Fun, Fashion Or Just Plain Sailing?&Nbsp; the Consumption of Clothing in the Sailing Community

ABSTRACT - The sport of sailing is one of the classic sub cultures of sport with its own codes of dress, speech, values and behaviour. Participants in sailing range from professionals to the casual amateur who enjoys nothing more than A messing about in boats@. Whatever the degree of commitment to the sport, sailors view themselves as part of a unified community which is manifested in the wearing of specific clothing, the use technical language and certain ritualistic behaviours. This paper explores the adoption behaviour by sailors of specific clothing and the relevance of that clothing to members of sailing community. Most of the sailors participating in this study exhibit adherenceto scripts that are governed by the community. Deviation from the norm is not acceptable. Communitas is observed to be a powerful influence over the buyer behaviour of individuals, as the feelings of belonging and linkage are very important to maintaining a social relationship with the community. Clothing is one of the most important areas of cultural development and this research has established that the clothing adopted can identify each stage of the sailor’s career.



Citation:

Gillian Hogg, Suzanne Horne, and David Carmichael (1999) ,"Fun, Fashion Or Just Plain Sailing?&Nbsp; the Consumption of Clothing in the Sailing Community", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 336-340.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 336-340

FUN, FASHION OR JUST PLAIN SAILING?  THE CONSUMPTION OF CLOTHING IN THE SAILING COMMUNITY

Gillian Hogg, University of Strathclyde, Scotland

Suzanne Horne, University of Stirling, Scotland

David Carmichael, University of Stirling, Scotland

ABSTRACT -

The sport of sailing is one of the classic sub cultures of sport with its own codes of dress, speech, values and behaviour. Participants in sailing range from professionals to the casual amateur who enjoys nothing more than " messing about in boats". Whatever the degree of commitment to the sport, sailors view themselves as part of a unified community which is manifested in the wearing of specific clothing, the use technical language and certain ritualistic behaviours. This paper explores the adoption behaviour by sailors of specific clothing and the relevance of that clothing to members of sailing community. Most of the sailors participating in this study exhibit adherenceto scripts that are governed by the community. Deviation from the norm is not acceptable. Communitas is observed to be a powerful influence over the buyer behaviour of individuals, as the feelings of belonging and linkage are very important to maintaining a social relationship with the community. Clothing is one of the most important areas of cultural development and this research has established that the clothing adopted can identify each stage of the sailor’s career.

INTRODUCTION

The sport of sailing is one of the classic sub cultures of sport with its own codes of dress, speech, values and behaviour. Participants in sailing range from professionals to the casual amateur who enjoys nothing more than " messing about in boats". Whatever the degree of commitment to the sport, sailors view themselves as part of a unified community which is manifested in the wearing of specific clothing, the use technical language and certain ritualistic behaviours. Through this sense of belonging to a group, a communal linkage is created (Turner 1974). Turner (1969) and Van Gennep (1960) have shown that this linkage typically begins with the 'casting off of goods’ that differentiate members of a group in favour of items of shared meaning, such as clothing. This type of ritualistic behaviour involves the individual replacing everyday clothing with specific 'uniforms’ and shared common possessions that create identification and group identity.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how sailors within a particular community view the adoption of specific clothing and the relevance of that clothing within the group. Specifically, it investigates the way in which membership of such a group influences purchase behaviour.

COMMUNITIES AND SUBCULTURES

A subculture is an identifiable segment within a larger society, distinguishable in shape and structure to its parent culture, focused around certain attributes, values and material artefacts and with its own territorial spaces (Hebdige 1974). This is no longer geographical space, as Etzioni (1993) points out. In post modern community non-territorial mutual interest groups based on an assortment of factors such as shared activities or tastes have replaced geographical medieval notions of community and subculture (Muniz and O’Guinn 1999). Donnelly (1981, 1985) identifies a number of characteristics that define a subculture: an identifiable group within the wider culture, with common characteristics and unique cultural components such as values, speech, beliefs, behaviour, dress and its own means of communication, which is unique to the group. The sport of sailing fits into this definition with its own clothing, communications and its own space, the water, with the parent culture operating on land.

The creation of a subculture arises when a group wishes to break away from the 'normal’ or dominant culture. Arnould (1970) concludes that three main reasons for the development of subcultures are: the response to a problem, the result of interaction that creates a social distance in lifestyle, or a shared form of reference. Communication is the mainstay in the social world (Shibutani 1955), with symbols meaning different things to different parties. The communications produced by a subculture can have the effect of increasing social distance from outsiders as only those within the community can understand the way of life (Hall & Jefferson 1980). For example, McPherson et al (1989) demonstrate the differences in speech used, when a sailor says, " we were blasting along at 25 knots on a broad reach with the kite up, when suddenly the stick broke and went over the bows". The translation for those not in the group is that, "the boat was moving very fast under full sail when the mast broke and went over the front."

