How Stores Target Different Social Classes?
Everywhere we go in society there is social stratification. Whether it is in the media, at work, school, or even in the shopping mall. There are inequalities and major gaps in between all classes from
upper, middle, to lower. I am going to focus on how certain stores target a certain class of people based on how they price their clothing. I believe this to be a social problem because it causes class conflict everywhere in society, especially with teenagers. “If your not wearing what is cool, than your not cool,” seems to be the motto now a days according to society (Heider 2004:6). The problem with this is that not every family can afford to buy their kids “top of the line” brands of clothing that make them “cool.” I am going to use content analysis to gather my data. I will compare prices of men’s and women’s polo style shirts from stores such as Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, and others to cheaper store retailers such as Target, Walmart, K-mart, Pamida, Shop-Ko, and Family Dollar to see what stores are targeting what class. In my data I will also include what the average American income is per year and how much income each class makes each year. This will give me a better understanding of what class the stores are targeting since they all will be selling their clothing for different prices. My interpretations are that the department store brands will be targeting a lower income class, while the individual fashion companies will be targeting a higher income class as well as a classless society, which I will talk about later. I also believe that I will find that the department stores will end up targeting not just lower income classes but an older population as well, while the individual fashion companies will target a younger audience, usually referred to as “classless”. There has not been much research done on my topic so I am excited to see what I can find and prove throughout society.
All our lives we are exposed to social stratification in society. As a little kid all the way up to being an elderly adult we are placed in classes based on how much income we make or our parents make. We then are forced to identify ourselves by the class society places us in. This social classification then bleeds into the media, work place, and school. However, what I am going to focus on is how social classification is influenced by what brands we buy for clothing in society or more importantly can afford to buy (Cash & Pruzinsky 2002:36).
I want to focus my project on department stores versus individual fashion companies. I believe that these stores target different income classes by how much they price their clothing. Karl Marx stated that industrialization (Department Store versus Fashion Co.) causes a great deal of conflict between dominant and subordinate classes—social stratification theory (Beeghley1980:17). This relates perfectly to who I think these stores are targeting, the “dominant” being the upper class with a mix of the “classless” and the “subordinate” being the lower class. This is a problem because it causes conflict within our society, especially amongst our younger population this connects my topic to Marx’s conflict theory which I will talk about later in this paper. Teenagers are always stereotyped by what they wear, “If your not wearing what is cool, than your not cool,” seems to be what teenagers are thinking these days (Heider 2004:6). The problem is that not all families can afford to buy the brands that are “cool.” Even if it is a generic version of the product, that does not seem to be good enough in our society.
I am going to gather my information through content analysis. I will go into various stores such as: Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Lacoste and others. I will compare prices of men’s and women’s polo style shirts to those of department stores such as: Target, Walmart, K-mart, Pamida, Shop-Ko, and Family Dollar. I then plan on comparing this information with that of the average American income, as well as all other class incomes to figure what classes the two store categories are targeting.
I believe that this is a very important area to research for a few reasons. First, this is a topic that has not really been researched much in society. I feel it needs to be addressed specifically because of the strong influence fashion has on our younger population as well as all the money that is spent on clothing everyday in our society. Research shows that the average American spends $50 a month on clothing which turns out to $600 dollars a year. That means that the entire United States population (300,000,000) spends an average of $180,000,000,000 a year on clothes (Cash & Pruzinski 2004:72). That is outrageous! Another reason this is an important area to study is because shopping is one of America’s favorite past times. This income class targeting of stores is happening right under our noses and we do not even realize it. I believe that the most important things to study in society are those that most often involve society and shopping fits right into that category.
As far as interpretation of my results I believe that I will find the Department stores such as Walmart will not only target an older class, but more importantly target a lower income class, more specifically the working class (blue collar). On the other hand I assume my data will prove that the individual fashion companies such as Gap will target a much younger “classless” population as well as the upper income class, more specifically being the white collar workers. This is once again a very important and under-studied subject that needs to be addressed in society. I feel through the use of my sociological imagination with combination of class conflict, social stratification theories, books, and resources that I will be able to make a strong point in society with this project.
