Social Psychology: An Analysis of Social Behavior

Chapter 23: Fashion as Collective Behavior

Kimball Young

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A. The Nature of Fashion.

1. Fashion as Collective Action.— Fashion may be defined as the prevailing style at any given time. Style itself, says Nystrom, is a characteristic or dominant "mode or method of expression, presentation or conception in the field of some art." In other words, fashion applies to the prevailing mode in such things as are subject to change in form or style. Styles appear and disappear in clothes, ornamentation, architecture, vehicles, conversation, vocabulary, music, literature, and even in more serious art, religion, and philosophy.

Fashion is a phase of collective action which has much in common with crowd behavior. It rests in large part on physical contiguity, but today is dependent for its spread and persistence upon rapid communication and transportation. It is, therefore, related to the behavior of the public as well as to that of the crowd. Fashions are not in the mores. They are a phase of the non-moral folkways. Fashion is a type of common thought and action which depends upon certain currents of ideas and actions running through a group. These currents are relatively impermanent and superficial; and in contrast with mores which alter slowly, fashions are highly temporary and characterized by a state of flux. Yet in their time fashions seem important and significant. They are a part of the social ritual. They have, as Spencer said, a certain ceremonial aspect. In a society like our own, fashion may affect any aspect of human behavior.

It extends all the way from dress and ornament to ideals of character and favorite objects of enthusiasm and devotion . . . . Fashion dictates the virtues which shall be esteemed and the vices which shall be tolerated from one generation to another; also the doctrines, political and other, that shall be accepted or condemned. Gestures, attitudes, usages, like kissing, shaking hands, bowing; smiling in conversation, are arbitrary and conventional, controlled primarily by fashion, ultimately by taste. Like ornament and decoration, they add an

(553) element of grace and pleasure to the intercourse of men and make it easier. They therefore contribute to its utility.[1]

In a static, unchanging society where class or caste lines are well drawn, fashion in the modern sense can hardly be said to exist. The things which we today commonly consider as determined by fashion— styles of clothing, ornamentation, housing, vehicles, amusements, etc. —  may be highly standardized aspects of these cultures. In some groups infraction of dress conventions not only leads to ridicule and minor social pressure, but may, like abuses of the mores, be dealt with in more drastic ways. The castes of India have not only distinctive language forms, but rigid forms of dress and manners. Changes are frowned upon even within the castes. To them the old ways are the right ways. As Ross says, "caste inhibits competitive consumption" among people.

Every class of Japanese society was under sumptuary regulation. The nature of them is best indicated by the regulations applying to the peasantry. Every detail of the farmer's existence was prescribed for by law— from the size, form, and cost of his dwelling, down even to such trifling matters as the number and the quality of the dishes to be served to him at meal-times. A farmer with a property assessed at twenty koku (of rice) was not allowed to build a house more than thirty-six feet long, or to use in building it such superior qualities of wood as keyaki or hinoki. The roof of his house was to be made of bamboo thatch or straw; and he was strictly forbidden the comfort of floor mats. On the occasion of the wedding of his daughter he was forbidden to have fish or any roasted food served at the wedding feast. The women of his family were not allowed to wear leather sandals: they might wear only straw sandals or wooden clogs; and the thongs of the sandals or the clogs were to be made of cotton. Women were further forbidden to wear hair bindings of silk, or hair ornaments of tortoise-shells; but they might wear wooden combs and combs of bonenot ivory. The men were forbidden to wear stockings, and their sandals were to be made of bamboo. They were also forbidden to use sunshades, or paper umbrellas. In Izumo I found that, prior to Meiji, there were sumptuary laws prescribing not only the materials of the dresses to be worn by the various classes, but even the colors of them, and the designs of the patterns. The size of the rooms, as well as the size of houses, was fixed there by law,— also the height of buildings and of fences, the number of windows, the material of construction.[2]


In Europe even in modern times there are distinctive dress, dialects, and manners in the various social classes. In the more isolated areas the older peasant costumes often persist. Wherever class lines are sharply drawn, there is a tendency to conservatism in matters which in our democratic countries are open to all through changes in fashion.

Class conventions are more sharply drawn in England, for example, than they are in this country. An English merchant would scarcely feel comfortable if he did not dress for dinner, whereas in America dressing for dinner is far less common among persons of corresponding wealth and education. We see the influence of ancient convention in clothes in the behavior of British royalty. The court follows long-established forms. On certain formal occasions the clothes and ornamentation of previous centuries are required. During his visits in Scotland the king must on occasion wear the kilts of ancient Scotland.

