Special Session Summary Aspects of Fashion, Aesthetics, Symbolic Appearances and Consumer Behaviour


Patrick Hetzel (1995) ,"Special Session Summary Aspects of Fashion, Aesthetics, Symbolic Appearances and Consumer Behaviour", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 320-322.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 320-322



Patrick Hetzel, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3


Fashion is a very complex process that operates on many levels: it is a societal phenomenon affecting many people simultaneously and it also exerts a very personal effect on individual behaviour. Fashion-oriented consumer behaviour results from a multitude of behavioural processes and is among the most complex acts of consumer behaviour. The complexity of the relationship between the design elements and the physical characteristics of the consumer renders the construction of valid research instruments difficult, but not impossible. The process of fashion creation results in the emergence of both a value object (the product) and a subject (the potential user), and therefore of the relation that unites them; thus one is inthinkable without the other. Therefore, some studies about fashion were studying interactions. Despite recent research on the fashion process, contemporary fashion change is still widely misunderstood and therefore needs some more investigation to provide new interpretations of the fashion system, especially because forecasting the new fashion trends is still exceedingly difficult. This session will point out some very important aspects of contemporary fashion theory, like for example: the importance of the social meaning of appearance, how it is established, how it is interpreted, and the importance of the social and cultural contexts in which these processes occur. More and more, appearance is studied as a whole and it its context, by consumer researchers. Therefore, all the speakers will emphasize on the broader issue of appearance as a whole; on linkages between social-psychological processes and culture; on the connection between clothing, gender, and the body; and on the importance of context in the study of consumer behaviour in the area of fashion.




Guilia Ceriani, University of Milano

The main subject of this presentation is the fashion trend as an intricate theme. The speaker will show the methodology and the results of the first statement by the Semiotic Observatory Modamix about 1995-1996 fashion trends forecasts. The major objective of the Observatory is to produce a fashion trend analysis. To do so, the Observatory is screening the corpus of the world most important fashion magazines and the study begins with the collection of data concerning fashion trends. The next step is to interpret hidden meanings buried in the collected and observed marked signs (pictures, ads, etc.). Those are the two steps of the interpretation process. On the mean time, two general research issues were also the focus of this pilot study in Italy. First of all, the study is presenting a "static" situation: the fashion trends of the moment. Second, a more "dynamic" situation is described which helps to predict what the fashion trends will be in the future.

To build up this research methodology; it was necessary to investigate the semiotic structure of a fashion trend and to see how far one trend was different from another or similar to another. Applying the semiotic paradigm, fashion trends have in general, the speaker believes, a specific semiotic structure. Therefore, the presenter will talk about the possibilities to use the concepts of the "greimassian" semiotic, like for example the "semiotic square" as a powerful tool in all positioning strategies of fashion trends. This presentation will clearly establish what kind of contributions to consumer research can be done by applying semiotics on fashion trends.



Nadine Gelas, University LumiFre Lyon 2

Barthes and Baudrillard, speaking even at their time of fashion were already talking about the "abolition" or the "waterline" of sense.

It was bound to the ephemeral feature of fashion, which changed as the days went by, years after years, season after season.

Thanks to quickness, diversity, and also the bursting of the present fashion that can be summed up in the following motto: "all is fashionable, therefore nothing is", the escape of meaning has still heightened, threatening continually even the existence of social codes.

If such a game fascinates the consumer, it also contributes to puzzle him, so that sometimes he can not stand it anymore.

Hence his resort to language, always present on his garnments (trademarks, logos, visual brand identities, different messages, sentences, and so on) for about ten years. Such a text, thanks to its power of interpreting (cfer Benveniste) is undoubtedly used to give sense, to communicate something to others. It is a specific channel of discourse. But how does this work? Is such a discourse successful? What does it really mean ?

Answering those different questions will be the purpose of the speakers' analysis.



Roberto Grandi, University of Bologna

The purpose of this presentation is to investigate on the connections among Italian people's behaviours in different fields, such as: politics, consumption and fashion. The presenter will analyse in deep the peculiarities of the reactions against the "Eighties' values" in Italy. In the Eighties a single object meaning was in part derived by the relations with other objects within a specific life style. Some of the most well-known stylist succeeded to get a convergence between their griffe and a single life style.

In Italy, the Eighties can be considered the period of time characterized by a "consumption's logic" driven by "the griffe", in the fashion system; the "commercial brands" in the general commercial sector; "traditional parties", in the political domain.

At the beginning of the Nineties something happened in the Italian society at different levels:

- in the fashion system, the new process of self construction makes more difficult the convergence between a life style and a griffe. The consumers apply a more individualistic code when they "put together" the dresses' single elements;

- in the general commercial sector, the consumers lose their confidence in the brands - and partially, in the commercial communication - at both the production and distribution levels;

- in the political field people don't trust anymore the traditional parties and are looking for something different, and possibly new.

In this presentation, will be considered the possibility to trace that "common feeling" which unifies these different behaviours. In the opinion of the speaker it has to do with a sort of a new ethic in the consumption behaviour, which derives by the emergence of a "postmodern subjectivity" in the Italian society.



