When Is Too Much Too Much?

I want to focus on a personal favorite topic, which seems appropriate here – clothes shopping. More specifically, how much are teenage consumers spending on clothing and what are their style preferences?

My interest in this subject began when my gorgeous twin nieces became, well, gorgeous. I watched the transformation from giddy little girls to 14-year-old, leggy, sexy young ladies with attitudes. To be honest, it scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t help myself from staring at Easter dinner, wondering how they afford Louis Vuitton clutches and why their shorts were so, um, short. What was the rest of the world thinking? I began to scratch my head, pondering a few questions:

• As shallow as it may sound, if my nieces and I are wearing the same Dior lipstick or Marc Jacobs eyeglasses, what does that say about me? Should I be “graduating” to different brands? It seems odd that despite our age difference we would make the same choices, both financially and based on preference.

• When did teenage girls get so sexy? I don’t recall being so provocative as a teen, and if I had tried, there was zero chance I would have been allowed out of the house. This is not a new story, but I can’t help but think it’s more extreme these days. Or perhaps I’m just looking at it through a different, ahem, more mature lens.
• And does anyone agree that there is discord between parents wanting their kids to look hot and be on trend, but also making certain they dress “appropriately”? Clearly, there is parental funding involved since these outfits are not afforded from a few hours working at the local ice cream shop.

I don’t have the answers, but my curiosity was piqued about U.S. teen behaviors re: clothes shopping, so I set out to uncover a few facts:

• In reviewing a Seventeen magazine survey, I learned that “working teens are saving for the three Cs: clothes (57%), college (54%) and a car (38%).” I guess the second 2 Cs are irrelevant if you don’t look fabulous.

• According to The Deal Magazine, there are roughly 43 million teens in the United States, and each spends approximately $4,000 per year. More than $1,150 of it is spent on apparel. This number varies from teen to teen, but, regardless, that’s a large sum for an adolescent.

• The NPD Group’s 2012 report revealed that “teenagers care 20% more than the average shopper about brands, most likely due to peer pressure” and they continue to be heavily influenced by their friends when it comes to trends. Though many factors persuade teens what to purchase, word of mouth tops the charts.

• I was pleased to discover Marshall Cohen of The NPD Group’s comment: “This generation of teens has grown up in a tough economic climate, so they appreciate value.” The study noted that 71% of teens spend both their parents’ and their own money for shopping, followed by 18% of their own money, and 11% of their parents’ money solely. I was relieved that the lion share of the funding is a shared responsibility.

• 2011 Kenyon College research finds that up to 30% of teenage girls’ clothing available online in the United States is overtly sexy. I’m no goody-two-shoes but even the most mainstream adolescent girls’ clothing has at times made me uncomfortable. For example, Victoria Secret’s latest “Bright Young Things” PINK ad campaign is drawing fire for being too provocative for young girls.

As marketers, we understand that teens are one of the most challenging audiences to penetrate. Once you get traction, however, the wild ride comes with more than $200 billion in spending power at their fingertips. And while I am a clothing junkie, a shopping fanatic (for research, of course) and a brand builder, I can’t help but wonder if teen habits around fashion have become unbalanced or is it just an exciting sign of the times?

By Crystal Bennett 
Crystal Bennett is a partner at Little Big Brands, a New York-based branding firm that specializes in strategic brand design.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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