Affordable luxury is a slightly baffling concept, especially for the Millennial generation. Defining luxury itself is a challenge since we are talking about a service, location, experience or item that is of the highest quality achievable, irrespective of price. But what does luxury mean? For some it’s time. For others, it’s a five-star hotel in Myanmar. For Millennials, prevailing opinion may lead you to believe that we think it’s not a necessity. Or worse, that it’s a rip-off. But truth is, luxury in no way equates to a rip-off; in fact, it’s often quite the opposite. For us, luxury is about achieving quality, tailored to our taste, at a price we can afford.
Affordable luxury is what we seek. Affordable doesn’t mean inexpensive, but rather an attempt to grab hold of that bespoke existence and invest our money in items that will age well and be used frequently. On the experience side, we look for affordable luxury in activities that elevate us out of our everyday routines and let us taste a lifestyle that is normally out of reach.
Affordable luxury is popping up left and right, giving Millennials a range of options. Here are a few businesses that appeal to our desire for affordable luxury.
Two of the fastest-growing tech companies have changed travel options for an entire generation. Uber (as we have discussed in The Robin Report) has repackaged the private driver/chauffeur experience and somehow found a way to make it cheaper than the alternatives. Uber, at the moment, might be the highest benchmark achieved for affordable luxury that has aroused the interest of the Millennial generation.
On the other end, both Tablet Hotels and Airbnb have created new ways to experience places on a fixed budget that don’t sacrifice quality. Add in the upside that you can also rent your apartment using the same service while you are out of town, and they are practically paying you to travel.
Nowhere is affordable luxury and looking first class more exemplified than in the ever-growing menswear market. With companies taking a technology-first approach and eliminating the middleman, levels of affordable quality and customization are at an all-time high. Long term, this is going to bridge entry into the elusive bespoke market to a generation that is discovering the wonderful feeling of handiwork and quality craftsmanship.
First up is Proper Cloth, delivering a superb online customer experience and cranking out quality custom shirts for the same price as your average Brooks Brothers button-down. With an easy measuring process (or a quick trip to your local tailor to do this for you — or even Proper Cloth’s offices), your specs are saved for future use. With plenty of fabric swatches to browse, effortless ordering and fantastic prices, we can all have our own Turnbull & Asser alternative.
Black Lapel takes the Proper Cloth model and applies it to suits. With an easy-to-use website that stores your information, plus an expert staff (they will gladly measure you in person), you are given a huge number of customization options at a very reasonable price. Top that off with a full re-cut policy if you’re not happy, and a $100 budget for tailoring your garment, and you can achieve a level of fit and value unheard of in the designer realm.
One of the newest areas to get the customization treatment is men’s shoes. Awl & Sundry takes one of the most prized luxury items in the world of menswear and simplifies the process by offering a huge level of customization at affordable prices. Once your size has been input into the store’s website, it’s kept with the history of your designs, letting you plot your entire shoe shelf in advance. You can save drafts and continuously edit and tweak until you have the perfect collection.
There is nothing more luxurious than a charge account. One new app, Dash, attempts to turn all your favorite bars, restaurants and local hangouts into your own private club. Show up, schmooze your bartender, and all your orders are stacked to your Dash account (including tip). You don’t even need to sign; just leave whenever you are ready. Dash changes a bar from a place where you spend money to a place where you belong, creating a sense of intimacy and membership, and the sense of entitlement that you were meant to be there.
Resy also brings the exclusive to the masses by allowing you to make a last-minute reservation at your favorite restaurant, for a fee. Even if it costs you, there is nothing more luxurious then getting access to the elite dining rooms of the world.
Millennials’ Night Out
So in a perfect world, your day would go something like this: You fly into New York and stay at your free apartment hotel (because you listed your house on Airbnb while you were gone). You don your finest custom shoes, shirt and suit. You use Resy to secure yourself a last-minute reservation at Cosme. Your Uber driver waits for you downstairs. And you never even see a check or handle any money because you used Dash for dinner. You won’t even need your wallet, just your smartphone.
These types of experiences offer Millennials a gateway into a world otherwise out of their reach. We can customize our experiences, gain access to places usually closed off to us, and attain a level of value that brings luxury closer to our age and financial brackets. That isn’t to say these things are cheap; quite the opposite. But these online pioneers take luxurious concepts and make them affordable, and in that regard, a little bit more achievable. The question is: Will these act as a seductive drug to experience higher levels of luxury, or displace a need for them altogether because we can experience them without having the incomes to afford them? I think both sides win. A new generation starts experiencing a level of living they couldn’t otherwise afford, and incumbent market leaders gain a new pool of potentially lifetime customers. Our parents could never do this — they had to earn their way to reap their rewards. Leave it to us to find the workaround that unlocks whole new categories of businesses — all owned and operated by, who else, Millennials.