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College student perceptions about the incorporation of cultural elements in fashion design

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The cultural and creative industries have received considerable global attention in recent years; in particular, the close relationship between these industries and design has been identified. Because mysterious and attractive East Asian aesthetic are a crucial contemporary style, this study examined a fashion exhibition held in the New York Metropolitan Museum, which entitled “China: Through the Looking Glass” and conducted a literature review, scale design, survey and data analysis, and factor analysis about the incorporation of cultural elements in fashion design. Subsequently, the perceptions of college students with various educational backgrounds on several selected exhibits were identified and analyzed. The results were revealed that: (1) the research scale can be used as a reference for related design teaching and in the appraisal of fashion products in the design industry; (2) cultural connotations are more notable in design than the technical aspects; (3) compared with students of other backgrounds, students with a background in fashion design emphasized more on the technical and professional aspects and expressed a preference for design pieces with experimental qualities, such as those made with stiff materials and having exaggerated styles, and neutral and neat straight lines.


The origins of modern design lie in Renaissance art and succeeding eras such as European aestheticism in the nineteenth century; however, modern design was not clearly defined and adequately developed until the Bauhaus school in the twentieth century (Bony 2008). After this substantial period of accumulation, “design” is a broad field with a rich diversity of styles. From a domain perspective, fashion design is an essential aspect, and clothing is the first item which most people would associate fashion with. Personal clothing styles directly affect appraisals of fashion (Yen et al. 2015). The contemporary concept of “fashion” used to be referred to simply as popular trends of clothing. The fashion dictionary defines fashion as the “clothing styles, colors, or patterns accepted by the majority of people at a particular time and place” (Yen et al. 2014a, b). One style that has been difficult to ignore in recent years is the “East Asian aesthetic” trend that has spontaneously swept the world, including the eastern cultural elements that convey an aesthetic of mystery, depth, and fantasy. Of all eastern cultures, Chinese culture is one of the most prominent and representative. Contemporary designers using elements of China’s aesthetics draw not only from traditional clothing, but also from Chinese painting, calligraphy, and characters; furthermore, the rich history of Chinese culture and aesthetics that spans over thousands of years has ensured an expansive evolution of clothing. China’s rich historical inheritance, including intangible philosophical thoughts, meanings and forms of Chinese characters, poetry, and ancient cultural artifacts, has become indispensable elements of contemporary design; by incorporating these elements in product design, an emerging industry of aesthetic design based on the integration of culture and aesthetic economy is created (Chiu et al. 2013). Thus, this study examined the “China: Through the Looking Glass” fashion exhibition held at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore the incorporation of cultural elements into fashion design. The purpose of this study was to develop an evaluation scale for the integration of cultural elements into fashion design, which can be used as a reference for future design instruction, product evaluation, and relevant future studies.

Literature review

Fashion design in cultural and creative industries

The cultural and creative industries facilitate the production of quality goods by supporting brand creation in the design industry; in which process, culture, fine art, and creativity are incorporated. In short, the cultural and creative industries produce creative design products on the basis of rich cultural heritage and artistic styles, prompting consumers to approve the brands as well as the content of quality products. Therefore, consumers are likely to purchase the goods because of the emotional resonance they experience (Wu 2007). The development of fashion is aligned with mainstream social developments, and represents a refined and innovative lifestyle, rather than the simple pursuit of luxury (Lin et al. 2012). The use of culture to establish market differentiation is an advantage that traditional industries can adopt; of all traditional industries, fashion industry is the most appropriate one to facilitate the development of fashionable lifestyles to satisfy public need of cultural consumption. For example, Taiwan is a multicultural and multiethnic country suitable for producing innovative and creative products. Effective integration of diversified local cultural characteristics into clothing styles facilitates developing new design elements on the basis of existing cultural inheritance. Chen and Chen (2011) pointed out, this practice improves design styles through innovation, assists with the development of the fashion industry by finding new opportunities, and increases the added-value of products.

Cultural elements incorporated in design

The most notable difference between cultural products and other products is cultural connotation. Specifically, cultural products draw upon various cultural elements as their creative source and facilitate the interpretation of distinctive meanings or appreciation of the culture. Furthermore, cultural and creative products are mass-produced commodities, rather than luxury goods (Yeh 2006). Cultural and creative products that improve lifestyle through product design are products that have cultural meaning; designers infuse cultural, historical, and ethnic elements into their products to increase product value. Furthermore, consumers are able to reacquaint themselves with historical or lifestyle culture through these products, while simultaneously being involved in the passing-down of culture. The emphasis of cultural values and local features has already become a key aspect of the product development process (Gobe 2009; Koike 1992; Yeh 2006; Hsu and Hsieh 2009).

