Book Review: Orderly Fashion

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This week, I’m pleased to bring you a useful review of Patrik Aspers new book, Orderly Fashion: A Sociology of Markets (July 2010, Princeton University Press). It was  written by Joseph H. Hancock, II who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Fashion, Design & Merchandising, Drexel University. He has a twenty-year retailing background (The Gap Corporation, The Limited, Inc., and the Target Corporation) and a PhD from The Ohio State University. He is currently authoring an Introduction to Fashion textbook for Berg Publishers and a work on contemporary fashion for Texas Tech University Press.

Orderly Fashion: A Sociology of Markets is divided into seven chapters and five appendices. Stockholm University sociology faculty member, Patrik Aspers believes that there has been little research conducted from a social science perspective (5). This book attempts to give the reader a sociological perspective of the fashion industry.  The author has obviously neglected to engage in American scholarship on fashion and consumer science that is oversaturated with this sort of work. Had he read Dr. Susan Kaiser’s (1996) landmark book, The Social Psychology of Clothing: Symbolic Appearances in Context, or any issue of the Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, he would have known that he was not a pioneer in this area.

At first, the text appears to be a new perspective on how the fashion system operates and is an ordered structure. The goal of the author is to “zoom in on branded garment retailers…to investigate order in relation to their activities in markets. It is the order of the branded garment retailers (BGRs) and the markets in which they operate that is the central empirical object of this study (1).” Aspers believes that fashion markets must work in an orderly fashion in order to survive and prosper. His idea is to connect the various organizations involved in the fashion process such as manufacturers, retailers and consumers. However, after many struggles to move through his misuse of retailing and business terminology and the lack of background information on each of the mass fashion retailers used in the “Introduction” of the text, it becomes apparent that the author really does not understand how the various aspects of the fashion industry work, nor that each company has its own corporate cultural characteristics and thematic concepts of order.

Additionally, his thesis statement is not well defined nor specifically designated to his final outcome. Aspers states that he is focusing on “large and medium-sized branded retailers in the global fashion industry, such as C&A, Gap, H&M, Macy’s, Old Navy, Topshop, Next, French Connection UK, Marks and Spencer, and Zara, as well as smaller retailers (2).” Clumping such a group of stores together as a single-type or entity clearly indicates that the author may not understand retail store categories. Retailers like Macy’s cannot be explicitly identified as a “branded retailer” in the same spirit of the Gap – these stores are not the same!  It appears Aspers would like to create a well-defined ordered thematic ideal of how fashion works. But in order to do this he must realize that most vertically integrated manufactured based specialty retailers such as Gap Inc., (who also owns Old Navy, which the author does not mention) cannot easily be lumped into the same category as a full-line department store like Macy’s.  Aspers clearly needs to make these differentiations in the “Introduction” to keep the reader from thinking he does not know what he is writing about – this does not happen. And many readers, like this reviewer may not be able to overlook the lack of definitions in this section.

Aspers focuses his study on the retailers of Great Britain, Sweden and the manufacturers of India and Turkey (2), but does not include the United States – which is the largest retailed nation in the world. This becomes confusing as Apers previously mentions the retailer Macy’s, which has no branches in Great Britain or Sweden. His reasons for the exclusions of the United States are the demands for production of a larger scale and because the United States puts a lower emphasis on fashionable clothes than that of Great Britain and Sweden (2).  But what the author immediately does not do is define fashionable, and the differences between styles for each of the countries, until the next chapter. Additionally, to compare the entire United States to Britain and Sweden is like comparing an apple to an orange. It becomes clear that Aspers has never traveled to the United States and if he has, he does not grasp American fashionable styles.  Or that regions of the United States have fashion centers that are much larger than those of Great Britain and Sweden, such as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles whose volumes in fashionable style outweigh that of both those countries. There is no comparison.

Although this is Aspers second book on fashion (his first book was  Markets in Fashion: A phenomenological approach in 2006), it reads like a dissertation written without academic mentoring by someone who was versed in discipline of fashion studies or that understood how the retailing and manufacturing industry worked. This text is a futile attempt by a non-fashion scholar to re-invent the wheel of scholarly theory while neglecting what has already been done.  It ignores previous works of how fashion operates, without truly understanding fashion and the detailed nature of the business of retailing.  While the target audience for this text is scholars engaged in sociology, fashion, and retailing, I would suggest that a reader predispose themselves to other books that might give them a better understanding of fashion systems and how they work.  Such books would include:

*Book cover image via Princeton Press

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1 Comment

  • EmilyKennedy September 08, 2010 11.35 am

    Another excellent book review! Thank you so much! As a sociologist, it’s really interesting for me to see your critique.

     

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