Fashion Involvement: a Cross-Cultural Comparative Analysis

D. J. Tigert, University of Toronto
C. W. King, Purdue University
L. Ring, University of Virginia
ABSTRACT - In a companion paper for this conference, (King and Ring, 1979) have outlined the conceptual framework in fashion research over the past decade. One section of that paper focussed on the identification of the adoption/ diffusion process and the identification of the fashion change agent. This paper starts with some empirical analysis of the measurement of the fashion change agent across markets and across time. Then, the fashion change agent measurements are compared to the results of an analysis of a fashion life style dimension which we have labeled "fashion consciousness." Both analyses represent an attempt at understanding the differential levels of fashion involvement among adult female fashion buyers. Finally, levels of fashion involvement and the search for contemporary fashion are examined from the perspective of both fashion information seeking activities and retail store choice.
[ to cite ]:
D. J. Tigert, C. W. King, and L. Ring (1980) ,"Fashion Involvement: a Cross-Cultural Comparative Analysis", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 17-21.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 17-21

FASHION INVOLVEMENT: A CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

D. J. Tigert, University of Toronto

C. W. King, Purdue University

L. Ring, University of Virginia

ABSTRACT -

In a companion paper for this conference, (King and Ring, 1979) have outlined the conceptual framework in fashion research over the past decade. One section of that paper focussed on the identification of the adoption/ diffusion process and the identification of the fashion change agent. This paper starts with some empirical analysis of the measurement of the fashion change agent across markets and across time. Then, the fashion change agent measurements are compared to the results of an analysis of a fashion life style dimension which we have labeled "fashion consciousness." Both analyses represent an attempt at understanding the differential levels of fashion involvement among adult female fashion buyers. Finally, levels of fashion involvement and the search for contemporary fashion are examined from the perspective of both fashion information seeking activities and retail store choice.

METHODOLOGY

Over the period 1975-1979, seven major fashion research programmes were launched across four cultures, using identical research methodologies. Each research project involved large scale consumer survey research with large random samples that were projectable to the total Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas from which they were drawn. Respondents were generated via telephone screening interview or a personal interview after which a large questionnaire was placed into the home for self-completion and return. All respondents were paid a cooperator fee (or gift) for participating in the survey. Ail samples fell into the range of 1,000 - 3,000 respondents. The major markets surveyed included:

1.  English Canada:    Four waves for 1975 to 1978

2.  French Canada:    One wave in 1979

3.  United States:       One wave in 1979

4.  The Netherlands:  One wave in 1977

In cases where a language translation was required the questionnaires were first translated from English to French/Dutch and then back-translated to English by a second language translation firm. Finally, a third firm rationalized any differences between the original English version and the back-casted English version of the questionnaires.

RESULTS

The Fashion Change Agent: A Growing Market Segment

King, Ring and Tigert (1979) conceptualized the fashion change agent as a consumer who at least monitors the changing fashion environment on a regular basis but who also keeps her wardrobe up-to-date with current fashions most of the time. Table 1 provides a comparative analysis of the size of this market segment, both across time in a single market as well as across four different cultures.

TABLE 1

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS ON REACTIONS TO CHANGING WOMEN'S FASHIONS

For the English Canadian market, four years of tracking have identified a rapidly growing market segment that has been classified as the change agent segment. From 1975 to 1979, there was steady growth in both the top response category in Table 1 as well as the second category, with the largest share of respondents falling into the second category. While only 48 percent of respondents could be classified as change agents in 1975, 60 percent of all respondents fell into this category in 1979. The implications for fashion merchandising are transparent. A much larger proportion of the female fashion buying public is now monitoring new women's fashions on a regular basis. If we hypothesize a relationship between interest in fashion and buying of new fashions, then the market for contemporary fashion has been growing rapidly. Such evidence is provided in Table 2.

TABLE 2

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS ON FASHION CONSCIOUSNESS FACTOR: PERCENT WHO STRONGLY AGREE WITH EACH FASHION STATEMENT

However, there are other findings in Table 1 of considerable interest. First, the U.S. data differ significantly from the other three cultures. U.S. females are apparently more downscale in terms of fashion involvement as measured by the scale in Table 1. Thirty-three percent of the U.S. respondents fall into the bottom two categories which describe respondents with little or no interest in new women's fashions.

Second, the Dutch consumers are split much more sharply in the top two categories with 30 percent describing themselves as both monitors and buyers of new fashions on a regular basis. Thus, one would hypothesize that in the Dutch market, a much larger proportion of the retail stores would be catering to this more highly fashion involved segment.

