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Constantly Consuming to Conform
Fashion plays a big role in today’s society. Ko and Woodside define fashion as “a style of dress, behavior, and way of living, and/or thinking presently or in another historical context” (ix). Fashion is everywhere. People wear it every day, it is a part of pop culture, some admire it, and some claim they do not care for it, but ultimately, it helps people communicate a personal identity. Amram points out that in this modern society and consumer culture, consumers are either seeking to conform to social norms or to display a strong self-identity (68). Consumers conform constantly in the fashion industry. Whether someone would admit to it or not, people make choices regarding fashion on a daily basis. By choosing to dress up or down, they unconsciously make decisions on how to style or to “not” style our outfit of the day (Amram 77-78).
Thompson and Haytko discuss how some people want to stand out and individualize themselves (autonomy) while others want to blend in and affiliate (conformity) (15-16). Conformity plays a big role in how someone can dress, but no matter if people choose to stand out or blend in, clothing shows self-identity. Some people may think that they control what they wear; however, they conform to the idea that no one can make an influence on what they wear. In reality, consumer culture dictates the fashion in pop culture, not the individual, and thus, self-identity, consuming, and conforming all are factors in how consumer culture dominates the fashion industry.
Self-identity, or personal identity, can be interpreted as a common problem seen throughout pop culture, yet it can be offered in consumer culture. Because many people struggle with their identity, purchasing commodities can become a source to fill that void of identity-- it is an illusion. Babakhova describes it as a person no longer being “attached to the adjective self, but only to that ideal image of it.” Consumer culture can lead to becoming the foundation of someone’s self-identity. The production of commodities and consumption not only transforms someone’s perception of themself, but it also transforms their surrounding reality; an illusion is created where it is hard to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Fashion commodities become a “status symbol” as Babkhova calls them. (4)
Thompson and Haytko, similarly to Babakhova, found that the morality of consumption is based on the pursuit of individuality. Consumers have a sense of autonomy and conformity issues, for everybody wants to find themselves and develop their own self-identity. (15-16) By buying certain products, a new identity can be created, and people gain pleasure from purchasing the products; in some cases, they are purchasing the sense of self-worth and not the product for what it really is. People are not aware that they are even doing this. They are too busy fulfilling their desires and purchasing immediate satisfaction —a by-product from market mechanisms. (Babakova 3-5) Because people in these modern times are so connected to finding self-worth, approval, and their overall identity, this can lead to conforming to “fit in.”
By finding self-identity through fitting in, conformity is created by consuming what is necessary to fit in. Consuming gives people a way to feel fulfilled which is why consumer culture has the power it does. All these people purchasing fashion commodities have the ability to determine what is popular. Whatever is being bought is what the people want —that is a fact. The drive to purchase certain fashion drives consumer culture, hence, the consumers have control of what is popular in the fashion industry.
Consumerism is closely tied to self-identity in the fashion industry, for the consumption of fashion commodities is what people affiliate with their self-identities. People are constantly consuming which is why we have this dominant consumer culture. “Consumption has become one of the main sources of self-identity. In consumer culture, identity is deprived of a fixed center and appears as an infinitely transformed, mobile thing shifting into the sphere of individual needs and desires” (Babakhova 1). Consumption transforms and characterizes the lifestyle of a person. Lopes found that there is an increasing need to study the market, trends, and consumer behavior in the fashion industry, for these three things are greatly connected to the “increasing velocity in the fashion cycle.” The cycle is always changing. Fashion is constantly changing; pop culture is constantly changing. Dew’s focus extended on how fashion and pop culture merge, grow, and define one another. They both feed off of and inspire each other. Pop culture influences fashion (including fashion designers) and what is trending in the masses because trends are always evolving. Murek reports that brands and designers have to anticipate social-cultural movements which will affect the way the fashion industry evolves, thus, affecting consumers. Brands are looking and creating based on what the consumers want to buy; the fashion is created for them. The consumers are what drive what is being produced, and in return, the consumers will conform and buy what is created for them. (Lopes)
People are creatures who are influenced in the process of observation and imitation which leads to fashion becoming a mass consumption business based on consumer preferences. Consuming creates a “sense of belonging which is what the fashion commodity is all about” (Lopes). The consumers in pop culture are what control the market, for it is based on their desires —whether those desires are to fit in and conform or to stand out.
Consumers consume the idea behind products and conform (to others and even brands) to gain their self-identity. Out of all three main concepts, conformity is the one that really dominates over the other two; conformity is what drives consumers to control what is popular in pop culture. Amram found that psychology in marketing greatly affects consumers, for they are unconsciously conforming with their fashion choices. ‘Man is a creature of his environment,’ (Amram 77) for consumers are influenced by the area where they live, people they are surrounded by, group norms, advertising, and their status consciousness which are all pressures of conformity. All of these influences on consumers can be compared to a lived hegemony. In a fashion discourse, a lived hegemony (social-cultural ideology influenced by a dominant group) is deeply entwined. (Thompson and Haytko 15, 36) Everybody is conforming, whether they would like to admit it or not, to a certain extent. Some people make more autonomous choices with their fashion than others, but I believe that everybody falls under the control of social conformity due to their social dynamics. Markers manipulate consumers to mindless conformity, and “market responsiveness is a means by which consumers can affect large scale changes in social discourse.” (Thompson and Haytko 35, 37)
Again, because consumers have a desire for fame or to belong in a group, this leads to them getting targeted and manipulated by their desires.
“People will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts are the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption… ‘conspicuous waste’ to indicate the tendency to pay more than necessary for an item suitable to a need or want to indicate exceptional status in good taste to others” (Ko and Woodside 2, 13).
