Byline: Michael McNamara

NEW YORK — Cotton Incorporated has launched a major ongoing effort to measure consumer attitudes on fashion and shopping, and in its first installment has found:
Most people want to dress casually, even at the office.
Denim apparel is the favored casual type of dressing.
There’s more concern about function and comfort, as opposed to fashion.
Shopping balances out as a neutral experience for consumers generally. The highest percentage of respondents, 36 percent, said they shop when they need something, while 33 percent said they enjoy it.
The study is called Cotton Inc.’s Lifestyle Monitor and will track behavioral attitudes behind purchasing patterns in both apparel and home furnishings.
While the information will be used to help the organization formulate future advertising and promotion plans, the findings can also be accessed for use by retailers, apparel manufacturers and mills, said J. Nicholas Hahn, president and chief executive officer. Cotton Inc. is the research and promotional organization supported by the 30,000 U.S. cotton growers.
The research, conducted by Bellomy Research, Raleigh, N.C., is based on telephone interviews with a national sampling of 3,600 consumers, ages 16 to 55. The interviews last from 20 to 25 minutes, and from 120 specific questions, barometer indices are formulated that can be tracked to detect shifts in behavior. Barrye Worsham, Cotton Inc.’s director of market research and business information, said Cotton Inc. had been working with Bellomy for a year on developing the research.
The initial benchmark findings were based on 3,600 interviews conducted from last October through December. For each subsequent report, Bellomy will conduct 300 per month for a total of 3,600 per year. The next findings, based on 900 interviews conducted in the January-March quarter, should be released in mid-to-late April, Worsham said.
Of the 3,600 initial interviews, 2,000 were done with women. Worsham said since women do more apparel and home furnishings purchasing, more women than men were interviewed.
The monitor, using a scale of zero to 100, tracks eight consumer attitude barometers — shopping, casual dressing, fashion versus function, denim dressing, appearance effort, fiber awareness, natural fiber preference and influences on fashion decisions.
For example, the benchmark casual dressing barometer has an index of 58, revealing consumers have a decided preference for dressing casual versus dressing up. If the barometer had been 50 or below, it would have indicated that people prefer to dress more formally.
In response to specific questions regarding casual dressing, 79 percent of consumers said that casual days are appropriate for the office, while 43 percent who work in offices said they currently do not have the opportunity for even one casual day per week at work. Fifty-two percent of consumers surveyed said they would rather be underdressed for an occasion than overdressed.
The denim index reached even higher, hitting 65, showing consumers are extremely positive towards the fabric. When consumers were asked whether they agreed that denim was their first choice for casualwear, 67 percent concurred.
While the numbers indicate general consumer preferences, the same findings can be broken out into specific groups, such as age, sex, income, education level and race, said
Among other topics, the index for fashion versus function was put at 38, showing Americans are more concerned about function. However, researchers pointed out the finding is not definitive, since many of the respondents equated function with fashion.
The influence of fashion trends carries an index of 39, suggesting that consumers are only moderately influenced by external factors, including fashion magazines, television shows and what their friends wear.