For decades, teens have cared deeply about how they look. But today’s media-rich environment provides style ideas way beyond envying what the most popular kids at school are wearing. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Yesenia Almonte, beauty director for Seventeen magazine, noted that, “Teens are influenced by celebrities and they look to them for inspiration, not just for special occasions like prom and homecoming, but just for everyday school looks.”
We were curious about how exactly all this celebrity influence affects purchasing, so our team reached out to more than a dozen teens about what they buy and why. Instead of holding a sterile focus group, we conducted peer-to-peer research, sending teens out for some honest talk with other teens. This often uncovers insights that wouldn’t be revealed with a more traditional research approach.
Nearly all the teens told us that they look up to celebrities in one way or another. “Teens want to be like celebrities because they get everything they want and have everything you wish you had,” says Gabby, 15. “Miley Cyrus’s hair makes me want to die; her clothes make me jealous. She’s so perfect.” Another 15-year-old, Ana Lucia, told us that Cyrus’s recent rebellious streak makes her more relatable: “Teens don’t always want to look up to the perfect role model.”
So how do teens choose role models? A report on teen role models from the Barna Group found that they often look up to entertainers and sports figures because of their talent. More specifically, teens admire entertainers for humanitarian efforts, fashion and money. Famous athletes were more likely to gain teen fans with athletic feats or by overcoming diversity.
But there’s one big problem with admiring celebrity style: Most teens can’t run out and buy that Mulberry bag or Marc Jacobs dress a favorite star was wearing. It’s what a recent Teen Vogue article recently dubbed “fashion envy,” and the article went on to encourage teens to look for sales and lower-priced, yet still fashion-minded, options at stores like Zara and Topshop.
The teens we talked with didn’t need a push to re-create celeb style for less. “I have bought something Miley Cirus was wearing when I saw her in a magazine,” says Carly, 15. “She was wearing a bando and a high waist skirt. I went to Forever 21 to try and re-make the same outfit just at a more affordable price.” This creative approach was echoed by 16-year-old Allie, who re-created an outfit she saw Selena Gomez wearing in a magazine with pieces from H&M.
Even the guys copy outfits from celebrities, but they didn’t seem as ready to admit their influences. “I just kinda realized everything I wear came from the internet and what I saw on like TV and stuff,” says John Christian, 14. “I guess I am affected by that. Well, regardless, it’s my style now.” He told us that he bought tan skinny jeans and a gray sweater after seeing Mac Miller sport a similar outfit in the music video “Donald Trump.”
This ritzy taste, teenage budget dilemma represents a big opportunity for brands. First, keeping merchandise on-trend is a big key for attracting teen buyers. Once you have the right product mix, you can grow sales by providing education and inspiration for teens looking to replicate those high-priced celebrity looks. Show teen shoppers how to re-create celebrity style for less with ads, signage and online campaigns.
If you make it easy for teens to see how your brand can help them live—or at least dress—like a celebrity, they’ll buy you (maybe). Even if you can’t afford that celebrity endorsement.