When individuals experience positive emotions, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are activated. Sensory and cognitive studies on psychological and physical sensations, and the subsequent quantification of sensory perceptions, have indicated that product designers must consider psychological and physiological sensations (Berridge 2003; Lin 2003). Ashby and Johnson (2003) have also proposed the theory of product personality, which suggests that products possess physiological (e.g., features that meets the primary purposed of the design, functions, and other features) and psychological (e.g., personality and usability) dimensions. Notably, personality includes product aesthetics, associations, and perception conditions, whereas usability concerns consumer interaction. Overall, products possess two layers of meaning: the practical layer manages function and performance, and the other layer manages symbols, identification and emotions. Herein, attractiveness, beauty, and creativity are psychology qualities of products, and delicacy and engineering are physiological qualities of products. If a product possesses both functional (physiological) qualities and emotionally appealing psychological qualities, this product can satisfy consumers in both functional and emotional dimensions; moreover, if a product possesses cultural connotations in addition to the qualities of attractiveness, beauty, creativity, delicacy, and engineering, it can also be referred to as a quality good (Pogrebin and Trebay 2015; Yen et al. 2012, 2014a, b).

Elements of fashion design

An analysis of fashion design elements is critical in the examination of clothing styles, including ideas and concepts, creativity, material, color, form and construction, techniques, human elements, accessories, elements, and time. The basic presentation elements of clothing are lines, material, and color, of which in-depth understanding and effective usage are required for creating superior designs (Huang 2015; Jung 2011). In addition to satisfying the material needs of consumers, clothing should also echo their psychological reactions. Furthermore, fashion trends can be viewed as the understanding and acceptance of certain ideas in a group; thus, clothing is not only a reflection of daily ideologies, but also a creative product that demonstrates cultural style. Because the creation of contemporary clothing design aesthetics must integrate function, design content, and technical considerations, a designer should aim to create products that satisfy the demands of functionality in the physiological dimension and the demands of aesthetically appealing shapes in the dimension of psychology, so that the products can not only meet basic demands of usability, but also remonstrate added values such as desire-fulfilling pleasant use experience (Fornell and Larcker 1981; Jung 2011).

The basic composition of clothing includes material, structure, form, and function. Material is the framework of a clothing system; specifically, it effects change in the structure and form of clothing. Certain materials can even be interacting with consumer senses directly and become a form of the product. Structure refers to the result of interconnection and mutually interaction between elements in the system, or the method of connection between diverse materials. Comprising color, line, and shape, form is the appearance of clothing developed on the basis of the combination of material and structure. Form can be considered a symbol or message. Finally, the function of clothing refers not only to an article’s usage function, but also to the value of interaction between individuals and clothing in social relationships (Verganti 2013). Thus, the composition of clothing can be divided into two levels: the formal and technical level, and the cultural connotation level. In design, cultural connotation is a basic element of clothing, whereas form and technique are elements that help convey cultural connotations (Cao 2011).


Research framework

This study was based on the results of a literature review, and included the qualia characteristics of cultural and creative products as the six dimensions; namely, the form, technique, and cultural connotation elements of clothing, as well as overall performance. This study used an imagery survey, data analysis, and result inferences to conduct a factor analysis about the incorporation of cultural elements in fashion design.

Sample costumes

A spring exhibition piece that was based on the concept of Chinese influences on western fashion was selected from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in August (2015). Entitled “China: Through the Looking Glass,” the exhibition was identified by Costume Institute curator, Andrew Bolton, as an inauthentic representation of China that was based on fantasy rather than reality (Bai 2005; Nagamachi 2010). In addition to showcasing traditional artifacts, the exhibition employed contemporary technology to produce a fantastical style similar to the imagery of Alice in Wonderland. For example, it was filled with mirrors, and included various pieces of Chinese-styled clothing, accessories, and couture ranging from the fifteenth century to the present day (Lin 2007). Inauthentic and fantasy tendentious of this exhibition cause of many of the works in the exhibition were displayed in different forms. However, for the present study, seven pieces of clothing that were displayed separately were selected because they embodied the incorporation of cultural elements in clothing design. Notably, the designs in each exhibit were inspired by a particular physical antique artifact from Chinese culture, namely Chinese arched shoes, snuff bottles, female figurines, and bronze mirrors, vessels, pots, and bells. Each piece and its corresponding antique are shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Sample costumes

Research instrument

This study conducted a literature review and data analysis of relevant studies, and used a research framework for the incorporation of cultural elements into fashion design as its basis. The evaluation items were then expanded and compiled by defining the evaluation dimensions and secondary questions; hence, an evaluation scale suitable for measuring creative and cultural fashion products was developed. The dimensions and evaluation questions are outlined in Table 2.

