The Multidimensionality of Fashion Innovation


William R. Darden and Fred D. Reynolds (1971) ,"The Multidimensionality of Fashion Innovation", in SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. David M. Gardner, College Park, MD : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 452-458.

Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1971     Pages 452-458


William R. Darden, University of Georgia

Fred D. Reynolds, University of Georgia

The research traditions in rural sociology and marketing are replete with studies involving measurement of innovative behavior (1, 2, 3, 6, 13). More recently, attention in marketing has shifted to the study of generalized innovative behavior and its impact on the diffusion process (7, 11). The validity of the findings from these studies impinges on (1) the objectives of these studies and (2) the manner in which innovative behavior is measured for analysis in achieving these objectives.

This paper has two objectives: first, the examination of the patterns of innovative behavior across chosen social contexts; and second, the analysis of this behavior to determine if it is generalized or multidimensional. The data were gathered through personal interviews from three surveys in a small southern university city in the winter of 1971. The sampling frames included: (1) male household heads from nine middle to upper middle class suburban areas (N=104); (2) male nonfraternity members (independents) at the university (N=102); and (3) fraternity members (N=76). [For a detailed description of the survey--sampling plan, interview procedure, questionnaire and nonresponses--see William R. Darden and Fred D. Reynold's, "Generalized Innovation Factors in Men's Apparel Fashions," Proceedings, AMA Fall Educators' Conference. 1971.] Among other information collected, data were gathered on innovative behavior toward five relatively new men's fashions (knit suits, vest suits, flare trousers, velour shirts, and dress boots). In particular, each respondent was queried as to whether they had purchased each of the five apparel innovations and, if so, the date of first purchase was requested. Innovation scores were then based on time from introduction to first trial.


In identifying farm innovators rural sociologists make use of adoption scales (9, 13). These scales measure the number of farm practices adopted at a given point in time. Although it is widely recognized that more precise information results from employing the estimated date of adoption in computing innovation scores (as opposed to "zero-one assignments for nonadoption or adoption), Rogers has shown that adoption scales do tend to identify "early" adoptors of farm practices (9, p. 343). Following this cue researchers in marketing have tended to identify generalized innovators for a given product category--and across some product categories--using some variations of such an approach (4, 6, 11). For example, Robertson and Meyers use a total list of 42 items across three product categories (appliances, clothing, and food) to derive a measure of innovativeness to compare with personality characteristics (7. p. 165).

Yet two considerations seem germane at this juncture. First, there are differences in the manner in which innovative behavior is typically manifested by the consumer of farm practices vis-a-vis the consumer of fashion goods. Many marketing products are more divisible, lower valued and can be consumed in a much shorter time; yet many farm practices call for a commitment in terms of time, money and faith. Trial and adoption tend to be the same in these circumstances. But early trial of a new product in marketing is innovative behavior, regardless of final artifactual adoption status, adoption period or ownership status at the time of the survey. This consideration leads us to believe that measures such as time-of-purchase should be considered in the measurement of innovativeness until such time that adoption scales prove to be valid indicators of innovativeness. Thus, in our men's apparel fashion study, one of the measures employed was date of first purchase.

Secondly, such approaches do not take into consideration that in a given social context and for a given product category, there may be more than one independent dimension of innovativeness (10, p. 334). For example, with regard to farm practices, the farmer may well adopt practices concerning pasturage, but be not at all interested in new practices relating to tillage planting and fertilizer. Yet both Fliegel (2) and Copp (1) sought to characterize the generalized adoption of farm practices through the use of principal components analysis. Using Hotelling's method of principal components, Fliegel hypothesized that the first principal component of adoption scale data would be representative of the general adoption tendency.

The present study carried this reasoning one step further; it was felt that the factor analysis of the innovative behavior scores for the five fashions would indicate two or more independent dimensions of innovative behavior for men's apparel fashions, much as was found in the analysis of product usage rates (12). A separate analysis was conducted for each social context (suburban, fraternity and independent), since Rogers' paradigm would raise doubts as to the overlap of factors between these groups (8, chapter 11). Those factors explaining a greater than average proportion of variance were subjected to varimax rotation. In addition a 50 per cent subsample analysis basically reproduced the same overall factor structure, lending some credence to the results shown in Table 1.


