Thirty-one pairs of UGG boots stomped off clumps of snow onto the floor mats in the Front Room within the span of one hour and three minutes. They had almost everything in common (1): one solid color, rising halfway up the calf and worn over the pants so that everyone could see the one thing that makes these boots so special – the logo.
These thirty-one boot-wearers are not aspiring to be trend-setters. They are trend-followers. Sales of UGG boots increased by 140% in the last six months of 2009, according to a press release. But is this because of their sheepskin lining or their popularity with the popular?
Women’s and Gender Studies professor Melissa Wales believes that trends are partly a result of mass-media marketing, and that they are maintained by the same means.
“There is a strong desire to conform, especially among young people when peer groups, and peer approval, are at their most powerful,” Wales said (2).
Wales also mentioned that people will conform to the style of a particular group, once they feel like they identify with that group. According to an online article by Megan Zborowski, “Fashion can not only create an identity, but change it… [a person] can go from ‘goth’ to ‘preppie’ overnight.” (3)
Sociological concepts point out the importance of group-affiliation. A person feeling like they don’t belong to a particular group can lead to isolation and confusion about their identity, among other things.
Ally Zachariweitz, vice president of the Delta Zeta sorority, agrees that trends are part of group-assimilation or acceptation. (4)
“They do it [follow a trend] just to fit in. A lot of people aren’t that independent,” Zachariweitz said.
Wales believes that the desire for group-affiliation or acceptance through trends can be harmful to an individual’s self-image.
“If a woman’s identity and sense of worth is solely wrapped up in brand identification, I think that is shallow and harmful, and reduces our identity to that of a consumer,” Wales said.
President of Delta Zeta Katie Surkla also said that trends have a lot to do with self-image. “People follow trends to fit in, to be socially accepted, or sometimes to have their own feeling of self-worth. Maybe they don’t want to stick out,” Surkla said.
As portrayed in the media, women are far more affected by trends and brands than men.
“In a capitalist culture, it’s hard to understand personal choice as something that is separate from the mass media and the pressure to consume,” Wales said.
Though all of society is susceptible to the same ads and commercials, the targeted audience of fashion and brand ads is undeniably women.
“I think it’s because women tend to look at their self-image more than guys do,” Surkla said. “Girls are more self-conscious about themselves and their bodies than guys are, so they’re more self-conscious about what they wear.”
However, according to a poll by TrésSugar, an online fashion magazine, most women deny that they like following trends. But they are also unwilling to say that they make their own style or go against the grain.
“If I like the trend, I’ll follow it, but not because other people are,” Zachariweitz said (5).
1. There was also one pair of leopard print UGG boots. I asked myself, Are those for real? Yes. Yes they were.
2. “I just smile remembering my own college days and our ‘uniforms’ of the time,” Wales said.
3. “For its followers, fashion is a gateway to developing and maintaining a unique identity. Clothing plays an important role in how people view themselves, helping to define who they are and how they feel. By purchasing clothing that caters to their specific needs and wants, they can feel comfortable and secure with themselves, knowing that they look good.”
4. Delta Zeta’s website, last updated in the year 2000, looks like one of the examples shown in Intro to Visual Communications. The history of the sorority, as explained on the website, boasts that their flower is the Killarney Rose, the name of a famous bar in New York City.
5. “This paradox is the core of fashion’s influence in society. People buy the newest styles to establish themselves as individuals, but the styles aren’t new for very long. Soon they turn into trends, with everyone parading around town in the same clothes. To save the innocent populace from the dire fate of looking like everyone else, fashion designers and marketers evaluate current trends, recognize the minute a trend becomes too boring, and then release a new style onto the market. This cycle allows people to once again purchase a unique item of clothing, re-establishing their individuality.” (From “The Fashionable Brain” article by Megan Zborowski.)