Table 2 Quantitative scale and evaluation of the incorporation of cultural elements into fashion design

Experimental design and data collection

This study had two stages of the investigation. Stage 1 were reliability analysis of measuring scales and exploratory analysis of factors. This stage involves a preliminary verification of the measuring scales used in this study. Stage 2 were proposed measurement model by confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The authors conducted the confirmatory factor analysis by using SPSS and Amos of the Statistical Data Analysis software.

This study involved the fashion design survey through the cultural elements into fashion design questionnaire. College students in Taiwan with a basic understanding and familiarity with Chinese cultural artifacts and design were recruited for this study, and were recruited to participate in the survey through purposive sampling. This study was conducted during design-related classroom courses. The students were invited to participate as subjects and agreed to follow the experimental procedure. The purpose of the experiment was explained to the subjects and slides showing the 7 sample costumes was juxtaposed with a slide of their corresponding description and evaluation questions. Each subject completed the experiment within 20 min. A total of 194 individuals, comprising 86 students who were enrolled in fashion-related programs and 108 who were enrolled in design-related programs, of which 86% were female. The mean age of the sample was 21 years, completed an online questionnaire. The questionnaire employed a 7-point Likert scale and consisted of 38 questions that retrieved basic personal information and students’ opinions regarding various dimensions of each fashion piece. Subsequently, a detailed review of the completed surveys was conducted, through which blank surveys or surveys with an excessive number of unanswered questions were excluded from subsequent analysis. In total, 192 valid surveys were returned.

Results and discussion

Survey reliability and validity analysis

The scale used in this study comprised six dimensions: attractiveness, beauty, creativity, delicacy, engineering, and overall performance. Cronbach’s α reliability coefficient was used to determine the reliability of the questionnaire on each of these dimensions. Overall, scale reliability was .98 (p < .001), and the content reliability of each dimension were all greater than .9 (p < .001); this indicated that each dimension and the questionnaire as whole were sufficiently reliable. Additionally, these results are consistent with (The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2015) proposal that scales with appropriate reliability should exhibit a reliability coefficient greater than .80 for the overall scale and reliability coefficients greater than .70 for each dimension. The assessment of the content validity of each dimension indicated that the factor loadings of all six dimensions fell between .72 and .97, which is consistent with (Chen and Wang 2011) recommendation that the standard values should be greater than .5. Moreover, the variance of each dimension was between 74 and 92%. Thus, the overall results met relevant standards, and demonstrated that this research instrument was feasible. The reliability and validity analysis results are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3 The reliability and validity of questionnaire (N = 192)

Analysis of correlation coefficients of the questionnaire on cultural elements incorporated into fashion design

The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was used to evaluate the correlation between each dimension and the overall scale. The results indicated that a significant correlation existed between each dimension, and between each dimension and the overall scale. The correlation coefficient analysis results are presented in Table 4.

Table 4 Internal relationship between the dimensions and the scale (N = 192)

Proposed measurement model

In this phase, the authors proposed measurement model of cultural elements into fashion design. The data of this study were subjected to delete the questions’ factor were less than .85 (base on Table 3), and to reduce the number of items as a scale to analyze fashion design. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted to analyze five latent variables (attractiveness, beauty, creativity, delicacy and engineer) of the “cultural elements into fashion design scale.”

Through the adjustment of various dimensions of the model by the deletion of some questions, this study established 29 measurement variables for the five dimensions. The final model and model verification are shown in Fig. 1. According to the structure of the tests used by Chen and Wang (2011) and Jung (2011), the model fit test results for this study showed that the indicators of this model were almost always at or close to an acceptable level. This indicated that the overall structure of this research as well as its theoretical structure had a good fit with the empirical data.

Fig. 1

The model of cultural elements into fashion design

The overall model fit verification results showed that the ratio between the Chi square value and the degrees of freedom was between 1 and 5 (×2/df = 3.392) which was within the acceptable range. Other index values showed that they all complied or were close with the testing standards (RMR = .068 < .08; PGFI = .573 > .5; NFI = .9 = .9; RFI = .9 = .9; IFI = .905 > .9; NNFI (TLI) = .9 = .9; CFI = .905 > .9; PNFI = .798 > .5; PCFI = .829 > .5; RMSEA = .1). Overall, all index values in the model reached or were close to the acceptable levels. This showed that the model had a good fit in terms of the theoretical and empirical data structure.

Effects of different educational backgrounds

This study conducted an independent samples t test on each dimension of the survey for respondents of various educational backgrounds. The analysis of the results revealed that the respondents with fashion design backgrounds exhibited a higher average sample value compared with the respondents who had other design backgrounds. A Levene’s test for equality of variances was subsequently performed and determined no significant difference between the results generated from these two respondent groups in all dimensions (F = .077, .206, .002, .007, .633, .000; p > .05), indicating that there was no significant difference in the discreteness of the two respondent groups. This equal variance t test showed that the test results reached significance only in the engineering dimension. In short, the two respondent groups only exhibited notable diversity in their respective opinions on the engineering dimension; the two groups held consistent opinions towards the attractiveness, beauty, creativity, delicacy, and overall performance of the seven artifacts examined (Table 5).