Table 1 shows the factor loadings for each fashion innovation respectively, for each social context. A cursory examination indicates that the data provide strong supportive evidence for the multidimensional character of innovative behavior toward men's apparel fashions.

In the suburban context, there are two clearcut dimensions: first, heavy loadings on knit suits (.89), vest suits (.77), velour shirts (.71), and, to a lesser extent, dress boots (.55) suggest an overall fashion innovator. He tends to innovate on those items that are variations of traditional products. Of all the dimensions considered, this one comes closest to representing a generalized innovator and it is significant that it emanates from the more tradition-bound suburbanite social context.

The second suburbanite dimension of innovative behavior is correlated with flares (.94) and to some degree with boots (.45). This construct is, apparently, the suburbanite casual innovator.

From Table 1 it is seen that the hypothesis of multidimensionality is further supported in the fraternity context. The loadings highly suggest the existence of two independent factors of innovative behavior for men's fashions. The first factor is related to flares (.83), velour shirts (.72), and boots (.81) innovativeness. and suggests the casual dress innovator in the fraternity setting. The second factor correlates with innovation scores toward knit (-.69) and vest (.75) suits and is called the suit innovator.

Table 1 also contains loadings for three important factors for the independent context. The first factor appears to be a fabric dimension (knit suit = .73 and velour shirt = .87); the second being the independent casual dresser (flares = .78 and dress boots = .83); and the third dimension appears to be innovative behavior uniquely measured by vest suits (.92).




While the order of importance and combinations of men's apparel fashions loaded on a given factor shift from one social context to the next, there exist interesting trends in dimension characteristics among social contexts. One such trend is that each context appears to have a casual innovator type, but of differing composition. Another is the degree to which some innovative dimensions are idiosyncratic to specific social contexts.

The Casual Innovator

In the suburban context the casual men's clothing innovator tends to be independent of a generalized innovative behavior dimension. In this study--given the small number of new apparel fashions--he tends to innovate only on the most casual of the casual options (flares and dress boots). In a word, he could well be viewed as the avant-garde "mod" or the liberal in the community. Here, the antecedent conditions for innovative behavior in the suburbs dictate high social visibility for this individual; it is believed that he thus serves a valuable function for fashion in the community. Talks with suburbanites have led us to hypothesize that this type of innovator may be a change agent--fulfilling a "linking" function between the suburban community and other social contexts in the diffusion of men's apparel fashions. He may well be Simmel's "marginal man," [Georg Simmel, "The Web of Group Affiliations," in Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations, Reinhard Bendix, trans., (Free Press 1965).] the creative innovative individual.

In the fraternity context, the casual innovativeness dimension moves from a secondary to a primary position. The primary apparel/life style of the male student is casual; it is only secondarily that he dresses formally. Rather than being the marginal man, the fraternity male casual innovator exists in fewer or in concentric circles with little overlap and thus is closer to exhibiting generalized innovative behavior; this may explain why more new apparel fashions are loaded on this factor (flares = .83, velour shirt = .72, and dress boots = .81). Evidence for this is seen in the fact that he innovates in the clothes which he wears most of his time, suggesting that his circles of activity are indeed concentric, rather than conflicting as must be those of the marginal suburbanite, who innovates only on clothes which he wears but a small part of the time (his leisure time); that is, the fraternity member's innovative apparel can be worn to most of his activities, whereas those of the casual-innovative suburbanite are activity-specific.

The casual innovator in the independent context appears to be quite similar to his suburbanite counterpart in that his dimension is correlated with the same number and kinds of products (flares = .78 and boots - .83). The first explanation is obvious, that the independent casual innovator is the young suburbanite casual innovator. This. however, we believe to be a spurious resemblance, particularly on the rather conservative southern campus involved. We see two alternatives as competing explanations for this similarly. The first is that there are actually two factions among the independents one of which is truly the young suburbanite, as Scott suggests is the current trend, [John F. Scott discusses this notion in Transaction, September-October, 1965.] with a second faction as the true independents. Under this explanation, the innovative behavior of the true independent may well be masked by the young suburbanite-in-training. A second alternative explanation is that these are all the true innovators, the real independents who first began wearing the flares or bell-bottoms, in defiance of, and not as training for, life in the suburbs. These are what would pass for the "hippies" on campus, the young radicals.

