“LOOK!! I’M NOT THE SAME PERSON !”: THE ROLE OF CLOTHING IN
Chaney, D. (2014). “Look!! I’M Not the Same Person!” the Role of Clothing in Consumers
Escapism. ACR North American Advances.
INTRODUCTION AND THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
The symbolic role of products is a huge topic in the consumer behavior literature
(Solomon 1983; Elliot 1997). Symbolic products are not necessarily purchased for functional
benefits, they are used to signify social position (Hirschman 1981). They have different
functions for the consumer: they help expressing relationships with reference groups
(Banister and Hogg 2004; Escalas and Bettman 2005), class and status (O’Cass and McEwen
2004), age and gender (Elliot 1994; Dittmar, Beattie and Friese 1995) and ethnicity and
culture (Penaloza 1994). In other words, symbolic products help expressing and
communicating consumers identity. Among symbolic products, clothing is considered by the
literature as a product particularly full of sense and meanings (McCracken 1986 ; Solomon
and Rabolt 2004). As a visible form of consumption, clothing is particularly important to
consumers, not just seen as protection (Crane 2012). Clothing helps consumers define their
identity (Crane 2012). Fashion style plays a key in constructing the social identity of
consumers (Banister and Hogg 2004). Through their fashion style, consumers express not
only how they want to be seen, but also how they see themselves (McCracken and Roth
1989). Dress is therefore considered as a language in that it communicates something about
consumers to both groups they want to be associated with and groups they don’t want to be
associated with (Auty and Elliot 2001; Banister and Hogg 2004). For instance, Sandikci and
Ger (2001) have studied fashion practices used by women in Turkey. They show that clothing
is used as a political and social tool to defend their identity compared to Westernized Turkish
women. Influenced by the context, the life goals and the self-conceptions they hold as
important to them (Thompson and Haytko 1997), consumers use fashion style as a way to
construct and communicate their social identity to their environment.
Thus, the relationship between clothing as a symbolic product and consumer's identity
is relatively well established in the literature. However, we still know no nothing about the
role of clothing in situations where the consumers try to lose its identity. Indeed, because
modern society does not allow the release of negative feelings (Thoits 1989), consumers are
seeking extraordinary consumption experiences to live strong emotions and to escape from
their everyday life (Arnould and Price 1993; Shoham, Rose and Kahle 2010). According to
Addis and Holbrook (2010), “alienating experiences- such as those encountered at work or
other unpleasant life experiences- put people in need of escaping”. They try to transcend their
normal existence and to live experiences as catharsis (Ritzer 1999). Extraordinary
consumption experiences are aimed at creating a break with the habits and daily stress and
are experienced by consumers like rituals (Tumbat and Belk 2011). Nevertheless, according
to the literature, consumers leave their identity during rituals (Van Gennep 1909; Turner
1969; Szakolczai 2009), and therefore their usual fashion style, to surrender completely to the
experience. Consumers involvement in the experience is combined with a visual
transformation. For instance, studying clubbing as a ritualistic extraordinary experience,
Goulding and Shankar (2011) seem to suggest that clothing plays a key role in the
transformation of individuals and the loss of their identity. Clubbers are experiencing a new
fashion style during the transition phase because they don’t have any benchmarks (Goulding
and Shankar 2011).
But if literature recognizes a visual transformation in the liberating consumption
experiences, the role of clothing in escapism is not addressed. Consequently, we raise the
following research question: what role plays clothing in consumers’ loss of identity in
ritualistic extraordinary experiences?
To answer our research question, we investigated festivals as ritualistic extraordinary
experiences (Getz 2010). More specifically, we focused on rock music festivals (Bowen and
Daniels 2005). Given limited previous research on the role played by clothing in the loss of
identity, we conducted an exploratory study by using qualitative methods. We decided to
conduct in depth semistructured interviews. The interview guide dealt with the role played by
clothing in the rock music festival experience. More precisely, we focused our questions
about the dichotomy between the everyday clothing style and the clothing style at rock music
festivals, and the meaning associated with both of them. Regarding our sample, we mix
convenience, snowball and purposive sampling (Patton 2002). First, we recruited 10
consumers of rock music festivals within our acquaintances. However, with the intention of
enriching the collected corpus and orienting it toward a qualitative rather than a statistical
representation (Glaser and Strauss 1967), we tried to represent different types of informants.