People want to prove to others that they fit in, hence, that is why they conform to buying certain products— like name-brand. Why do people prefer name-brand over off-brand? Even if the off-brand has the same quality as a name-brand, people still conform to the name-brand to acquire self-worth. Again, consumers hope to gain the idea behind the product. “‘Think about Chloe, the lovely, girlish, and fragile brand.’ Each brand has its archetype. And by possessing the product of each brand… people try to define their sense of self” (Eunah qtd in Amram). Nike is another popular brand in pop culture that has a certain archetype; it is athletic and trendy. Nike is a popular brand right now in pop culture; consumers want their products. Aside from brand names being a factor in what consumers conform to buy, specific groups of people also have the power to influence the followers of trends in fashion discourse. Not to mention, the impact that the media has had to expand social conformity which has made ideas in fashion spread even faster. Influencers and trendsetters have a great power of influence, and what “was originally done by only a few has really come to be practiced by all” (Lopes).
Everything consumed —whether if it is name or off-brand— is accepted by the consumers. If it was not accepted by them, then there would be no profit for a specific company in the fashion industry. A single consumer does not control what is on trend, for it is something bigger —consumer culture. The fashion commodities that are being produced are based on the consumer's desires. What makes certain brands and products so popular are the consumers’ desires to conform to one another and affiliate.
A Different Perspective
But why do we, the consumers, conform to getting these certain fashion commodities? Not everyone conforms, and not everyone is a part of consumer culture— false. A single individual does not affect what is on trend, but the idea of conformity can spread the trend from someone and influence others’ choices. Ko and Woodside found that consumers have two motivational needs: individuating and affiliating (xi). I believe that fashion consumers affiliate more than they individualize themselves, however, there is no denying that some people believe that they are anticonformists of fashion. Babakhova argues that we are in a time of individualism (“liberation of a person from various social groups, awareness of his/her individuality, has degenerated into the right of self, the right to achieve his/her own success”) (3). Embracing antifashion creates tension between individuating and affiliating (Ko and Woodside xii). For example, some people of antifashion claim that:
“I don't like dressing like everyone else, I like being different, and I like standing out. That's pretty much what fashion is all about. I guess I'm more individualistic whereas most people like to blend” (Participant qtd in Thompson and Haytko 22).
“I don't go out of my way to buy what's hot or what's in… Usually if something is hot, I'll go out of my way to stay away from it. Even if I like it at first, if everyone's wearing it, I don't want to be wearing it. I don't know if it's just because I don't want to follow everybody else or I just don't like everyone to be wearing the same thing I'm wearing” (Participant qtd in Thompson and Haytko 21).
There are certain people who want to be different and bolder, and they aspire to stand out rather than blend in. Other people interpret and judge those of antifashion for breaking the normal dress standards, and they think those who step outside the box’s self-worth depends on them individuating themselves. Because we live in a time of individualism, it is socially acceptable to dress differently than others in their social dynamics; it is acceptable to be different. Fashion influencers and trendsetters are making bolder choices. Consumers see this and conform to it; they see that it is okay to step out of the box.
Another reason why some people want to stand out is because they want to “articulate a personalized sense of fashion that runs against the grain of what they perceive as a dominant fashion orientation of their social settings.” Some fashion is more dominant than others, but “all exist as possible narratives from which consumers can construct an understanding of everyday life.” (Thompson and Haytko 35) It is accepted in today's society to go against social norms.
Unconsciously everyone is conforming to the people and environment around them. Fashion helps people communicate their self-identity, and people are consuming what is necessary to fit in or to stand out. Without realizing it, everyone is conforming in some way with their fashion. The desires of consumers drive the fashion industry, and we live in a society dominated by consumer culture. Some people think that they are creating their own self-identity by consuming fashion that will make them stand out and be different as an individual, but really, they are not. They are still conforming to purchasing products that are only produced by what the consumers desire. A cycle gets created around the consumers. Consumers buy what they want, but what is produced is based on them. It goes back to society conforming as a whole which dictates the fashion trending in pop culture—not just an individual.
Amram, Marc, et al. Is Blending into Society a Primary Consumer Goal for Dressing Down? Emerald Group Publishing, 2013, pp. 67-78.
Babakhova, Liudmila. "Deontologization of culture and identity transformation in the context of a consumer society." SHS Web of Conferences, vol. 72, 2019.
Dew, Jessica. How Pop Culture Is Influencing Fashion Designers in NYC, My Style Authority, 18 Sept. 2017, mystyleauthority.com/blogs/fashion-designers-in-nyc#:~:text=Fashion%20gives%20people%20a%20way,and%20trendy%20of%20their%20time.
Lopes, Maria Vieira. "The discourse of fashion change: Trend forecasting in the fashion industry." Fashion, Style, & Popular Culture, vol. 6, no. 3, 2019, p. 333+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A597810092/AONE?u=kcccedar&sid=AONE&xid=5073d14e. Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.
Murek, Diana M. “Cultural Influences On Trend Forecasting.” INTO THE FASHION, Into the Fashion, 6 Jan. 2010, www.intothefashion.com/2010/01/cultural-influences-on-trend.html.
Thompson, Craig J., and Diana L. Haytko. "Speaking of Fashion: Consumers' Uses of Fashion Discourses and the Appropriation of Countervailing Cultural Meanings." Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 24, no. 1, June 1997, pp. 15-40.
Woodside, Arch G., and Eunju Ko. Luxury Fashion and Culture. 1st ed., vol. 7, Emerald Group Publishing, 2013.
Woodside, Arch G., and Eunju Ko. Luxury Fashion Theory, Culture, and Brand Marketing Strategy. Emerald Group Publishing, 2013, pp. 1-13.