Leah Missbach Day, 52, a photojournalist in Chicago, likes designer labels like Balenciaga, Alexander Wang and Dries Van Noten. But not next to her skin. “I cut them out because they’re scratchy and they bug me,” she said. “I’ve got a whole drawer full of tags.”
Though clothing designers and manufacturers may sweat the graphics and placement of their signature labels, many of their customers, armed with tiny sewing scissors and seam rippers, toil just as avidly to remove them. On the Web, several sites demonstrate how it’s done without leaving telltale holes.
But lately there’s been a trend toward subtlety and comfort in clothing labels. Big tags with blaring logos sewn inside garments are seen by many as passe (and forget about crocodiles and polo ponies stitched on the outside). More designers are downplaying or even disguising their labels, which can lend cachet, like a club with an unmarked door.
So-called “tagless” labels, printed directly onto clothes, are also more widely used, as are transparent plastic labels that are almost invisible. The result is a change in the way clothes look and feel.
Some people, like Day, find labels uncomfortable, while others object to having another person’s name or corporate logo on their clothes. Still others think tags detract from the attractiveness of garments, particularly when they show through something sheer or flip up so they are visible above a collar or waistband. (All the more distressing when strangers, or your mother-in-law, tuck them back in for you.)
Susan Fisher, 56, of New York, who wears designer clothes by Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera and Jil Sander, uses nail scissors to snip the stitching around labels and tweezers to pull out the threads. “Why leave them in there when they’re only going to annoy you?” she said. “The washing instructions are meaningless to me because I err on the side of caution and dry clean everything, and I don’t really care who made it as long as it looks good on me.”
Those who are sensitive about their size may also be quick to cut out labels. Rozlind Power, 27, an events planner in Houston who used to sell clothes in a high-end boutique, said it’s common for people to remove labels if the size is bigger than their self-image. “It’s understandable when sizes vary so much,” Power said. “I wear an XS at Banana Republic but have a bridesmaid’s dress by Betsey Johnson that is size 10, which I would probably cut out if I had to look at it all the time.”
Zak Graff, 34, a marketing consultant in Los Angeles, said he likes the cut and fit of the Spanish brand Zara, but “the labels drive me crazy because they are 2 to 3 inches long and stacked one on top of another.” (Any clothing sold in the EU must have attached labels translated into every member country’s language.)
Graff keeps a seam ripper in his dopp kit to remove such aesthetic and potentially allergenic offenses. “I take out the labels when I cut off the hanging price tag,” he said. “It’s this whole process after I buy something new.”
But before he can remove a label, he has to actually see it. Some brands, like the French active-wear line Aigle, as well as Elie Tahari and Josie Natori have within the last three years begun using clear labels. Made of flexible plastic, these are usually in the side seam.
“It’s very much about comfort,” said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, which represents the state’s apparel manufacturers. “But it’s also a reflection of fabric being expensive and plastic being cheap, and there’s no sewing edges of the plastic label. Just a laser cut. Easy.”