Then, we asked the informants to select at least one acquaintance who attends music festivals.
The sample size was determined by the principle of saturation (Patton 2002). Data collection
ceased after 23 interviews once new themes were no longer apparent in the data. The
resulting sample was comprised of a diverse group of participants in terms of sex, age and
education levels (13 men, 10 women, with ages ranging from 16 to 37, 10 students and 5
All the interviews were recorded and fully transcribed. Data were analyzed manually,
using an iterative process to identify central themes in the narratives (Miles et Huberman
1994). As suggested by Le Ny (1979), we tried to focus on the couple argument/predicate.
While the argument is about the object of the discourse (“what do we talk about”), the
predicate specifies the argument (“what is said about the argument”). The analysis was
conducted following Spiggle’s (1994) framework of categorisation, abstraction, comparison
and integration. Three levels of coding were performed. First, through reading and re-reading,
open coding was used to capture all of the themes addressed during the interviews. Second,
axial coding was performed to connect the obtained data. During the process of open and
axial coding, a continuous comparison process was conducted (Spiggle 1994): comparisons
within the data on the one hand, and comparisons between the data and the theory on the
other hand. Finally, based on a selection of the elements of the theoretical construct, a last
level of abstraction was performed in order to move to the phase of the production of
meaning. The different categories are articulated in order to construct a stable theoretical
framework (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Spiggle 1994). This process allowed for the high-
lighting of three categories of analysis.
Clothing to quit identity
The findings confirmed earlier research which demonstrated that ritual experiences
such as music festivals enable consumers to quit their ordinary life (Arnould and Price 1993;
Shoham et al. 2010; Tumbat and Belk 2011). Consumers of music festivals participate in this
kind of events to make a real break with their everyday life and all the concerns associated
with it. During the festival, consumers momentarily abandon their usual identity. The
important point that our research highlights here is that people leave their identity by a visual
transformation that happens through clothing. Symbolically, individuals leave their identity
through clothing. They leave their everyday clothes that are work or school-related to
incorporate new clothes related to other meanings. The fact to wear dress far from the
ordinary life acts like a metaphor meaning to leave everyday problems with everyday clothes:
I can’t see myself going to a festival with my everyday clothes! So yes I wear more
comfortable clothing. And more rock'n'roll-style clothing. It suits the atmosphere better.
(Murielle, age 24).
When I go to a festival for three or four days, I don’t want to spend a single second thinking
about my job and all the worries that go with it. There’s the rest of the year to think about that.
The festival is precisely about disconnecting. So it’s not about wearing your everyday clothes
(Olivier, age 35).
Moreover, the adoption of clothing in stark opposition to the everyday fashion style
not only allows consumers to create a break with the ordinary life, but it also acts as a first
step towards the consumption experience. The visual transformation is experienced by the
informants as a way to enter the festival. In this, the clothes are seen as facilitators of
immersion in the experience. They put the consumer in the right conditions for the festival.
And the more consumers will be in right conditions, the more they will experience the
festival as escapism:
When I choose my clothes for a festival, I'm already a little bit in the festival. This is a first
step towards the festival. So, I choose them carefully, I don’t take just any old clothes.
Because I want to feel good, comfortable and cool during the festival (Kevin, age 21).
