MAS 960  ·  Signals, Truth & Design Seminar  ·  Fall 2007

11.06 fashion, time and status


Required readings

Veblen, Thorstein    Theory of the Leisure Class, ch 7
Everett Rogers    selection from The Diffusion of Innovations
Sarah Thornton    Club Cultures, ch 4
Suzuki, Tadashi and Joel Best    The emergence of trendsetters for fashions and fads: Kogaru in 1990s Japan. 2003.
Adar, E., L. Zhang, et al.    Implicit Structure and the Dynamics of Blogspace. (2004).
Judith Donath    Note on fashion

Optional readings

Grant McCracken    Culture and Consumption, ch 5
Fred Davis    Fashion, Culture and Identity, ch 1
Huberman, Bernardo A., Christoph Loch, and Ayse Oncule    Status as a valued resource. 2004.
Georg Simmel   Fashion 1907.
Coelho, Philip R.P. and James E. McClure    Toward an economic theory of fashion. 1993.
Wolfgang Pesendorfer    Design Innovation and and Fashion Cycles. 1995. (there is also an interesting argument between Coelho and Pesendorfer here and here.)



  1. Read the papers.
    • The Simmel and Veblen readings are both classics of sociology; they are the first theoretical discussions of fashion and quite influential.
    • Rogers work is about the diffusion of innovation - it is the complement to "fashion".
    • Thornton's book on Club Culture, which focuses on fashion in music, deals the most directly with fashion as knowledge, as a way of showing who has access to information, and how this knowledged is controlled and disseminated.
    • Suzuki and Best look at extreme fashions in Japan - their work is a close look at the question of where do new fashion ideas come from.
    • Davis and McCracken are contemporary socio/anthro approaches to fashion. They are useful for thinking about fashion in a cultural context. I have included these as optional readings but you should at least skim them.
    • Adar et al on blogs is a very interesting look at exactly how fashions spread in an online space.
    • Coelho and Pessendorfer are contemporary economic discussions of fashion which also use (slightly different) signaling model. Both, I think, are flawed by conflating a number of different functions as fashion (Pessendorfer, for instance, conflates fashion with luxury good). But they do represent the economic approach.
    • I have also included the Huberman et al paper on status, because ideas about status are fundamental to thinking about fashion hierarchies.
  2. Answer these questions:
    • How does fashion function as a signal? What does it indicate? What are the costs and benfits associated with it? Is it reliable? Why or why not? what is the function of continuous change? How does Veblen's view of fashion fit with a signaling model of fashion?
    • What is the signaling value of anti-utility - e.g. dissonant music, high heels, etc.?
    • There are fashions in many domains: clothing, slang, blogs, research topics, music, etc. The medium in which the fashion signal is embedded affects how quickly it spreads, how easily old signals are discarded, what social hierarchy/affiliation it indicates, etc. Looking at blogs (from the Adar paper and your own observations), music (from Thornton and your observations), clothing (from Davis, Suzuki, and your observations) and one other domain of your choosing, describe how fashion signals function in each domain, discussing the common features and differences between them. What are the features of the medium that affect fashions within it? Are changes arbitrary or are they driven by other forces in addition to fashion? How does that affect how we interpret it as a signal?

Please link your essays by Monday midday.