Posted on January 8, 2021
Fashion labels are powerful things! We’ve always suspected that designer clothing could improve the wearer’s life, but now there’s science to prove it! In fact, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence out there to suggest that what we wear says more about us — and has more power to influence our actions — than anyone ever suspected.
In this article, we’ll share some of what the scientific experts have to say about the potency of fashion labels. We’ll also explain the basics of what a fashion label needs to do, and give you some tips on how to harness the power of designer labelling for your own business (even if you’re a brand-new startup!)
Here in the UK, fashion shopping is seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure. We all love designer clothes, but few of us can explain why, and many of us feel guilty about buying expensive items (even those of us who work in fashion!)
There’s a common misperception that designer clothing labels are over-valued ‘brand snobs’ (see footnote 1), and that there’s no real benefit to buying from a renowned designer. Science is showing us that these old-fashioned attitudes are completely incorrect. In fact, peer-reviewed academic evidence exists to show that the clothes we wear have a tangible impact on how we view ourselves, and how we perform in our day-to-day lives.
The concept of ‘Enclothed Cognition’:
Back in 2012, two academics from Northwestern University in the USA ran a series of experiments to test the impact of clothing on a wearer’s attitudes and behaviour. The scientists divided their test subjects into two groups, then asked their subjects to put on a lab coat and carry out a series of tasks.
The lab coats worn by both test groups were identical, but one group was told that their lab coat was a doctor’s coat, while the other group was told they were wearing a painter’s smock. In the experiment, test subjects who thought they were wearing a doctor’s lab coat displayed significantly higher levels of attention than test subjects who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat.
The lab coats were identical — the only thing that had changed was the wearer’s perception of their clothing — but this this change in perception was enough to change the wearer’s performance (see footnote 2). This discovery led to a new psychological term — enclothed cognition — and it finally proved to the world something we all instinctively knew already: the fashion labels you wear really do make a difference to how you perform in life.
The “Inside Out” Approach To Clothes Shopping:
Enclothed cognition teaches us that the clothes we buy have the power to influence how we live our lives, but it’s equally important to recognise that, when a shopper picks our product off the rack, they’re doing so because they already see themselves a certain way, too.
Dr. Jennifer J. Baumgartner is a clinical psychologist who runs her own wardrobe consulting business. In her book, “You Are What You Wear”, she gives the example of people who buy clothing that’s either incorrect or inappropriate for them (for example, people in their forties who buy clothes meant for teenagers, or people who have lost a lot of weight but continue to buy large clothing). Baumgartner explains that the purchasing decisions of these shoppers stem from deep-seated psychological reasons; that they might not be able to articulater, or might not even be consciously aware of (see footnote 3). In other words, consumers buy fashion based on their internal psychology.
When it comes to making a purchase decision, how a clothes shopper sees themselves is just as important as how they want to be seen. The best fashion labels help shoppers to navigate these tricky feelings, and when you’re coming up with a fashion label of your own, you should try to do the same. If you get it right, you won’t just improve your sales figures; you’ll help your customer to live a better life!
The whole concept of a ‘fashion label’ is relatively new — the phrase only started to become popular in the mid-1980’s (see footnote 4) — but it is an absolutely vital ingredient in the success story of every fashion business in the 21st Century. In some ways, a fashion label needs to work just like a traditional brand:
It should set clear expectations. If your product is going to give a feeling of prestige, luxury, comfort, hardiness or utility, your fashion label needs to explain this to the buyer.
It should promise a certain standard. Your fashion label is your ‘maker’s mark’ — it should promise a certain quality of design, manufacture and raw materials, and it should reassure the buyer that the garment is authentic.
It should promote your business. By fixing a permanent fashion label (or labels) to your products, you’ll create an advertisement that lasts a lifetime and makes it easier to win your next sale.
Beyond these three functions, though, a fashion label needs to create a feeling in the mind of the buyer. The person who owns your garment needs to feel an intimate connection with your product: a connection that lasts a lifetime. So how do you do it?
If you want to define your brand with a fashion label that really makes a difference to people’s perception of your product, there are a few steps you can take:
1: Understand your customer.
Science tells us that shoppers buy fashion based on how they feel and how they want to feel on a deeply personal level. The only way to achieve this with your fashion label is to develop a rich understanding of the customers you serve.
2: Make great clothes.
Labels work best when the designer’s handiwork is already great in the first place. Do everything in your power to deliver exceptional designs, manufactured to the very highest standard.
3: Pick your retailers carefully.
This is especially important for couture and luxury brands. You need to make sure that the places your garments are being sold (online and bricks-and-mortar) tie in with the values of the brand you’re creating. Your label should appear in the places where your target customers like to shop.
4: Make it personal.
If you’re not an extrovert then the thought of putting your face on a website or press release might make you squirm with embarrassment, but they’re called ‘designer labels’ for a reason. People want to know that the clothes they wear were designed with flair, thought and personal attention. If they can associate your work with a human face and get to know a bit about who you are and what your story is, it will be easier for them to associate with your label.
5: Be patient.
There’s no getting around this one, sadly. Reputations take a long time to build, and you have to put the work in for months (sometimes years) before you start to see any real benefit. All you can do is consistently put out high-quality work and make the most of every PR opportunity. Treat your fashion label as a long-term investment.
6: Make a great physical label.
We can help you with this bit! The actual label that you stitch into your garments needs to tie in with who you are as a designer and what your clothes are all about.
At GB Labels, we’ve helped thousands of designers to come up with truly unique labels that express who they are as a business. Just get in touch with us and we’ll show you what we have done in the past and how we can help you, too. We’re happy to send you out a free sample pack to get the ball rolling!
Take care and thanks for reading!
An article from The Guardian in 2010 described people who wear designer brands as ‘morons’, ‘brand snobs’, ‘show-offs’, ‘rude’ and ‘idiots’! You can read the article for yourself at the link below. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly paints a picture of popular opinion when it comes to fashion labels:
A more detailed explanation of the lab coat experiment, and the theory of ‘enclothed cognition’, can be found in the report authored by Adam Hajo and Adam D. Galinsky (accessible at the link below):
“Your clothes reveal more about your internal life than you may realize … Every item in your wardrobe is the consequence of a deeper, unconscious choice.” Dr Baumgartner’s book, “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You”, is available on Amazon. If you’re in fashion and you’re interested in consumer psychology, it’s well worth a read.
Google’s Ngram Viewer (a tool that basically tracks the common usage of words and phrases over the past 500 years) shows that the phrase ‘fashion label’ only really began to become popular in the mid-1980’s: