Freedom and Conformity in Dress among Adolescents in Trinidad

 Adolescence has been described as a challenging period in which physical, psychological and social changes take place. Since clothing is one way in which adolescents express themselves; the manner in which they purchase and wear clothing during adolescence should provide valuable knowledge. This research examined the clothing purchasing and wearing behaviours of adolescents in Trinidad and the extent to which they used freedom in choosing clothing or conformed to fashion trends. The study also investigated whether there are differences in these behaviours based on the household income of their family, the stage of adolescent development i.e. early, middle and late, the gender, religion and ethnicity of the adolescent. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were employed. In the first phase, 376 secondary school students throughout the island were surveyed. In the second phase, 2 focus groups were conducted; a total of 10 boys, 12 girls and 8 parents participated. Results revealed that the purchasing and wearing behaviours of middle adolescents differ from early and late adolescents. While early adolescents’ purchasing and wearing behaviours tended to be influenced by their peers; the tendency decreased as they matured to later adolescent stages. Adolescent boys purchased clothing to conform to their social network, whereas adolescent girls were less conforming. The household income afforded adolescents the opportunity to purchase the clothing advertised in the media. Roman Catholic adolescents used a high level of freedom when purchasing and wearing clothing. Understanding of this phenomenon holds implications for parents, educators, counselor, designers and clothing merchandisers.

 Keywords: Adolescent; stages of adolescent development; purchasing clothing behaviours   wearing clothing behaviours, freedom, conformity.

Margaret Gordon, PhD

The University of the West Indies

St. Augustine, Trinidad