In modern Western society with its swift changes and heightened animation of life, with its mobility and rapid communication, fashions change rapidly; and the changes themselves are really a part of the social ritual. Today the control of fashion over our lives is everywhere evident. It has become a distinctive phase of our daily life.

Fashions run in cycles. What is in vogue today, may tomorrow be quite passé. Kroeber studied the cycles in dress styles among women. From an examination of fashion plates from 1844 to 1919, he gathered some enlightening statistics on changes in fashion. He used various measurements— total length of figure from center of mouth to tip of toe; distance from mouth to bottom of skirt as a measure of height of gown from ground; distance from mouth to the minimum diameter across the waist as a measure of length of waist; depth of decolletage; diameter of skirt at hem; etc. We may briefly summarize some of the more interesting of his findings:

The figures on the percentage of width of skirt to the total height of the figure show that beginning in 1844 there was a rapid widening of the skirts to 1859, when the widths of skirts more than equaled the entire height of the figure. These were the days of the crinoline. There followed. by smaller rhythms up and down, a decline in the widths of skirts until 1910-11 when the hobble skirt was in vogue. Then came a sharp rise in widths of skirts up to 1917 to be followed by a drop in 1918.

For the same period the data for height of skirts from the ground is interesting. In 1844 the skirt barely escaped touching the ground. From 1860-1870 there were slight fluctuations, the skirts sometimes sweeping the ground, at

(555) other times rising an inch or two above. From 1875 to 1887 skirts became shortened, not like those of 1926-29, but very definitely off the ground even to the extent of exposing the shoes of the wearers. In the latter 90's and down to 1910 skirts swept the ground. Then came the very rapid rise in skirts which did not culminate until about 1927.

The trends in decolletage and length of waist showed some fluctuations, meaningless so far as depth of decolletage is concerned, but showing definite cycle of fifty years in the length of waists,1853 showed the longest waists, 1903 the shortest. The data for relation of width of waist and width of decolletage to the height of the figure also reveal changes. From 1844 to 1867 was a period of very tight lacing. This was followed by a period when lacing was not so tight. Then came the period in the 80's and 90's when tight corsets were in style. From about 1905 on there was a distinct widening of the waist which marked the beginning of the trend toward the elimination of corsets which was practically accomplished about the end of World War period.[3]

This investigation, and later ones, show that fashions follow certain rhythms; also that we can measure statistically trends in fashion, but that we can predict only the general direction of such trends, not their absolute direction or quantity.

Paul Poiret, the famous "King of Fashion," remarked:

It is not possible to predict Style. Everything, indeed, is permitted. Style makes progress by contrasts, and one must expect anything from it in the way of excess. Think of the cries that would have been uttered in 1900 if the public had seen women walking along the streets with the short skirts now worn. And if, tomorrow on Fifth Avenue, a fashionable woman is seen wearing trousers, what will your grandparents say? [4]

It is evident that certain fashions run to extremes. We see this in the fluctuation between long and short skirts, large and small hats, baggy Oxford trousers and narrow, tight ones.

2. The Craze or Fad as Extreme Fashion.— The more superficial aspects of fashion change are often referred to as "crazes" or "fads." A fad is usually confined to minor details of dress and ornamentation. We find a stimulation, a vividness, and an excitement in the craze which makes ii extremely appealing. Crazes in fashion are really types of mental epidemics, and are open to the same interpretation. Over a period of ten years Bo-

(556) -gardus collected from a large number of people a listing of seven leading fads. He discarded all fads reported each year except those cited by at least five persons. This left a total of 735 different fads, which he tabulated "according to the phase of human life which they represented."

Table 16: Showing Classification and Distribution of Fads [5]
Classification of Fads Number Per Cent
Women's dress and decorations 534 72.7
Men's dress and decoration . 80 10.8
Amusements and recreation 42 5.7
"Slanguage" 27 3.6
Automobiles 23 3.1
Architecture 16 2.0
Education and culture 13 1.7
Total 735 99.6

Thus fads in women's dress are more numerous than all other types of fads, and fads in the clothing of both men and women constitute nearly three-fourths of the total. Analysis showed that most of these fads were very superficial, such as kewpies, labels on automobiles, artificial moles, current phrases, and marathon dancing.

B. The Psychology of Fashion.

1. Individualism and Conformity in Fashion.— A psychology of fashion should try to explain our curious modern habit of looking for the novel, the exciting, the different in dress, decoration, speech, and manner. The modern specialized, mobile world is dynamic and changing in contrast with the static organization of life in previous ages. While men no doubt have always been attracted by color, pleasant sounds, dancing, and chances for recreation, today this seeking and following of changes in fashion is in the folkways. It is a part of our daily existence and we are accustomed to it as thoroughly as the stable Chinese population is attuned to local custom and ancestor worship.

