Halo Effect

The Halo Effect of Fashion Brands: Are You Really Fashionable?


The coin term of Edward Thorndike in 1920 what a firm belief that people’s judgments were impacted by presumptions they made of others. In other words, Thorndike believes that our judgment is often coloured by our impression of a person or for example, when you meet someone on the streets of Kia Peng or Ampang for the first time, who is dressed in brands like Gucci and Manolo Blahniks, have a decent conversation that you would later make her seem fashion savvy. Later, you are asked the likelihood of this person attending Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) and without knowing anything about her, you make the assumption that she will have to be the most well-dressed person at the event because she seemed fashionable.However just because you associate her clothing of choice on that particular day, that does not mean she will be more likely fashionable than other people who are fond of shopping in Zara or H&M. This general assumption is the basis of the halo effect. A common misconception about this effect is that is it is simply associated with the way one looks. Another example, if someone is more attractive, they will be more likely helped at a restaurant first or at a store etc. Except, this is not entirely true. Physical attractiveness is only a portion of how we interpret others.

The Role of the Halo Effect

From the Halo Effect, we know that a first impression gives much more weight to one’s perception than previously thought. The halo effect often compromises our way of thinking or understanding if we begin to assume thing about a person without knowing them. In this case, the halo effect of a brand due to its reputation. We may fall short of reality and accuracy. “In my personal opinion, it is a bias thought which influences one’s judgement upon a person or object. For example, when a celebrity endorses a product or service, our evaluation of the celebrity influences our perception of the product. If the celebrity is highly esteemed, then the product he or she endorses is seen as desirable,” said Dr. Wang Lay Kim, Senior Media Studies Lecturer of Universiti Sains Malaysia. “Recently after GE14, Tun Dr Mahathir was well received and supported by the public. After PH won the election, Tun M automatically becomes a respectable personality.  Even his Bata sandals caught the attention of the public and that arguably gave a boost in the sales of Bata sandals. The marketing industry have taken advantage of the halo effect by linking the product to influential people or people with specific trait,” she said. As to whether she believes how a brand advertises and markets on the media can affect a consumer's perception about one's fashion sense, Dr Wang is very certain advertising affects consumers perception. Otherwise, companies will not spend millions in advertising their products, she argues. “However, one must understand that advertisers are not just merely selling a product but also selling an idea, a desired value or an ideology. To do this, different strategies are used including the halo effect. A fashion brand  may use celebrities to promote the products, or it may have an expert to create an impression of quality of the product when, in fact, it is only an impression and not necessarily the real thing.


“These ideas and ideologies shapes values, thoughts, and behaviors. The brand would have to take into consideration what values are desired by the consumers, what emotional appeals works best, and how to connect their desires to the brand or product,” she further relayed to Edition KLFW. Many scholars such as Douglas Kellner, Stuart Ewen have critiqued advertisements in that they primarily provide us with poor substitutes of genuine experience and manipulate anxieties about ourselves.  “Consumers have to learn to deconstruct advertisements and understand that there are ideas and ideologies that are being brought across by these messages in advertisements. In the area of fashion, the strategy often used is that your personality and your identity is shaped by the right brand, the right product to give you the right standing or right image whether it is desirability, success etc.“Anxieties, fears, self image are manipulated here. Advertisements are persuasive, they tell us that we are consumers and consumption solves all problems. Nothing is further from the truth. We are primarily citizens not merely consumers,” said USM’s Senior Media Studies lecturer.Long story short, just because some who walks down the streets of Bukit Bintang is dressed to nine in her Gucci mules, Versace shirt, and a Birkin handbag; that does not necessarily mean she has a fashion sense. She could merely be wearing these pieces because other fashionable icons are doing so which led her to think would make her as fashionable. But that is not the case. Edition KLFW would like to shed light on this matter and encourage others to think and be aware that a person doesn’t necessarily have to be fashionable wearing high street brands and vice versa.

Does Wearing Expensive Brands Make Us More Fashionable?

