Low- and high-end fashion products tend to have less conspicuous brand markers than midprice goods, according to a paper soon to be published in The Journal of Consumer Research.
Rather than rely on obvious logos, expensive products use more discreet markers, such as distinctive design or detailing. High-end consumers prefer markers of status that are not decipherable by the mainstream. These signal group identity only to others with the connoisseurship to recognize their insider standing.
In one study, fashion students were more likely than regular students to favor subtle signals for products visible to others, like handbags. But for private products less relevant to identity, like underwear and socks, there was no difference between the groups. (more; HT Nicholas Walker)
This is one of the factors that makes signaling hard to study – signals are often designed to be hard for ordinary folks to discern. And that fact makes it easy to be skeptical that any signaling is going on at all. Skeptics can say “signals, what signals?”