I got to thinking about fashion while reading on sociology and operations management - and while I haven't developed a prediction model that will solve the problem, I do think I've gained some insight into the issue - because fashion is a social behavior, which considers the way in which individuals have the option to follow the behavioral choices of others or to ignore the choices of others and make their own choice. This is what evolves the way in which tasks are done, but in a way that can be adapted to fashion as well.
Evolution of Tasks
To begin, I'd like to set aside the psychological factors that motivate a person to adopt a behavior and focus exclusively on the praxeology of behavior. Fundamentally, people consider a pattern of behavior because they expect that it will achieve a desired outcome, and they choose to adopt that pattern of behavior when they expect that the outcome is worth the cost and effort of performing that behavior, in comparison to other options they would forego or delay for the purpose of performing it.
In functional matters, such as the performance of a task to achieve a result, a behavior may be adopted because it improves the quality of the result or decreases the effort of achieving it - and when both quality and effort are impacted, they balance one against the other, albeit in an imperfect and arbitrary way (regardless of how much effort is put into the decision, there is always some degree of imperfection and arbitrariness).
In a leaderless environment, such as a workshop, a rational worker notices that another worker has a superior output or is expending less effort to accomplish a task, and imitates his behavior in hopes of achieving the same in his own work. This makes perfect sense, but for three things:
- Leadership. There are few leaderless environments, and in organizing labor it is often a non-laboring observer (manager) who dictates the way work ought to be done, and the workers are not free to choose the most efficient and effective behaviors to accomplish a task.
- Rationale: Not all workers are rational, and many are quite irrational - they may cling to the security of an established behavior in spite of their observation that doing things differently would be better.
- Subjectivity: Even when workers are rational, the notion of "quality" is nebulous at best, and the ways in which a different behavior improves the outcome may be in dispute.
The "Quality" of Fashion
Fashion is about esteem and the desire to be admired by others, or at the very least not to be ridiculed - there is no functional element to fashion, or at least functionality is optional, such that the most fashionable item may not be functional at all. For example, a pair of shoes that makes a positive impression is not necessarily comfortable - and in fact many of the most fashionable shoes are uncomfortable, and they may be considered "fashionable" simply because they are not functional.
So where practical matters evolve in pursuit of functional qualities, fashion evolves in pursuit of non-functional qualities. It is far easier to observe that one method or another of accomplishing a task is more efficient than it is to observe that one article of clothing is more impressive than another, and it is even difficult to understand the parameters by which "impressiveness" would be assessed. One person decides that another person they see looks impressive and imitates their style, even though they may be unable to identify or articulate the reason they think it is worth imitating.
I'd like to return briefly to the three obstacles to functional quality that were mentioned previously:
- Leadership: Fashion is not strictly leaderless, as some individuals lead fashion by virtue of their esteem - but even then, the most esteemed person may adopt a ridiculous fashion that others choose not to follow. In that sense, some people have a sort of temporary influence, but not formal leadership.
- Rationale: In the same way that workers cling stubbornly to familiar routines in spite of the manner in which new behaviors would be more efficient or effective, people cling to familiar fashions of a sense of comfort and safety with the known.
- Subjectivity: Fashion is far more subjective than productive activity, because people have a wide array of opinions about what "looks good" or causes others to be impressed, and cannot observe the reaction of others until a new behavior has been adopted.
I'd like to progress this meditation into considering the manner in which fashion and behavior evolve, but my sense is I've rattled on for quite a while and am not yet at the point where I have an acceptably plausible theory as to the manner in which evolution occurs. I'll meditate on that further and post a follow-up.