Like so much of our social behavior, fashion is an outgrowth of our emotional and irrational tendencies. The alterations in dress and ornamenta-

(557) -tion, in vehicle design, and in song and dance, are often not utilitarian. Yet as a rule, when we are pressed for a reason for our behavior, we follow custom once more and fall back on contemporary rationalizations. Thus the women in a class in social psychology five years ago assured the author that bobbed hair and short skirts had come to stay once and for all. They "were so convenient," so "sensible" that women would never give them up. At the present moment over thirty per cent of the young women in another social psychology class are wearing their hair long again. A little survey of sixty junior and senior women in this class revealed that all but one had had their hair bobbed at one time or another. Already we observe in fashionable dress a distinct lengthening of the skirt. Utility is not the raison d'être for fashion. It never has been and it never will be. While certain things once fashionable may become utilitarian and stable, fashion qua fashion does not rest on usefulness. It is essentially irrational:

The influence of fashion over the human mind is such as to make a style, when accepted, seem beautiful, no matter how hideous it may appear at other times when not in fashion. It is hard to believe that the hoop skirt, the bustle and the leg o'mutton sleeves were once considered very charming and highly appropriate. No doubt the present fashions will in time seem just as ridiculous and even, possibly, as hideous as do these past styles seem to us now.[6]

The hold of fashion on us is rather its emotional appeal to our fancy, to our sense of importance, and to the sense of social approval it affords. Here is one of the paradoxes. While fashion aims at difference, it also still aims, at approval. It is approved because it is followed by others. Fashion, as Ross remarks, means a certain uniformity of practice. It does not imply any uniformity in intellectual processes whatsoever. Yet when too many follow a fashion, it decays and a new one arises.

Simmel analyzed this apparent paradox in fashion between individualization and social conformity, or, as he said, socialization. Fashion satisfies man's desire for novelty, for differentiation, for individuality, and still, at the same time, it makes for social adaptation and uniformity of action:

Two social tendencies are essential to the establishment of fashion, namely, the need of union on the one hand and the need of isolation on the other. Should one of these be absent, fashion will not be formed— its sway will abruptly end.

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From the fact that fashion as such can never be generally in vogue, the individual derives the satisfaction of knowing that as adopted by him it still represents something special and striking, while at the same time he feels inwardly supported by a set of persons who are striving for the same thing, not as in the case of other social satisfactions, by a set actually doing the same thing.[7]

Thus fashion furnishes for the personality a nice balance between the desire for conformity, security, and sense of social solidarity, and the desire for distinction, for individuality, for differentiation from others. The whole sway of fashion is related really to the disturbance of this ever-shifting balance of individualism and socialization.

2. Fashion, Desire for Change, and Ego-Expansion.— Psychologically fashion rests on our desire for change, for divergence, for being set apart from others. We grow bored with styles long in use. Certain seasonal changes in clothes and decoration illustrate this. In the spring of the year we secure new clothes, redecorate our houses, and purchase a new car. We are on the lookout for new fads. How much of this desire for change is a purely psychological reaction to ennui and how much of it is an outgrowth of the very culture pattern of fashion, it is difficult to say. Certainly in some societies the old and traditional is so sacred in the minds of people that alterations in what for us is mere fashion are unimaginable. At any rate an alteration in fashion may offer us an opportunity to compensate for "disappointment with achievements," as Nystrom remarks. A change in clothes may stimulate a revival of self-feeling. A young woman once remarked that whenever she "felt blue" or disappointed she found that purchasing a new pair of shoes quite restored her to good humor.

This desire for change is related to our egoistic wishes for social approval. It is probably rooted in our infantile and childhood habits of exhibitionism, of showing off, of dressing up and being distinct in costume and manner in order to gain the attention of our parents and others. However, fashion, as a part of social ritual, is related to mobility, to specialization, and to the rise of modern secondary groups. As we noted above, where status is fixed in the mores, where there is group isolation and little or no flexibility in code or manner, fashion in one sense may hardly be said to exist. The things which change— phrases, songs, decorations clothes; or modes of travel— do so imperceptibly. Fashion is really to be understood only in terms of rapidity and method of change. Hence it reflects the mobility of persons, atti-

(559) -tudes, and opinions. We have today actually constructed a folkway of change rather than one of stability. It is in the folkways to be up with the fashions of our particular group no matter how quickly they may be altered. Whatever may be in early strictly personal-social experience of exhibitionism becomes more firmly fixed in us by the additional conditioning which we get as we grow up and discover that there is actually a convention of fashion. And to be in the fashion is to be noticed by others. In other words, early personal-social conditioning becomes integrated to cultural conditioning.