Clothing to release tensions
Festival-goers we interviewed acknowledge using the festival as a way to live a strong
and memorable experience. The experience is lived intensely by consumers because it allows
them to break free. The habits of daily life and the work-related stress make that consumers
strongly anticipate the festival to have some to time to themselves - a time during which they
can escape. The whole experience lived in the festival allows consumers to escape and get out
of their daily life. The festival is an intense emotional experience that enables participants to
have eccentric behaviors. But within this overall experience, clothing specifically plays a role
in the act of releasing and escaping. Indeed, through their fashion style, consumers are able to
afford fancies and wear clothes that they cannot put in the everyday life where dress codes
are much more rigid. This freedom is perceived by informants as an important source of
hedonic gratification. Consumers have fun when they adopt eccentric clothes and this
contributes to the feeling of escapism. Clothes in themselves carry this tensions release
In a festival I can clearly afford to wear outfits that I would not wear every day. Because it's
another world, another context. Nobody is going to give me funny looks, nobody is going to
judge me. I wish it could the same in real life. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. So I
really make the most of these few days. (Alice, age 20).
It's fun to be able to wear slightly eccentric clothes, to put on a little makeup and black nail
polish. It's part of the festival, of the atmosphere (Julien, age 16).
During the festival, clothing gives somehow certain anonymity to consumers
(Kozinets 2002). Indeed, individuals leave their everyday identity when they enter the ritual.
In addition, they are swallowed up in the crowd of festival-goers. During the festival,
consumers are all on equal footing: there are no more social distinctions and no more social
status (Kozinets 2002). Individuals cannot be distinguished from one another. And consumers
use clothing to make them even more anonymous and experience the festival even more
intensely. To some extent, they hide behind anonymity and non-identity given by their new
fashion style to release their tensions even more:
It's a bit like a disguise. We put it on and bingo, we’re hidden behind it [...]. We don’t know
who we are anymore, nobody recognizes us and we can let go completely: dance, scream,
jump, drink (Karine, age 25).
Clothes to enter community
The experience lived in the festival is strongly influenced by the others. Social links
and sharing with other festival-goers are central dimensions for all the informants. Once
consumers pass the entrance doors of the festival, they integrate the group. To designate this
form of community that is created instinctively during a ritual, Turner (1969) proposed the
concept of communitas. Communitas is a spontaneous and unstructured community of people
experiencing emotions together (Turner 1969). According to Bowen and Daniels (2005),
creating a festive atmosphere in rock music festivals with opportunities to socialize is as
important as the artists playing at the festival. Our results support this view. Indeed,
informants clearly indicate that they are looking for social relationships and social emotions.
And social relationships are facilitated in the festival because individuals are on an equal
footing, without social distinction:
We're all here to live the same festival. And it is the fact that there are so many people that
makes it so special. Everyone talks to everyone. There is no barrier as there may be in the
everyday life. Everything is simpler (Olivier, age 35).
According to our respondents, the festival is social and collective experience. The
communitas also finds in clothing cement. The fact that the festival-goers have unique clothes
but generally similar to those of other members of the ritual group, is one of the foundations
of communitas. Clothing brings people together and participates in putting them all on the
It’s really a weekend when everything is possible. Precisely because everyone can do what
they like. We are all alike. When I look around me, I see no difference. I don’t see people with
very expensive clothes and people with cheap clothes. I just see people who love music and
who are there to have a good time (Eric, age 29).
What I wear during the festival, if I wore it in everyday life, probably shock some people
would be shocked. But in the context of a festival, nobody’s shocked. It is rather if I was
wearing my everyday clothes at a festival that fellow festival-goers would single me out. Here
we are all on the same trip. So somehow it brings us closer together (Karim, age 32).
In this highly social context, clothing plays an important role for informants. It
facilitates the exchange and cement the cohesion of the ephemeral community. It is also
perceived as a first step towards sharing and socialization which is the essence of a festival
(Getz 2010) :
We all choose for the occasion our t-shirts of our favorite bands. It is rare to see on such a
small site so many skulls on clothes! It's nice to see. And you know you're in the right place at
the right time (Diane, age 34).
The research presents three main contributions. First, we show a new role of clothes.
Dress enables consumers to quit their self, their identity. To date, the literature has shown the
key role played by clothing in the construction of social identity of the individual. But we
show that clothing also plays a role in situations where consumers want to lose their identity.