Subcultures of consumption are distinctive subgroups that self-select on the basis of commitment to a particular product class, brand, or as in this case, consumption activity (see Schouten and Alexander 1995). Recent research in consumer behaviour has demonstrated that possessions are an integral part of self identity (see for example, Belk 1989; Schouten and Alexander 1995; Celsi et al 1993; Hill and Stamey 1990; Hogg and Michell 1996). Consumption, according to Dittmar (1992) is located at the individual society interface and represents one way in which the relationship between individual and society is realised. This interdependence of self and society is summed up by Berger (1966 p109)

"One identifies oneself, as one is identified by others, by being located in a common world"

Thus, as Hogg and Michell (1996) state, consumption is an activity which creates, confirms, maintains or transforms situated identities. Within specific subcultures or communities, certain products or brands become ideologies of consumption (Hebidge 1979, Schouten and Alexander 1995).

Donnelly & Young (1988) identify a four-stage model for entry into a sports subculture: pre-socialisation, selection and recruitment, socialisation and acceptance/ostracism. At each stage of this model the values, characteristics, dress and behaviour change due to the roles that they are expected to play. At the pre-socialisation stage the neophyte’s knowledge is often stereotypical of the subculture that they are trying to enter. The adornments that the participant hangs from their body, be it clothes or equipment, serve as visual cues to impress others (Goffman 1959; Schlenker 1980; Schouten 1991) or to reinforce perceptions of adequate performance (Solomon 1983). More often than not these symbols are incorrect, as they are stereotypical and can, in some subcultures, end the career of the neophyte.

Selection and recruitment of the neophyte is at this stage dependent on their motivation, interest and opportunity (Donnelly 1980). They are either selected by someone within the group or recruited by an established member. A good example of this occurs in the film 'Point Break’ when an established member of the surfing subculture selects a neophyte to join the group due to the motivation and interest that the new surfer shows. Once selected into the subculture, the socialisation process begins. This is the stage where the behaviour, language, dress and characteristics are brought into line with that of the subculture. The adoption of communitas through shared values and involvement lead the neophyte towards a relationship with the group (Turner 1969). The final stage of acceptance or ostracism involves confirmation of identity and 'new way of life’ (Hall & Jefferson 1980). The person must be who he/she claims to be and be able to demonstrate the skills or abilities required from that subculture (see Birrell 1978). In addition, Albert (1984) explains that there is a gatekeeper effect that stops some people from entering the group.

Communitas

The concept of 'communitas’ is derived from Latin, meaning 'community’ thus much of the previous research in this area has been carried out under the guise of cultures and subcultures. The idea of communitas is based on von Gennep’s interpretation of the shared rites of passage of pilgrims by Turner (1969 and 1974) and Arnould et al (1993). Varley & Crowther (1997), suggest that communitas is brought about through the sharing of a ritual experience. One element of these rituals is 'uniform’, which signifies shared values and involvement (Turner 1969). Arnould & Price (1993) show that communitas is developed through felings of linkage, belonging and group devotion. The rafting trip described in their article 'River Magic’ highlights this point when the group is issued a 'uniform’ in the form of waterproofs and lifejackets. The participants also leave personal belongings behind such as bandannas and friendship rings in order to conform to the group to which they now belong, and create a unified community (Belk et al 1989). Community, as a number of authors point out, has been largely over-looked in studies of consumption behaviour (see Muinz and O Guinn 1999; Cova 1997; Mc Grath Sherry and Heisley 1993). The idea of communal consumption, however, is not new. A subculture of consumption emerges as people identify with certain objects or activities and through them with other people (Schouten and Alexanger 1995 pp50). Unifying these activities is a set of common values which determine consumption patterns and are a direct reflection of the commitment of individuals to the ethos. Brands take on specific meaning within the subculture; by understanding the process of self-transformation and the meaning associated with certain products, marketers can "take an active role in socializing new members and cultivating the commitment of current one" (Schouten and Alexander 1996, p62).