When looking at my topic and personal beliefs there was one sociologist that I saw specifically being able to relate to this project. Karl Marx and his view on class conflict as well as his theory on social stratification seemed to be very useful to me. Marx believed that there were two major social classes. Those classes being the “ruling class” and “oppressed,” in other words masters and slaves, or now a days after the modern Marxism era the “blue collared class”(middle-lower class) and the “white collared class”(upper class) (Macionis 2003:259). These two classes engage in class conflict everyday and are in conflict right now as we speak. Marx referred to “class conflict” as conflict between entire classes over the distribution of a society’s wealth and power (Macionis 2003:260). Looking at how this relates to my problem is easy. First off I am approaching this project with a lot of assumptions. Those being that Department Stores, since being cheaper, target lower class people while the Fashion Company Outlets target the upper class or the classless. Those who are classless are the “young and the ruthless” also known as kids/teenagers having part time jobs while in school or no incomes who spend their allowance on these expensive clothes (Hooks 2000:80). Therefore, just as Marx I am categorizing two groups: The Department Stores and the Individual Fashion Company outlets. In other words I am categorizing the stores by how much they price their clothes and by that I will determine what class they are targeting.
I feel that the targeting of specific classes causes a great deal of conflict. Just as Marx said there is conflict between the two major groups in society everyday, I believe the shopping malls are bringing conflict to society as well. Like I cited earlier “If your not wearing what is cool, than your not cool”. This is true because today’s culture is centered on consumption; people always want what is “hot”. This makes materialism the basis of all transactions (Hooks 2000:82). One cause of conflict occurring in society is because often parents of classes who can’t afford all the luxuries in life tend to want them and often encourage materialistic hedonism in their children, making them want everything they can’t have. These kids then bring this craving of having all those things to school where the kids of the upper class have them. This creates conflict as kids form groups based on what they have and how they look. This doesn’t only relate to conflict theory, but branches off into other theories involving of how people can’t help which class they belong to because of simply being born into a certain class right away. This is where social stratification and status come into the picture. Social Stratification is a system in society that ranks or categorizes people in a hierarchy. An individual might be born into a lower class status, but has the opportunity to move up into the middle, all the way up to possibly the upper class status. This can happen by hard work or pure luck (Macionis 2003:254).
Marx stated in his theory of social stratification that “the greater the industrialization in a society, the greater the inequality, the greater rate of conflict” (Beeghley 1980:83). This theory relates to my topic. This is because first off the clothing industry in America has been recently rated top 5 in sales of all products sold in the world. The only 4 above it in 2004 were: prescription drugs, electronics, vehicle sales, and Tobabcco/alchohol (Heider 2004:115). There are a lot of things sold here in America and top 5 is a pretty big percent of all industry if you ask me. Second as far as inequality is concerned I feel that my project will prove that to be true. This is because when certain stores target certain classes of people conflict and inequality are developed. This is because when fashion outlets price shirts and jeans at very high prices they are targeting only the upper-class and classless, since they are the only people that can afford them, while the Department Stores are selling shirts and jeans for a cheaper price targeting the lower class. What isn’t equal about this situation is that the upper-class and classless are able to afford to shop at both types of stores, where the lower class can only buy the generic brands. This then creates conflict as Marx said since the lower class stereotypes the upper-class and vice-versa.
Review Of The Literature:
I have read a considerable amount of literature dealing with class, power, and social stratification in society, but none have specifically researched my topic. However, there are commonalities between some of the read literature and my topic. When reading Class and News it talked specifically of how class is defined often by the kind of clothes that one wears, the furniture, and household appliances that one has, or the automobile that one drives (Heider 2004:8). This is exactly what I am trying to point out in my project. My project and this book relate in that they both are trying to prove that society is materialistic and class is based off of these materialistic consumptions. Heider stated that “Class is primarily based on wealth and income, but is merely descriptive (Heider 2004:9).” This is why I am doing my project on clothing stores and class. I want to try to answer some of these questions people have. I want to prove that America is a materialistic society. By researching clothing store’s prices I will be able to show that class can indeed be defined by what one wears considering these industries are targeting not all, but only certain classes of people.
