Identifying the Presence and Cause of Fashion Cycles in Data

Hema Yoganarasimhan
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Key Takeaways

​This paper empirically analyzes fashion cycles in data and presents methods for identifying these cycles. 

These new methods reveal large fashion cycles in baby names, and the findings indicate that these cycles are caused by parents’ desire to signal that they are cultured and cool.

Managers of fashion products can use these methods to better understand the motivations of their consumers.

​Article Snapshot​s: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research​​​​​​​

Using a three-pronged framework to analyze fashions (algorithms for identifying cycles, statistical models for identifying cycles, and methods for examining the drivers of fashion cycles), this paper establishes the presence of fashion cycles in names choice decisions and show that the patterns of these cycles are consistent with Bourdieu’s cultural capital signaling theory.


This research was motivated the various naming quirks I’ve observed among my friends who have had babies. I wanted to understand why some names catch on and become fashionable. However, while many theories of fashion have been proposed, there were no methods or frameworks to identify fashion cycles in data to test these theories. My main goal, therefore, was to develop a reliable method for identifying fashion cycles in data and to test which theories of fashion predicted the cycles observed in the real world in the context of given names.


I developed an empirical framework for identifying fashion cycles in data, as well as methods for understanding the drivers or causes of these cycles. I applied these methods to real data on given names for over 70 years of data obtained from the U.S. Social Security Administration. I found that names go through large cycles and that name choices are influenced by parents’ wanting to show off their coolness or cultured tastes to others.


​This paper shows that it is possible to reliably identify the existence and causes of fashion cycles in real data. The methods developed were applied to name choices for all babies born in the United States dating back to 1940. It shows that name choices in the United States went through massive cycles and that these cycles are driven by parents' desire to appeared cultured and cool to their peers.

Figure 1: Popularity Curves of the Top Female and Male Baby Names from 1980


We have always wondered why people adopt certain fashions. Sociologists have proposed two main theories to explain such phenomena: (1) to show that we are wealthy and (2) to show that we are cool and well-informed. However, to date, no one has tested which of these theories is true. I tested these theories using data on baby names and confirmed that it is parents' need to be cool and imitate the other cultured parents that drives their naming choices. In other words, coolness and demonstrating that we have access to the most cutting-edge information is the major driver of fashion -- not wealth. Managers of fashion products can use these methods to better understand the motivations of their consumers.

Questions for the Classroom

  1. How do we define fashions? How can we reliably identify fashion cycles in the real world?

  2. What are the two theories of fashion? How do they give rise to different predictions on who adopts a fashion first?

  3. Why do fashions in names exist? Why do parents choose fashionable names?

Article Citation
Yoganarasimhan, Hema (2017), “Identifying the Presence and Cause of Fashion Cycles in Data,” Journal of Marketing Research, 54 (1), 5-26. 

Hema Yoganarasimhan is Assistant Professor, Foster School of Business, University of Washington (e-mail:

Author Bio:

Hema Yoganarasimhan
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