In an exclusive survey of Generation Z conducted by online textbook rental company Chegg, the shopping habits and preferences of this digitally savvy and somewhat amorphous demographic cohort revealed a fashion apparel consumer that dresses casually but seeks style, too.
Also known as the iGeneration, which comprise 26 percent of the U.S. population, the female college students of this group that were polled showed a distinct preference for supporting brands that are more socially inclusive.
Generation Z is on the minds of retailers and fashion apparel brands. The cohort wields tremendous spending power — more than $44 billion, which includes their own spending as well as their influence on family expenditures.
Chegg’s survey, “#College Matters: 2016-17 Apparel & Beauty Trends,” involved 619 female college students from among its “Cheggheads” panel. The panel is a “student-strong insight community” of 15,000 high school and college students across the U.S. that provides data through surveys, live chats, quick polls and interviews. Apparel results are presented here while the beauty preferences will be released at a later date.
With apparel, the survey found that 58 percent of students intentionally dress casually every day, with 57 percent “dressing up” mainly on weekends or special occasions. Students agreed that they enjoy dressing distinctively, with 40 percent stating that it is important to them to have their own unique style.
Somewhat expected from the socially conscious Generation Z, 25 percent choose to shop from brands that promote diversity and inclusion, a preference that was higher among first- and second-year students. And, they want to look presentable — 34 percent of respondents said they try to look their best every day. Regarding personal style preferences, it was streamlined into nine categories: ath-leisure; classic; futuristic; gender-neutral; neo-rave; normcore; rocker; style agnostic, and other.
“Ath-leisure,” or casual apparel designed for exercise, everyday wear and the office, emerged as the preferred style across college campuses, with 25 percent agreeing that the trend best describes their personal style. Favored athletic brands and items include: Nike athletic wear, which is worn by 93 percent of students; college sweatshirts, at 90 percent; The North Face apparel, 78 percent; Patagonia apparel, 51 percent; Lululemon leggings, 69 percent, and Adidas Superstars, worn by 60 percent of students surveyed.
Other popular brands included Michael Kors, Asos, Puma and Vineyard Vines; and notable trends seen on campus included chokers, crop tops and knit hats. Overall, comfort is key for college students.
“Classic” describes the style of 20 percent of students surveyed, and “normcore,” or deliberately simple and unremarkable style, comprised 18 percent. The three remaining categories included: “gender-neutral,” which is fashion suitable for both male and female sexes, at 7 percent; “rocker,” or Nineties-inspired grunge looks, at 5 percent; and “style agnostic,” gleaning style inspiration from outfits posted on social media platforms, at 12 percent.
Lower performing categories included “futuristic,” which incorporates wearable tech or eco-conscious apparel and “neo-rave” or “neo-hippie,” a style characterized by bright colors, patterns, exaggerated silhouettes and cartoonish accessories — think of Miley Cyrus. The “other” category landed at 11 percent.
Politics, too, influence style. More than one-in-three respondents said they have intentionally not purchased a particular retailer or brand based on its political views, and one-in-six have shopped a specific retailer or brand based on politics (aligning with campaigns such as #GrabYourWallet), a statistic that was 21 percent higher among first-year students. Style evolution is another popular trend, as 42 percent said their style has evolved since starting college, and 69 percent said their style has changed since high school. Half of fourth-year students said their style has evolved since freshman year.
Meanwhile, their friends have a strong influence on purchasing decisions. Sixty-one percent said they glean style inspiration from their friends, followed by 47 percent, who look to retailers and apparel brands for style ideas. Instagram and Pinterest ranked highest for social media style inspiration at 43 percent and 41 percent, respectively. Social media, unsurprisingly, drives purchasing with 27 percent stating that they bought apparel or accessories seen on Instagram feeds and 31 percent revealing that they have watched a “Fashion Overhaul” video on YouTube.
The data also revealed insights into the Generation Z consumer journey: “A retailer I follow on Instagram was doing a giveaway of blush-colored sneakers. After that, I really wanted blush-colored shoes. I started to see a few other Instagram posts with blush-colored, slip-on sneakers and I finally bought some from Target on sale, and I love them,” a student stated in the survey.