Clothing and Identity: A Challenge for Teens


Mustafa Akın
ENG 101 – 56
2nd Essay / Final Draft
24 November, 2009


In our modern age, many people try to express their identity through the use of material objects. Among these material objects, clothing is perhaps one of the most important. Especially teenagers use clothing as a tool of reflecting their opinions, values, and characteristics, which make up a person’s identity. Teens think that it is clothing which makes them distinguished from others and allows them to be unique. This is not necessarily a bad thing that teens use clothing as a special language to communicate with each other. The insecurities and uncertainties brought by the transition from childhood to adulthood cause teenagers to experience a significant change in status and behavior, and consumption habits also take more place in their lives (Piacentini and Mailer, 253). Teens, especially in West societies, communicate with their friends through consumption, and clothing is for them the most important mode of consumption. Although a common language is formed by clothing, yet all teens are unique and they follow different clothing styles which also convey different messages. For instance, rockers wear black whereas hippies – though they do not exist as much as they used to do in the past – wear colorful clothing. To conclude, we can say that clothing can have positive impacts on the identity of teens and communication among them. However, even though clothing can be used as a means of expressing identity, communicating through the clothing preferences can also dangerously hamper the identity development of the teens by making them focus so much on brands, creating group pressure and causing the loss of individual characteristics, and finally by creating prejudiced individuals who value clothing over personality.

Firstly, many teens focus on the name of the brands rather than its quality, because companies use well-planned advertising strategies to affect people and control their desires. However, this trust to brands usually causes especially the teens to be blinded, because in this important era of their life they usually believe what they see on media and get easily affected. Although this process can be interpreted as a natural process, consequences may vary such as focusing on brands more than focusing on the quality and function of a certain product. For example, a teen can wear uncomfortable shoes just because Del Piero wears them, because he or another footballer is approved as cool among the young people (Piacentini and Mailer, 256). However, this can have a harmful consequence by making teens to fall into the pitfall of thinking being cool is the most important thing and therefore they have to buy that product even though they don’t like it. A not well-known product can be much more qualified, however a teen usually does not want to use it or hide using a less known brand. For example, a teen was interviewed and was asked her opinion on why people are into brand names and she complimented that sometimes her friends slagger her because of using not well-known brands (Piacentini and Mailer, 257). In short, focusing much on brands might harm the process of identity development which takes place in the most important era of life, where image of cool manipulates teens to consume unrelated clothing and follow inappropriate fashion, and damage the development of identity because teens give more importance to being cool than following their identity.

Secondly, clothing preferences might cause the loss of individual characteristics due to the group pressure. To be clearer, teens might use clothing to belong to a group they do not belong to, because most of them get affected by brands and are imposed to the image of cool by their peers. Although symbolic consumption allows teens to group around the same consuming habits and create a common language based on clothing habits (Holman, 1980; Belk et al., 1982), under group pressure teens do not make decisions in accordance with their individual characteristics. Because in these years of life, a teen feels the need of proving that he/she is convenient to a certain group and makes sure that as individual, he/she can accommodate the group. However, they seek for any group without judging if the groups are parallel to their identity. Over time this changes the identity of the teen slowly but steadily. Teen allows the group to determine his/her identity and loses her/his own values. A teen was interviewed and asked how he feels when he wears his club uniform on. His reply was that he felt he looked like a team member (Piacentini and Mailer, 259). Another teen was asked whether branded clothes are important to him and he replied positively, stating that he does not want to stand out of the crowd, but instead to be part of it (Piacentini and Mailer, 257). As it can also be seen from real examples, although teens feel that they need to belong to a group as their nature entails, outcome might be loss of personal characteristics under the group pressure of peers.

Finally, identity development process can be frustrated by clothing preferences as sometimes it creates individuals who judge people’s personalities only with their clothing styles and based on “stereotypes”. Even though clothing gives an idea about the person, other ways of getting a clue about personality is more proper such as economic, social and cultural capitals (Piacentini and Mailer, 252). For instance, formal clothing is either related to business men and women or it expresses looking smart, yet a suit can also be worn for a wedding or a night out (Edwards, 155). However, neither of these two reasons for formal clothing proves that person’s identity is certain. Nothing prevents people from their clothing preferences according to their personality which means two absolutely different people can wear same clothing and follow same fashion. Nevertheless, wearing suit is not a sign of being cultural, having high economic status or successful relationships or the opposite of these capitals. Clothing preferences can only give specific information about personality which usually leads especially teenagers to be biased in the relationships because teens prefer to be in a group, instead of being individuals. Teens usually divide groups by clothing preferences rather than by three capitals mentioned above and tease who does not fit into their group characteristics and separate their relationships because of the group pressure. Shortly, “stereotypes” created by brands and imposed to teens trigger the threat of creating biased teenagers who are prioritizing the clothing tastes before the proper signs of personality qualities, especially cultural capital.

To sum up, one can argue that clothing can prevent development of teen’s unique identity. There are several reasons. Firstly, in this major rite of passage teens focus much on brands rather than other values. Secondly, group pressure created by peers cause loss of individual characteristics and teens assimilate group characteristics without judging the coherence with their personality. Lastly, holding fashion choices in front of cultural, economic and social capitals has a harmful consequence which makes teens preconceive in first sights or in advanced relationships which lowers the importance of capitals, and which indirectly but importantly affects the development of identity.


Works Cited:

PIECENTINI, Maria & Mailer, GREIG. “Symbolic Consumption in Teenagers’ clothing

choices.” Journal of Consumer Behavior: Henry Stewart Publications.

KLEIN, Maria. “New Branded World.” No Logo. NY: Picador, 1999

EDWARDS, Tim. “Consuming Passions – Fashion and Consumer Society”. Contradictions

of Consumption. Buckingham: Open University Press, 2000

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