From the discomfort Zone: Changing behaviour

From the discomfort Zone: Changing behaviour

Blue jeans have changed the way we want to look and feel — casual, comfortable and fashionable.

Blue jeans have changed the way we want to look and feel — casual, comfortable and fashionable. Source: Reuters
Blue jeans have changed the way we want to look and feel — casual, comfortable and fashionable. Source: Reuters

How and why do people change their behaviour to use one product rather than the other? Historical trend is a great source to understand this. Enterprises that contributed towards human behavioural change have always provided some extra benefit and mileage in their products and some work at the social level which the masses were sensitive to perceive.

Casual wear: Let’s take the birth of jeans, that most popular garment worldwide. Blue jeans have changed the way we want to look and feel — casual, comfortable and fashionable. In a town called Nîmes in the south of France, there were monks in the 19th century who used strong material to make protective clothing to shield poor people from winter’s cold. This was the origin and invention of jeans, the practical clothing for multiple and long-term usage.

In the 1870s, a Bavarian immigrant to the US called Levi Strauss imported this cloth to make trousers for people going out to explore the American Wild West. He supposedly made them in Genoa, that’s the origin of the word ‘jeans’. The cloth came to be known as denim from ‘de Nîmes’ which in French means ‘from Nimes’. And so the denim culture started for the masses. While American cowboys used jeans as rugged wear, the category was called by its original denim name to make it more authentic.

This shows us how Americans are loyal to authenticity. France, among the first in the world to revolt against monarchy in 1789, had manifested this with the liberté symbol. France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the US which has since become the symbol of America in New York. You’ll find its smaller scale model on River Seine in Paris. The American style of adopting liberty through the casual denim initiative with Levi’s brand was an incredible contribution to the world. Wearing jeans made people change their behaviour.


Since the 1920s, Americans invented the idea of casual dressing. The lavish European dressing style started to see difficulties after World War I. Then the Great American Depression in the 1930s made clothing more sombre and requiring less dress material. This led to sportswear becoming fashion, the start of the denim culture. In fact, in 1992, the Levi’s company gave it another push by publishing a manual called A Guide to Casual Businesswear. This was sent to 25,000 human resources managers across the US and it set the tone for business casuals. So casual dressing is not just a dress, it is a radical change of behaviour.

Changing the behaviour of the masses through marketing and R&D activities is very different from traditional marketing and R&D. This behaviour changing factor does not happen from the user only. It requires another dimension, that of becoming a creative entrepreneur. There has to be an osmosis between the willingness of an enterprise to change the public’s behaviour and the logic perceived by the public to go for that change. In the gene of the developed Western society, I have observed a strong tendency to innovate for changing the behaviour of people. When they started to shift from being an agrarian society to becoming an industrialised, consuming one, the changing behaviour of the masses became evident.

Women’s innerwear: Changing the behaviour of women wearing innerwear is said to have started in ancient Egypt 3000 BC. Its purpose was to alter a woman’s shape to preserve her modesty. Later came the French name lingerie, originating from ‘linge’ meaning linen which first referred to undergarments as scandalous. During the French Revolution, women’s lingerie was revolutionised.

Women discarded all symbols of French aristocracy, including their conforming underwear like petticoats, corsets, and camisoles, and panties first appeared. From 1890 the brassiere had begun to replace corsets as women started to participate more in sports and energetic dancing. The bra changed women’s looks from flattening breasts to accentuating them. In 1935, Warner Brothers labeled the ‘alphabet bra’ with four cup sizes: A, B, C, and D used even today. During World War II, when materials like steel and rubber were in short supply, synthetic materials like lycra, rayon, and lastex were used to make undergarments.

In 1948, Christian Dior invented ‘hourglass’ innerwear fashion. From the 1968 French Student’s Revolution highlighting freedom and non-conformity, the expression of women’s liberation was strengthened. Women publicly burnt bras in protest. The garter, made for sex workers to hypnotise their customers, was made the trend in 1980 by French brand Dim. In 1990 Calvin Klein’s advertisement had men and women wearing underwear with branded waistband. It was showing above jeans for the man, the woman wore nothing but panties.

These are all attempts by designers and industrialised brands to change human behaviour. The way Victoria’s Secret, the world’s biggest lingerie seller, presents its wares in London’s famous high fashion Bond Street store is as though it’s the Louvre Museum’s painting presentation. In multiple niches there are outstanding colorful carnival-like displays of women posing with innerwear. Such examples show how creative people and industries have changed women’s behaviour. You can as well ask why women spend so much money for innerwear that’s not publicly visible. Not only that, men’s attitude towards women has changed; they accept that women can be socially exuberant with their body because it’s their liberty.

Historically, the shift has been from corsets that squeezed the waist during Elizabethan times to the Wonderbra that highlighted the breasts. In essence, lingerie has defined the meaning of beauty of women’s bodies during different eras, and so reveals the changing role of women in society.

There are so many other areas where industry has changed the behaviour of people. We’ll look at them next week.

We can expect tremendous change in future from India’s Zap generation born after 1986. India needs creative business people and creative entrepreneurs to innovate to change people’s usage and behaviour.

This behaviour changing industrialisation should travel the world so that our products can achieve high aspiration along with commercial business success globally.


Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management.

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