Orderly Fashion: A Sociology of Markets By Patrik Aspers Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ (2010) $33.00 (Available as cloth or e-Book)
Review by Wanda K. Cheek
In the study of fashion, a major tenet is that fashion is a phenomenon that can be explained by the trained observer. Sociologist Patrik Aspers reaffirms this by stating that the global fashion industry should be studied as an ordered social construct. He defines order as human activity that is both predictable and stable. The author is clear that the aim of the book is to bridge three fields of research-sociological theory, fashion markets, and economic sociology. He explores how actors in the various markets interact and manage to maintain market order. His method of inquiry is market observation and interviews with persons involved in all phases of the fashion pipeline, from producer to consumer.
To support his thesis that the global fashion industry is a study of social order, Aspers elaborates on how order is maintained in the fashion industry. Fashion inherently involves change and the need to predict the future, and he offers support on how order and change coexist without creating chaos. Aspers explains adequately how the fashion industry is able to respond quickly to fashion change, although composed of numerous players in the global supply chain.
The book is an interesting revisit of early foundation writings about fashion (i.e., Simmel) and sociology literature. Throughout the book, the author integrates a large body of research dealing with consumption and the consumer market with his investigation of European retailers such as H & M (Sweden), Topshop (Great Britain), and Zara (Spain). He labels these retailers as "branded garment retailers" (BGRs) and states BGRs have, out of necessity, created their own identity for "affordable fashion". As a group, they have established a collective identity, which remains relatively stable over time. Due to the uncertainty and aggressive business environment (chaos) they face, BGRs have an interest in controlling it, Aspers suggests. One of his more interesting discussions is that BGRs control their identities, thereby exerting control in the market, through four factors: store design, advertising, editorial fashion story strategy, and ethical production.
Other valid points include observations about competition, price, and fashion trends. Competition among BGRs actually creates cohesion and leads to gains in consumers. BGRs must remain abreast of what competitors are doing, which brings stability to the market. Price creates order because BGRs have pricing policies that are stable over the long term. The author explains to scholars outside the fashion marketing field how design teams within a company use trending materials to produce forecasts in an orderly manner through collective decision making. …