This desire to be divergent, to gain attention, leads to emulation by others who look upon us as prestige-bearers, as persons to be followed. Others unconsciously or consciously identify themselves with us as leaders. Emulation, therefore, aids the spread of fashion in any group. This leadership in fashion has in many things become institutionalized by the manufacturers of dress goods, automobiles, and other articles of fashion. Our various groups actually follow the lead of Poiret, the merchants on Bond Street, or the fashionable designers of automobiles or houses.

If fashion marks us off as individuals, it may also be a means of compensating for our sense of inferiority. When we dress in the latest fashions, we are marked as of the élite. The nouveau riche always attempt to keep up with styles in consumption of goods as well as by showing evidences of conspicuous leisure. Simmel remarked:

From all this we see that fashion furnishes an ideal field for individuals of dependent natures, whose self-consciousness, however, requires a certain amount of prominence, attention, and singularity. Fashion raises even the unimportant individual by making him the representative of a class, the embodiment of a joint spirit.[8]

The young immigrant often adopts current fads in dress and manner in order to overcome some of his sense of insufficiency. In the same way the ordinary working man or woman may attempt to dress in fashionable clothes in order to obtain the feeling of superiority which goes with being in style.

The housewife who does her own housework probably dresses in an apron or a house dress for the purpose, and as long as she is dressed in this manner and is doing the routine work of the home, it is likely that she feels as if she

(560) were something of a drudge. If after completing her work she makes a change to an afternoon dress or street garment, the change makes a lady out of her . . . . Something of the same thing takes place when factory workers don their street clothes after emerging from the factory at the close of the working day. In their factory clothing they are workers. In their street clothes they are ladies and gentlemen, and in their minds comparable in every way with ladies and gentlemen of any grade or classification .[9]

Many students of social behavior have maintained that women's intense interest in fashion is clearly a case of compensation for her sense of inferiority in this world of men. In an earlier day they found compensation in dress and ornamentation to attract men, on the one hand, and to set themselves off from men, on the other. Today the tendency for women's styles to ape those of men is possibly the result of the changing position of women in business, politics, and the professions. Our contemporary ideology of the equality of the sexes is doubtless greatly influencing the direction of fashion. Women attempt to prove their equality with men by adopting the manners, dress, and habits of men.

In a certain sense fashion gives woman a compensation for her lack of position in a class based on a calling or profession. The man who has become absorbed in a calling has entered a relatively uniform class, within which he resembles many others, and is thus often only an illustration of the conception of this class or calling. On the other hand, as though to compensate him for this absorption, he is invested with the full importance and the objective as well as social power of this class. To his individual importance is added that of his class, which often covers the defects and deficiencies of his purely personal character. The individuality of the class often supplements or replaces that of the member. This identical thing fashion accomplishes by other means. Fashion also supplements a person's lack of importance, his inability to individualize his existence purely by his own unaided efforts, by enabling him to join a set characterized and singled out in the public consciousness of fashion alone. Here also to be sure, the personality as such is reduced to a general formula, yet this formula itself, from a social standpoint, possesses an individual tinge, and thus makes up through the social way what is denied to the personality in a purely individual way.[10]

We can hardly doubt that our desire to expand our ego, to identify ourself with activities which give social distinction, is â powerful factor in promoting fashion and changes in fashion.


3. Fashion and Sex Attraction.— From time to time writers have discussed the possible relationships between dress and personal adornment and sexual selection. It is easy to draw an analogy between secondary sexual decoration in animals and human adornment, but the analogies are really very far-fetched. We need not go into the origin of dress and personal ornamentation except to say that there is much evidence that while dress doubtless had utilitarian values in the colder climates, both dress and personal adornment were stimulated by man's wish for self-expression and by his desire to gain the attention of other members of his group. In earlier societies the male dressed much more gorgeously than he does today. We can hardly decide whether this was due to a desire to please women or to convey an impression of leisure-class power. The more practical and business-like dress of contemporary men seems sufficiently attractive to women, nor do short skirts, bobbed hair, rouged faces, and cigarette smoking seem to make women less attractive to men than they were in the days of Richardson's Pamela. While behind dress and personal decoration there may be a deep urge toward sexual attraction, the content of fashion in dress seems dependent on other than purely sexual desires. Whatever is accepted as current in fashion will be thought attractive by the other sex. Men may oppose sun-tan powder or stockingless legs, but once this style is under way, the women who follow it may be a bit more attractive simply because they typify the distinction of being in style. Likewise, if Western women should adopt the trouser skirt, it would not be long before women not dressed in that style would be considered out of class.