Context-Specific Dimensions

Some dimensions of innovative behavior for men's apparel fashions appear bound to only one social context. These include:

1. The suit innovator--existing only in the fraternity context, knit and vest suits apparently are competitive apparel innovations; this explanation complements the hypothesis of the more general casual innovator.

2. The fabric innovator--unique to the independent social context this construct is correlated only with those apparel fashions that are different only in the fabric or finish employed (knit suits and velour shirts). The suit innovator does not manifest existence in this context, leading to the speculation that independents are more conscious of objective attributes of new products. It might also be noted that both of these innovations represent "easy care" clothing. Both of these attributes are conducive to the independent life style.


Recognition of the multidimensional nature of innovative behavior is important to marketers for the following reasons:

1. The determination of product types whose new fashions generate innovative behavior along a common dimension(s) provides new evidence as to purchasing motives of consumers. The examination of common image and attribute content of innovations heavily correlated with a given factor allows a "backward segmentation" approach to the design and introduction of innovations.

2. Further, introductions of new products may find joint promotions and merchandising to be feasible. It may well be that innovations for given product types from different traditional product categories are best handled by the same sales division.

3. For certain purposes basic research in diffusion might find a vector of factor scores per respondent to be more useful than a single "generalized" innovative behavior score. Each of these orthogonal factors could provide an independent basis for analysis with respect to antecedent and process variables.

4. Social context as an antecedent variable appears to exert an influence on the kinds and numbers of independent dimensions on innovative behavior in men's apparel fashions. For example, the casual innovator in men's apparel appears to differ among social contexts.

5. From an epistemic viewpoint, innovating with measures of innovation presently appears to offer new and more viable approaches to the study of product diffusion.

The data in Table 1 we feel to be supportive of the multidimensionality hypothesis of innovative behavior. This hypothesis offers a challenge for further research into the nature of and the uses for marketing from the study of diffusion behavior.


Copp, James H., Personal and Social Factors Associated with the Adoption of Recommended Farm Practices Among Cattlemen, (Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 83, Manhattan. 1956).

Fliegel, Frederick C."A Multiple Correlation Analysis of Factors Association with Adoption of Farm Practices," Rural Sociology, 21 (September 1956), 284-292.

King, Charles W., "The Innovator in the Fashion Adoption Process," Proceedings, Winter Conference, American Marketing Association, 1964.

King, Charles W. and John O. Summers, The New Product Adoption Research Project: A Survey of New Product Adoption Behavior Across A Wide Range of Consumer Products Among Marion CountY, Indiana, Homemakers, Lafayette, Indiana: The Institute for Research in the Behavioral, Economic and Management Sciences, Purdue University 1967.

McQuade, Walter, "High Style Disrupts the Men's Wear Industry," Fortune, 33 (February, 1971), pp. 70-75, 127-128.

Robertson, Thomas S., "The Effect of the Informal Group Upon Member Innovative Behavior," Proceedings, Fall Conference, American Marketing Association, 1968, jap. 334-340.

Robertson, Thomas S. and James H. Meyers, "Personality Correlates of Opinion Leadership and Innovative Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research, 6 (May 1969), pp. 164-168.

Rogers, Everett M., Diffusion of Innovations, New York: Free Press, 1962.

Rogers, Everett M., "Categorizing the Adoptors of Agricultural Products," Rural Sociology, 23, 1958, pp. 345-354.

Rogers, Everett M. and L. Edna Rogers, "A Methodological Analysis of Adoption Scales," Rural Sociology, 26 1961, pp. 325-336.

Summers, John O., "Generalized Change Agents and Innovativeness," Journal of Marketing Research, 8 (August 1971), pp. 313-316.

Wells, William D., Seymour Banks, and Douglas J. Tigert, "Order in the Data," in David T. Kollat, Roger D. Blackwell and James F. Engel, eds., Research in Consumer Behavior, New York: Holt, Rinehart and winston, Inc., 1970

Wilkening, Eugene A., "Informal Leaders ant Innovators in Farm Practices," Rural Sociology, 17 (September 1962), pp. 272-275.



William R. Darden, University of Georgia
Fred D. Reynolds, University of Georgia


SV - Proceedings of the Second Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1971

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