Newswise — When it comes to the clothing preferences of Canadian and Chinese women, it seems the difference is all in the jeans. In fact, according to one Ryerson University researcher, Canadian women choose denim that makes them look good and expresses their personal style while Chinese women base their decisions on social conformity.

Osmud Rahman, director of Ryerson’s Fashion Communication program, is lead author of the study Evaluative Criteria of Denim Jeans: A Cross-National Study of Functional and Aesthetic Aspects. It’s the first study of its kind to quantify the blue-jean preferences of two different cultures: Canada and China. The findings, Rahman says, can help manufacturers better understand consumers and modify garments to appeal to different markets.

“Chinese consumers are very concerned with being accepted and conforming to social norms” says Rahman. “They won’t take fashion risks and don’t want to stand out. In contrast, Canadians are more concerned with personal expression. As a result they are more likely than their Chinese counterparts to choose modern, innovative or unusual jean designs.”

The study, which was co-authored by Chinese researchers Yan Jiang of Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and Wing-sun Liu of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, surveyed the preferences of 247 Chinese women and 380 Canadian women. All of the participants were university students, and most were between 18 and 24 years old. In addition, more than half of the respondents in both samples wore denim jeans almost every day.

In a questionnaire, the women were asked about nine product attributes (brand name, price, country of origin, style, quality, fit, comfort, colour and fabric) and seven specific design features (silhouette, leg opening, waistline/rise, pockets, back-pocket embellishment, fabric and colour). Participants were also asked to explain their preferences. For example, why they liked or disliked ultra-low-rise jeans.

On average, Chinese women owned five to six pairs of jeans while Canadian women owned nine to ten pairs. While both groups are university students and therefore financially strapped, the Canadian women have more disposable income and can afford higher quality and more pairs of jeans. Among Chinese consumers, the functional aspects of jeans (comfort, fit and quality) were cited as the most important criteria when purchasing jeans. Among Canadian women, however, aesthetic aspects (fit – i.e., visual appeal, trendiness and style) were perceived to be essential characteristics.

Waistline/rise was one area where the cultural differences were readily apparent. Chinese consumers preferred the comfort and ease of movement of regular-waistline jeans, and were more likely than Canadian women to dislike low-rise and ultra-low-rise jeans. This cautious response to trends and “cutting-edge” styles, according to the researchers, speaks to the variances between collectivistic (Chinese) and individualistic (Canadian) cultures. In the former, clothing is used to secure social acceptance, and in the latter, garments are used to convey distinctiveness.

Cultural context also plays a big role, Rahman says. “Canadian women, for example, are very concerned with not wearing ‘Mom jeans.’ But Chinese consumers don’t have this cultural context or association. When they were born in the 1980s, their mothers did not wear jeans. Actually, it’s only in relatively recent history that people have worn jeans in China.”

Rahman hopes this study will help international manufacturers design jeans that consumers will enjoy more and as a result, wear longer.

Evaluative Criteria of Denim Jeans: A Cross-National Study of Functional and Aesthetic Aspects was published in the November 2010 issue of The Design Journal.

Ryerson University is Canada’s leader in innovative, career-oriented education and a university clearly on the move. With a mission to serve societal need, and a long-standing commitment to engaging its community, Ryerson offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. Distinctly urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, the university is home to 28,000 students, including 2,000 master’s and PhD students, nearly 2,700 tenured and tenure-track faculty and staff, and more than 130,000 alumni worldwide. Research at Ryerson is on a trajectory of success and growth: externally funded research has doubled in the past four years. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education. For more information, visit

Register for reporter access to contact details

The Design Journal