They do charge a lot more for fashion than utility in GW, sadly. The standard max level armor costs one platinum (1000 gold) a piece, so essentially, that's really all you need to help you advance in the game. Some people (like me) however, are very picky about how their characters look, so they spring for the more expensive 'elite' armor. There is no functional difference between the (usually) 15k elite and the 1k standard armor; they're purely aesthetic. Elite armor tends to be more detailed and, for the most part, 'prettier' than the standard stuff (there are exceptions). So there really is no rush to get an elite set of armor when you're just starting out.
Oh, and in Nightfall you get access to an elite set of armor fairly early on, once you get to the Sunspear Sanctuary and do the requisite quests. In Factions and Prophecies, you had to wait until you were at least 3/4ths of the way done with the game before you gained access to elite armor.
Here's an example of elite armor:
This is my monk in Elite Kurzick Armor. If you look on GuildWiki, they should have screenshots of the regular Kurzick armor. My stuff, for the most part, is more detailed and 'prettier-looking' than the standard (which is why I got it. :3)