Fashion is not food for intellectual marketing strategy. It is the fodder for the soul of your target audience. It is not about a new collection, new colors, and new stuff on the fashion runway or a new service that changes with each season. It’s about understanding why this ephemeral concept occupies such a permanent space in their hearts, minds and souls…

Goodbye Old Wisdom
“The clothes you wear don’t just change the way other people see you, they change the way you see yourself. Wearing certain kinds of clothes can affect the way you behave and even change the way you think. That means wearing a pair of glasses not only makes you look smart; it also makes you feel and act like you are now less dumb.”

These are psychological truths about fashion that have been doing the rounds for decades and are quoted in research and marketing journals over and over again. Rooted in the byways of intellectual thought are papers on Enclothed Cognition and Signaling Theory available on the net that talk about the psychology of fashion, what we signal to others when we dress up, how clothes can change our thinking, etc. But are these relevant in today’s world? What does a marketer really do with such normcore insights? In the speed of fast fashion delivered by Zara and H&M, how is the marketer expected to play catch up?

Fashion is Emotional, Social, Cultural, Behavioral Psychology
Fashion is not food for intellectual marketing strategy. It is the fodder for the soul of your target audience. It is not about a new collection, new colors, and new stuff on the fashion runway or a new service that changes with each season. It’s about understanding why this ephemeral concept occupies such a permanent space in their hearts, minds and souls.

We, at The Key, believe that consumer behavior is an interdisciplinary social science that gathers aspects from social anthropology, ethnography, behavioral economics, marketing, sociology, and psychology. To understand the Indian fashion psychology, it took us a decade of long and deep research with Indian consumers, women and men, girls and boys from big and small towns across the country spanning many seasons and many socio-political contexts to arrive at some new sartorial truths. What you are about to read is a preview of the vast output on the seminal work The Key has done in garnering fresh fashion insights across multi-disciplinary behavioral interventions – insights that are actionable and not merely intellectual.

Say Hello to a New World & Some New Truths
Have you ever wondered why we buy what we buy as fashionable outfits? Why is it that what you find nice is rejected quickly by your BFF who is also your shopping buddy? Her fashion choice, sometimes, makes you question your own ability to make good friends. It’s worse if your shopping buddy is your spouse or boyfriend. What you see as green is actually blue for him! “If we can’t agree on a thing as simple as a color, why are we even together”, you sometimes wonder!

The two most accepted psychological payoffs of dressing up fashionably are (a) to impress others and (b) to express our identity through the clothes we wear. Clothes maketh the man; you are what you wear – all are statements that conform to these payoffs that are fundamentally different but with an eye on how our onlooker friends would react to the way we dress up.

That is where the problem lies. Fashion is such a deep relationship between emotions, personality and aesthetics that reducing it to a binary or two homogenous segments is doing a disservice to the way people consume fashion. To marketers, fashion may just be a business. To people, it’s more. Much more.

Fashion is neither binary, nor cyclical. It is simultaneously outward and inward driven. We are hard wired to dress to impress others. But when we choose or buy what we want to wear, it is driven by our personal needs and motivations. The same needs that drive some of our life motivations too. This is the new truth of the new world. Our discovery is further buttressed by the two underlying, seemingly contradictory premises:
1) Gender plays an important part in our approach to dressing for others. While each may dress to impress the opposite sex, the way they go about it is diametrically opposed – a lesson marketers must bear in mind to address them differently and in a more relevant manner.
2) Our brain ironically behaves in an androgynous way to fashion stimuli like a new collection. Gender does not play a role in how we select what we want to wear. Our mindset and attitude does. And there are four such mindsets.

There is a business framework of fashion; there are theories on fashion, there are fashion do’s and don’ts but there is no emotional framework that helps us deconstruct the ever-changing fashion needs and triggers. This piece focuses on both the behavioral fashion insights mentioned in the above contexts and a framework to help marketers decode the core category drivers and motivations.

The Mars-Venus Gender Difference: Dressing Up For a ‘Date’ – Date with a Person Vs. an Occasion
We all know when it comes to dating, men seek oomph and glamour while women look for humor and intellect. Unlike women, for men, outer beauty far outweighs inner qualities. The way each dresses up for a dream date is, therefore, bound to be different too. Men dress up to ‘go on a date’ while women dress up ‘for the date’. Women keep in mind the personality of the man they are going to date and dress up accordingly. So, a date with Ranveer Singh means dressing up in something funky, maybe even a tad Bohemian but not so with Ranbir Kapoor. For men, the dressing up approach is similar irrespective of who they are going to date.

What is Stylish: Details of the Get-Up Vs the Garment
Women think of the full ensemble – top wear, bottom wear, footwear, jewelry, handbag, hair accessory and make up while men don’t think beyond the out􀃺 t and the shoes. Ask the woman the stylish element in what she is wearing, and she replies with the ‘overall look’ – innocentgirl- next-door look or the sexy and slutty or casual and chic look. The man however painstakingly points out how the self-design in the white shirt is adding a dash of style or the subtle fading in the denim wash that lifts the look of the jeans he is wearing. Men think style is in the craftsmanship and detailing in the garment while women prefer to see the garment as a work of art to be admired from a distance along with its accoutrements.

