Byline: Ira P. Schneiderman

NEW YORK — Product obsolescence is as American as a brand-new car purchased while the old one is still purring.
The apparel business doesn’t use the term “product obsolescence.” It has a better word: fashion.
But, do women discard wearable clothing just because it is considered to be “out of style”? Do women have the same attitudes to soft goods as the public does to hard goods?
To find out, WWD asked women: “Do you cast off perfectly good clothes just because they are considered to be ‘out of style’?”
Much to the chagrin of the apparel industry, 60 percent of those surveyed answered “never.” About 30 percent answered “seldom,” and just 9.2 percent replied “often.”
WWD commissioned International Communications Research, a market research company in Media, Pa., to do a national telephone survey. The survey, conducted Jan. 29-Feb. 3, polled 536 women in households with annual incomes of more than $25,000. It provides a nationally representative and projectable estimate of 51.8 million American women, 18 or older.
While there may be other reasons consumers do not want to discard their “perfectly good clothes” — money spent, fit, special circumstances, etc. — the survey focused on the idea of being out of style. Apparently, this is not as compelling a trigger to buy as many in the industry might hope.
The results could give manufacturers and retailers reason to reflect on the current consumer attitudes to shopping for apparel. This survey indicates that just because new fashions are introduced each season, it doesn’t necessarily follow that women will rush to replenish their wardrobes, discarding older clothes even though they might be “out of style.”
This raises the question of just how important fashion is in the lives of American women. The survey suggests that fashion is not a driving factor for women when they determine how to spend discretionary dollars. Retailers and manufacturers are faced with the thorny problem of how to raise interest in new products when fashion and shopping are not high priorities for most consumers.
However, a more detailed look at demographics, particularly age and income, show fashion still has its supporters.
Of the 9 percent who said they often replace what they consider “perfectly good clothes” because they are out of style, 35 percent were 18 to 34 years old. Close behind were women 45 to 54, at 32 percent, and 23 percent of women 50 to 54 admitted they discarded good clothes for the sake of fashion.
Another fashion-sensitive segment is 35-to-44-year-olds; 25 percent reported they often chuck their wardrobes to be in style.
On the other hand, of those who said they never dump good clothes, even if they are out of style, a third were in the 18-to-34 age group. About another third (28 percent) were 35 to 44. Only 16 percent of this group were over 55.
A somewhat different picture emerges when responses are analyzed by household income. As might be expected, women from the highest income group — over $75,000 — most often respond to new fashion (32 percent), and the second-largest group was women from households with incomes of $25,000 to $39,999, 23 percent of whom said they often cast off good clothes that are out of style.
The survey indicates that about 40 percent of women who never give up good clothes for the sake of fashion come from households with incomes of $25,000 to $39,999. About 20 percent who overlook fashion have moderate incomes, $40,000 to $49,999. Slightly less, 19 percent, are from households with income of $50,000 to $74,999.
About 15 percent of those who never discard usable but out-of-style garments are from households with incomes of more than $75,000, according to the poll.
Women were also asked what outside influences have the greatest impact on their apparel-buying decisions. The choices were fashion designers, the media (including TV, movies and magazines) or their peers.
Peer pressure wins; 28 percent reported their peers have the most influence on how they buy clothes each season.
Next, with 15 percent, was the media; fashion designers drew 14 percent of responses.

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