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Crane, Diana. Diffusion Models and Fashion: A Reassessment
1999, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 566: 13-24.
Added by: Quentin Pharr and Clotilde Torregrossa
Abstract:
Large-scale diffusion processes such as those affecting fashionable clothing are difficult to study systematically. This article assesses the relevance of top-down as compared to bottom-up models of diffusion for fashion. Changes in the relationships between fashion organizations and their publics have affected what is diffused, how it is diffused, and to whom. Originally, fashion design was centered in Paris; designers created clothes for local clients, but styles were diffused to many other countries. This highly centralized system has been replaced by a system in which fashion designers in several countries create designs for small publics in global markets, but their organizations make their profits from luxury products other than clothing. Trends are set by fashion forecasters, fashion editors, and department store buyers. Industrial manufacturers are consumer driven, and market trends originate in many types of social groups, including adolescent urban subcultures. Consequently, fashion emanates from many sources and diffuses in various ways to different publics.

Comment (from this Blueprint): Fashion has always been a subject of great interest for sociologists, but only recently for philosophers. In this selection, Crane offers an overview of how fashions/styles/trends have traditionally been thought to spread among and affect the relations between different social groups, but also notes several shortcomings of the existing models. Overall, she ends up concluding that fashion has a number of sources and diffuses in various ways. But, for our purposes, what is particularly important about this selection is in how she casts fashion's diffusion as guided by differential perceptions of class and status and who wants to consume what sorts of fashion, based on those perceptions. Existing models, despite their shortcomings, present a helpful way of understanding various phenomena, including: appropriation, targeted advertizing, class and status signalling, and so on.

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