Newsworthy research: Research into fashion and socio-economics becomes media hot topic

Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry in which social pressures drive trends. The more visible the fashion item, the more likely wearers are to be influenced by what others around them are wearing. Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing, examined the psychological and socio-economic factors that drive consumer behavior. Working with collaborators Kurt Gray, psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, and Nina Strohminger, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Management, Galak observed how women, upon relocating from one U.S. city to another, either adopted the preferences of those around them or remained committed to their own prior preferences.

The research used data from 2,007 women who purchased 16,236 shoes across five years from an online fashion retailer to identify the heel height women chose to purchase upon moving to a new city. “Though heel height, on the surface, may seem like a trivial subject matter to study, it turns out to be ideal for such an inquiry,” Galak said. Heel height is easily quantifiable, making for more straightforward statistical inferences. The study concluded that women who moved to a city with a higher median income level tended to conform to the heel height preferences of those around them. That is, if women in the new city wore taller heels, women who moved there also adopted those same high-heel preferences. However, if women moved to cities with lower median income levels, they bucked the preferences of those around them and remained wearing the heel heights they had before they moved. In other words, they ignored the less affluent crowd.

This study was first published in the online academic journal PLOS ONE, and was then featured in a variety of news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Reuters. Galak commented, “It was gratifying to see my work discussed outside of academic circles. It is often difficult to communicate to the public why what we do is important, but here I think it is clear: Understanding how consumers are influenced by one another allows us to better serve them and improve their purchase and consumption experiences.”