The Impact of Celebrities on Adolescents’ Clothing Choices
Sarah Danielsson The Master’s College
The literature indicates that most adolescents look to celebrities and favorite actors for fashion ideas of what to wear and how to look sexy. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the clothing choices of adolescents. This study was designed to collect information on whether or not celebrities influenced adolescents’ clothing choices. The survey instrument, which was distributed to junior high students at Immanuel Christian School and to high school students at Valencia High School during the spring semester of 2008, requested demographic information and included five Likert-type scale questions. It can be concluded that adolescents do not look to their favorite actors for fashion choices. They like to look more mature with their clothing choices, and they do not prefer to shop at designer stores. Editor’s note: This study was conducted in the 2007-08 academic year.
Celebrities and their visual fashion statements affect the fashion industry and also the dress of adolescent youth in America. “Researchers say many teenagers are emulating celebrity idols like Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, and Chris Martin (the lead singer of Coldplay), some scarcely out of their teens themselves, to cultivate an impression of maturity” (La Ferla, 2006, para. 11). This is evident in specific fashion replications manufactured by name brands like Marc by Marc Jacobs, Paul & Joe for Target, See by Chloe, and J. Crew. Gloria Baume, the fashion market director of Teen Vogue, said “there is no real delineation of what is ‘child’ and what is ‘adult’ anymore” (La Ferla, 2006, para. 15). This study researched whether adolescents turn to celebrities for their fashion role models and whether they have an impact on the clothing choices. This study used the following definitions. “Adolescence, the period from roughly age 12 through the late teens, is a time of dramatic and far-reaching change” (DeHard, Sroufel, & Cooper, 2000, p. 456). Celebrities are people who enjoy public recognition by a large share of certain groups of people (Schlecht, 2003, p. 2).
Favorite Actors Promote Clothing and Body Image.
In the last twenty years, teens have placed those in the movie and music industry on pedestals, vying to be like them in fashion and lifestyle. “Many teenagers are emulating celebrity idols,” and these famous people have the power to determine what looks normal (Oliver, 1999, p. 9). “It is partially through fashion that they begin to judge themselves and each other . . . to continue to determine whether they are or are not the ideal image” (Oliver, 1999, p. 15). Celebrities are not only promoting clothing but physical standards. “The appearance of highly attractive models are both idealized and unrealistic. Highly attractive models not only have beautiful faces but are also thin” (Tsai & Chang, 2007, p. 3). A teen’s worth is seen in her outward, not inward beauty. “When societies focus on ‘body image’ the body is no longer seen as subjectively experienced, but rather as an object” (Oliver, 1999, p. 2).
Time Is Taken to Evaluate Fashion Before Shopping.
Today’s adolescents are heavily influenced by media and know what is “in.” They spend a lot of time with their peers shopping in malls and contemplating fashion. Shopping has become a hobby and pastime. Undoubtedly many teenagers are style-struck. “This year, they are using clothing rather than gadgets to say, ‘We have style’ ” (La Ferla, 2006, p. 1). With the computer and TV age, youth are bombarded with style images. Teens are taking what they wear seriously. Research has shown that “. . . fashion was part of the language of the body” (Oliver, 1999, p. 1). What people wear speaks of who they are trying to portray. Whether adolescents evaluate what their needs are or not, they certainly evaluate fashion and style.
People Take Time Daily to Make Their Image Look “Just Right.”
In the past, the only people who worried about their image were the rich as well as successful businessmen. Today’s youth, including boys, are obsessed with looking cool. “For the fashion-conscious boy, there are long, thick sweatsuits and fitted button-downs with back darts” (Norton, 2006, p. 1). Boys are becoming “more concerned about their appearance than ever before. They want to look nonchalant but in fact are quite studied. It might look like ‘Oh, I just picked this off my bedroom floor,’ but the look is actually very calculated” (La Ferla, 2006, p. 2). Likewise, girls are making their image look “just right.” In one research study of four girls, it was found that they were “learning to desire and create a normalized image of a perfect woman” (Oliver, 1999, p. 1). Whether people want to admit it or not, they care about their appearance.
Dress for Youth Is Becoming More Mature.
Clothing styles are developed to make teenagers look more like an adult. “. . . a growing number of teenagers plan to ditch their rumpled, randomly mingled T-shirts, cargo pants and jeans this fall for a more thoughtfully orchestrated, if seemingly unstudied, back-to-school wardrobe. Many will be zeroing in on fashions with a frankly mature edge” (La Ferla, 2006, p. 1). “Kids are going more covered up and more sophisticated, and the girls are more traditionally feminine,” said Rob Callender, the trends director at Teen Research Unlimiteed (La Ferla, 2006, p. 2). The fashion industry is making and promoting styles that are above and beyond the physical years of teens.
Shopping at High-end Designer Stores Is More Common for Youth.
The younger population has definite wants and desires that are met at specific stores. No longer is the five and dime store adequate to purchase everyday clothing for teenagers. They have their own style and their own stores where they shop. “Shares of American Eagle Outfitters . . . are up 74 % this year . . . in particular the back-to-school mix has longer, more fitted shapes for boys and girls has helped boost sales by 7 % last month,” said Susan McGalla, the company’s president (Norton, 2006, pp. 1-2). “At another back-to-school winner, Abercrombie & Fitch, August same-store sales rose 6 %, beating forecasts.” “Abercrombie & Fitch has a new emphasis on quality – higher thread counts, softer fabrics, more subtle washes – has resulted in a price increase of 25% in the last two years.” “At stores like Abercrombie as well as Forever 21, Bebe, and Intermix, young women are investing in archetypically girly look, buying lavishly detailed tank tops, dresses and skirts with a grown-up flair, playing down their formality with ballet flats or heavy engineer boots and leggings” (La Ferla, 2006, p. 2). The growth in specialty designer stores for the 12- to 20-year-old is at a steady increase.
Department Stores Are Improving Their Image to Draw Teens.
With the changing emphasis on teen style, department stores are updating their look and style to serve the younger population. “For many years, department stores got little respect from teens, but that’s changing as the retail behemoths win back shoppers from discounters and specialty chains” (Norton, 2006, p. 2). “More recently, department store sales, led by Federated, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, have been climbing. Meanwhile specialty stores, including Talbots, Ann Talyor, Chico’s, and the beleaguered Gap, have been stumbling” (O’Donnell, 2007, p. 1). “The department stores are using some exciting new vendors, while also keeping the old ones. And they kept the pricing affordable and the quality good” (O’Donnell, 2007, p. 1). “Specialty stores do not offer the variety, prices, or size variation that Macy’s or the other department stores offer” (O’Donnell, 2007, p. 1). Department stores are now catering to teens.
Clothing Is Making a Sexy Statement.
The fashion trend for youth is sexier and more provocative. “ ‘I feel like girls are overwhelmed with sexy images, and it makes us too obsessed with the way we look,’ says Angela, 16, from Bloomington, Minnesota” (Khidekel, 2008, p. 154). In a teen magazine they found “73 percent of you say seeing celebrities and models who dress sexy makes you feel like you need to dress sexier too, and 77 percent say seeing those images makes you feel like you’re not sexy enough” (Khidekel, 2008, p. 154). Experts say “that seeing your body as a sexual object not only affects how you dress, but how you act” (Khidekel, 2008, p. 155). Modesty is seen as something old-fashioned and out-of-style. “The styles and fashions point to a near total abandonment of modesty as power and instead, girls are taught that their sexuality is their power” (Schlueter, 2007, p. 1). “A new modesty movement is gaining momentum with girls, led by Web sites like modestyzone.net and blogs.modestlyyours.et, as well as MySpace groups like Modest is Hottest and Modest Chicks…” (Khidekel, 2008, p. 155). “Macy’s now carries a line of modest clothing called Shade, created by Mormon women devoted to demure dress, and Nordstrom features Modern and Modest apparel” (Khidekel, 2008, p. 155). Clothes for teenage girls today are all about sexuality, but for those adolescent girls who choose to not dress sexy, there is modest and fashionable clothing out there.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the clothing choices of the adolescents. The following Research Questions were generated:
Are adolescent girls turning to celebrities for their fashion role models?
How are celebrities impacting the clothing choices available for adolescent girls?
Method of Data Collection
The survey instrument used in this study evaluated the clothing choices of the adolescents. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the seven survey questions. The survey instrument was personally distributed by the researcher to junior high students in one teacher’s class at Immanuel Christian School in Ridgecrest, California. In addition, the survey was distributed to high school students in the Valencia High School by the teacher in each of her classes and returned to the researcher in person.
STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was interval, “a scale of measurement in which the intervals between numbers on the scale are all equal in size” (Brown, Cozy, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 370). The subjects sampled for this study were adolescent boys and girls in a private junior high school and a public high school in California. A total of 174 survey instruments were completed and returned and used for this study. The One dimensional Chi-square test was used because it measures “the frequency with which subjects fall into each category along one variable” (Heiman, 1995, p. 192). A 0.05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument was reported in percentages and figures.
Assumptions and Limitations
The following assumptions were recognized for the study:
Meaningful data can be collected by the use of a survey instrument.
Subjects possess adequate background to provide the information needed (Joseph & Joseph, p. 42).
The following limitations were recognized for this study:
The time period of study was limited to spring 2008.
The subjects were limited to students within selected schools in Valencia, CA.
The subjects sampled for this study were students attending Immanuel Christian School and Valencia High School in California during the spring 2008 semester. One hundred seventy-fourcopies of the survey instrument were distributed; one hundred seventy-four were returned and one hundred seventy-four were used in this study. The distribution of gender indicated 48 percent were male and 50 percent were female; 2 percent had no response. The distribution of age is as follows: 5 percent were age 12; 7 percent were age 13; 13 percent were age 14; 20 percent were age 15; 16 percent were age 16; 22 percent were age 17; 16 percent were age 18; 1 percent were age 19. The distribution of grades indicated 9 percent were in 7 th grade; 5 percent were in 8 th grade; 23 percent were in 9 th grade; 12 percent were in 10 th grade; 14 percent were in 11 th grade; 36 percent were in 12 th grade; and 1 percent had no response.
Table 1. Summary of Responses to Survey Questions
Computed Chi-Square Value
Tabled Chi-Square Value
Research Question One
Are adolescents turning to celebrities for their fashion role models? Questions 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.
Because the computed Chi-square values of survey questions 1, 2, and 4 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that (a) the participants did not buy clothing that looks similar to what they see their favorite actors wearing, (b) the adolescent students don’t evaluate to know what is fashionable before going shopping, and (c) they were unsure if the clothing available for purchase makes them look mature.
The findings of survey question 1 deviate from what the fashion director at Nordstrom stated, “We’re seeing a high-school-age person looking for very specific fashion item, interested to replicate the looks they see on some celebrities” (La Ferla, 2006, p.2). The finding of survey question 2 deviates from research, “frequently females compare themselves with models in regard to clothing . . . female college students, adolescents, and pre-adolescents compare their physical attractiveness with that of models in ads” (Tsai & Chang, 2007, p.1). The findings of survey question 4 deviate from research that says, “kids are going more covered up and more sophisticated, and the girls are more traditionally feminine . . . they are trying to look more like an adult” (La Ferla, 2006, p. 2).
Because the computed Chi-square value of survey question 3 is less than the tabled Chi-square value it can be concluded that participants did not have a decided opinion of whether they spend time in the morning making themselves look “just right.” This finding does not align with Oliver who stated, “It is partially through fashion that they begin to judge themselves . . . to determine whether they are or are not the ideal image” (1999).
Research Question Two
How are celebrities impacting the clothing choices available for adolescents? Questions 5, 6, and 7 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.
Because the computed Chi-square values of survey questions 5 and 6 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value it can be concluded that (a) adolescents do not prefer to shop at high-end designer quality stores, and (b) their opinions of department stores are varied.
The finding of survey question 5 deviates from literature to some extent. “Specialty stores do not offer the variety, prices, or size variation that Macy’s or other department stores offer” (O’Donnel, 2007, p. 1). The finding of survey question 6 supports research by Norton, “For many years, department stores got little respect from teens, but that’s changing as the retail behemoths win back shoppers from discounters and specialty chains” (2006, p. 2).
Because the computed Chi-square value of survey question 7 is less than the tabled Chi-square value it can be concluded that adolescents have a diverse opinion about choosing clothing that makes them look sexier. The finding shows that students vary in focus on body image described by Oliver: “when societies focus on ‘body image’ the body is no longer seen as subjectively experienced, but rather as an object” (1999).
The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square test suggest that adolescents in this study did not look to favorite actors to know what clothing to wear but rather they knew what was fashionable to some extent. The respondents varied when it came to how much time they spent in the morning making their bodies look “just right.” Mature clothing for respondents showed a median and not a strong-sided answer. Adolescents within this study do not prefer the higher quality stores and only like department stores to some degree. Depending on the person, individuals choose clothing that either really makes them look sexy or clothing that does not draw attention to their body.
Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:
Adolescents among the selected schools sampled for this study are not turning to celebrities for their fashion role models
Celebrities are not impacting the clothing choices available for adolescents among the selected schools sampled for this study.
Most data in this study showed that most adolescents did notice and know what was fashionable. Rather than dressing like scantily clad celebrities, the adolescents in this study agreed there was more availability to create their own style and look mature. Even within the media and actors’ realm, there were studetnts dressing more moderately; thus, it should be noted that that not everyone desires to wear sexy and revealing clothing. Adolescents prefered not to spend the designer prices for good quality but would rather get more clothing at an inexpensive price. Many students chose the middle value and wanted to look nice enough to appear sexy but not blatantly portray that image in all their clothing choices.
The survey analysis suggested that individuals absorb many things from the culture which influence them during the adolescent years. However, it does not destroy the individual’s personality and willingness to look nice. Adolescents are not necessarily looking to models or celebrities for advice. Rather, it appears that they are choosing clothing fitting their personalities. Fashions change and younger people can be more influenced by the culture and trends, but this has not affected the individual styles.
Recommendations for Further Study
This study provides some information regarding adolescents who are influenced by celebrities in the area of fashion. Additional questions pertaining to how adolescents are influenced by celebrities in the area of fashion warrant further investigation; thus, the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:
This study should be replicated using a different population to see what is normal and currently fashionable among adolescents and identify their fashion role models.
Do teenagers look to fashion designers as an extension of celebrity life?
How do adolescents choose clothing to make them look sexier? Why do they do it? and what does it imply to those around them?
Do girls take longer than boys to get ready in the morning to look “just right”?
Are adolescents more influenced in fashion by their peers?
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