New Horizons in Institutional and Evolutionary Economics series
Chapter 10: Fashion and Economic Evolution
Prolegomena This paper was first published in Policy in 2007, and was based on Chai, Earl and Potts (2007). It seeks to elucidate the positive role of fashion (and fashion cycles and the fashion industries) to the process of economic evolution. 10.1 FASHION: BAD OR WORSE? Fashion is fun and frivolous. As such, the set of behaviours, commodities and industries associated with it are usually not regarded as part of the economic growth process, and certainly not as something that economic policy might consider relevant. Indeed, quite the opposite: fashion is widely conceived as a bit like astrology or barrels of whiskey, namely perhaps fun, but expensive in an opportunity cost way and something we really are generally better off without. Yet, I argue that this view is mistaken, and that fashion is in essence entrepreneurhip on the consumer side of the economy. Analytically considered, fashion is the tendency of consumer preferences to move together, although in a seemingly random way. This has interesting implications for social and cultural analysis, as it signals a degree of social conditioning of individual tastes, a mechanism of which involves the publishing, advertising and media industries. Economists, however, have tended to be suspicious of fashion, which they define as the tendency of a group of consumers to adopt some personal mode of expression – as embodied in consumer durables such as clothes, furnishings, music, cars, leisure pursuits, and so on – only to adopt a different mode soon after, and certainly well before the physical assets...
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