In fashion we modify our rationalizations very readily. If it is sexual attraction, one style is as good as another. Whatever is moving toward universal acceptance at the moment is correct. When it is universal, however, it no longer is in the height of fashion. Once fashions reach a saturation point, they decay. As fashion spreads downward, from one social class to a lower class, the leaders begin to change their fashions. This shift in modern fashion is almost its outstanding characteristic. It seems an intimate part of our touch-and-go civilization, where nothing appears to be permanent. For most of us, rather than detracting from its interest, this transitory nature of fashion adds to it piquancy and zest.

C. Fashion and Group Behavior.

1. Influence of the Élite on Fashion.— In his inimitable book, The Theory

(562) of the Leisure Class, Veblen pointed out the influence of the upper classes on standards of fashion. "Conspicuous consumption" and "conspicuous leisure" are two of the marks of class distinction, especially in a capitalistic society like our own. We can hardly doubt that the upper bourgeois classes have played the largest rôle in establishing the folkway of frequent changes in fashion. The leadership of these classes and social control through fashion go hand in hand. Reputability is highly essential to the adoption of a fad or fashion. The prestige-bearers have a distinct place in determining the direction of changes in fashion.

The very character of fashion demands that it should be exercised at one time only by a portion of the given group, the great majority being merely on the road to adopting it. As soon as an example has been universally adopted, that is, as soon as anything that was originally done only by a few has really come to be practiced by all— as is the case in certain portions of our apparel and in various forms of social conduct— we no longer speak of fashion. As fashion spreads, it gradually goes to its doom.[11]

Today fads and fashions spread very rapidly through all classes of our population. With the ease of cheap duplication of expensive luxuries the filtering downward of these things takes place quickly. At the bottom of the gradation of luxury objects we have the five and ten cent chain-stores. These institutions afford for the poorer classes the illusion of luxury without the expense. It is an amazingly interesting study in social psychology to see how these stores have a prominent place in the diffusion of objects of fashion.

The very speed of the downward seepage of fashion has its reverberations on the plutocratic pace-setters. When every housemaid, shop girl, and ordinary stenographer can possess cheap imitations of expensive objects, the wealthy leaders feel an intensified desire once more to be divergent. While we always have some solid satisfaction in our awareness— of the financial and class difference between a glass setting in a cheap ring and a genuine diamond, for the practical purpose of impressing other people glass may be almost as good as diamonds. From across a street we may find it hard to discriminate between the trimming oil a hat which appears out of the servants' door and that worn by milady who steps out the front door into her waiting limousine. As soon as the lower classes begin to adopt some fashions, the upper classes move on to others.

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The diffusion of fads and fashions is not confined to material things. Non-material fads and fashions— smart phrases, jokes, popular songs, and dances— are spread through the general population by newspapers and magazines, by the radio, the vaudeville, the motion picture, and the spoken drama. Even advertising encourages the dissemination of non-material fads and fashions by associating them with sales suggestions of material goods.

Yet in both material and non-material fashion changes, individuals of the élite classes play an important rôle. In dress and personal adornment we have had an interesting series of such influences. For example, Lafayette's visit to America in 1823 made a great impression on the trends of fashion. His attire in the older French tradition helped maintain the conservative French influence in America for several years. Louis Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, who visited this country in 1851, was everywhere enthusiastically received. He was largely responsible for introducing into America the soft felt or velour hat, which at the time was a part of the costume of the Hungarian nationalists. In 1860 Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, visited the United States. Following his visit the Prince Albert coat was worn by American men and remained a part of our formal attire for a long time. Nystrom says that Americans are less inclined today than they were formerly to be dominated by such foreign influences of notable persons. At least the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1924 did not lead to any changes in styles, although there was an effort made to introduce certain plaids, snap brim hats, and other apparel which he used. These were, however, hardly innovations as all these or similar things were worn before he came. In 1923, following the excavations at the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen, we had a craze for Egyptian patterns in dress goods and decorative designs. Various World's Fairs have had some effects on fashion changes, in dress and personal adornment and in architecture.

