Part Two- Shopping for Identity

Standing around in Hollister and waiting in line gave me a lot of time to observe what was going on around me. Because I love working with teenagers so much I take a lot of interest in youth culture. What I saw was unbelievable. To me, Hollister was hell, but to many of the adolscents there, it was like Christmas morning- so many wonderful things and the money to buy them. What would drive teenagers to spend hours upon hours shopping at Hollister that Sunday, spending so much on clothes? What pulls so many teens to the malls? Was I really this bad when I was in 7th grade?

Blame society, parents, or consumerism (all which were clearly problems at Hollister), but we need to take a moment and look at the needs of adolescents and where they are being fulfilled. Adolescences is a time of identity forming. Students are trying to figure out who they are; often young teens identify themselves by what they do or which groups they belong to. A response to “who are you” and you may hear, “I’m in 7th grade, I play soccer and am on a club team, I’m the youngest of three kids, I go to youth group, I’m one of the popular kids at school, I like to hang out with my friends and watch Orlando Bloom movies….” Identity is being formed primarily externally because students, especially in middle school, think concretely. It will be a few years before they begin to define themselves by their viewpoints, values or goals in life.

So what need is Hollister fulfilling? Why are so many teens attracted to the mall? Yes, we live in a highly consumeristic culture, but I think many teens are shopping for an identity. Walk into any middle school or high school and you can see different groups by how they dress- the preps (Abercrombie), the skaters (Pac Sun), the goths (Hot Topic), the punk kids (forget the mall and go to a good trift store), the jocks (Champs, AE)… this may be simplifying youth culture a bit but you can’t deny that clothes often define groups of teens, and belonging to a group defines the teen themselves. So you find a 7th grade girl shopping at Hollister while wearing Hollister and talking to her friends about Hollister clothes… and all she is really trying to do is form an identity. She wants to fit in with her group of friends and be seen as popular, attractive, and preppy. If it were just about the clothes, well we all know you can probably find close to the same thing at Kohls for 55% off on any given day, but it won’t say “Hollister” across the front, and you probably don’t want to be defined by a clearance shirt from Kohls.

What do you think? Am I missing something? Or do you believe that adolescents often find identity in the clothes they buy and where they buy them?

Do you see a difference between how adults identify themselves through their clothes and teens? Do you think that adults try to portray an image of who they are while teens try to become someone by the way they dress? Or do you see that teens and adults have the same motivations in what they wear?
More to Come…


5 thoughts on “Part Two- Shopping for Identity

  1. Adolescents definitely define themselves by what they wear and who they’re with. I did, we all did. Although at that age, I don’t know if it’s about identity as much as it is survival. Noone wants to be made fun of, ridiculed or humiliated. And most adolescents aren’t strong enough to stand up for what they really believe in, b/c they don’t know what they believe in yet…they just want to be accepted, so they do what it takes to be accepted. It takes some really involved parenting to teach what real acceptance is about, as well as real values and beliefs.

    Some adults keep the same habits and never grow up…instead of clothes (well, in addition to clothes), it’s the house, the cars, the neighborhood, the church, you name it, they identify themselves by what you see on the outside. They form new cliques. They pass this onto their kids by making sure their kids wear Baby Gap and the like, and it continues down the line. You’re right Maria, it is a display of some of the evil in this world, and it’s sad.

    I love reading your blog…it’s so refreshing to see someone of our generation making such an impact, with real Christian values and the ability to stand up for them. I know we’ve only met once (and that was almost 2 years ago) but I hope you don’t mind that Mike passed your blog site along to me. 🙂

    Stacia Ertel

  2. Stacia,

    Thanks for commenting! I definitely agree that clothing is very much about being accepted and about survival. I think that students give up something when they dress a certain way to “fit-in”. They show that the acceptance by a group is more important then making choices independently. Many students shed their own identity in order to subscribe to whatever is “normal” for the group they are part of or want to be part of. Teenage relationships are great at this- “weird” clothes, jokes, activities, dating- they all have to go in order to be considered normal enough to be in the group. So I think that clothing is very much about acceptance, but also about being able to take on a group identity.

    I like your comment on adults- I agree that many adults move on from finding their identity in clothing and simply find it in more substantial material things. Sad, isn’t it?

    And thanks for reading my blog! 🙂 And commenting… I love dialogue about ideas, it’s a great way to learn and process.

  3. Maria,

    How’s Chicago treating you? We are really looking forward to you guys visiting next month!

    It’s good to see someone blogging about youth culture – I’m pretty embedded in it every day. I like your thoughts about the mind of a 7th grader, and your distinction between how 7th graders and (mature) adults use clothes. We’ll have to talk about 7th graders a bit when you guys are here. What a rough age to be, but a great age to work with!

    Hope you guys are making friends, keeping your heads above water with school and work, and just generally doing well.


  4. Maria,

    Yes. that wonderful, amaxing Jen is the one you are thinking of! She has been in Sudan since last January and will be returning in December and God willing she will go back in the February ’07 to May. She amazes me day to day! Thanks for reading my blog, it’s funny I swore I would never have one, but I really like it! I hope Chicago is going well, I’ll be there in a couple of weekends to run the marathon (or at least I hope I will be able to!) with two of my close friends. (Get ready for one of those reunions! Yeahhhh!) Have a good day!


  5. Interesting,I even checked the word “identity” in a dictionary(:.

    Yes,I think it’s better to shop for identity than sitting with popularity(:.

    I don’t like to be someone else,but like to be different from eveybody else(in a good and creative way).I think that’s a character I feel very deep inside of me.

    But it doesn’t mean that I adore being weird,I just don’t like to be too popular.So can you share more about what you think about unique and true identity (should I call people who “copy” or follow others know and have their own identity?).

    Thank you for the post.

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