Why so much?
An exploration of consumer behaviour and the social dynamics surrounding frequent clothes shopping

  • Natalie Dukes

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    It is widely believed that the challenges of climate change are such that our current levels of consumption are simply not sustainable (McDonagh and Prothero 2014). Frequently changing clothing trends or ‘fast fashion’ and low cost clothing are often associated with the unsustainable exploitation of resources and accused of promoting a culture of disposability, waste and materialism (Ertekin and Atik 2014; Joy, et al. 2012). The Clothing Action Plan estimates that the consumption of new clothing is higher in the UK than any other European country (Watson et al. 2018). Much is known about why women buy clothes but issues of frequency and volume have previously been little explored. The traditional narrative of ethical clothing consumption has tended to focus on the supply chain and sustainability of production (Birtwistle et al. 2003; Carrigan et al. 2013) or explores consumer attitudes and behaviour towards choosing ethically manufactured products (Shaw et al. 2007; Chatzidakis et al. 2006). Whilst any progress towards more ethical and sustainable manufacture is beneficial, it fails to challenge the dominant social paradigm of excessive consumption (Kilbourne, McDonagh and Prothero 1997).

    This study explores the behaviour of frequent female fashion shoppers. Taking a symbolic interactionist (SI) standpoint it investigates the driving factors behind the frequency and volume of clothing consumption. Using in-depth interviews and individual case studies the research uncovers shopper rationale, social dynamics and emerging areas of dissonance as people engage in frequent clothes shopping as part of their daily lives. The findings make a significant contribution to understanding excessive clothing consumption. They discover the relevance of SI theories of fashion in explaining aspects of the fashion shopping environment that contribute to frequent clothes shopping behaviour. The study reveals features of frequent fashion shopper behaviour including the perpetual scanning of clothing options, transient satisfaction with their wardrobe and low levels of involvement with the garments they buy. The findings describe how frequent fashion shoppers derive satisfaction from the anticipation of social approval and how shopping experiences are not pleasurable for them unless they result in the purchase of a desired garment.

    The conclusions indicate that bringing about sustainable patterns of consumption requires the transformation of behaviour, creating and embedding new habits and transforming social symbols so that status is linked with sustainable behaviour. It is revealed that, given the right circumstances it would be feasible for some frequent clothes shoppers to consume fewer garments without detriment to their perceived wellbeing.
    Date of AwardApr 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorMarylyn Carrigan (Supervisor) & Carmela Bosangit (Supervisor)

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