Today manufacturers and merchants are vitally interested in fashion changes. It has sometimes been said that dress designers and manufacturers deliberately modify fashion. In the opinion of many, advertising is used to set the fashions. It is doubtful if the matter is so simple. The changes are largely imperceptible at first and net so consciously controlled as some believe. However, the close connection of economic structure and fashion warrants our brief attention.

2. Business and Fashion.— There is no doubt that we spend an enormous amount of money on fads and fashions. In his Tragedy o f Waste Chase esti-

(564) -mates, on the basis of tax returns, that in 1919 the people of the United States spent nearly twenty-three billions of dollars for what he calls luxuries. This sum represented a full one-third of the entire purchasing power of the population. We spent three-quarters of a billion for perfumes and cosmetics, five billions for luxuries in foods, six hundred millions for soft drinks and ice cream, a cool billion for candy, three billions for resorts, races, and joy rides. In the New York World for June 14, 1924, F. W. O'Malley reported his observations through the shopping district of Fifth Avenue in the spring of 1921. The cheapest shoes in several shops were $25 a pair, in one ultra-smart shop ordinary street shoes were priced at $65. Plain straw sport hats for women were $25, small dress hats ranged from $75 to $100. Silk stockings for evening wear ranged from $10 to $25 a pair. In one shop, lace stockings were marked at $500 a pair. Women's gowns of the one-piece street variety ranged from $250 to $350, smart evening gowns ("popular price") began at $700 and ran up to $1200. Ultra-smart evening gowns were priced as high as $5000. Russian sables ran from $12,000 up to ten times that figure for matched Russian sables. Vanity cases ranged from $36 to $200; cigarette cases from $175 to $350. Lorgnettes were priced at $500 to $1000. Jewelry, of course, ranged in prices from $1000 up to very large figures.

If we looked at the price lists of plain and fancy automobiles, we would find like ranges in prices; so, too, with houses, radios, and hundreds of items in the world of fashion. The writer once overheard two salesmen discussing the price of a piano on display in a fine Fifth Avenue shop. It was made in eighteenth-century style, and was undoubtedly handsome. One man inquired: "Aren't you handling the X style and make any more?" "Oh, yes, we do carry a few, but this type goes over much better. It's not of the same quality as the X by any means, but it looks better and people want that sort of thing today." In an era of speed and change we prefer fleeting style to built-in quality.

The makers of fashion-goods have developed an elaborate technique to create public interest and demand for their wares. They strive desperately to go with the currents of public fads. Manufacturers and distributors have attempted to inaugurate fashion crazes, but they are rarely successful. The consensus of opinion seems to be that fads arise rather spontaneously and spread rapidly, and that predicting their rise and diffusion is extremely difficult and financially risky. Extremes in fashion appear to be a phase of

( 565) our rapidly changing life, of our superficial social contacts. To foist these on people deliberately seems social folly; and yet manufacturers naturally attempt to trade on the trends in fashion and to stimulate our desire to "be in the swim." The Daily News Record, a trade paper of the clothing manufacturers, had an investigator make a study of men's clothes at Palm Beach. He commented as follows:

The one big thing worth your deepest consideration is the fact— 18 per cent of the men on the golf links are wearing flannel trousers instead of knickers. When your time comes to sell flannel trousers in quantity play them hard! A man at a summer resort with just plain white flannel trousers is a hick. People will think he has just one pair that he washes and presses in his room at night. It's like a man who wears nothing but plain blue collar-attached shirts. Very few men can afford to let people think he doesn't change his shirt every day. Your customers should all have plain white flannel trousers, of course. But they should alternate with a pair of stripes or several pair of various stripe effects. You should sell more flannel trousers than you sold knickers if you promote the fact— in your advertising— why a man should have a set of flannel trousers. Be frank and tell the men in your town why they should have whites and grays, plain and with stripes . . . . The public while they are sure what they want, they want to be told what they want. They will believe a chart showing in cold hard figures what the men they envy and imitate are wearing.[12]

This frank statement of the fundamentals of appeal is sound psychology. It represents well the conscious manner in which the clever advertising manager tries to put into practice the principles of social control in fashion. He simply applies the basic facts of human behavior.

Parisian designers of women's clothing have long been leaders not only in France and on the Continent but in this country as well. We have developed a definite mental set toward Paris styles. "Made in Paris" is a stereotype of great sales value. Leaders of fashion the world over patronize various well-known French designers. Worth, Poiret, Paquin, Lucille Ltd., Lelong, Redfern, Patou, Chanel are names to conjure with in the world of fashionable dress. The distribution of styles through periodicals reaches millions of persons still farther removed from the dominating fashion group. Bryce told of an experience in a remote Oregon village two generations ago. He was amazed when he heard a woman ask a clerk in a store if a certain fashion magazine had appeared. Upon inquiry he found out

( 566) that the dominant social group of this isolated country town attempted to follow the latest dictates of fashion from Paris.