Table 5 T test of dimensions of the questionnaire of different learning background (N = 192)

To perform an additional analysis according to the preceding results, this study conducted another independent samples t test on all question of the survey. Results of this equal variance t test indicated that significance was achieved in only seven questions: A4 (attractiveness dimension); C5 and C6 (creativity dimension); E1, E2, and E4 (engineering dimension); and F1 (overall performance dimension). Similar to the previous t test, the engineering dimension exhibited the greatest variance. These results suggested that respondents with a background in fashion design tend to emphasize the technical and professional dimension, as well as different aspects of creativity, compared with those of other design groups. Furthermore, the majority of questions regarding beauty and delicacy exhibited virtually no difference between the two groups, signifying that the perceptions of the aesthetics and concrete structures of the products are consistent between the two groups. Table 6 shows the t test results of the survey questions.

Table 6 T test of dimensions of the questionnaire of different learning background (N = 192)

Finally, this study used the average values of the F1, F2, and F3 questions (overall performance dimension) to conduct a third independent samples t test on the educational backgrounds of the participants. The results indicated that each question reached a level of significance for P5 and P6; in both cases, students with fashion design backgrounds indicated higher scores than did those of other design backgrounds, suggesting that these two pieces were more well-received by students with fashion design backgrounds. Further observation of these two pieces revealed a marked difference between them and the other five pieces, namely that they were design pieces that possessed greater experimental qualities and were thus less likely to be worn as actual clothing. The data analysis results for this final t test are as summarized in Table 7.

Table 7 T test of the dimension of overall performance (N = 192)


This study reached the following results through conducting a questionnaire survey and associated validation analysis. The final conclusions are as presented below:


The reliability, validity, and correlation coefficient analysis results met the test standards, and The model of Confirmatory factor analysis(CFA) had a good fit in terms of the theoretical and empirical data structure. Therefore, the model for the incorporation of cultural elements in fashion design is feasible, and thus it can be used in related design instruction or the industrial appraisal of fashion design. From the overall model, attractiveness and beauty of fashion design of the most significant, and engineering is the followed factor to be considered.


Conclusions related to the comparison of participants with diverse educational backgrounds are described as follows:

  1. 1)

    The evaluation of factors that influence the incorporation of cultural elements into fashion design indicated that the students with an educational background in fashion design place greater importance on whether a fashion piece evokes memories of daily life, whether a fashion piece fits the needs of different users, and whether a fashion piece is multifunctional, practical, easy to wear, and provides ease of motion than the students with other design backgrounds. Furthermore, the fashion design students typically offered a more favorable opinion for the selected pieces compared with other design students, with the physiological engineering dimension exhibiting the greatest difference. Therefore, it is evident that fashion design students place greater emphasis on the technical and professional aspects of these pieces. Finally, fashion design students emphasized different aspects of creativity than those highlighters by other design students. However, for the aesthetic and delicacy dimensions, no significant difference was identified between the two groups, showing consistency in their opinions on the aesthetic and structural features of these fashion pieces.

  2. 2)

    According to the answers of the two respondent groups to questions F1, F2, and F3, only those of P5 and P6 exhibited significant between-group differences; specifically, these two pieces were highly regarded by design students. Further observation of P5 and P6 demonstrated that the most substantial difference between these two pieces and the other five was that they were the most unlikely to be worn in real life; as they featured stiff materials, exaggerated styles, and neutral and sharp lines, they had a greater degree of experimental, rather than practical, qualities.

The contemporary fashion scene has been swept by a trend of East Asian aesthetic; because “China: Through the Looking Glass” was presented as the theme of a Met Gala New York fashion event, Asian designers have rapidly emerged on the international stage (Hsu 2004). The long and rich history of Chinese culture is the greatest advantage of ethnic Chinese people. Creativity and beauty appeal to the psychological dimension of the consumers and are the key to design products that exhibit the added value of cultural connotations as well as satisfy the physiological needs. The conclusions of this study can be used as a reference for educational organizations and other design-related organizations. Furthermore, this study can be referred to for industry appraisals of fashion designs, which will assist firms in improving their cultural creativity and industry competitiveness.


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Authors’ contributions

Both authors work together in questionnaire distribution, and first author work in conception, implementation, write and apply the proposed methods in this paper then both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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All authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Hui-Yun Yen.

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Yen, H., Hsu, C. College student perceptions about the incorporation of cultural elements in fashion design. Fash Text 4, 20 (2017) doi:10.1186/s40691-017-0105-1

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  • Cultural and creative industry
  • Cultural elements
  • Design product
  • Fashion design
  • Fashion show
  • Design perception