Many consumers attach a high degree of importance to decisions relating to what clothes to purchase and wear. To understand and carve out these psychological implications, a new study explores the conceptual distinction between clothing consumers with a fashion and style orientation. Fashion-oriented consumers emphasize the material and possession component of clothing acquisition and view clothing as means to achieve social positioning and status. They have high shopping frequency, acquire more from 1st markets (e.g., high street stores) and less from 2nd markets (e.g., secondhand stores). In contrast, Style-oriented consumers see clothing as a way to express individuality and have key consumption characteristics as longevity, authenticity, and uniqueness. They consequently select clothing items that can be kept for years with little impact of changes in fashion trends and shop less frequently than fashion-oriented consumers. By purchasing new fashion items, fashion-oriented consumers satisfy their need for keeping themselves current. The transient nature of fashion and fashionable clothing styles means that the acquired clothing quickly becomes obsolete, thereby warranting further consumption.

The findings of this new study tell, through a four-country consumer survey, clear support for the conceptual distinction between a style and fashion orientation. Moreover, the fashion-oriented consumers report a higher endorsement of materialism and lower levels of subjective well-being than style-oriented consumers. Interestingly, the difference in subjective well-being between the two clothing orientations is mediated by materialism. While materialism and fashion orientation partly overlap, fashion orientation is still conceptually distinct from both style orientation and materialism. This could be, for example, by following the latest fashion trends through alternative means of consumption such as renting or lending.

The question is whether fashion orientation is still an independent concept and not just another description of materialism. If fashion orientation is about acquiring new clothing items and through that satisfying the need of keeping up-to-date with latest fashion trends, then there is more than one way to achieve these aims. One way is to purchase new clothing items and once these are obsolete, because a new trend emerges, purchase new clothing and through these purchases accumulating material goods in the form of clothing items. In other words, realizing this need through materialistic behavior through the acquisition of possessions. Another way to satisfy the need of keeping up to date with the latest fashion trends, without the notion of materialism, could be via access to new, trendy clothing items without owning more material goods – for example, renting, lending, leasing or swapping clothing items. Here, the need to keep up with the latest fashion trends can still be fulfilled including the communication of the outer self to others, which keeps it distinct from a style orientation. As a result, even if materialism is taken out of fashion orientation, the two trait-like orientations of clothing consumption are conceptually distinct.

The study was conducted by Wencke Gwozdz and Kristian Steensen Nielsen at Copenhagen Business School together with Shipra Gupta from University of Springfield Illinois and James Gentry from Lincoln University, Nebraska. It is within Mistra Future Fashion theme 3 – how to nudge consumers to act more sustainable. Read the full Mistra Future Fashion report here.