As instability of fashion is one of its dominant characteristics, the designer, manufacturer, and merchant are all confronted with serious economic risks. Styles of dress and decoration change over night. Recent styles become obsolete with the announcement of newer ones. The manufacture of dress goods and decorative materials involves tremendous risks because fashions are so capricious and unpredictable. Manufacturers are forced to spend time trying to estimate fashion trends, and then by speeding up production they must attempt to capitalize on current fashion interests.

Quite naturally manufacturers often wish to keep fashions stable, in their own economic interests, of course. Years ago the corset-makers tried to stop the changes in fashion which now have produced the corsetless woman. Manufacturers of hairpins were greatly distressed by the bobbed-hair fad, which curiously gave the barbers a great increase in work. In the spring of 1925 one trade paper reported a drive by its members against the felt hat for women: felt hats wear too long. Thus the pendulum of fashion swings its curious measure, and our economic system, so far as it is concerned with this, tries to anticipate its direction. It is certainly doubtful if the economic interests can create fashion de novo or prevent changes. Almost every concerted effort to oppose or create definite changes in fashion has been quite futile.

3. Fashion and Morality.— In our own Christian culture the dominant churches have made numerous attempts to control the direction of fashion, especially fashion in things considered sacred or taboo. From the fourteenth century on, laws have appeared against indecent clothes. In the religious enthusiasm of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation distinct efforts were made to control personal apparel and ornamentation. The clergy and moralists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries denounced what they considered indecent dress— at about this time women began to uncover the neck and bosom. The Puritans, Quakers, and some other sects have tried to stipulate dress and to prevent the exposure of the woman's body or the use of any personal adornment. Outside certain narrow circles the mores rejected this as excessively severe. Ultimately the mores always control fashion.

In our own day, various preachers have repeatedly inveighed against

(567) fashion changes. The Catholic church in Poland is recently reported to have forbidden young Polish women from participating in international beauty contests on the grounds of indecency. Various municipal ordinances and local mores attempt to prevent the wearing of scanty bathing suits by women. Recently some American communities forbade young women to appear on the streets without stockings— a fad which has been permitted elsewhere. As in so many other ways, the breakdown of the old folkways and mores is evident in dress. Except in isolated areas where present-day animation and modern living have not become common, styles of clothes and ornamentation seem to be escaping more and more from the older moral standards.

Whether exposure of the neck and bosom, at one time, and of the legs and arms, at another, contributes to immorality seems always to provoke debate. Probably about the same psychology is evident here as in the sexual attraction of dress which we have just discussed. What is considered proper and right in the folkways of fashion is generally accepted. People in countries like Japan and Russia do not seem morally offended by seeing nude men and women bathe together. Women's smoking may not seem immoral to us, but it certainly would have seemed so two generations ago. Sumner's statement that "whatever is, is right" applies to fashion as to everything else in the folkways and mores.

4. Fashion and Utility.— Occasionally people who are rationalists in their notions of social behavior attempt to institute reforms for sensible dress. They may affect certain minorities, but, as Bogardus remarks, "efforts by women to establish a Dress Reform League have never been far-reaching." The reason is not difficult to find. Fashion makes irrational appeals. It has its strength in feelings and emotions, not in intellectual considerations. The hoop skirts in the 1870's the waist-pinching and the bustle in the 1890's, the leg-o-mutton sleeve in one day and the tight sleeve or none at all in another, long skirts yesterday and short ones today— if fashion appealed to our reason it could hardly oscillate so violently. In fashion, as in prejudice, in crowd behavior, in public opinion, and in all of the social attitudes and activities, men and women are illogical and impulsive rather than rational. In the days of narrow Sedan chairs woman wore wide-spreading paniers. In the day of crowded stage coaches women wore crinolines. The hobble skirt did not make for ease in getting in and out of street cars or

(568) automobiles. The irrationality of change is illustrated in this little story of Poiret's:

Even stranger still is the history of the short skirt. I have been to America three times. My first visit was in 1912. As you know, they began to wear short skirts in 1913. I brought with me a film which showed the parade of my models in my gardens in Paris. Naturally, all of them wore short skirts-skirts shorter than those ordinarily worn, but much less short than those worn today. I had planned to interest my American public in this new fashion, but the film was refused by the censors and was not passed by the customs officers. It was refused as obscene, because one could not see ladies parading with uncovered legs. It is hardly believable today. What must that customs officer think, if he were alive now, when he sees all women walking along the streets with their skirts to their knees? But he must already be dead from mortification! [13]

