How Do Fashions Affect Society?

What makes us fashion victims? Why do we imitate certain behaviors, even harmful ones, in our society? And, why do we sometimes feel weird for not identifying with certain trends?
How Do Fashions Affect Society?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 June, 2023

Fashions affect society in a profound and, at times, disturbing manner. For example, as well as dress codes, music, behaviors, and the acquisition of certain products, let’s think about the challenges of social media that, due to its dangers, can cause accidents and even deaths. What lies behind this type of behavior?

Psychology has been studying these phenomena for decades. To understand them, one of the most important terms is self-concept. We build this by belonging to certain social groups. In fact, imitation is one of the processes that help us feel integrated. However, at the same time, it makes us slaves to certain tendencies by offering us the perception of being like others.

Fashions follow the principle of conformity. Most people seek integration into social groups. This can promote the dissolution of the “I” so the individual can adopt the codes of their social group.

boys reading how fashions affect society
Today, social media is the main disseminator of fashions and trends.

How do fashions affect society?

Today, social media is the most important channel when it comes to disseminating new fashions and trends. This doesn’t only involve the field of clothing. In fact, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok integrate codes of communication, thought, leisure, and, of course, consumption into the collective ideology.

But, the way in which fashions affect society isn’t always beneficial. For example, think of the idealistic beauty canons and body schemas that the industry has been promoting for years and what they entail. And consider the unpleasant trend of self-harming or those viral challenges that don’t always end well.

However, this phenomenon has always existed. Moreover, it forms a reality that models and activates extremely interesting psychological processes in us.

1. Imitation as a need to belong to the ingroup

The appearance of certain behaviors, products, or styles of clothing makes us curious. Moreover, as soon as we see that they’re frequently repeated among our social groups of reference, we start to imitate them. The need to follow those patterns arises so we don’t feel excluded.

Social identity theory was proposed by the psychologists, Henri Tajfel and John Turner. It highlighted the powerful influence of fashion, both in a positive and negative way.

Our identities are nourished by a sense of belonging. This drives us to imitate what our ingroups do. We follow their trends and behaviors to avoid social exclusion, targeting, and ostracism. It makes us feel as if we belong, which translates into our psychological well-being.

2. The principle of conformity

As Serge Moscivici (1999) pointed out, we tend to underestimate the influence that living in society has on our attitudes and behaviors. In fact, our environments completely compel us. The principle of conformity proposes that, in our desire to integrate and offer positive perceptions to others, the “I” becomes diluted. As such, we unconsciously accept many realities.

Figures such as the social psychologist, Herbert Kelman, indicate that conformism manifests itself in three specific ways. These explain how fashions affect society.

  • Identification. We identify with the figures of our social groups.
  • Internalization. We integrate into our psychological strata the behavioral and attitudinal patterns of others. We do this so we don’t feel left out.
  • Compliance. We demonstrate our attunement to certain fashions and trends, even if sometimes, privately, we’re not really that interested or we don’t agree with them.

Fashions, even if they’re not always healthy or completely pleasing to us, encourage an instinctive need for us to imitate so we don’t feel excluded.

3. Need for approval and validation

As humans, from a really early age, we need the approval of others. We also seek the validation of our closest environments. This is how we reinforce our identities and self-esteem. We’re not islands, but living organisms that coexist in society. Consequently, if we want to possess sensations of unity and security, we require validation.

Following fashions and carrying out the same practices as others in our groups means that they see us as the same as them. Imitation leads to integration. This offers us numerous positive reinforcements that are basic requirements for many of us.

4. Emotional contagion

When we’re repeatedly exposed to certain objects, behaviors, or types of clothing, we might suffer emotional contagion. In effect, our emotions spread in a similar way to when enjoying music at a concert. We feel fascination, curiosity, and delight.

Following trends not only facilitates social integration but also floods us with a series of positively valenced emotions that encourage us to imitate.

Fashions also encourage emotional suggestion. As such, there’s an unconscious inclination toward the acceptance of those behaviors carried out by others.

5. They make life easier for us (mental shortcuts)

Imagine you have a party this weekend and don’t know what to wear. Fashions and trends facilitate mental shortcuts so we don’t have to think too much. Therefore, we simply have to choose the clothes that the majority are wearing.

Indeed, when reality is full of options, following trends shortens the time we need to make decisions and reflect. We can simply do the same as the rest.

Woman looking at the mobile and reading how fashions affect society
Teens and younger people are more vulnerable to fads.

Why are we vulnerable to the effects of fashion?

From a psychological perspective, the way in which fashions affect society is extremely varied. Those who are most vulnerable to fashion are young people, especially adolescents. For instance, young people in Generation Z tend to feel pressurized to keep up with the trends that appear on social media.

As a matter of fact, for the youthful brain, the need to belong is a crucial instinct. And, today, the phenomenon of social comparison means that they’re constantly focused on what others have and what they lack. Moreover, complying with aesthetic canons and current fashions is like belonging to a strong religion. However, with it often comes torment and mental health problems.

Research conducted by the University of Ajman (United Arab Emirates) highlights how social media is key in the construction of youngsters’ identities. Their lack of maturity makes them more susceptible to ingroup behaviors that they assume by mere imitation so as not to feel rejected.

Fashion is far more than a form of social manipulation. It’s an ideology loaded with meanings that we assume out of curiosity, real identification, or the desire to belong. These are the factors that make us more prone to follow fashions and trends:

  • Greater suggestibility.
  • Conformist thinking.
  • Less critical thinking.
  • Desire to join groups.
  • Fear of being singled out or excluded.
  • Less-formed identities and personalities.
  • Low self-esteem and need for social reinforcement.

In conclusion, we need to recognize that we all, to some extent, follow certain fashions out of simple desire and interest. The key lies in discerning what’s healthy, enriching, and good for us from what isn’t. Unfortunately, today, tendencies that are both irrational and dissonant frequently emerge. Knowing which of them we should ignore is extremely beneficial for our health.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dignath, D., Born, G., Eder, A. et al. Imitation of action-effects increases social affiliation. Psychological Research 85, 1922–1933 (2021).
  • Venkatasamy, Nithyaprakash. (2015). Fashion trends and their impact on the society.
  • Turner, J. C., Brown, R. J., & Tajfel, H. (1979). Social comparison and group interest in ingroup favouritism. European Journal of Social Psychology, 9(2), 187–204.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.