Class is definitely materialistic to a point in our society, but when looking over Where We Stand: Class Matters, I noticed an even bigger problem in our society. I realized that our nation is becoming more class-segregated every day (Hooks 2000:2). The lower class lives with the lower class while the upper class lives with the upper class in their fellow gated communities. Segregation is a problem in society everywhere, even in department stores and fashion outlets. Therefore my project strongly relates to this books main point as well. By different stores selling basically the same product for extremely different prices, shows that they are targeting opposite income classes, as a result this is segregating society just as everything else from neighborhoods to education. Also when reading this book I read an excerpt where one woman identified another women’s social class simply by what she was wearing:
When I am shopping in Barney’s, a fancy department store in my neighborhood, and a well-dressed white woman turns to me—even though I am wearing a coat, carrying my handbag, and chatting with a similarly dressed friend—seeking assistance from the first available shop girl and demands my help, I wonder who and what she sees looking at me. From her perspective she thinks she knows who has class power, which has the right to shop here; the look of the poor and the working class is always different from her own. Even if we had been dressed alike she would have looked past attire to see the face of the underprivileged she has been taught to recognize (Hooks 2000:4).
I found this paragraph very interesting, as well as very comparable to my subject. You can see it is true that department stores do target certain classes and that class can indeed be identified by clothing in this specific example. The lower class women first identifies the opposite women’s class by her fancy clothes and then even identifies her own class by her clothes and appearance. I also noticed in this specific excerpt that even these ladies of opposite classes were shopping at the same store, you tell the specific store was targeting the upper class, for that the upper class lady looked at the lower class lady as if she did not belong in that specific store.
When reading older research that was done in 1980, I came across some interesting points. Harrington, who studied the upper and lower classes, claimed that the lower class is socially isolated and invisible to most Americans (Beeghley 1980:123). He stated five reasons for this ignorance and I found one to be quite significant to my project. He stated that:
…..the lower class people are invisible because clothes and other products of mass society make them difficult to identify. Harrington argued that America has the best dressed lower class people in the world and he contends it is much easier to be decently clothed in the US than decently housed, fed, or doctored (Beeghley 1980:123).
I find this to be definitely true in society, even now days, considering this isn’t the most up to date research. There are still many families today who have inadequate health care and can barely afford to put food on the table, but yet these lower class individuals still find away to dress properly. Well to answer this question I have to turn to my research topic. Like I said there are stores pricing clothing for this type of situation. Department stores are purposely pricing clothes of a modern fashion at a cheaper price so that these people can look just as those of the upper class. In a way if you think about it, this could be an attempt to shrink the gap between the upper and lower class. At least from a materialistic point of view. Yes, the classes are still shopping at different stores and buying similar styles of clothing for different prices, which makes things still segregated. However, like Harrington stated, these clothes make the lower class invisible, which means if you can’t tell which class is which by their clothing than I guess segregation might be improving after all.
All the previous research and literature is relevant to my topic in that it views social class from an upper and lower class perspective. The Literature also considers class to be defined by materialistic things in society, specifically clothing. This is extremely relevant because I am trying to prove that clothes and their prices target a specific social class, therefore by targeting a specific class that is also contributing to defining that class.
I will examine my topic and conduct my research through content analysis, since I did not apply for IRB approval. It would have been very interesting to conduct research through the use of people by using Interviews, Focus Groups, or Surveys, but I look at using content analysis as more of a challenge. Instead of using people to help me gather my information and data, I will have to do it all by myself by collecting data from Department Stores and Fashion Outlets.
I plan to conduct this analysis in major Department Stores such as: Walmart and Fashion Outlets such as: Gap. My goal is to see what class the stores are targeting. More specifically the upper-class/classless or the lower-class. I plan on determining this by comparing prices of a specific style article of Men’s and Women’s clothing, this being short sleeve polo’s for men and women. I have many assumptions going into this process which is why I have separated stores into 2 categories (DPT Store targeting lower class & Fashion Outlets targeting upper class/classless).