Indeed, consumers are living in stressful environments for which they have few opportunities
to relax emotionally (Thoits 1989). Consumers are therefore looking for extraordinary ritual
experiences that will allow them to escape the everyday grind. In these experiences,
consumers leave their everyday identity. We emphasize here the important role played clothes
in this break from routine. By the adoption of clothing in stark contrast to the daily life,
consumers make a break with the stresses and concerns of ordinary reality. With a new dress
code specific to the ritual and in contrast with everyday life, participants enter a new body.
Thus, beyond its social function, we highlight an individual function of clothing. The
literature has overwhelmingly demonstrated the role played by clothing in the social
construction of individuals (Banister and Hogg 2004). Clothing allows consumers to avoid
some reference groups and to approach others. It is through this dichotomy that individuals
construct their social identity related to their visual appearance. We show in this paper that
consumers also use the clothes in an individual purpose which is to break up with their
ordinary life. Thus, consumers construct meaning associated with clothing (DeBerry-Spence
2008): a sense of escape, break and emotional release. Our article shows that clothing has not
only a social function, but also an individual function which is to enable individuals, in a
social context, to access alone and in an egocentric way to a certain level of relaxation.
Clothing is sought for what it allows in terms of hedonic gratification and emotional release.
Second, our research contributes to the literature dealing with consumer immersion in
experience. Previous research has shown that consumers immerse themselves completely in
consumption experiences (Sherry 1998; Pine and Gilmore 1999). They are flow experience
during which the consumer feels an extraordinary impression of fluidity, a feeling of being
very comfortable and disorientation (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). However, we still know little
about how consumers access to the immersion. The extant literature seems to suggest that
immersion is instantaneous and the simple fact that the consumer is present in the experience
area is supposed to be sufficient to be immersed (Sherry 1998). However, our research
suggests that the consumer accesses gradually to the experience through a separation phase
(Van Gennep 1909). Before being fully immersed in the experience, the consumer needs to be
prepared. This preparation is important because it affects the emotional release that
consumers will achieve. We show that the clothes, through the visual transformation it
allows, is an important part of the preparation to the consumption ritual. Clothing not only
helps escape but also enter the experience. Consumers immersion in the experience is not
instantaneous and clothing participates in the preparation by putting consumers in condition.
By adopting a fashion style that is in opposition to that of everyday, consumers access to the
experience and are prepared to live a unique experience. In that, clothes can be considered as
ritual artifacts. They crystallize in a tangible way part of the meanings of the consumption
Third, we contribute to the fashion consumption literature. Simmel (1904) and
Banister and Hogg (2004) identify two motivations for buying clothes: social identification
and distinction. Identification deals with approach towards reference groups while distinction
deals with avoidance of other groups. However, our research enriches this paradox. Previous
research has shown that consumers, through their clothing and fashion style, exhibit
avoidance towards groups that they would not wish to be associated with while they exhibit
attraction to those with which they would like to be identified (Auty and Elliot 2001; Banister
and Hogg 2004). But we show that in ritual experiences, consumers exhibit avoidance
towards their own everyday fashion style. Because they want to break up with their everyday
life and stress, consumers no longer want to be associated with their ordinary fashion style
and its meanings.
Limitations and directions for future research
Given that this research is one of the first to investigate the role played by clothing in
the loss of identity in ritualistic experience, some limitations need to be acknowledged.
However, we argue that these limitations open directions for future research. First, we have
studied our research question in a single context, namely rock music festivals. But to have a
better understanding of the role of clothing in ritualistic consumption experiences, it is
necessary to investigate other contexts. More specifically, it seems necessary to explore
domains where clothing and appearance play an important role in escapism. The case of sport
fans clubs is a promising track. For example, the case of football fans is very interesting since
it contains both the escape of daily life dimension, because this experience is really lived
weekly by fans as a decompression valve, and the standardization of clothing within the
group dimension, inasmuch as supporters of the same team wear the same clothes at the
colors of their favorite club. However, another dimension appears and could be full of
meaning: the rivalry with opposing fans who have a different appearance. In the case of the
supporters of a football club, there is an opposition in the context of ritual with fans of the
opposing team, symbolized by another dress code. The investigation of this new opposition
could enrich our understanding of the structural elements of this type of offer.
