Are We in Control of What We Wear? (Probably Not Entirely, and It’s Okay)

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In the day and age where algorithms and trends call the shots, are we still in control of what we wear? Well, not entirely. Technology has changed our lives, and it impacts how we make our buying decisions. For example, artificial intelligence used in social media algorithms brings up content that we interact with the most — user-generated content. This way, what we engage with most on social media converts into sales because everything is curated for us. 

This has a strong effect on the perception forming region of our subconscious mind. Research done by Lauren Sherman and her team shows that teens were more likely to like a post that had more likes.[mfn] This means that we are more likely to like what other people like, and reject what they also reject, and these subconscious choices influence our buying habits as well as our own sense of personal style. 

Advertisers have been using social media to prompt the masses to consume certain products, wear certain clothes and live a certain lifestyle. A study done showed that 71% of millennials are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on social media referrals alone.[mfn]

Also, the rise of fashion influencers both on a macro and micro level affects what we wear. Clothing brands such as FashionNova and PrettyLittleThing pay influencers millions of dollars to promote outfits that they’re pushing on their online stores. 

 While you might follow an influencer because you feel you can relate to them, or you like some part of their lifestyle, that element of relatability is then farmed by outside brands. Most brands these days don’t need to launch an expensive advertising campaign or pay for advertising space, they’ll just associate themselves with whoever you like at that moment and you’re sold. 

We all interact with these trends and seek to replicate them in one form or the other. Less of how we dress is in our hands anymore. You may see a pretty shirt on your Instagram explore page and see it again on a friend’s story, and it’s in your mind. The next time you shop online, you’re inclined to choose it because it’s familiar. In psychology, this is referred to as the mere-exposure effect.[mfn] Individuals exhibit an increased preference for something after repeated exposure to the stimuli. The more you see it, the more you like it or prefer it. 

Some critical thinkers argue that personal style is dead – considering the loss of control that we have over our dressing decisions. Mass consumption of fast fashion can take away from the beauty of individuality. In her essay, The Death of Personal Style, Jessica Schiffer writes that rather than seeking out inspiration, the social media model encourages a passive kind of consumption where we are making less active choices.[mfn]

Things aren’t as bleak as they sound- we aren’t all mindless zombies being controlled by the internet (okay we are, just a bit). Trends are important, they make fashion what it is -there is beauty in the collective appreciation of items that are à la mode. Preserving individuality in today’s age of mass consumption is a balancing act. Schiffer reflects on this saying, “today, it’s about rediscovering and riding out your sartorial thumbprint in a sea of so much #same”.[mfn]

The irony in all this is that most innovations and creations from fashion brands are rooted strongly in individualism. This desire for differentiation and non-conformity is what pushes designers to come up with the most stunning and cutting-edge designs in each fashion cycle.

It’s still possible to have some control over what you choose to wear. The secret is to buy items that genuinely spark something in you. It may be an edgy and avant-garde deconstructed dress, or it could be something cute you saw Kim Kardashian wear a week ago. Be yourself, and put a lil’ spin on it.

  1. Shankar Vedantam, “NPR Choice Page,”, August 9, 2016, <a href=””></a>.
  2. Mike Ewing, “71% More Likely to Purchase Based on Social Media Referrals [Infographic],”, 2012, <a href=””></a>.
  3. APA Dictionary of Psychology, “APA Dictionary of Psychology,”, 2014, <a href=””></a>.
  4. Jessica Schiffer, “The Death of Personal Style,” Who What Wear, April 10, 2018, <a href=””></a>.
  5. Jessica Schiffer, “The Death of Personal Style,” Who What Wear, April 10, 2018.

Crystal Mwangi is the lead writer and researcher for the Fashion segment at BEDA. She is currently in a steamy ménage à trois with communications, the arts and business. Also vehemently battling a samosa addiction.

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