Jul 15

The Psychology of Consumerism Pt. I: Online Fast Fashion Hauls

By Hannah Tappin

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Have you ever experienced major FOMO over countless fashion TikToks and Insta reels of fast-fashion hauls? Has seeing your favourite influencer/celeb/or style muse looking amazing in their latest fast fashion try-on ever tempted you to shop at Zara or Shein? Don’t worry, before you start to feel personally attacked, please realise you are not alone. In fact, there is a psychological explanation behind this.

But before we get into the psychology of fashion consumer behaviour, it’s worth mentioning we are not writing from a place of judgement, but to help you combat the inner psychological conflict of … Should I? Shouldn’t I? – over Zara’s latest, seasonal collection drops.

In a rational mindset, most fashion sustainability buffs know that splurging on cheaper, mass item hauls is not worth it because of the environmental disruption. Yet, when we see a perfectly styled, aspirational wardrobe lookbook featuring an array of exciting outfits, our values seem to go out the window. Why?

1. New Associations and Modelling

There are countless psychology theories about fashion consumerism, so, for the sake of this article, let’s focus on a few of the basics. Firstly, fast-fashion hauls on social media are often shared by content creators we find aspirational in some way, whether it be their physical appearance, personal style, lifestyle or character traits. This means that when we see someone we admire posting a fast-fashion haul, we associate the clothing items and the clothing brand with similar characteristics and values as the creator (cool, fun, exciting and so on).

The clothing haul temporarily alters our perception of fast-fashion brands, as we project the qualities of the influencer or haul video with the garments. The perception of the clothes being edgy, aesthetic and on-trend override our prior knowledge of fast-fashion brands’ impact on the planet. This can lead to an inner psychological conflict between our value belief systems, so what we believe fast fashion to represent versus the need to fulfil a desire from purchasing. Whether we want to look more on-trend, feel cooler or join the excitement.

The videos present newer information to our brains and associated memory bank about what fast-fashion represents. The new ideals replace associations of poor labour, low quality and short wardrobe life with mood-boosting, accessible, eye-catching and joyful patterns and prints. At this point, our mind essentially convinces itself that through buying lots of cheap clothes in a spree, we will feel fulfilled and happier. Yet, in reality, it could be more likely as consumers we end up feeling an overriding sense of guilt after the short-lived high of acting on impulse and having something new quickly wears off.

2. Our Hierarchy of Needs: Sense of Belonging

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us like to feel we ‘fit in’ to society or are part of a social group. This relates to a renowned theory: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basically, having a sense of belonging, fulfils a deep-rooted psychological need. Many social media users look to fulfil this need by being a part of an online community.

Fashion communities, influencers and industry professionals connect with each other and audiences through posting clothing hauls. Therefore, in an attempt to ‘fit in’ to the fashion it-crowd, many of us replicate purchasing behaviours, clothing looks and content to feel part of the fashion community. I am sure even some high-profile fashion influencers are guilty of doing hauls off the basis that ‘Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?’

When feeling tempted to fit in, try to remind yourself the most renowned, iconic figures in fashion rose to stardom by being different and standing out from the crowd. Embrace your individualism and remember you can still be part of the fashion community through your passion and love for it alone. Regardless of what, where and how much you buy!

3. Behavioural Reinforcement : Positive Reinforcement

Behavioural reinforcement is a powerful psychological tool which determines the likelihood that a set of behaviours will be repeated. In relation to fashion, many influencers receive positive reinforcement from posting fast-fashion hauls in the form of mass likes, comments and new followers. As a result, they repeatedly post fast-fashion hauls despite sustainability issues because of the positive reinforcement obtained from their videos.

If a lot of followers engage and recreate these fast-fashion hauls, fashion brands will want the creators to repeat this behaviour and often tempt them to do so by offering partnership deals and new income prospects. As a consumer, seeing others be rewarded for this behaviour also increases the chance of us wanting to imitate it ourselves to try and gain similar positive benefits for ourselves.

So, now we know the psychology behind how fast fashion hauls impact us, how can we combat temptation?

A great way to resist temptation, is to a) think more mindfully and b) never purchase on impulse. Luckily, practising mindfulness, which refers to bringing your awareness back to the present moment through focusing on your senses, emotions and current thoughts, has been found to reduce impulsivity.

When we act impulsively, like when doing a mass, fast fashion splurge without considering the consequences from our individual actions, it is often due to an emotional imbalance.

To address this imbalance more constructively, try and distract yourself from impulse buying by doing an activity you enjoy. It could be watching your favourite film or going on a leisurely walk to distract yourself and take yourself back to the present and away from feeling there is an emotional void to fulfil.

This helps you appreciate the small things in life, balances emotions and often dissipates the connection you thought you had to impulse buy from fashion haul videos. Essentially, when feeling tempted, put down your phone, take a break and re-evaluate how you are feeling.


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Article by Hannah Tappin

Hannah is a Strategic Partnerships Intern at MATCHESFASHION and blogger. Her website, HannahRoseInspired.com, incorporates her Psychology degree to explore the role of psychology in fashion, beauty & creativity. Hannah is also a Taurus and a slow fashion enthusiast. In her spare time, she loves art gallery hopping, finding the best new brunch spots and dancing till late at trendy cocktail bars in a well-styled outfit!