Adornment and Perceptions of Image – A Review of “You Look ‘Mahvelous’: The Pursuit of Beauty and the Marketing Concept”

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The authors of this article synthesized research regarding the functions of appearance-enhancing adornments and their association with motivational attributes, attractiveness assessments, and marketing considerations.  I was intrigued by the topic of adornment because we see so many examples of appearance manipulation in our culture.

Researchers agree that we generally use adornment in one of two ways:  either to enhance our individual physical characteristics in an effort to contribute to our overall attractiveness (parasomatic function), or by intrinsically adopting the attractiveness of the adornment itself (aesthetic function).

Parasomatic Functions

When we adorn ourselves in an effort to enhance our overall attractiveness, we distinguish between those characteristics which are typically unchangeable or innate (such as bone structure, height and body proportion), and those which are changeable or mutable (such as posture, weight and grooming).

The types of adornments consumers use to improve the attractiveness of innate characteristics are likely to differ from those used to change or enhance mutable characteristics, and generally fall into three useful strategies:  (1) remedies to remove or alter unsatisfactory mutable attributes (e.g., wart removal), (2) camouflage to conceal or downplay negative innate physical characteristics (e.g., style of clothing), and (3) enhancers to play up or draw attention to positive innate physical characteristics (e.g., makeup).

Aesthetic Functions

Unlike remedies, camouflages, and enhancers which interact with physical characteristics, decorative adornments such as jewelry or perfume influence physical attractiveness through their intrinsic qualities, cultivating beauty by transferring the adornment’s design, color, texture, or smell to the user.

As you might expect, men and women differ a great deal in their reliance on such aesthetics, with personality traits and role requirements accounting for most of those differences and the extent to which adornment strategies are used.

Personality Traits

Those whose place heavy emphasis on physical appearance or who have high self-esteem tend to use more adornment than those who don’t.  On the other hand, individuals with high self-esteem may likewise see no need to adorn themselves.

Role Requirements

Adornment products are also often seen as symbols of success and role fulfillment.  Ergo, use of adornment is frequently strongly associated with a dominant or successful role.

Gender roles are also central in most cultures, and influence the extent of adornment use.  Attractiveness is an important element of femininity and use of adornment among females is expected; whereas for males, the opposite is true – men are not expected to be as concerned with appearance.

Adornment is also associated with desires to succeed in the performance of other roles – i.e., some jobs have important requirements for appearance, and a professional role may demand “dressing for success.”

Finally, we sometimes use adornment to satisfy ourselves – individuals with a greater sense of independence tend to be more motivated to achieve a personal ideal than to achieve what might be expected by an external group.

Self-Assessment and Motivation

Factors in the use and influence of adornment strategies include a person’s self-assessment of attractiveness and a desire to improve one’s appearance, with some individuals relying heavily on adornments to compensate for perceived unattractiveness.

Motives for adornment use also include a desire for self-oriented pampering. Indeed, the fashion industry has long recognized a desire for pampering and novelty, with their marketing structured to provide frequent changes in adornment options.


The use of personal adornment, in both functional and anesthetic forms, as a means of nonverbal communication is common in our culture.  It has the effect of elevating one’s mood and increasing self-esteem, it enhances attractiveness as measured both internally and externally, and creates intrinsic satisfaction beyond functional perceptions of attractiveness.   Research in the area of adornment nonverbal communication informs us as to its impact on the economic, social and political institutions of our culture.


Bloch, Peter H. & Richins, Marsha L. (1992,  January).   You Look “Mahvelous”:  The Pursuit of Beauty and the Marketing Concept.  Psychology & Marketing; Vol. 9 Issue 1, pp. 3-15.

Burgoon, J., Guerrero, L. & Floyd K. (2010). Nonverbal Communication. Pearson Education, Inc


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