Why do women the world over wear the clothes that they do? Is it because we see them on a famous actress walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards? Do we buy a new dress because we’ve seen it in a magazine and we know it is the latest trend? Are women shelling out money to buy clothes because an Internet website says this is a must have item for the fall season?
It is likely that all these strategies are influencing women today. The question is; “how does the fashion industry use marketing strategies to set trends for women?”
Today, the fashion industry has almost unlimited resources at its disposal. Information and photographs that appear on the Internet instantaneously reach millions of women the world over. Immediately, they know which fashions are in and which are out. They see the colours and trends on splashy, popular websites. They find out very quickly what they should be wearing and what they shouldn’t.
A time-honoured tradition used by the fashion industry to set trends and market their designs has been to work with famous people to model their clothes. With the advent of such shows as MTV and other music shows, the multiplicity of award shows, the public is barraged with a plethora of designs to choose from. However, the ultimate message from the fashion industry is; “if a famous person wears this — it must be cool and therefore you must have it too!” As author, Anne Paxton (October 2001) writes in a savvy Internet article; “Everyone from Gloria Swanson and Marilyn Monroe, to Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly have helped fashion influence the public, but the media craze over celebrities is hotter than ever before. TV and movies have taken center stage when it comes to both entertainment and fashion. Magazines spend endless ink on what Madonna and Jennifer Lopez wear to award shows.” Paxton even suggests that this marketing strategy may well end the need for models to strut their stuff on the catwalks (Ibid). This strategy proves to be a win-win situation for both the fashion industry and celebrities as they cash in on the free items that various designers throw their way.
Another specific strategy used by the fashion industry is online advertising. The use of the Internet involves several strategies which include: creating an online version of a print magazine, banner ads (ads placed on specific sites for greater exposure) and well-placed photographs and articles about the fashion industry. According to an industry report on the Internet and marketing strategies by women’s magazines, “The Internet has become a billon-dollar business […]” (Industry Report). This article also reports that according to Nielsen Net Ratings, more American women use the Internet than men at a rate of 51% – 49% (Ibid). It goes on to say; “Women online readers in the United States tend to visit general interest sites on the Internet, such as shopping sites, beauty sites, and health sites. Therefore, magazines discovered the Internet several years ago as another method to better serve the customer since magazines” (Ibid). By targeting the large numbers of women who regularly participate in online activity, fashion magazines that maintain an Internet presence provide themselves with continuous, free advertising. It is an extremely effectively strategy to “ […] offer other information, such as press releases or news that relates to the company or to their industry, or provide information about special events that relate to the company to their industry” (Ibid).
According to a report in, Senken Shimbun (2005), a leading apparel industry newspaper in Japan, another successful marketing strategy is using terminology taken from popular culture in order to catch the attention of young women consumers. While the report states that young Japanese women are also influenced by consumer magazines and celebrity fashion, it goes on to explain more detailed marketing strategies. Two of the terms used by the fashion industry to catch women’s attention are: ‘street casual, office casual’, with the latter sometimes referred to as ‘conservative elegance.’ The reason behind using these terms is because “Japanese working women dress more casually than American women do. Not many wear business suits: they may wear shirts or sleeveless light sweaters and/or a cardigan instead of jacket, a dress with a cardigan or a jacket, or ensemble […]” (Ibid).
In addition to using the Internet and celebrity culture as a marketing strategy, the fashion industry also creates markets by following sociological. One current trend that is strongly influencing the fashion industry is the notion that ‘plus-size women’ are a huge, new market for them. According to an industry analysis by UK expert, Marcella Marcheso (2002) “Until recently, the plus-size market was considered an “afterthought” by much of the fashion industry. There was a limited range of available styles, and little to no trendy clothes. However, with the concerns over weight issues, population trends, and an increase in demand, retailers are beginning to take notice, and have entered the plus-size market […].”
This particular market necessitates a shift in marketing strategy by the fashion industry. In addition to creating designs that are flattering for plus-size women, they must also market to these consumers in a respectful way. The fact that this consumer need is available means that the fashion industry can no longer afford to market all their clothes to fit women with perfect, model-like bodies. According to the same report the fashion industry can not simply create clothes in larger sizes, nor can they assume that plus-size women simply will buy a line of clothes because they are in the right size for them.