Fashion Involvement As Measured By Life Style

Table 2 confirms some of the findings and the hypotheses arising from Table 1. Over a number of studies, factor analysis of a large number of life style statement has produced an extremely stable factor which has been labeled "fashion consciousness." Table 2 reports on the percentage of respondents who strongly agreed with each of five life style statement that forms the fashion consciousness factor.

Once again, we note for the English Canadian time-series data, that the level of strong agreement has been rising sharply and steadily over the four years covered in the surveys. The proportion of respondents who report shopping at boutiques and specialty fashion chains has risen from just under one-fifth of the sample to almost one-third. Thus, consumers would appear to be increasingly turning away from department stores towards outlets they perceive to offer better selections of contemporary fashion.

Once again also, the Dutch and French Canadian data exhibit similar levels of strong agreement, while the U.S. respondents appear significantly downscale.

On the remaining questions, the Dutch respondents score much higher than either Canadian sample, a pattern which is parallel to the fashion involvement data in Table 1. If the Canadian trend data reflect patterns that may also have evolved in the other cultures, then there clearly is a rising interest in latest styles, the pleasure of shopping for fashions, the monitoring of fashion through fashion magazines, and the importance of dressing properly.

One hypothesis about the rising involvement levels in fashions for female adults centers around the working women. Over the past ten years, the proportion of all adult females working full time in the workforce has risen dramatically to a figure now established to be nearing 50 percent of all females. The fashion wardrobe required for a two week working cycle at work differ sharply from the wardrobe required by the housewife. Although not shown in this paper, the analysis of the data in Tables 1 and 2, when broken down by three female segments shows higher levels of fashion involvement by two working female segments; i) those engaged in professional/managerial careers and ii) those engaged in lower level white collar occupations. Females in clerical/sales type jobs score highest of all.

Strategic Implications.  Clearly, the rising phenomenon of fashion involvement by female adults has not escaped the attention of a number of retail establishments in the U.S. The strategic move by Penny's to move upscale on fashion reflected that chain's own research that pinpointed lost fashion sales among Penny's own customers. Specialty chains such as Charles A. Stevens in Chicago and a number of the major department store conglomerates have opened special "Career Shops" for working women.

Changing Patterns of Store Choice

Table 3 reports on some analysis of how consumers say they choose fashion outlets for their own fashion needs. Again there are significant differences across the four cultures. English Canadian females place a very heavy emphasis on "value for the money" and increasingly on assortment/selection of fashion merchandise. U.S. females trade away value for a much greater reliance on location and low prices, although value still rates number one for them as well. English Canadian females have de-emphasized price over the past three years.

Dutch consumers rate quality ahead of value and they also rate in-store service much higher than do the respondents in our other samples.

TABLE 3

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS ON STORE CHOICE IN WOMEN'S FASHION: PERCENT WHO RATE EACH STORE CHARACTERISTIC AS EITHER FIRST OR SECOND MOST IMPORTANT IN CHOOSING A STORE TO SHOP FOR WOMEN'S FASHIONS

However, the most striking differences are between English speaking Canadians and Americans. Almost twice as many Americans rate both price and location as first or second most important in choosing their fashion store compared to their Canadian counterparts. Both these store characteristics would fall into an economic/utility category. One might hypothesize that the middle ground department stores in the U.S. (Sears/Wards/Penny's) could be expected to capture a much higher share of the total fashion market than their counterparts in Canada. In fact, fashion specialty chains have grown much faster in Canada than in the U.S. Only recently have such U.S. chains as Brooks and the Limited begun to develop a national identity whereas in Canada, many specialty chains have already penetrated the key major malls right across the country. In addition, Canada's department stores have been "national" chains for almost 100 years.

Table 4 recasts the data from Table 3 in rank order only for the English Canadian samples and highlights several differences across female occupation segments. It should be noted that both working women segments place "up-to-date current contemporary fashion" in the top four categories that determine store choice while housewives rate this characteristic much lower in seventh place. In addition, housewives rate low price and location much higher than working women and tend to mirror the total U.S. sample in this regard. Respondents who work in professional/managerial occupations rate "latest, most fashionable women's wear" more important as a store choice dimension. Again, we see evidence that working women are different from housewives in terms of the factors that determine their fashion wardrobe and the stores that they might be expected to patronize.