I plan to go into the stores with a notebook; the notebook will have 2 headlines. One labeled Department Stores and the other obviously being Fashion Outlets. Under each headline I will write the name of the store I go in to and by that I will write the prices of which they put on their men’s and women’s polo style shirts. I plan to collect data from 10 to 20 stores of each category which means I actually will be visiting 20 to 40 stores. This also means I will collect price data from 40 to 80 different shirts. I feel this should be enough data to help me see what class these stores are targeting. However there is much more to this. I will average out the stores prices of shirts by category. An example would be average price of Men’s polo’s from Department stores equals $10.50 While Fashion Outlets average polo price equals $25.50. I will then collect yearly income data from the upper class and lower class. An example would be Upper-class make $100,000 a yr while Lower-class makes 18,000 and under a yr. I then will take the American average of money spent on clothing per month/year which is 50 dollars a month and 600 dollars a yr. I then will calculate the prices I found into this to find out what inequalities there really are if say the upper-class was buying the cheaper clothes or the lower class was buying the expensive clothes. I am not sure if my project falls under a certain validity, but I feel I am using a combination of external and construct validities in this project. I think external validity has a place in this project because I am experimenting. I know I am not using people as participants and I am not exactly sure what the outcome will be, even that I have a good assumption, but I am trying to generalize my point to a large crowd in that being society as a whole. I also see construct validity in this project because I am using my judgment along with statistical methods (income percentages and numbers of upper and lower classes) to prove whether or not certain clothing industries are targeting a certain class of people. I am very confident my results will be quite accurate, but I cannot guarantee anything for that this is an experiment. However at worst I know my project will at least give us a good estimate of which social classes our stores are targeting while we should also learn a great deal about how much each class spends every year in each type of store.
Interpretation Of Results:
Coming into this project I was confident right away and still am. I expect to find accurate results and I am pretty sure I already know what I am going to find. Obviously I expect to prove that stores target certain social classes, more importantly lower class and upper class. I expect that large Department Stores will target an older, lower income class of people, while fashion outlets will go in the opposite direction and target a much younger, upper, possibly even classless society.
Along with stores targeting certain social class I also expect to possibly find other interesting data. This data involves gender, and economic issues. I feel that buy collecting prices of men’s and women’s same style shirts that I may find that prices may very not only by class, but possibly by gender. This isn’t for sure, but definitely sounds like a possibility. If I was to interpret anything from that, I would assume that Department Store’s polo shirts for women are going to end up being cheaper than men’s polo shirts. Even that both are still cheaper than buying from fashion outlets.
I also expect to find through specific research of class income and some calculation exactly how much money each class is spending at their targeted stores. By this we will see who is getting more for their dollar and if this may display some sort of inequality between the classes.
I expect that there is plenty of information to be found in this topic and I am very excited about it. This is a subject that has not been addressed or even looked at in society and I am very anxious to see if I can make some kind of impact.
1) Beeghley, Leonard. Social Stratification in America. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear Publishing Company, 1980.
2) Betts, Novack, Toyama, Kate, Kate, Michiko (2004 ). “LUXURY FEVER.” Style & Design. 164, 50-56.
3) Cash, Thomas & Pruzinsky, Thomas. Body Image. New York: The Guilford Press Company, 2004.
4) Heider, Don. Class and News. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Inc, 2004.
5) Hooks, Bell. Where We Stand: Class Matters. New York: Routledge Press Company, 2000.
6) Lejeune, Robert. Class and Conflict in American Society. Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1983.
7) Macionis, John. Sociology: Ninth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishing Company, 2003.
Appendix A: Timeline:
* Tuesday, Feb 27- Have a good grasp of subject, be ready for criticism—-Proposal due
* Friday, March 2- Begin content analysis of stores available in town
* Sunday, March 11- Have all content analysis completed ——-10 to 20 Department Stores and 10 to 20 individual fashion company outlets. Price of 20 to 40 Men’s Polo shirts and 20 to 40 Women’s tank tops.
* March 12-16 (Spring Break)—–Get all information and data organized, work on draft # * Thursday, March 22- Have draft one completed for workshop
* March 22-March26- make corrections and final touches needed
* Tuesday, March 27- draft one DUE
* March 28-April 5- additions to final paper
* April 6- Start Preparing for presentation….brain storm
* April 10- Have final paper pretty much completed and come to class with good idea of what presentation will be like
* April 11 – April 20- putting together of presentation, be done by 20th
* April 21-April 23- Practice your oral presentation, know your topic
* April 23- April 24- Present Project
* April 25-May 9- Finishing touches on final paper…DUE 6pm May 9th
Appendix B: Budget & Budget Narrative: