found this great 1940’s Picnic Skirt from DeseoVintage for $60 on Etsy.

Image courtesy of DeseoVintage.

I also went on eBay and found not only a vintage Prada long pink silk skirt for $100, but also a crazy company called Sisters Silk, that makes long silk skirts in outrageous colors for $100. Check it out here.

Image courtesy of Sisters Silk.

Finding Stolen Style is easy and fun, but finding Something Original connects you with your wardrobe and makes each piece a special friend. I hope you’ve enjoyed this first edition of Splurge, Steal or Something Original and feel ready to tackle this Spring trend head-on.


  1. B '08

    Words like ‘copy’ and ‘steal’ are loaded. Though you purport to be agnostic about whether you support strong property protections for fashion designs — and, I admit, your blog does a good job setting out some of the issues — people who just see your posts here could probably benefit from another perspective. Law student that I am (and having taken a class with one of the major advocates for strong fashion protections), I thought I’d quickly put some words down about it.

    (I’ll ignore trademark/counterfeiting here; suffice it to say, most people agree that you shouldn’t be able to trade on another company’s good-will.)

    Property in intellectual works is not a natural state of the world. Ideas and expressions are non-rivalrous and non-excludable; one person’s use of an idea doesn’t lessen another person’s ability to use that idea, and ideas can’t be held and protected from others’ use like land or personal property can be. Governments, recognizing pressing policy concerns, have created limited schemes of ‘intellectual property’ in order to artificially make certain types of ideas and expressions excludable. But to use terms like ‘steal’ to describe the act of copying these artificially-scarce ‘products’ is, in my opinion, intellectually dishonest.

    In the US, federal intellectual property (i.e., patent and copyright) law flows from a single clause in the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” As is plain from the text, the single legitimate policy goal for intellectual property law in the US is to encourage innovation and creation. Here’s how the argument goes for copyright: because expressive works take so much effort to produce up-front but can be copied so easily, potential authors won’t go through the effort of making their socially-valuable works if the government doesn’t help them collect royalties from those who use the works.

    So, then, we have an empirical question: Is fashion underproduced because it doesn’t benefit from strong property protections? Fashion gets extraordinarily weak intellectual property protections, and yet the industry is thriving! One of my favorite pieces of legal latin is particularly apt here: ‘res ipsa loquitur’, or ‘the thing speaks for itself’. It doesn’t take an in-depth analysis to realize that the fashion industry does just fine without copyright protection. It ain’t broke, so let’s not fix it.

    The propertization of ideas is an affront, and it should be avoided except where absolutely necessary. Not only is it unnatural, but it prevents later artists (‘copyists’, in your parlance) from making socially-valuable derivative works. Every day, companies in the movie and music industries send DMCA take-down letters and cease & desist notices that squelch citizens’ attempts at engaging in semiotic democracy. Like the fashion industry today, those industries used terms like ‘theft’ to secure their own veto power over creative expression. I can only hope that the fashion industry’s efforts won’t prove so successful.

  2. Phileda Tennant (Author)

    Hi, B

    Thanks so much for laying out that side of the issue for Blog Daily Herald Readers. It’s great to hear from a law student / Brown alum–that’s where I’m headed next year, and my interest in law spurred my blogging efforts.
    I’d like to just address some of your concerns. First, I’d like to discuss my use of the word Steal. Besides being an incredibly useful pun–the items are a steal in terms of price as well as lifting a trend or design from another designer–the word is one currently used by fashion designers themselves to describe, for instance, Forever 21’s blatant copy of a Diane von Furstenberg dress design. This is exactly the sort of instance that I want to illustrate in these blog posts and explain on my blog.
    Second, I’d like to say I absolutely agree with what you say–the fashion industry ‘ain’t broke’, except terms of trademarks/counterfeits. But you later support creative expression, democracy, and the importance of allowing the fashion industry to produce socially-valuable derivative works. I would argue that college-age consumers do not understand the origins of the ‘works’ that they purchase, and that the ‘trend’ cycle (I’m sure you’re familiar with the Piracy Paradox by Sprigman and Raustiala) can actually disadvantage the consumer in their quest to freely, creatively express themselves through fashion or obtain socially-valuable works. That’s really what these posts are about–I do not want to criticize the ‘Steal’ portion of the marketplace, I simply want to inform and thereby liberate consumers from the trends cycle which controls the fashion industry.
    And finally, you finish saying you hope the fashion industry’s efforts won’t prove so successful. I assume that here you are referring to the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act, which has yet to be introduced (but waits) in the Senate. I think you’ll find, upon further research of this bill, that it is aimed entirely at stopping close copies, which would exclude most fast fashion retailers (like those in the steal section) from the ‘copyright monopoly’ you suggest might otherwise arise. The American Constitutional Society has a good article about this online. I, for one, do hope this bill succeeds–there is some suggestion from the Council of Fashion Designers of America that it will spur innovation on a budget/fast fashion level.
    I truly enjoyed your comment and hope that you will leave something further in the future. Happy Shopping. – Phileda

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