Information Seeking About New Women's Fashions

Not only are female fashion shoppers changing in terms of their fashion involvement levels and desired outlet characteristics, but they are increasingly turning towards different types of fashion information. Table 5 presents some forced-choice data on the relative importance of various sources of fashion information. The trend data in the English Canadian market clearly shows a strong rise in the relative importance of two specific types of information; i) that gained from visiting the stores (increased shopping/searching activity) and ii) that gained from fashion magazines. On the other hand, newspaper fashion advertising is declining as a source of information about new women's fashions and has dropped from second to fourth place over just three years. The implications for fashion retailers involve a shift in advertising dollar allocations away from newspaper and into the key fashion magazines such as Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselles, etc.

TABLE 4

HOW CONSUMERS SAY THEY CHOOSE FASHION OUTLETS: RANK ORDERING ON FORCED-CHOICE SCALE (CANADA)

TABLE 5

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS ON INFORMATION SEEKING ACTIVITIES IN WOMEN'S FASHIONS: PERCENT RATING EACH INFORMATION SOURCE EITHER FIRST OR SECOND MOST IMPORTANT

The French Canadian consumers are different. Since most of the major fashion magazines originate in the U.S. and are printed only in English, the French consumer places more reliance on visiting the stores, television advertising and discussion with other women. U.S. consumers, compared to their English Canadian counterparts, place slightly more emphasis on catalogues and newspaper advertising. We would hypothesize that Sears, Wards and Penny's have impacted this perception, just as they have impacted the store choice criterion with a heavier emphasis on price and convenience.

If the data in Table 5 have any external validity, one would expect that circulation for the key U.S. fashion magazines has risen rapidly in Canada and is doing well in the U.S.

Finally, the key role of store visits should not go unnoticed. If consumers are placing increasingly reliance on shopping across the retail outlets and are increasingly turning to the major malls, then the mall windows, and the interior layout/design of fashion stores are becoming much more important. In fact, the layout/ design function in fashion merchandising is a critical determinant of merchandising success.

CONCLUSIONS

Seven major fashion studies across four different cultures have provided ample evidence that the female fashion market is in a state of rapid change. The size of the total market that can be described as fashion involved is increasing steadily. The most significant impact on that phenomenon is the rise of the working woman segment. Consumers are increasingly turning away from department stores towards specialty chains and boutiques. Upwards of 60 percent of all fashion buyers are now monitoring the fashion scene on a regular basis. Increasingly, consumers are looking for fashions that are of the latest style. They are turning towards more store visits and fashion magazines as the key sources of information about new fashions. They are de-emphasizing newspaper advertising.

Across cultures, a number of major differences in fashion involvement have been observed. U.S. consumers exhibit the lowest levels of fashion interest and fashion monitoring. They are less likely to shop at boutiques and specialty chains. They are the most likely to look for low prices and convenience in their shopping behaviour. Dutch consumers, on the other hand, are upscale compared to not only U.S. consumers but also compared to English and French Canadian consumers. They are much more interested in quality and service compared to North Americans. Canadian consumers exhibit an above average commitment to value and assortment in their search for preferred retail outlets.

Across female occupation segments, working women are significantly upscale from their housewife counterparts. They are much more fashion aware, much more interested in current/contemporary fashion and much less interested in low prices or convenience.

The findings lead to a number of strategic implications for fashion retailers in the various countries surveyed. In the U.S., there is evidence that the middle ground retailers such as Sears, Wards and Penny's will do well in the fashion area while specialty chains may grow more slowly than they have or will in Canada or the Netherlands. Fashion retailers should be shifting advertising dollars from newspaper to fashion magazines on either a national or regional basis. Store layout/ design is becoming an increasingly important merchandising function.

Among females, perhaps 10 percent of the population regularly update their wardrobes. More important, another 40-50 percent are fashion oriented in terms of fashion monitoring behaviour. This latter segment, by virtue of its larger percentage of the population, may be the ultimate segment influencing the shift to new style selections in the mass population.

REFERENCES

King, C. W. and Ring, L. (October 1979), "Fashion Theory: The Dynamics of Style and Taste, Adoption and Diffusion,'' Proceedings of the Association for Consumer Research Annual Meeting, San Francisco.

King, C. W., Ring, L and Tigert, D., (April 1979), "Fashion Involvement and Retail Buying Behaviour," Competition in Retail Markets: A Department Store Perspective (Proceedings of the New York University/ American Marketing Association Retail Conference).

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