Why do we buy clothes?

On the surface, the answer to this question is straightforward. We buy clothes because society has made it a necessity. Our culture has sent a message that covering your body is a must. You won’t find acceptance if you go parading around in nothing but your skin. So at a very basic level clothes serve as a need, but for many (especially those of us with an interest in fashion) clothing helps satisfy a want.

Before getting into why we view clothing as a want more than a need I should distinguish between clothing and fashion. Clothing functions as a basic need. It covers our bodies, and provides protection from the natural elements. Fashion is about making a statement. Fashion is a form of expression. It is an art. Therefore, when I’m talking about a want for clothing I’m really referring to fashion clothing. Thisis clothing that goes beyond serving a basic need. It is clothing that makes a statement. Fashion is what transforms clothing from a need into a want.

So when did clothing move from serving a need to becoming a want? It was around the 1980s that the general public became more fashion conscious. A new fast-paced lifestyle was developing and consumers were demanding different clothes for different occasions. Things really started to take off by 1999 when fashion shows became more accessible to the general public via magazines and websites which would post photos from the latest shows. The public was increasingly exposed to the latest designs and trends and they wanted in on the action. At the same time, fashion consumers wanted to stand out. While demanding the latest trends they also wanted to retain their own unique and individual style. Thus a demand for trends to constantly change was created.

Rapidly changing trends can satisfy a want for immediate gratification. Fast fashion companies have mastered this as their constant offer of new products will ensure consumers enjoy the excitement of something new. It doesn’t matter if the clothes are unlikely to last as long as that want for something new and unique (even it isn’t really) is met. Of course, these wants didn’t develop out of nowhere. The media has played a large role in shaping desires. Consumers are bombarded with imagines from fashion magazines, and video and photos of celebrities and models all dressed out in the latest fashions.

There is a contradiction in fashion clothing consumption. There is a want to make a statement, to express oneself. However, the desire to do so is often driven by the latest trends dictated by the fashion industry and pop culture. We want to by unique by following the crowd.

It’s important to think about why we are buying clothes. Understanding why we consume fashion may tell us something about how our consumption habits have helped shaped the industry. A constant demand for new and unique trends has consequences for how clothing is made and the impacts that process has on people and the planet.

Until next time.

Stay stylish,


M.E.S. Sustainability Management


One thought on “Why do we buy clothes?

  1. Nice article, Chris! I’ve always been interested in ‘sustainable’/socially responsible clothing choices myself. Always knew that industry had a huge part to play in driving overconsumption, but I never thought about analyzing historical fashion trends to get to the root cause of how it all started.

    Ironic how “we want to by unique by following the crowd”. Hopefully more sustainable clothing options can be the new trend that people want to follow to be unique!

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