CONTEXT

This research is based around the sailing community of the Firth of Clyde, on the West Coast of Scotland. This is one of the focal point of sea sailing within Scotland, with over a thousand boats of differing classes and size moored at four main marinas. As such it offers a broad base of those sailors who 'cruise’ for their leisure and those who 'race’. Due to the nature of sailing in Scotland, some form of foul-weather clothing is an essential requirement of the 'uniform’. Although the range of sailing specific clothing is vast, the base line requirement is for waterproof trousers, jacket and boots. This type of clothing is common across a number of outdoor activities for example, hill walking, golf, fishing or even gardening. However, despite often substantial price differences between sailing clothing and other suitable foul-weather clothing, sailors almost invariably wear clothing that has been specifically manufactured and branded toward this group.

Donnelly (1981) suggests that new members to a sport often model themselves upon existing members by copying dress, speech, mannerisms and behaviour, in order to become accepted into the group. Similarly, existing members reaffirm their group identity with the purchase of specific clothing that corresponds with others within the group (Belk et al 1989). The study by Varley and Crowther (1997) into the climbing fraternity uses the expression 'double lives’ to explain how climbers move from their day to day lives, into that of their climbing lives, or subculture. Sailors do much the same, as illustrated by Nixon (1997) a sailor who differentiates himself from the rest of society through the sport of sailing.

"That is what we are. We’re an identifiable community that is arguably a separate species. And although we aren’t particularly selfish, we’re most certainly self-absorbed, taken up with handling slowly on a daily basis those matters whose quick and easy solution your shore dweller takes for granted."

(Nixon 1997)

RESEARCH METHOD

This is an explorative study that investigates the adoption of communitas in the sailing fraternity and its influence on the purchase of sailing garments. Two methods of qualitative research were employed to collect data, participant observation and in depth interviews. The participant obervation research made use of field notes and audio recordings that were collected throughout the research. A researcher spent a total of 50 hours sailing on racing and pleasure craft on the Clyde in the Summer of 1998. In addition a total of sixteen interviews were conducted in May 1998, eight with male respondents and eight with female. The appropriateness of this type of data collection technique for this study can be defended in three ways. Firstly, what was sought was not fact, or some objective 'truths’ (see Baker 1982), but access to what Garfinkel (1967) refers to as the respondent’s "cultural universe". As such it was felt that answers to a survey type questionnaire would not provide this access. Qualitative data collection techniques allow the researcher to explore the participants understanding of their community and provides what Gummesson (1991) refers to as 'access to reality’. Participant observation allowed the researcher to establish whether the thoughts expressed by the participants reflected their actual behaviour when sailing. As the purpose of qualitative data is to gain insight and understanding, there is no requirement for statistical rigour in the sample selection. However as Gill and Johnson (1991) point out, the positivist traditions die hard, and an attempt was made to ensure that the final interview selection reflected the profile of ability and experience the Clyde as perceived by the Royal Northern Yacht Club.

Data Analysis

The purpose of analysis is data reduction and interpretation, within a specific context (Marshall and Rossman 1989). As qualitative data arises as words and phrases, a vast amount of information is generated and the task of analysis can be "overwhelming". Whilst there are statistical packages available to assist in this interpretation, they can restrict the analysis as a result of data reduction being carried out on the basis of artificial or at best forced relations between so-called 'key words’. The nature and effect of the phenomena under investigation, however, is such that the key words used vary according to the experience and background of the sailor. For example, the fore sail can be referred to as the jib, jenny or number 1. All refer to the same type of sail and frequently all three terms may be used by the same person in one conversation. As a consequence, reliance simply on the basis of 'key words’ as a means of computerised analysis is liable to lead inaccurate codification and interpretation. In order to avoid this, the analysis adopted an eight stage procedure recommended by Tesch (1980). From this analysis we identified three key areas for discussion, the nature of group identity through the wearing of specific clothing, they use of clothing and certain brands to differentiate the community form 'outsiders’ and finally the extent to which status within the community can be symbolised by clothing.

RESULTS

Group identity through the wearing of specific clothing

As Turner (1969) shows, communitas starts with casting off goods. It was clear that within the sailing community participants often had an entirely different wardrobe for sailing than for their day to day life. Two distinct types of sailing apparel were identified; foul-weather clothing for use whilst sailing and clothing worn for onshore socialising. Male respondents consistently talked of the 'functionality’ of the clothing, whilst female respondents were more likely to consider 'wearing the right clothes’ and 'fitting in’. Although the male respondents claimed to have no regard to the appearance of the garments or to group member’s opinion, observation of these respondents showed that they tended to buy the same colours and brands as each other. For example one respondent explained what hapened when he bought a different colour suit from that of his crew-mates.

