‘Quiet’ University Luxury

If someone were to ask what the average college student wardrobe looks like, there are likely some staples that come to mind: athleisure joggers, denim jeans, the many Murray State T-shirts given at events over the years and the list could go on and on. 

Name-brand luxury goods, especially accessories like purses and handbags, rarely make the cut. For some students, these high-end accessories not only complement their outfits but have become a staple in their closets. 

But this raises some key questions. College students have historically been strapped for cash when it comes to personal expenses.

In an era where the average cost for in-state public university tuition has skyrocketed 175% over the past 20 years, how can anyone afford a luxury purse when the average price can be anywhere from $150 to over $300? 

For Murray State senior Taryn Romaine, a double major in graphic communications media and advertising, it came down to generational wealth.

“My mother’s really into the fashion industry,” Romaine said. “Sometimes she gets a bag (and) doesn’t like the size of it. So she’ll usually say, ‘Hey Taryn, here you go. Here’s your bag.’”

Romaine’s hand-me-down collection has included brands such as Dooney and Bourke, Michael Kors, Coach and Vera Bradley. 

Romaine said her collection was largely influenced by the brands her mother thought were considered luxury as she grew up. Most, if not all, of these bags come in neutral tones, a detail Romaine said lends to their versatility with different outfits and allows for a more professional look. 

“If you are buying these bags that are in these neutral colors it’s because you’re making an investment for whenever you are in a workforce or in a professional setting you have the bag that you need,” Romaine said. “Meanwhile, if I see someone that is buying a lot of runway fashion, I automatically think you’re buying something that you really can’t wear very often.” 

Anjel Echols, a senior public and community health major, disagrees and said having a colorful bag can be the statement piece of an outfit.

“I think it’s that one accessory that becomes the centerpiece of your outfit,” Echols said. “I could have just a black jumpsuit, basic black shoes, but my bag is what’s going to be the head-turner.” 

Echols owns an extensive handbag collection — over 20 purses, including 10 from Telfar, a Black-owned company known for its advocacy towards inclusivity and exclusive purse drops

Much like Romaine, Echols’ luxury purse collection, which features Kate Spade, MCM and Tory Burch, began through gifts from family and friends. Echols slowly built upon it herself, one Telfar at a time. 

“I started pretty small,” she said. “My first Telfar bag was given to me by my cousin my sophomore year. Over time he [Telfar Clemens] would drop more bags. I’m like, ‘Okay, let me just order this one.’

”Most of my bags are minis. And then I have one medium size and one large size.” 

Echols said these accessories are investments, too, but not just for special occasions. Sometimes, it’s just worth the buy — if it’s within budget. 

“Since I wear them [Telfar] so casually, I don’t see them as much of an investment anymore because the cheapest so far are the tiny ones I have, and I have seven or eight of them,” Echols said. “Those are about $150 a bag. So, over time, yeah, that’s a lot of money.”

Larger sizes, such as the medium and large shopping bags, can cost anywhere from $180 to $850, depending on the style. Some products are even priced using Telfar’s real-time “Live Pricing” model.

One of the biggest benefits of owning luxury purses of any brand is the prestige that comes with the price tag. Stefan Linnhoff, an associate professor of marketing at Murray State, said the ability to showcase these high-end goods often creates the appearance of being in a higher economic class, even if that isn’t necessarily the case. 

“They want to impress the people, their friends, the people they’re hanging out with,” Linnhoff said. “They want to enhance their self esteem that is derived from the ‘wow factor.’ One should not underestimate the influence of social media. The influence goes beyond the immediate interaction between an individual college student and the other students here on campus.” 

Linhoff said the hefty price tag also plays a large role in the authenticity of the product itself. 

“If the prices go up, the demand goes down,” Linhoff said. “If the price goes down, the demand tends to go up. There’s an exception to that, where even if the prices go up, the demand actually goes up as well. They become even more attractive when they become more expensive, because it distinguishes you if you can afford them (the luxury goods).” 

Overall, the definition of luxury and what makes a luxury good can change depending on what is currently affordable. While a $150 Telfar mini-bag may be priced out of range for college students right now, those same students could someday more comfortably buy it after they graduate. 

Choosing where and how to invest that money is up to you. 

“Because at the end of the day, we’re in college,” Echols said. “We’re all just trying to make it and get our degrees. So if you can afford that $1,000 bag, go ahead. Or if you can just afford a regular $25 bag, that’s fine, too. As long as you’re wearing it and doing you, that’s what matters.”

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