Another case could also be very interesting to study: raves and clubbing (Shankar and
Goulding 2011). Indeed, in this type of offer, eccentricity and escapism by clothing in
opposition with the ordinary life are even more pronounced. But conversely, the notion of
communitas we have highlighted seems less present as individuals seek to appear unique and
different compared to other participants of the ritual. In this research, we have highlighted the
importance of communitas in ritual and the role of dress in the creation of communitas. But
in the case of raves and clubbing, there is no homogeneity around clothes as individuals seek
instead to differentiate themselves from each other, to appear unique. What are the
consequences of this search for differentiation on the consumer experience during the ritual?
Furthermore, it seems necessary to contrast consumption experiences where there is a
visual transformation, and other extraordinary experiences where there is no visual
transformation. For example, visiting a theme park fit into the category of extraordinary out-
of-time experiences (Ma et al. 2013). Similarly, going to the cinema is considered as a
consumption ritual in which consumers forget themselves the time of a movie and are totally
immersed in the experience (Ladhari 2007). However, these experiences do not involve the
same visual transformation for the consumer as in rock music festivals or sport fan clubs.
Thus, what are the structural dimensions of these experiences that are different regarding the
role of visual transformation? Is the involvement of the consumer in these experiences less
important? To what extent the meanings of the experience for the consumer are different?
These are questions that are promising directions for future research.
Finally, we have studied the role of clothing for consumers during the ritual but we
did not observe what happens after the ritual. However, the literature has shown that these
experiences are significant and their effects on consumers remain after the end of the ritual
(Arnould, Price and Zinkhan 2002). In the case of music festivals, the experience does not
stop when the consumer has passed through the exit of the festival. The emotional impact of
the experience has a durable effect. The fact that consumers live this kind of experiences as a
liberation process transforms them for a long time. Given the role of clothing in rituals,
further research could follow ritual clothing during the after-ritual. Since objects have a social
life (Appadurai 1988), what are their destiny after the ritual? Does clothing involved in the
escape of consumers have more value? Turner (1979) argues that the objects that have been
part of a ritual incorporate additional value. Therefore, understanding how these clothes are
used and stored after the ritual takes a considerable theoretical interest.
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Loss of identity Discourse regarding clothing and consumers breaking up
with the everyday life
Narratives: “When I go to a festival for three or four days, I
don’t want to spend a single second thinking about my job
and all the worries that go with it. There’s the rest of the year
to think about that. The festival is precisely about
disconnecting. So it’s not about wearing your everyday
clothes.” (Olivier, age 35)
“When I choose my clothes for a festival, I'm already a little
bit in the festival. This is a first step towards the festival. So,
I choose them carefully, I don’t take just any old clothes.
Because I want to feel good, comfortable and cool during the
festival.” (Kevin, age 21)
Release of tensions Discourse regarding clothing and consumers release of
Narratives: “In a festival I can clearly afford to wear outfits
that I would not wear every day. Because it's another world,
another context. Nobody is going to give me funny looks,
nobody is going to judge me. I wish it could the same in real
life. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. So I really
make the most of these few days”. (Alice, age 20)
“It's a bit like a disguise. We put it on and bingo, we’re
hidden behind it [...]. We don’t know who we are anymore,
nobody recognizes us and we can let go completely: dance,
scream, jump, drink.” (Karine, age 25)
Ritual community Discourse regarding clothing and consumers willingness to
identify to the ritual reference group
Narratives: “It’s really a weekend when everything is
possible. Precisely because everyone can do what they like.
We are all alike. When I look around me, I see no difference.
I don’t see people with very expensive clothes and people
with cheap clothes. I just see people who love music and
who are there to have a good time.” (Eric, age 29)
“We all choose for the occasion our t-shirts of our favorite
bands. It is rare to see on such a small site so many skulls on
clothes! It's nice to see. And you know you're in the right
place at the right time.” (Diane, age 34)