Are teenagers losing interest in fashion? According to the New York Times, new research shows that consumerism's most prized demographic is focussed on smartphones and food, not the latest fashion trends.
"It’s definitely more exciting for a lot of teenagers to have a new phone that can do lots of cool stuff than clothing," 19-year-old model Nicole Myers told the Times, exiting an Apple store with a new $200 iPhone. "A phone keeps you much more entertained. It’s a better distraction than clothing."
Trend analysts are reporting marked shifts in how teenagers spend their money: smartphones have now replaced clothes as the ultimate status accessory, with kids desperate to have the latest models in order to affirm their position as modern, mobile people.
The emergence of Instagram as a trusted vessel for self-promotion and the social pressure to document absolutely everything are some reasons that smartphones have become so popular. Teenagers are becoming increasingly reluctant to spend any time at all offline (thanks, FOMO).
Piper Jaffray's wide-ranging semiannual survey of teens also found that they also spend more money on food – but visiting restaurants and cafes has more to do with smartphones than actually dining out. One teenager explained that the restaurant she chooses are often based on their wi-fi access. You know, so you can Instagram the burger you've carefully positioned in a shaft of sunlight.
But this isn't exactly out of the blue. Four months ago, we wrote about "fauxsumerism", an emerging millenial-only trend. Basically, our generation is browsing and not buying; we're still interested in fashion but we're too frugal to front the cash for it. And given you can already experience fashion through your phone without even reaching for your wallet – on Instagram, Twitter or even runway livestreams – maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Teenagers came of age in the global recession; it's a possibility that they've taken just taken heed of the financial thriftiness of the past five years. Maybe there's something undeniably practical about spending money on phones rather than a new season outfit. Chuck £200 on a phone and, with a bit of luck, it'll last you two years. In those two years you'll use it every day to do everything, but do you get the same value with a dress or jacket? You might look good, but there's a compelling argument that one is a wiser investment that the other.
Unfortunately, this is cold comfort to teen clothing labels. The retail industry has been going through a slump, with retailers like Aéropostale, American Eagle and Abercombie and Fitch replacing chief executives this year. But maybe the times are a-changing – what do you think? Would you rather spend money on a new iPhone than a handbag?
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot