Is a Designer Only as Good as a Star Who Wears Her Clothes? Examining the Roles of Celebrities as Opinion Leaders for the Diffusion of Fashion in the Us Teen Market

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INTRODUCTION

"A good model can advance fashion by 10 years."--Yves Saint Laurent, 1984

Fashion is an area where interpersonal communications have been found to be highly important in the diffusion of information. Additionally, the frequent introduction of new clothing styles each season makes the fashion market a desirable study for diffusion research focusing upon innovativeness (Baumgarten, 1975).

According to Rogers (1995,) an innovation is any idea, practice or object perceived as new. Fashion is characterized by constant innovations, whether real or perceived that often include small changes from the previous season or year. Because fashions are constantly changing, but the fashion changes are not extreme innovations, they can be classified as dynamically continuous innovations (Rogers, 1995). Understanding the diffusion process for fashion therefore is crucial to marketers in the industry since fashion is so dynamic in nature.

The study of how new (whether real or perceived) fashions gets diffused has been given lots of attention to in the literature (e.g. Baumgarten (1975), Darden (1972), Darley (1993), Fernie (1997), Hirschman (1978), Kaigler (1978), King (1980), Mitchell (2001), Moore (2000), Reynolds (1973), Sproles and Burns (1994), Summers (1970), Tigert (1980) etc.) The results have typically shown that the fashion diffusion process is similar to that of any category, with fashion innovators being the first to try a new style (comprising approximately 2.5% of the population,) followed by early adopters (comprising approximately 12.5% of the population) who pick up some of the new styles from innovators. If fashion opinion leaders are among this category, then the new look has a greater chance of becoming an established fashion, and of increasing the next category, the early majority, (referred to as mass market consumers by Sproles and Burns (1994)) to make this new style into a full-fledged fashion trend. This category of adopters, together with the next category of late fashion followers comprises about 68% of the total adopters. Finally, in the last category are the laggards, or fashion isolates who are fairly uninterested in fashion and who comprise the remaining 16% of the population (Sproles and Burns (1994), Hirschman and Adcock, (1978)).

As alluded to above, the early adopter category has a tremendous impact on the successful adoption of a fashion by the masses. More specifically, the opinion leaders in this category are key members of society that are crucial in disseminating information on the latest fashion trends to the rest of the population. Opinion leadership is defined as "the degree to which an individual is able to influence other individual's attitudes or overt behavior informally in a desired way with relative frequency" (Rogers, 1995). If designers can determine who these opinion leaders are, and target them effectively, then the introduction of a particular fashion has a much higher probability of becoming adopted. We propose that for the fashion industry, specifically for the teen market, celebrities are key opinion leaders in influencing them to adopt a new style. The objective of this paper therefore is to explore the roles of celebrities in the diffusion of fashion amongst teenagers in the United States by examining them as opinion leaders who influence teens to try and ultimately adopt new fashion styles.

What is Fashion?

According to Oscar Wilde, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every 6 months." Fashion is not merely the objects that designers produce, but rather it is a social process that continually modifies the meanings of styles (Sproles and Burns, 1994). More specifically, "fashion is a way of behaving that is temporarily adopted by a discernable proportion of members of a social group as socially appropriate for certain times and situations" (Sproles and Burns, 1994).

The term fashion can be broken down into several subcategories: fad, classic, high fashion and mass fashion. …