Social media could be doing something strange to the place of fashion in our lives. Gareth Williams explains, and asks what it could mean for brands…
It’s the weather. Too cold. Too rainy. Not quite right. That’s the kind of explanation we hear from retailers not selling enough clothes (clothing sales are reportedly seriously down on last year). But there may be a more fundamental reason: in an over-supplied market, unending sales and promotions could be devaluing fashion purchases, making them more of a commodity than a luxury.
Most new clothes are bought not because they are needed but to keep up with the trends. If discounting is destroying the prestige of a fashionable purchase then why bother?
Fashion may be going out of fashion.
This intriguing (but still tentative) thesis was put to me by expert retail analyst and commentator, Richard Hyman. I’ve been wondering what the implications are if it’s right. If fashion is going out of fashion, then what’s replacing it, if anything?
Labels versus Likes
As we know wearing fashion is a form of showing off, or more politely, of self-expression. You are what you wear. You’re signalling to all and sundry the sort of person you are via your labels.
Losing these labels might mean that people are abandoning the quest to pose, giving up trying to shape people’s perceptions, no longer making an effort to look good in front of others. But that doesn’t sound very likely, does it?
We’re living in a highly competitive and intensely social world, where people’s desire to express themselves is stronger than ever. In fact, I’m sure the need to make an impression will always be with us: every human culture known to anthropology, from remote rainforest to suburban estate, has styled its hair.
So, beyond fashion, where might we be finding an outlet for these compulsions? I suspect social media is doing the job.
There’s never been such a powerful tool for letting people know what we’re like – and, to be fair, creating something of an ideal impression of what we’re like. So it’s not so much ‘love me for my labels’ as ‘love me for my likes’; our social media profiles are creating the sort of impressions we’d previously aimed at through our fashion choices.
What does this mean for brands?
We already know that people increasingly want to be associated with brands that mean something, that reflect well on them, that make them feel better about themselves in all sorts of ways. But if the psychic benefit of buying new clothes is being usurped by associations made on social media, if liking a page is replacing the social satisfaction gained from buying a new pair of trousers, then we have underestimated how much further this is going to run.
If a brand doesn’t have a lively presence online, one that lends itself to social media – meaning a strong identity, a particular view on the world, with something interesting to say – it’s going to miss out on a huge consumer trend.
That’s why it’s critical to invest in, host and broadcast relevant and enjoyable content. At Thinkpiece, we call this Brand Editorial Marketing – please drop us a line if you think we can help.
Gareth Williams is Chair of Thinkpiece.