A couple of days ago, my wife showed me an ad from the catalog of an upscale department store. Pictured in the ad was a model whose left knee was sticking out of a purposely designed tear (or worn spot) in a pair of designer jeans. Both legs of the jeans were badly scuffed with a few smaller tears or worn spots. Overall, the jeans looked like a reject from the Salvation Army or Goodwill Thrift Store. The price for this monstrosity: $1,750. Looking at this ad, I could not help but wonder, Who in the world would pay such a price for that item?

It is no secret that fashion in women’s clothing changes with predictable regularity. The “new look,” the sack, mini-skirts and designer jeans all, at one time or another, obsoleted billions of dollars worth of clothing. This has occurred at no great distress to the clothing industry, but the same cannot be said of those who ultimately had to pick up the tab for the new duds.

Each shift in the fashion parade evokes the query: “How do the designers get away with it?” Some theorize that it is the economic cycle, with hemlines rising as the economy falls and lowering again in better times. I suppose short skirts may provide some consolation for hard times, if this theory is valid. A few chauvinist types go so far as to attribute the whole process to the changeable nature of women–not a very popular stance in this day and age. But the fact still remains that it does happen. Styles change and no matter how controversial they are at first, they catch on, and entire wardrobes are abandoned.

I believe there is a fairly simple explanation for the whole process. Each year there is a new crop of young ladies who are starting to build their very first wardrobe. They buy the new styles with complete indifference to prior fashion because they have no investment in an existing wardrobe to protect. The “new” is all that is available to them, and so they adopt the new style, whatever it is, and with others then following along. In years to come they, too, will be hit many times with a wave of change they helped to build.

However, there are always some who outsmart the system. By avoiding “high” fashion and sticking with classic lines and basic black, adorned with varying accessories, they are able to be well groomed without the trauma associated with wardrobe obsolescence.

Well, you might ask, what has that got to do with the sale of life insurance? More than might at first be suspected. Periodically, new fashions make their way into the insurance marketplace. Over the years, we have witnessed a parade of new ideas–some remain, but many are gone, leaving very little to recall them but dashed hopes.

More often than not, such trendy products arise from young, small companies that, like the young ladies, have nothing to lose by assaulting existing fashion. They have no book of business to protect, no investment in a field force and, in most cases, no way to compete with the momentum of existing products and companies with established sales organizations. Their only real hope is with something new and attention-getting.

Media always can be counted on to cooperate to the fullest. They give full coverage to the latest styles out of Paris. The more ridiculous they are, the greater the attention. Likewise, in our business, anything that departs from conventional wisdom is likely to be hailed as the wave of the future. Often, the real irony is that agents are not being beaten by new products, but rather by the noise and attention such products generate. Or, in the words of an ancient Chinese philosopher, “One dog barks and a hundred bark at the noise.”

The purchase of life insurance is a serious matter and usually not entered into lightly or with great enthusiasm by most people. The objective of most flashy products is to somehow take the sting out of the purchase and thereby make it less objectionable. But how can you tell if it will endure or be just another of the many passing fads? Perhaps it is that very objective that can provide the clue to a new product’s value–if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Over the past 50 years, I have witnessed the arrival of many innovations in our product line and distribution systems. Some have entered the marketplace with guns blazing and aimed primarily at existing core products and established companies. Some even have provoked unwelcome legislation and regulation because of their abuse of tax provisions affecting our products or from financial recklessness. But there also have been winners that have claimed a legitimate place in our arsenal of products to deliver financial security to our clientele.

Like the savvy ladies who redecorate their basic black, many successful agents who have watched this parade of products have survived and prospered by enhancing classic lines of time-tested products rather than embracing every new idea that came along. They may not be flashy, but they do endure and they comprise the top tier on most companies’ list of star producers.