Denims – Fashion or Fiasco?
A snug pair of jeans is the ultimate fashion statement in a man’s wardrobe. Men consider most denim wear brands as the gold standard in fashion whereas women consider jeans too casual and way down on the fashion ladder. Does any marketer smell an opportunity here?

The Fashion Topline & Bottom Line
Dressing up to look good is Freudian for both genders. Men are most involved with, spend the most time in buying/trying and the most fussed about the bottom wear especially jeans and women behave similarly for their top wear as each respectively accentuates their vital assets. Zara does better than Mango as the latter is perceived to have great fitting pants, trousers and skirts more than sexy, feminine tops and dresses. For men, the top wear must be cool and comfortable while the bottom wear snug and sexy. One brand cannot deliver on both promises – smart marketers know that.

Why We Buy What We Do? Attitudinal Mindsets
Surprisingly the gender difference is non-existent when it comes to fashion motivations and purchase drivers. Why? Because personal style is not random. The clothes that we feel best suit us, are a consequence of our different inner needs and reflect our most deep-seated narratives about ourselves. It’s not just about the optical effect or making an impression on others – it is about different fashion stimuli lighting up different areas of the brain in different people. Understanding these lit portions in the brain is understanding the different fashion mindsets each one of us has. There are four such mindsets. One of them is more dominant than others. Which one do you belong to? Read on.


What is the latest trend? Yesterday is so passe
The Trend Seekers – As the name suggests, men and women with this mindset are aware of the latest trends in fashion. They actively seek to fill their wardrobes with the latest stuff. They are confident of carrying off the new trends. They are open to buying both top and bottom wear online as they like the discounts available online on premium brands. They are active on social media and adapt to technology easily. They follow Bollywood for fashion tips. Their benchmark brands keep shifting depending on who introduces the latest trend. In real life too they seek new things and experiences as they get bored of routine very quickly. They work hard and party harder. They are performers in their class or careers. They are very often the influencer in their social groups.


Who is the designer? It’s not fashion, it’s couture honey
The Label Seekers – They trust brands and designers more than their ability to search for a good-looking outfit from offline retail stores. Given a choice, they would buy everything online as shopping means getting stuck in traffic which is a big irritant. That’s how they see social media too. When they buy offline, they tend to go to independent stores as they hate the multi brand stores. They believe in luxuries and finer things in life. They like to live in style and comfort and like money for what it can buy. They are very aware of what is happening around the world and in their own country. They swear by international and local designer labels. They believe first copies of original luxury brands are better than local Indian brands. They have a big fetish for accessories – footwear, perfumes and sunglasses. They follow successful and rich tycoons for their lifestyle and fashion sense.


What makes me look sexy? Show my curves, show my body – to hell with the trend
The Silhouette Seekers – They are Mr and Ms Congeniality. Often the most popular people in the group, they are very conscious of their physical appearance as they are aware of their above average looks. They are finicky about hiding their flaws and accentuating their strengths. They can often give up what is latest in style in favour of what fits them well even if it is a classic cut. They choose fabrics that fatter their figures. They like in-between sizes in shoes as well as clothes. For special occasions, they may even end up getting their clothes stitched. They care deeply about their friends and family, their dreams and aspirations and their advice or suggestions. That is why they end up buying/doing something they may not like later on. They seek a tension free and stress less life. Happiness is their motto in life. So they generally like dressing up in bold colors.


What is uncommon? No same dress disasters for me
The Uniqueness Seeker – They want to look unique. The clothes they choose are not necessarily branded. They can wear a premium luxury designer brand with a local inexpensive garment picked up from the street side vendor. Ditto with accessories. They seek a unique look in the outfit – it could be an embellishment, uncommon color or a delight factor in the garment – e.g., reversible or convertible outfit. They believe that all stores have similar offerings, hence they are seen to patronize some niche local fashion stores. They buy online from unique sites like Instagram, FB marketplace, etc. They are creative in mixing and matching outfits. In real life too, they like to break the norms and hence want to or are already pursuing unusual careers that follow their passions. They question existing stereotypes on education or marriage. They are by far the most egalitarian and liberal in their views.

This framework can be used shamelessly, without any filters while developing the product strategy. Marketers must appeal to all mindsets and have an offering for all so that each mindset feels adequately addressed with the relevant offerings. However, for the marketing and communication strategy, they must identify one segment they want to focus on. The decision could be based on the needs of the brand – is sales volume or image restage the key need of the brand?

Applying the contexts to the framework means reading the mindsets in conjunction with the brand context (is it a new brand, an established leader or a challenger brand), the current and future socio-economic-political environment/context that the brand and its consumers are exposed to.

For example, sustainability and recycling is a big socio-economic and perhaps geo-political context – both current and future. A new brand can decide to launch itself on that platform. Marrying that with the key mindset of the bull’s eye TG, the new promise of sustainability can be communicated in the language of that mindset. If ‘The Label Seeker’ is the core TG, then sustainable fashion can be made a status symbol they covet. Whereas if The Uniqueness Seeker is the TG then sustainable fashion must be dimensionalised as breaking stereotypes.

Once you are armed with an in-depth knowledge on consumer behavior, the product, marketing and communication strategies just flow naturally. Nothing seems difficult. Don’t succumb to the pressure of delivering a scuzzy power point presentation without understanding the customer. Don’t google for dope for your presentation. Step out and meet your customer. Get real. Sartorial. It’s all in the mind. And the mindset.

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