Fashion and Class

In a new blog post on the CommsWomen platform, Palmer Hayes, a student at the University of Alabama, College of Communication and Information Sciences, analyses an article by Herbert Blumer on fashion and class published by the Sociological Quarterly.

From the traditional idea of fashion as a tool for class distinction to a more nuanced view of fashion as a collaborative and interactive process, Herbert Blumer’s analysis of fashion in “Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection” offers a crucial change. Blumer questions the idea that high-end designers set all fashion trends and then the public follows suit. Rather, he contends that a complicated interaction between designers, the media, and customers creates fashion trends. The process of collective selection encompasses a range of social actors who both impact and are impacted by fashion trends, resulting in a constantly changing and dynamic fashion scene.

Blumer’s approach differs from Georg Simmel’s earlier theories, which saw fashion as a tool for class distinction. According to Simmel’s theory, the top classes create new styles to set themselves apart from the lower classes, who then copy these styles to rise in the social hierarchy. Blumer’s viewpoint recognizes the democratization of fashion, especially in modern culture, but this theory emphasizes the aspirational and hierarchical aspects of fashion. The development of social media and digital platforms has given people the ability to set trends, decentralizing the power of fashion and enabling a wider spectrum of voices to be heard in the conversation around it. This change emphasizes how crucial communal selection is to grasp the dynamics of contemporary fashion.

Blumer’s notion of communal selection is especially applicable in light of the modern, linked, and globalized society. Today’s fashion trends travel the world at a rapid pace, thanks to social media and technology. Customers now actively participate in the development and spread of trends rather than being the passive objects of fashion designers. Because of this participatory culture, a wide range of social, cultural, and personal elements are having an increasing impact on fashion. Blumer’s thesis acknowledges that fashion reflects larger social interactions and cultural exchanges, which reflect versatility. It emphasizes how crucial it is to see fashion as a cooperative process in which consumers and designers work together to jointly generate trends.

Blumer’s theory of collective selection also highlights how fashion is cyclical, with patterns frequently resurfacing and being reinterpreted considering modern culture. Consumers who borrow from previous styles and give them new contexts and meanings together help this circular process. Fashion trends that are recycled highlight the connections between various historical periods and the ongoing conversation between the past and present. This feature of Blumer’s work draws attention to how flexible and resilient fashion is as a social phenomenon. It highlights the significant influence that cultural memory and nostalgia have on contemporary trends. This provides more insight into the intricate and multi-layered process of collective selection that exists in the fashion industry.

To sum up, Herbert Blumer’s “Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection”, provides a thorough grasp of fashion as an inclusive and dynamic industry. Blumer offers an approach that captures the collaborative spirit of contemporary fashion by moving the emphasis from elite-driven fashion trends to a collective selection process. In the digital age, where social media and technology have democratized fashion and given a variety of voices the ability to set trends, this viewpoint is especially relevant. Blumer’s work highlights the critical role consumer participation and social interaction play in the evolution of fashion trends, underscoring the significance of considering the communal and interactive components of fashion. Blumer also highlights the cyclical nature of fashion trends, which illustrates the continuing interaction between historical inspirations and modern reinterpretations.

The full article can be read using this link.


Blumer, H. (1969). Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection. The Sociological Quarterly, 10(3), 275-291.

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