In 2011, Lawes presented a paper called ‘The Moral Economy of Fashion and Beauty’ at a one-day conference on fashion held by the Market Research Society. It gives a demonstration of semiotic analysis by showing how semiotics tackles fashion – how to approach it as a cultural phenomenon, what it means to consumers and how they use it. In 2017 Lawes published a paper in the International Journal of Market Research, ‘The things you are looking at have names’, which gives a semiotic and discursive analysis of young women’s talk about fashion brands. We’ve advised British retailers such as John Lewis and ASDA about selling clothes for adults, teens and kids. This has noticeably included topics such as the shopping behaviours of parents and young adults, in-store signage and mannequin displays as well as the clothes themselves.

Did you know?

  • Fashion brands are obviously very important to many young women, who excitedly climb a short ladder of incrementally more aspirational clothing retailers as they leave school, get their first paid jobs, enjoy busier social lives and so on. Interestingly, their natural language shows that they are very conscious of this ladder. A big part of how they understand any particular fashion brand is grounded in contrasts with its nearest equivalent – usually the brand which is one step down the ladder.
  • Some fashion occasions have high emotional stakes – such as weddings. In these situations, consumers making fashion decisions find themselves with a dilemma on their hands. On the one hand, they want to be individual and different. If possible, they want to feel unique. This is very important in Western culture. On the other hand, if they stray too far from convention they risk losing the sense of occasion which resides in an event’s conventional or repeatable aspects. Designers, brands and retailers can help consumers manage this problem by offering them fashion choices which are just different enough – quirky but not radical.
  • Fashion decisions include categories such as hosiery. As it happens, tights are an important signifier in British culture. In 2011, Duchess-to-be Kate Middleton attracted criticism from fashion commentators because her sturdy, black tights connoted the occupations of the middle class, to which she no longer fully belonged. Soon after, she stopped wearing them. In 2018, Meghan Markle attracted comment when she appeared in tights for the first time, immediately following her wedding, seeming to defer to British and royal, class-based dress codes.

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