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Wear it like Beckham?
Wear it like Beckham?
I first started teaching students on clothing and fashion courses in the late 1970s coming myself from an economics background. One of the main features of the literature I have read over the last 30 years or so had been – in my opinion – the relative weakness of theories of the fashion process the sense of their ability to make forecasts of fashion trends. Many of the theories seem rather more able to rationalise things after the event. In part, I suppose, this is because of my background but the models of the fashion process seem to be built around a desire to include a very complex variety of social, cultural and economic forces and seem to have the characteristic of becoming more and more complex as they attempt to become more and more realistic. This produces a sharp contrast with traditional economic models which sacrifice descriptive realism to gain ability to make definitive forecasts. It is possible to forecast the level of spending on apparel using standard economic building techniques as has been shown by Jones and Hayes (2002). It seems to me that the main problem with explanations of the fashion process is that they tended to have the ability to explain everything after the event and, as a consequence, forecast nothing because almost nothing as an outcome is ruled out. This problem is well illustrated in Mendes and De La Hague's (1999) comprehensive study of UK fashion change which calls upon a huge range of social and cultural forces to explain past trends. The Symbolic Interactionalist model developed by Nagasawa et al. (1995, 1996) does appear to contain a number of testable hypotheses of a general nature in relation to the unpredictability of the fashion market.
The Fashion Transformation model developed by Cholochatpinyo et al. (2002) and published in this journal also made claims to the ability to make some predictions relating to the adoption of fashions by different groups.
In this edition we offer another view of the fashion process which approaches the issue from rather a novel direction – chaos theory – which we hope will make a contribution to the debate. If there is any virtue in lateral thinking it might also be worth considering the application of the concept of “the tipping point” (Gladwell, 2000) to the fashion process. The basic idea proposed is very simple in that it argues that “the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends ... or any number of other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics” (Gladwell, 2000, p. 7). Change happens at one dramatic moment and this is the “tipping point” at which something takes off and becomes the “in” fashion.
The model introduces a number of key concepts such as connectors (people who know lots of people and have a talent for bringing people together); persuaders/salesmen; stickiness (the ability of an idea to be memorable) and individuals who are obsessive storers of information and who like to pass this on to other people.
In the book the author does briefly consider a number of fashion examples, such as Hush Puppies and Airwalk Sneakers but the practical implications are – in my view – still not perfectly clear (although some potential guidelines for promotion are given) and I was often left with an uneasy feeling that what was being stated was little more than “get somebody famous to wear it” and “some people matter more than others”, i.e. wear it like Beckham who becomes the fashion equivalent to a sort of Typhoid Mary! I hope that is not all there is to it but maybe a brave postgraduate could investigate this further.
Cholochatpinyo, A., Padgett, I., Crocker, M. and Fletcher, B. (2002), “A conceptual model of the fashion process – Part 2”, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 24-35.
Gladwell, M. (2000), The Tipping Point, Little Brown and Co., London.
Jones, R.M. and Hayes, S.G. (2002), “The economic determinants of clothing consumption in the UK 1987-2000”, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 326-40.
Mendes, V. and De La Hague, A. (1999), 20th Century Fashion, Thames and Hudson, London.
Nagasawa, R., Kaiser, S. and Hatton, S. (1995), “Construction of an S.I. Theory of fashion”, Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 13, pp. 172-84.
Nagasawa, R., Kaiser, S. and Hatton, S. (1996), “Construction of an S.I. Theory of fashion: context and explanation”, Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, Vol. 14, pp. 54-63.