"I spent ,650.00 odd on a new suit [foul-weather suit] and the only colour I could get it in was yellow. I liked the colour, but the rest of the crew wore red suits and I had to put up with a lot of grief about how I looked stupid! But now I find they’re out buying the same colour!"

It was found that female respondents were more likely to purchase the same brands that they observed being worn by others. They suggested that they were not 'brave’ enough to break with the norms that were set, meaning that they would buy the 'right brands’ in the 'right colour’ to be part of the group. In addition, racing yacht crews are often provided with a 'uniform’, that is, a jersey or jacket that shows the boat name. This 'uniform’ is clearly giving the wearer an identity with their own crew or community and a feeling of shared participation. This strength of identification was much stronger amongst racing crew, where the team spirit and sense of relying on each other during a competition lead to a strong imperative to wear similar colours and brands. One racing respondent suggested that the professionalism of the crew during a race depended on a degree of 'fellow feeling’ that manifested itself in one way through the clothing chosen by the crew.

Many of the same ideas were expressed concerning the purchase of those onshore clothes, worn before and after sailing. The shore wear is clearly a very important part of the 'uniform’, which helps in the adoption of communitas. While observing behaviour in boat yards, marinas and clubs, other sailors would walk up to people that they did not know and start to talk about boats to them because they identified them as 'one of their own’ through the clothes they wore.

Analysis of the response according to experience suggested that more established members of the group were more likely to describe the functional role of clothing whilst less experienced respondents described the more fashionable aspects. This area is, however, more contentious especially of late as social clothes that were unique to the group are now generally fashionable to the wider culture. Sailors see themselves as part of a unified community and within that community the 'right’ clothing must be worn, as one respondent pointed out: "Be different, and be damned"

The pleasure value of products was generally seen to be low, with function and safety given as the main reasons for purchase. However, the functional prowess gave the wearer a form of pleasure and implied the owner’s ability as a sailor. For example, certain participants wore 'ocean racing suits’, which have many added extras built into them such as; harnesses, buoyancy vests and locator beacons, yet they never went more that 10 miles offshore. Conversely, it was observed that a number of sailors wear baseball hats to conform:

"Yeah, baseball hats, why do people wear them? I’ve tried, they're not warm, they restrict visibility cos’ you can’t see the sails without tilting you’re head back further than you would without it. And they fly off, you have to tie then on. They’re just a pest."

Yet when looking at sailing communities, it is clear a lot of racers wear hats. Lurie (1992), identifies status with hats, thus the sign of status may also infer ability or show signs of knowledge and expertise. One experienced racing crew suggested that it was only the really good sailors who could 'get away with’ wearing certain shabby or unsuitable garments.

The helmsman, now he’s really good and he never wears waterproofs or boots, sails in jeans and old docksiders [type of shoe]. But then e never gets wet, not if he’s good, and he doesn’t have to do any of the scrambling around on the foredeck stuff, just stands there in his cap shouting at us

Despite the acknowledgement that some participants wore clothing to conform, there was still a belief that certain clothing infers ability. Clothes were used as signs of knowledge and expertise with very technical jackets being seen as signs of technical sailing abilities among the younger or less experienced participants. The older, more experienced sailors were more likely to rely on observed ability or knowledge of language and terminology.

There is only one rope on a boat, the rest are all halyards, sheets, etc etc, we all know that, its one of the first things you learn, its attached to the dinner bell, so if you get a real novice and they get them mixed up you can have a really good laugh. Except Ray [The Skipper] he’s been sailing all his life, he’s the best and sometimes he deliberately uses the wrong word, "he’ll say give that rope a tug" and if any of the rest of us said that he’d be the one pretending not to understand.

Clothing worn for differentiation from 'outsiders’

One of the major factors in the establishment of a sport subculture is the differentiation in clothing. In 1997 a sailing clothing manufacturer, Henri Lloyd, was awarded the Fashion Designer of the Year Award with mixed enthusiasm from the sailing fraternity. It was felt that these clothes were for sailors and not for the 'general public’, as they did not know how to use them. There was a general view that non-sailors wearing sailing kit are "funny" and "stupid". The implication is that it devalues the brand within the sub-culture. For example one respondent stated, " they shouldn’t wear it, they’re not part of our group" and another said,

"with them now wearing our kit it devalues the brand and there is no way that I will be buying Henri Lloyd kit again! The last thing I want is people to think I’m part of that group."

Many respondents said that they would now restrict the wearing of sailing clothes to just the sailing scene, whereas in the past they have worn these clothes out to go shopping or socialising. This viewpoint was held mainly by the younger respondents. However, participant observation revealed that the majority of respondents own and wear items of Henri Lloyd clothing. There is therefore a discrepancy in what the participants said in the interview and actually wore.

