At what point does a popular fashion brand become a uniform of conformity and class?
Fashion is a style of dress; it refers to the styles and customs belonging to an individual. We are influenced in the way in which we dress to meet social standards and fit into society. Some people associate themselves with a particular brand, with many popular branded shops marketing their clothing to fit a stereotypical representation. This influences what to want to look like and how we want to be perceived. Shops such as ‘Hollister’ and ‘Jack Wills’ try to sell a brand identity to us – influencing us to buy their clothes to become a part of their created image -an ideal self if you like. Our clothing choices are usually personal and therefore show who we are and what is important to us however is what we are wearing becoming a uniform of our conformity and class?
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Jack Wills and Hollister are both designed to target middle-class and upper-middle class students. Both fashion brands becoming synonymous with student life: even if you are not wearing it, you probably still have a strong opinion about it. Jack Wills having been self-proclaimed ‘Outfitters to the Gentry’ and Hollister referring themselves as an ‘Epic Store’ has led to many discussions about the questionably exclusive branding and pricing of the products made and sold.
Jack Wills started in Salcombe, Devon, symbolizing a public school style, with the ideals and inspiration of vintage British heritage. Jack Wills’s website puts much attention to how originally British their products are with phrases such as ‘Fabulously British’ as the headline for the front page and ‘Design inspiration follows British military history, British sporting traditions and British country pursuits. The quirky product & fabric details reflect an eccentric British style’ to help support their unique style of a true British image. However, its specific target audience has meant that Jack Wills has become far more than a fashion brand. To be emblazoned with the Jack Wills logo, which to some may be a pheasant dressed ‘smartly’, has also become a visible and prominent formal class branding within the student community. As well as Hollister has with the ‘HCo.’ brand label with a Southern Californian inspired image and casual wear.
Hollister’s range of clothing has a beach inspired image, making it inspired by life, as this is what California is stereotypically best known for. This beach connotation is why Hollister has related to surfing and you find many images of young attractive males and females, splashing in the water, half naked, having fun in the glorious sweltering sun. The images are highly intimate and seductive luring young individuals to aspire to be them. Not only are the images on the website and posters within the shop but they are throughout the stores as you see young, very attractive, males and females dressed head to toe in Hollister clothing. I spoke to a friend who knows someone who works in the Hollister store and she quoted “they hire attractive people because it influences people to be like the people they see working there and therefore buy the clothes. It also helps that when little 14 year old girl go come in and are told by some hot looking guy that a shirt would look great on her. It’s kind of stupid, yes, but it works.” It shows that they advertise their clothes just by others wearing it which shows it is a popular fashion brand.
Hollister and Jack Wills have a very stereotypical image that everyone recognises and many people follow. A article in a magazine stated “The stereotypical Jack Wills or Hollister patron can normally be identified by back-combed hair, baggy track pants, sports stash, a gilet, the ever important pashmina and either Ugg boots or flip-flops, which both seem to be interchangeable between the summer and winter months.” This basic ‘uniform’ has created a self- proud anti-fashion statement. The effort needed to achieve either Hollister’s or Jack Will’s signature look has taken casual lounge wear to a new class heights, steering firmly clear of the adidas-wearing, working class stereotype.
As well as providing a ‘uniform’, however, both fashion brands have settled in on their unique and highly successful branding to create a complete enterprise, which brings us to the question – what point do your retail purchases reflect a conscious lifestyle choice? The Jack Wills website is a perfect example of the brand’s influence over all aspects of life. As well as purchasing a JW jumper for £69, why not accessories your bedroom with the Jack Wills bed covers? Or you could even support the Jack Wills unsigned bands. This is all part of representing who you aspire to be, your ideal self. It shows how your self concept is influenced to fit into a type of person and how far you would go to fit in to the uniform you believe you want to be in and to be perceived by others as trendy, conformed and high in society as you can afford the highly priced products.
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However, despite this amazingly successful and well performed branding, how many students in this day and age are polo-playing, classics-reading, après-ski socialites? Or going down to ‘catch waves’ and volleyball? And if a student is dressed head to toe in their favorite Jack Wills or Hollister items, does this mean they attempt to adopt the lifestyle that these brands put upon them and create the image they are trying to inspire. The answer to this question is obviously highly dependent on individual differences and yet a brand of such social standing which has an online message-board so you can ‘enrich your life with the wisdom of fellow Willites’ unavoidably becomes extremely exclusive rather than inclusive, shrouding the brand in perceptions of snobbery and pretence.
Therefore, despite its expense, Hollister and Jack Wills’ diverse marketing strategies and signature vintage concept has become part of college culture, representing a uniform and a lifestyle for the student ‘high society’. Yet, regardless of who wears both/either Hollister and Jack Wills or what background they come from, the brand itself openly trades on the back of its perceptions of wealth, stature and upper-class power. When you buy fashion brands such as Jack Wills, Hollister or even other fashion brands like Abercrombie you are not simply buying a fashion item but you are investing into a class-specific lifestyle.
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