Patrick Hetzel, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3

In the past, a lot of theories were developed to explain and predict fashion phenomena, like those of Simmel, Veblen, ... more recently, sociologists and market researchers developed ideas like those of the so called "trickle down" effect, the "trickle across" effect, the "bottom-up" theory or the "two step flow" theory. Most of these ideas are explicitly based on the concept of class and class structures. They aim to demonstrate the key importance of this concept in the diffusion of fashion. Nowadays, a lot of researchers in consumer behaviour think that the area of fashion can be explained through other key concepts like those developed by the theory of postmodernity which offers a framework for fashion phenomena analysis that integrates more complexity. The presentation will try to establish which models are no longer of any use today and propose other "representations" of the fashion system which could explain how fashion phenomena operate in our contemporary society. The study deals successively with the fashion diffusion models, the postmodernity as an alternative framework and the paradoxical logics of fashion behaviour. The findings reveal that the pre-conditions for the emergence of fashion phenomena is the combination of "co-existence" of two different logics that can by expressed by the following question for the consumer: "how can I have a unique appearance but without being to different from others?".

Therefore, fashion is no longer solely the prerogative of the ruling class, it is made possible by individualistic strategies. This process of complication of the fashion system therefore follows principally three rules that can be qualified as postmodern:

- Individualism: everyone wants to express a personality through clothing

- Eclecticism: everyone is combining with a wide range of different fashion styles

- Aestheticism: everyone has a different opinion about what is "aesthetic" and what is not.


Hetzel, Patrick, (1994), The role of Fashion and Design in a Postmodern Society: What Challenges for Firms?, in Perspectives on Marketing Management, Volume 4, Edited by M.J. Baker, John Wiley, New-York, Pages 97 - 118

Kaiser, Susan, (1990), The social psychology of clothing, New-York, Macmillan

Kleine III, Robert E. and Kernan, Jerome B., (1991), Contextual Influences on the meaning ascribed to ordinary consumption objects, Journal of Consumer Research, 18, December, Pages 311-324

Polhemus, Ted, (1994), Street Style, Thames and Hudson (U.K.)

Solomon, Michael, (1988), The psychology of Fashion, Lexington, MA: Heath/Lexington Books



Susan Kaiser, University of California

Margaret Rucker, University of California

The concept of subculture in cultural studies is typically conceived as antithetical or oppositional to that of target market in marketing theory or research Whereas the latter focuses on strategic planning (Anderson, 1982) and market orientation (Narver and Slater, 1990) in the context of business profitability, the key points of analysis in the subcultural concept are "the status and meaning of revolt, the idea of style as a form of refusal" (Hebdige, 1979, P.2) and the emergence of a distinct culture by means of a subculture's "outsider status" (Broneld, 1984, p.7). From the latter standpoint at least, the target market concept prioritizes the perspective of the business or firm over the perspective(s) of populations of consumers, despite the assumption underlying prevailing marketing thought that producers should understand consumers' needs prior to the creation and distribution of products to meet those needs. The marketing literature also has addressed the concept of consumer subcultures and "cultural interpenetration" (Andreasen, 1990), but in this case, the focus has often been on minority cultures moving in a linear fashion to become more and more like the dominant culture (Jun, Gentry, Ball and Gonzalez-Molina, 1994).

In this presentation, will be addressed the limitations of the "target market versus subculture" dichotomy in the context of a larger binary that opposes producer and consumer standpoints. Studies each of us have conducted on gift giving (Rucker, in press) and the use of style in identity constructions (Kaiser, Freeman, and Chandler, 1993; Freitas, Kaiser, and Hammidi, in press) point to the need for new ways of conceptualizing consumer groups. In these studies, consumers often characterize their own reference groups as communities with distinctive cultural systems of value and meaning. Drawing on interview data from our respective studies, we illustrate in this research the need for a concept of consumer cultures that:

- highlights the interdependencies between marketers' and consumers' standpoint, framing differences in terms of context rather than fundamental opposition (see Solomon, 1994, p.7)

- acknowledges the cultural bonds or community ties that underlie distinctive ways of knowing, perceiving, and preferring within and across groups of consumers;

- seeks to understand gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, age and other standpoints that intersect in complex ways in the ongoing formation or negotiation of cultural identities;

- draws on potential linkages between marketing thought and emerging literatures in the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies on fashion, style and culture (see, for example, Craik, 1994; Davis, 1992).

- moves beyond dominant oppositions and hierarchies (e.g. fashion versus antifashion, mainstream culture versus subculture) toward a model of multiple, intersecting cultures undergoing continual processes of negotiation.


Anderson, Paul F., (1982), "Marketing, Strategic Planning and the Theory of the Firm", Journal of Marketing, 46 (Spring), 15-26

Andreasen, Alan R., (1990), "Cultural interpenetration: A critical Research Issue for the 1990s", Advances in Consumer Research, 17, 847-849

Bronski, M., (1984), Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility, Boston, MA South End Press

Craik, Jennifer, (1994), The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion, London/New-York: Routledge

Davis, Fred, (1992), Fashion, Culture and Identity, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press

Freitas, Anthony, Susan Kaiser and Tania Hammidi (in press), "Communities, Commodities, Cultural Space and Style", Journal of Homosexuality.

Hebdige, David, (1979), Subculture: The Meaning of Style, London, Methuen

Jun, Sunkyu, James W. Gentry, A. Dwayne Ball and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, (1994), "Hispanic Acculturation Processes: Evidence Against Assimilation", Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research, 1, 80-86

Kaiser, Susan B., Freeman, Carla M., and Joan L. Chandler, (1993), "Favorite Clothes and Gendered Subjectivities: Multiple Readings," Studies in Symbolic Interaction, 15, 27-50

Narver, John C. and Stanley F. Slater, (1990), "The Effect of a Market Orientation on Business Profitability", Journal of Marketing, 54 (October), 20-35

Rucker, Margaret, Anthony Freitas and Oscar Huidor, (in press), "Gift Giving Among Gay Men: The Reification of Social Relations," Journal of Homosexuality.

Solomon, Michael R. (1994), Consumer Behaviour (2nd ed.), Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon



Patrick Hetzel, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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