You can hardly walk around a campus in Britain without seeing at least a handful of boys and girls clad head-to-toe in Jack Wills clothing. While you may believe that this is nothing more than a mere brand, what it says about those who wear it runs deeper than we could have ever imagined.
According to Dr. Daniel Smith, a lecturer in sociology at the Anglia Ruskin University, the brand may say more about the social dynamics on campus than it does about a person’s sense of style. He got the idea for this research while he was at the University of Exeter. It was there that he found that students were using the term “very Jack Wills” to describe certain affluent, middle-class types.
On hearing the phrase more than a handful of times, most lecturers would have just ignored it – overlooked it as standard youth slang. But, for a scholar of sociology, there was something truly fascinating about why students were using the brand name in this way. In fact, his small idea sparked a body of research and even an entire book on the matter, Elites, Race and Nationhood: The Branded Gentry.
It might surprise you to find that it is not only the well-to-do that buy this brand, quite the opposite. In fact, much of the time, Dr. Smith, found that it was those who were ‘buying into the idea of university.’ For example, students who were the first in their family to go to university might but the brand to show that they are part of a world which their parents never were.
“Russell Group universities, where you’re seeing strong concentrations of traditional and widening participation entrants, is where it becomes quite marked and there is a strong sense of people trying to hide their origins. You can see it in the first weeks: people show up in their clothes from home, and a few weeks later they have ‘got the uniform’ and changed the way they talk,” claimed Dr. Smith.
In effect, he found that those from less-privileged backgrounds used the brand to fit in with their more wealthy counterparts. “My students…do feel themselves being partly inadequate and in the shadow of Cambridge, and the Jack Wills brand is having a profound effect [in their perceptions],” he concluded.