Brand building: You are what you wear explores the meaning behind brand selection, and asks what our decisions say about us 

When Jack Wills opened its second Dubai store at Mercato earlier this month, there were probably plenty who wondered where exactly this ‘fabulously British’ clothing brand had come from. After all, it’s not as if the company which styles itself as a preppy ‘university outfitter’ is even much of a presence in the malls of the UK, preferring to base itself in posh but tiny market towns and eschewing television advertising.

But Jack Wills’ success – from a US$30m turnover in 2007 to a recession defying US$184m last year – is proof that the careful management and targeting of brands has become as important as the designs of the clothes themselves. It’s an argument which runs right through an illuminating new book by Harry Wallop exploring how every purchasing decision we make is based on the kind of person we think we are.

Big brands feed off such psychology – and the logical conclusion in Consumed: How Shopping Fed The Class System is that the clothing labels that end up in our wardrobes end up choosing us, just as much as we choose them.

“The best retailers know not just who you are but what they want from you,” he says. “In the UK, for example, there are databases which split the country into social types, and brands simply find and target the areas which fit their target demographic. I’m always fascinated when people say they haven’t heard of a brand – most of the time it’s because they’re simply not exposed to it as they’re not the target market.” 

Even when clothes don’t bellow the name of the brand in huge letters, they can still possess a “signature” look that betrays the kind of person you are – or would like to be. They shout status in the same way as someone who works in McDonalds might want their expensive Adidas trainers to portray a certain kind of image.

“This sounds patronising, but if you don’t own a property or don’t care about your job then the sign that you have something about you is often expressed through a couple of big branded items of clothing,” says Wallop.

“At the top end, it’s similar, it’s just that you say you’ve ‘made it’ through different brands. It’s the psychological force driving this need to shout about your status which is so interesting: it’s been there since time immemorial. And the brands themselves play on this.”

So next time you’re passing your favourite store, just stop and think about what it is about that stripy T-shirt you like. Because they’ve certainly thought about you.