At What Cost

Comparisons of designer and mass-market clothes help consumers navigate subtleties beyond just the bottom line


Available at Emporio Armani Boutiques nationwide.

Fabric: Rust and white glen plaid (100 percent wool), made in Italy.

Lining: Fully lined.

Seams: Machine-stitched, good detail.

Buttons: Faux horn.

Description: An elegant four-button coat, worn with cotton velvet rose ($125).

Review: Pure, unadulterated class. The red is not too bright, and the inverted "v" is new. The quality is immaculate. Its cheaper counterpart is good, but Armani will win this fight every time.

Price: $615


Available from J. Crew.

Fabric: Corduroy (100 percent cotton), made in Hong Kong.

Lining: Full; shell is cotton, sleeves are acetate.

Seams: Machine-stitched.

Buttons: Faux horn.

Description: A more casual shirt-collar blazer with patch pockets.

Review: The look is chic and the drape is first-class. But the jacket can't really compare with its designer counterpart. The attention to detail is not there, though the look alone makes it a great buy for the price. Best for a more casual wardrobe.

Price: $88


Dolce & Gabbana, available at Louis, Boston.

Fabric: 100 percent silk, made in Italy.

Seams: Machine-stitched, finished, beautiful detail around collar and lapel.

Buttons: Large fabric-covered plastic.

Description: Wide, split lapel, floral print, silk charmeuse blouse.

Review: The cost can be attributed to subtle details like seams and workmanship, but the average consumer wouldn't notice the difference from the mainstream version. It does offer a look that could only be found at Dolce & Gabbana, but the cost is restrictive.

Price: $475


From Banana Republic, Natick, Mass.

Fabric: 100 percent silk, made in China.

Seams: Machine-stitched, finished.

Buttons: Mother-of-pearl.

Description: Silver, shiny, thick silk charmeuse blouse.

Review: Gives its designer counterpart a run for the money in features, but the style is more traditional and the fabric is not quite as soft. But, at $400 less, it is a beautiful version of a popular new style of blouse - one that has elegance, sheen, and the comfort and casualness of silk.

Price: $78


Available at Emporio Armani Boutiques nationwide.

Review: A leather belt is a leather belt. Compared with the mainstream counterpart, this belt offers nothing different, but wearing it adds class to your outfit.

Price: $90 (l.) and $85 (r.)


Available from J. Crew.

Review: J. Crew makes fabulous belts. They are well-made leather belts that in every aspect are the same as the designers'. Here is a good place to save money in your wardrobe.

Price: $34 (l.) and $24 (r.)


Ermenegildo Zegna, available at Louis, Boston.

Fabric: Soft, light knit (70 percent wool, 20 percent silk, 10 percent cashmere), made in Italy.

Seams: Machine-stitched.

Buttons: Mother-of-pearl.

Color: Espresso.

Review: Zegna knows fabric as well as any designer, and he found the perfect one for this classy polo. But does it make sense for a shirt to cost more than most trousers? There is not enough detail to warrant the price unless you don't look at price tags when shopping.

Price: $350


From Banana Republic, Natick, Mass.

Fabric: Nubby loose knit (100 percent silk), made in Hong Kong.

Seams: Machine-stitched.

Buttons: Plastic.

Color: Textured linen.

Review: At $68, you are paying for the silk. The problem is the shirt is scratchy and bulky. It looks good, but feels rough, and pales in comparison with the designer version. Not a bad find, though, if you can handle the texture. It definitely would flatter a sport coat.

Price: $68


From the Joseph Abboud Collection.

Fabric: Grainy, textured blend (55 percent wool, 35 percent viscose, 5 percent each silk and polyester), made in Italy.

Lining: Full, rayon.

Seams: Machine-stitched, nice detail.

Buttons: Faux horn. Opposite, small buttons for strength.

Review: The fabric is immaculate and the drape is marvelous. Walk down the street in this and people will stare. Abboud did everything right with this jacket.

Price: $595


Available at The Gap.

Fabric: Corduroy (85 percent cotton, 15 percent polyester), made in Hong Kong.

Lining: Full; shell is polyester and sleeves are rayon.

Seams: Machine-stitched, not straight.

Buttons: Faux tortoise shell.

Review: It looks much better on; but the feel is cheap and the stitch work lacks quality. Wait until this coat lands at the sale rack before buying it.

Price: $98

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