Can you really tell the difference between a blatant knock off and the real thing? Imagine how scammed you’d feel if you thought you purchased an authentic Louis Vuitton bag only to find out it was a counterfeit. Well, as a designer conscious fashionista, what if you had no idea you were strutting your stuff in an unlawfully replicated look right off of someone else’s runway? Well, ladies these days the term “knock off” doesn’t just apply to those tacky NYC Canal Street fashion offenses. They’re popping up more subtlety and even in some of our favorite and trendy stores.

A few weeks ago, a few of my favorite girlfriends and I decided to get together for an afternoon of lunching and shoe splurging. As we’d all seemed to have gravitated to the recent Alexander Wang Spring Shoe Collection, I’d silently concluded without hesitation; Mr. Wang was one of the newest sensations to hit the fashion world. Indeed a splurge, the little over $600 pair of open-toed booties would require a fair two week purchasing grace period considering my overdue phone bill. So, until I’d have them, I couldn’t stop dreaming about the fringed, black leather, platform beauties. Curious to hear what similar minded fashionistas thought of Wang’s latest collection, I googled them. Unexpectedly, I’d come across this recurring headline: “Forever 21 Vs. Alexander Wang Fringed Platform Boot.” Versus? Although the detailed physical differences vary dramatically (quality of the leather, thickness of the fringes, height of the heel), the Forever 21 version of the Alexander Wang boot is indeed a pretty undeniable knockoff. As I’d began to dig deeper I’d soon discovered an overwhelming amount of headlines titled “Forever 21 Vs. (Insert Designer Name)” comparing everything from shoes to outerwear to even jewelry! But, myself as well as many other stylish young women had grown to openly enjoying perusing Forever 21. So, while I might be constantly studying and keeping up-to-date on the latest styles and designers to hit the fashion world, I honestly had to wonder: How many Forever 21 “knockoffs” I’d overlooked and even purchased myself?! Has Forever 21 become the fast food chain of fashion? Is it healthier for our overall style and social health to readjust our wardrobe diets to pieces organic, meaning authentic?

Trends shown on the runway and on stylish celebs have always trickled down from high end to affordable (remember the Steve Madden version of the Manolo Blahnik Timberland?) but, is this “copycatting” too extreme? Are designers expected to lower their retail prices in lieu of the economic downturn or should the integrity of their work be respected more so now for their own financial survival? And frankly, how are popular and established stores such as Forever21 able to get away with this? Well, to answer the last question, they aren’t getting away with it at all. According to public documents, between 2006 and 2007 alone, the retail chain faced 15 infringement lawsuits. Everyone from Anna Sui to Diane Von Furstenberg has pursued legal action against Forever 21. But, no matter how many times they are sued, financial analysts report that Forever 21 is sound enough to survive. Due to their phenomenal turnover and production rate the cheap and chic retail giant has grown to rival stores like H&M and TopShop.

I guess if you decide to consider this a matter of “Splurge Vs. Steal” rather than a knockoff, you’d obviously choose “the steal.” But, beware, the cheaper alternative definitely has its unforgiving share of risks. Breaking heels and bursting seams seem to be the most commonly complained about and not to mention, embarrassing.

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