Branded as fashion victims

April 14, 1995

If shop assistants suddenly start to ask you why you are buying a particular product, how it defines your identity and what life would be like without it - beware: they may be sociologists.

For ten weeks last year Steven Miles, lecturer in the sociology department of Glasgow University, worked in a sports shop in Huddersfield to assist research on consumption and youth identity.

This field work enabled him to build on interviews with more than 70 school and college students on their spending habits and desires. What he found was a fierce attachment to brand name, an awareness that without the right clothes you are not part of the crowd, as well as an ironical detachment from the whole sorry business.

"Both sexes were concerned about brand names," he says. "One of the main things to emerge was how much more confident young people felt if there was a good brand name on their trainers or bag."

He argues that the breakdown of traditional sources of identity such as the family and community has led young people to seek other ways of defining themselves and identifying with each other.

He also thinks academic debates over postmodernism have neglected the meanings with which consumers endow the goods they buy.

"Young people seem to be perfectly well aware of the significance of consumer-driven life-styles among their peers, but tend to see friends as 'victims' and themselves as dispassionate obser- vers of this process," he says.

Mr Miles also argues that town centres have little to offer young people - apart from shops. "Young people's experience of town and city centres tend to be pressure-driven rather than pleasure-driven in that such centres are dominated by conformity and uniformity," he says.

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