Group members clearly identified with the notion of 'outsiders’ who have no business using their clothes, as they do not use them for the purpose that they were designed for. When asked why the public is now wearing 'their’ clothing, the answer was not that it was superior quality or anything regarding the clothes, rather that the sailors believe that these non-members are trying to emulate their society. This may be true, as Henri Lloyd has been running an advertising campaign showing a yacht, deep in a Southern Ocean storm, with the caption, "The meek shall inherit the earth, the brave will inherit the oceans!"

Clothing and the nature of experience

Respondents had a range of sailing experience. Not surprisingly, the more proficient sailors use more technical equipment than those just entering the sport. It was apparent however, that neophytes often misjudge clothing requirements. It was suggested that they have a stereotype of what the sailor should look like, thus they try to emulate it. Neophytes were frequently seen to wear either entirely inappropriate clothing or unnecessary, top of the range specialist clothing. A the sailor moves through a sailing career, older and more worn clothing can identify them. For example it was observed that experienced yachtsmen/women had one thing in common, very few had matching trousers and jackets. Thus clothes showing signs of age and wear also identify skill and experience. Respondents suggested that, "can’t afford both new items";"trousers get used more than jackets"; "matching kit looks to much like a punter!"

Identification of experience becomes important for the sailor. This is seen more often within the racing community. Sailors like to show badges of competence on their shirts, such as events they have been to, races they have won and boats that they have sailed. These signs are far more common in the upper echelons of the subculture and are viewed as signs of knowledge and expertise. As the neophyte moves through the process of joining the culture, his/her values will be shaped by contact with established sailors. This can be seen when a new member joins a yacht or club on a permanent basis and needs to purchase equipment and clothing, it is often the other crew or established members of the subculture that influence their decision. One respondent remembers being in this position and as a result she bought a 'Gill’ offshore suit in red, because the rest of the crew wore that particular brand and colour.

Knowledge of what is currently available on the market is important. Opinion leaders make purchase decisions from past experience of products and happily relay them to the rest of the group. When asked what influenced their decisions, the male respondents frequently suggested the 'Whitbread Round the World Race’, because they noted, "that if the kit could stand up to that kind of treatment, then it must be good". There was an assumption that the Whitbread racers were experts and that by wearing Whitbread proven clothing this would suggest their own abilities. Ironically the two top Whitbread boats wear Henri Lloyd clothing.

CONCLUSIONS

The sport of sailing is very much a subculture, which operates as an identifiable segment within a larger society. The adoption of communitas within the sailing fraternity is brought about through the sharing of a ritual experience (sailing) with feelings of linkage and belonging, creating a unified community (Belk et al 1989). The subculture identifies with clothing as a means of conformation of identity to the culture, and the 'uniform’ of a sailor aides in the adoption of communitas. These two overriding factors greatly influence the buyer behaviour of the individual when a purchase decision is to be made over what clothing is to be bought for sailing.

Most of the sailors participating in this study exhibit adherence to scripts that are governed by the community. Deviation from the norm is not acceptable. Community can be observed to be a powerful influence over the buyer behaviour of individuals, as the feelings of belonging and linkage are very important to maintaining a social relationship with the community. Clothing is one of the most important areas of cultural development and this research has established that the clothing adopted can identify each stage of the sailor’s career.

Sailing, as with many other outdoor sports, offers alternative avenues for differentiation from the wider society. The enactment of 'double lives’ allows the individual to escape from the parent culture and act out his or her role in another culture. The ritualistic behaviours that are carried out through the sport of sailing, both on the water and socially on land strengthen the feeling of communitas and cohesion of the subculture, thus increasing cultural awareness. The nature of sailing clothing has changed, for example the 'uniform’ that Turner (1969) identifies, has changed from the dark blue, double breasted blazer and white cap of the yacht club but still functions as an identifier of the group However, as Schouten and Alexander (1985) point out, marketers who strive to increase the size of their market by making the accessories of a subculture accessible to the wider community, run the risk of alienating core members and diluting the appeal within the original community. The role of social activities as the base of subcultures of consumption must recognise that part of the ritual is the 'casting off’ of the everyday. Once the cultural symbols of the subculture become everyday, they cease to perform the role assigned to them.

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Authors

Gillian Hogg, University of Strathclyde, Scotland
Suzanne Horne, University of Stirling, Scotland
David Carmichael, University of Stirling, Scotland



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999



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