In this paper we theorize and empirically investigate how female consumers’ attitudes and preferences relating to bodily appearance are linked to their perceptions of the aesthetics of fashion. Our theoretical work is informed by three streams of research: aesthetics of production, aesthetics of reception and aesthetic labor. These three converge to illuminate our study. Using the ZMET technique, we uncover four themes: fashion as wearable art, body and self-identity, bodily appearance and high fashion brands, and aesthetic labor through fashion. Our focus on the aesthetics of fashion and identity formation provides a segue into the broader discussion of the growing importance of aesthetics in understanding consumer behavior.
Keywords: Luxury Fashion Aesthetics; Fashion And Self-Identity; Fashion And Body
In this paper, we theorize and empirically investigate how consumers’ attitudes and preferences relating to bodily appearance are linked to their perceptions of the aesthetics of fashion. We address the link between embodiment and consumer experiences and identity formation in order to elucidate the contours of aesthetic experience. As some fashion researchers (Davis, 1992; Dwyer, 2004; Entwistle, 2009) have noted, there seems to be a natural relationship between bodily appearance and fashion choices, but this link has not been adequately investigated within the field of consumer research. Our study attempts to examine key issues that lie at the intersection of aesthetics, fashion, and the body based on consumer narratives, and explores how the underlying themes emerging from such narratives provide empirical and theoretical insights into bodily appearance and the aesthetics of fashion.
Our theoretical approach integrates and goes beyond recent work by consumer researchers on the aesthetics of the body (Joy& Sherry, 2003; Thompson & Hirschman, 1995), fashion theory (Barthes, 1983; McCracken, 2005; Scott, 2005; Solomon, 1985), gender subjectivity and gender-based appeals (Kaiser, Freeman, & Chandler, 1993; Sengupta & Dahl, 2008) and identity formation (Oyserman, 2009; Shavitt, Torelli, & Wong, 2009; Wang & Calder, 2009). Our empirical work employs a modified ZMET approach (Ringberg, Odekerken-Schröder, & Christensen, 2007; Zaltman & Coulter, 1995), an analytical technique using qualitative data based on visual images as interpreted by consumers. We focus on three theoretical notions that collectively form the basis of our study: aesthetics of production, aesthetics of reception and aesthetic labor. In the field of culture and fashion theory, there has been a fair amount of attention paid to fashion and bodily appearance as a way to recognize the aesthetics of production that includes dress, clothing, and costumes (Entwhistle, 2000; Miller, 2007). In addition, consumer researchers have begun to pay attention to developments relating to the reception of aesthetic images (Schroeder, 2002; Venkatesh & Meamber, 2008). On a more sociological level, the notion of aesthetic labor enters the picture, indicating that consumers live in an “aesthetic economy” (Postrel, 2003) and that norms of attire and appearance are influenced by sociocultural forces. These different strands of research raise a set of questions that guide our study:
- What meanings do consumers derive from fashion images and what metaphors do they use to describe their bodily experiences with and exposure to high fashion?
- How do consumers integrate their perception of bodily appearance, aesthetics of fashion, and identity?
- What type of aesthetic effort is exerted by consumers to look good in their attire and adornments?
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