Edition KLFW also contacted Vanessa Tevi Kumares, a Malaysian model and beauty pageant titleholder, who was crowned Miss Universe Malaysia 2015. She represented her country at the 64th Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas and her fashion icon is Blake Lively because she thinks her most perfect style is her smile and she always wears it so well. “The Halo Effect is basically, how generally in our lives, our overall impression of things or experiences are usually based off one particular experience which causes us to generalise our impression into a certain way. Saying that, I think the role it plays in today’s brands is massive and it is no wonder how some brands are able to do better than the others.“Sometimes it is not just about the product, it is merely an impression a brand is able to create for their own that is able to influence the thoughts of others that will make the difference,” she opines.


Vanessa believes that how a brand advertises and markets in the media will affect one’s perception. However, it takes hanging out with people of a different kind of style from you to be able to appreciate the little pieces we never expected of a brand, she explained.“As for advertising, I think a brand just needs to identify their strength and their unique point which would allow them to withstand through it all. There is no point being in competition while comparing oneself with the others, but it makes a huge difference if a brand is able to stay in competition while holding on to their originality. We should let the people with the same style and beliefs be attracted to that,” said Miss Universe Malaysia 2015.In the rise of social media, the growth of halo effect is massive, she shared, because anyone can be an influencer now and have a influential platform. “People are so easily affected by people around them which honestly isn’t a healthy thing for us as individuals, but definitely something that works very well for brands because with the rise of people wanting to be or look like something seemingly nice as what they are only able to know so little, the halo effect is real to generation these days,” she added. To Vanessa, her fashion sense speaks her personality, mood of the day, and most importantly, her comfort of being herself. On that note, her closet can filled with a range of styles - from baggy clothes to sweaters, dresses, and jeans. She keeps a lot of plain clothing and is definitely not someone who follows the trends. However, if she does like a certain trend, she still usually keeps it minimal by mixing and matching with whatever she has at home.

“So if you ask me, fashion is not WHAT brand of clothes you wear, but more so HOW you wear it? That said, my fashion sense change on a day to day basis - just as long I feel most comfortable, most myself in it. And so should it be for everyone else - Love yourself, love your body, love your style whether it is quirky or a tad bit boy-ish or super basic, it really doesn't matter. Wear it with your heart and pull off what you are wearing with your personality,” she kindly advised. We also asked Vanessa how difficult is it to be stylish without having to always resort to high street brands like Gucci and Balenciaga as her line of work today involves a lot with Malaysian celebrities and thankfully, it has never been too difficult for her. “Until today, I do not own a Gucci or Balenciaga, and it honestly doesn’t bother me at all. I think my priorities lie in very different places and it will be more on investing on experiences that will help with my personal growth as a person, rather than materials that I simply cannot afford and can definitely settle for cheaper but equally purposeful alternative. “There are so many alternative local brands or medium range brands that make beautiful items that helps me stay stylish, so no frets on not having a Gucci; it’s the personality and confidence,” she added. To Malaysians out there who sought to look stylish but struggle with external pressures or lack of confidence etc, Vanessa would like to remind us that peer pressure is everywhere and will never end; what Malaysians need to realize is the more important things in life which is - our dear own self. “Work on things that will help us love ourselves, invest in activities that will help you love yourself more. For example, meditation or yoga, and perhaps travel more to places that have so little and we will soon realize how little we actually need to stay happy and be confident. “I think the main thing is to stop comparing and expecting. The quicker we learn that, the quicker we will be able to appreciate the life we are already so blessed to have. You can wear the most expensive outfit or carry the most expensive bag in the world, but if you don't feel expensive inside, all that external things just becomes meaningless. There is hope though. By understanding what the Halo Effect does to our judgements, we can better overcome what Daniel Kahneman calls our System 1 or the fast thinking portion of our brain that often causes us to jump to conclusions. To overcome this, we must try our best to eliminate distractions that cloud our judgements and disregard assumptions we make that have no factual backing.

Credit: Nadja

Credit: Nadja