The number of middle-aged women is set to increase over the next 4 years. By 2006, there will be 7.7 million women aged 45-64 years old, compared with 7.2 million in 2002. This is the time of life when women tend to put on weight and some of these women will be purchasing plus-size clothing for the first time. This “Baby Boom” generation is characterized by a degree of rebelliousness and nonconformity. This means that the demand for plus-size fashions will not only be strong, but also for ‘younger” styles. Consumers will be looking for casualwear, smart clothes for working women, and stylish eveningwear (Ibid).
At the same time, the fashion industry can not afford to neglect the younger generation. However, an interesting demographic was found in a retail research report which indicates that women 18-24 are “[…]becoming taller and heavier than in years past” (Ibid). If this statistic is true, then women from a broad age range will be interested in purchasing clothes in larger sizes. To accommodate this need, the fashion industry uses marketing strategies such as the UK Chain H&M’s slogan; ‘Big is Beautiful’ (Ibid). Another trendy slogan is being used by Fruit of the Loom who now markets the ‘Fit for Me’ brand of plus-size lingerie for women (Matis 2003). A similar example is, “David Cole’s Big Girls’ Bras Etcetera, an online company selling larger sized intimate apparel” (Ibid).
American author, Maria Matis (2003) conducted research that concurs with the aforementioned information emanating from the UK. According to her, “The plus-size market is growing, and in the next 5 years it is expected to continue growing as more brands respond to its demand. That’s right – the “trendy trend of the trends” is to march to the frontier of full-figured fashion.” Many of the most famous names in the fashion industry are marketing plus-size fashions even though they were the same companies who previously designed clothes only for ultra-slim women. In fact, previous marketing trends were very much targeted towards a very specific demographic — women with exceptionally good figures. That trend has changed dramatically and the marketing strategies with them. “These “erred” established brand names, which purposely ignored this segment, now desire a recognized brand breakthrough. Companies like Ann Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, and JC Penny are some of the most recent to dabble in the plus-size division” (Ibid).
Even though the market for plus-size women is obviously there, the fashion industry continues to use another familiar marketing strategy to target these women as well — the use of celebrities. Women like Queen Latifah and Oprah (more so in the past) have often been cited as successful role models for larger sized women (Ibid).
A constant theme in fashion marketing is to create ideas or themes for what it means to look good or look attractive. Therefore, marketing to women with various body sizes and shapes makes for good business strategy. However, the marketing of fashion to women isn’t just about what you look like but what they want you to look like. That is, part of marketing strategy is to generate ideas in women’s heads about what kinds of clothes we need to wear in specific situations — the work environment, social situations, etc. As in many other countries, Japanese women seek to wear the latest trends. “As a market segment, young Japanese women continue to seek new ways to appear trendy and fashionable. In either theme, clothing that is well designed to make women look more beautiful, has potential” (Senken Shimbun 2005).
In another well-written article, Paxton (November 2004) points out the various items women have bought (and continue to buy) over the years because of successful marketing that labels them as must-have items: the little black dress, blue jeans, ‘Jackie O’ sunglasses, A-line skirts and headscarves. She also points out the fashion trend of ‘casual Fridays’ as a highly successful marketing strategy to keep the blue jean industry and casual clothes selling well.
As Paxton and the other authors of these articles have pointed out, the fashion industry continues to use a number of strategies to set trends for women. These include setting up highly popular websites, using celebrities to model their clothes at famous events, creating online sites for successful magazines and broadening the population of women they design for and market to. One of Paxton’s timely articles states. “The world moves very quickly for us ladies and it is easy to forget that even though fashion can sometimes make us second guess ourselves, there are great fashion inventions that can make us feel good too and give us that little boost of confidence we need from time to time” (Ibid). The conclusion of this query is that the fashion industry uses a multiplicity of strategies in order to reach a wide range of women the world over. Their primary marketing strategy is to set trends which dictate to women the kinds of clothes we should wear, what we will look attractive in and what we won’t, why certain colours are the ones to wear and others are not. In the end, it is up to women to buy into these trends or set their own trends as individuals.