Casual Luxury or Affordable Casual?

Photo Belong To ீ ๑ Adam. Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

By: Anuradha Pandey, guest blogger

A recent New York Times article, “Losing Its Cool at the Mall,” reports on how Abercrombie and Fitch, the popular young adult clothing store, has not been faring very well in the difficult economy.
In the last decade or so, rampant consumerism has meant that teenagers and young adults were more likely to buy clothing based on how fashionable it was rather than how affordable.
However, A&F has so far refused to offer deep discounts like Aeropostale and American Eagle have been offering and as a result its sales dropped 29% in March compared to one year ago.
Hollister Co., an A&F subsidiary that carries a lot of the same styles of clothing for a 10-15% lower price, has not seen a net increase in sales but continues to do better than A&F stores.
Teenagers seem to be spending less on clothes these days because their parents have less disposable income.
College students have also been forgoing spending on clothing for necessities like computers, books, school supplies, etc.
In the last few months, the University of Florida’s unofficial newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, has reported that more and more students are shopping at thrift and vintage stores as well as stores like Target, which this demographic has usually avoided.
Luxury items and high-end clothing labels have generally not been doing very well even among the very rich, and it seems that even those with money to spend have been using the recession as an excuse to cut back, possibly permanently.

Photo2 Belong To ீ ๑ Adam. Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

It is obviously difficult to say what the effect of the economic crisis will be on the retail and fashion industries, but it is safe to say that no recession in the last fifty years has had this great an effect on consumer habits.
More and more teenagers and young adults are moving away from expensive brand name clothing.
Companies like A&F were built on the premise that if marketed correctly, young adults would be willing to spend $80 on a pair of frayed and torn jeans because it would be seen as a luxury item.
The pressure to fit in at high schools has also been another important reason for the often ridiculous amounts of money teenagers have spent on clothing in the last twenty years.
As teenagers’ preferences change and as they realize that the labels on clothing are relatively unimportant, the retail landscape will probably change for the long term.
It is difficult to say if young adults’ new spending habits are here to stay, but my guess is that this recession will alter people’s mindsets for at least three or four decades.
The concept of “sign value” comes to mind — a term coined by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who theorized that in the current consumer society commodities are valued in terms of their symbolic value rather than functional or real economic value in terms of worth.
This is why we are willing to spend $80 on a pair of jeans even the cost to produce it was a fraction of that amount: we see things in terms of their social value.
More simply, we value things based on how other people will see our purchases.

Anuradha Pandey is a graduate student at the University of Florida. She has a B.A. in History, Religion and a minor in French from UF. Currently, she is a candidate for an M.A. in British Imperial History and hopes to pursue a PhD in the same field. In her spare time she is a political junkie.

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