Before President Barack Obama uttered the first word of his acceptance speech Wednesday, the media took note of first lady Michelle Obama's wardrobe.
Mrs. Obama, like Duchess Kate Middleton, makes fashion headlines worldwide.
The Associated Press reported the first lady wore a Michael Kors magenta silk chine pin-tucked dress when she took her place "not only as first lady but fashion tastemaker for four more years."
Such high-profile exposure, along with celebrity endorsements, has made designer clothing more mainstream, according to industry analysts. High-end boutiques still stock the costliest pieces, but specialty lines at lower price points are now common in department stores.
Lorean Mays, Miss Black Tennessee USA executive director, said she fashions her wardrobe almost exclusively from well-known designers.
"I have favorites -- Sam Edelman, Rachel Roy, Tracy Reese, Michael Kors, Giuseppe Zanotti, Trina Turk and special collections at Target," Mays said.
Consumers don't always have to fork over big bucks for designer fashions. Target and other off-price retailers such as Kohl's, Kmart, Sears, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls carry designer labels at discounted prices.
Suzanne West, owner of Frankie & Julian's fashion boutique on Frazier Avenue, said some women wear designer clothing as a status symbol. For others, the choice is about "the quality of the fabric, fit and look."
Celebrity endorsements often push designer brands. Actress Eva Longoria recently announced she wears only Henry & Belle jeans, which sell for about $150 per pair, West said. By contrast, a pair of Lee jeans for women cost about $18 at Kmart.
"A lot of those (non-designer) brands are fine; they just lack the details and fit of higher-end denim," West said. "For example, Henry & Belle uses Japanese denim that costs more, and therefore the retail price is higher, but it feels good on and is durable, resilient and comfortable."
Designer fashions can be costly, but to some the quality is worth the investment.
"I am willing to pay the price because I know that I am getting quality merchandise that will last me a lifetime if I take care if it properly," Mays said.
Still, Mays said she looks for her favorite designer labels in off-price retail stores as well as consignment shops, thrift stores and on the Internet.
The latest offerings include a limited-edition holiday collection by 24 high-end designers to be sold in Target and Neiman Marcus stores, as well as online, starting Dec. 1.
"The collection will consist of 50-plus items costing between $7.99 and $499.99, with prices averaging less than $60," according to nymag.com.
Among the designers included in the collection are Carolina Herrera, Diane Von Furstenberg, Jason Wu, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Tory Burch.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...