There are, of course, some utilitarian tendencies in some features of dress and personal decorations. As upper- and middle-class men have more and more pursued lives of activity rather than of leisure, there have not been the frequent fundamental changes in costume that we see in earlier historical periods. Thus the pantaloon, made common in the French Revolutionary period, has been taken over by most classes except on ceremonial occasions in Europe or in amusements in our own country. So, too, perhaps women in industry and business may insist upon retaining some of the practical advantages of the short skirt, bobbed hair, and the more masculine manner. At least such fashions may change more slowly than those which concern us in our leisure time and in the frills of polite social intercourse. With the whole modern tendency to rapid change, fashion is overstepping more and more the bounds of its original domain of personal externals and is acquiring, as Simmel remarks, "an increasing influence over taste, over theoretical convictions and even over the moral foundations of life." As the rationale of the capitalistic social-economic order comes to affect the life organization of men and women, certain things formerly in fashion may become more stable parts of the more permanent folkways, and other things may increasingly become aspects of fashion. But it seems unlikely, that fashions and fads will disappear, unless the Universal Robots of Capek come into being with some future standardization of life. Such a profound change would imply equally profound modifications in the biological character of human beings as well as in the present direction of civilization. Alterations of this sort seem remote and fanciful indeed.



A. Further Reading: Source Book for Social Psychology, Chapter XXII, Section B, pp. 658-64.

B. Questions and Exercises.

1. Discuss questions and exercises from assignment, Source Book, Chapter XXII, nos. 25-28, p. 665.

2. How do the folkways of fashion changes reflect the nature of our collective life today?

3. How does fashion afford both individualization and uniformity in behavior? Illustrate.

4. Distinguish between fashion and morals.

5. Why does the "imitation" of superiors rather than of ancestors in costume tend to equalize the social classes?

6. Cite illustrations of the spread of fashion into other fields than dress and personal adornment.

7. What effect has the coming of athletics for women made on trends in fashions in women's clothes?

8. What influence has the professionalization of women's occupations had upon feminine fashions?

9. Cite illustrations of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure in modern times.

C. Topics for Class Reports and Longer Written Papers.

1. See assignments for reports and longer papers which bear on fashion in Source Book, Chapter XXII, p. 666.

2. Report on Nystrom, Economics of Fashion, Chapters II, XII, XIII and XIV for illustrations of changes in fashions.

2a. Report on Hurlock, The Psychology of Dress, especially Chapters III, VII, IX, X on motivation, on the place of the élite, and on the sex and age factors in fashion.

3. Report on Sumner and Keller, Science of Society, vol. III, Chapter LX, on "Ostentation and Prestige" as a revelation of the relation of fashion and personal adornment, to self-feeling.

4. An analysis of changes in styles of furniture in the modern historical period to discover if there are any cyclic changes such as Kroeber found in women's clothes.


  1. W. G. Sumner and A. G. Keller, The Science of Society, vol. III, 1927, pp. 2119-20. Courtesy of the Yale University Press.
  2. From L. Hearn, Japan, an Attempt at Interpretation, pp. 182, 183, 184. Copyright 1901 by The Macmillan Company. Reprinted by permission.
  3. Adapted from A. L. Kroeber, "On the Principle of Order in Civilization as Exemplified by Changes of Fashion," American Anthropologist, 1919, vol. XXI, pp. 235-63.
  4. P. Poiret, "Who Sets Our Styles?" Forum, 1928, vol. LXXX, p. 192. Courtesy of publishers and of American agent of M. Poiret, Mr. Charles I. Reid.
  5. E. S. Bogardus, Fundamentals of Social Psychology, 1924, p. 159. Courtesy of the Century Company.
  6. P. H. Nystrom, Economics of Fashion, 1928, p. 9. Courtesy of The Ronald Press Company.
  7. G. Simmel, "Fashion," International Quarterly, 1904-05, vol X, pp. 137-8, 140.
  8. Ibid., p. 140.
  9. Nystrom, op. cit., p. 79.
  10. Simmel, op. cit., p. 145.
  11. Simmel, op. cit., pp. 137-38.
  12. Quoted by S. Chase, The Tragedy of Waste, p. 94. Copyright, 1926, by The Macmillan Company. Reprinted by permission.
  13. Poiret, op. cit., pp. 191-92. And already (1930) skirts are longer again.

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