Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct political marketing firm accused of harvesting data from millions of Facebook accounts, reportedly logged users’ preferences for certain fashion brands to target them with pro-Trump messages during the US presidential election of 2016.

That fashion choices can send out messages about a consumer’s personality is no great surprise, but what is new is the central charge that Cambridge Analytica effectively “weaponised” the fashion industry during the election campaign via its sophisticated algorithms.

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who first exposed Cambridge Analytica’s use of personal data earlier this year, made the accusation last week at a Business of Fashion conference in Oxfordshire, England.

As reported by Business of Fashion, Wylie told delegates that affinity for certain fashion labels is a strong signal of susceptibility to populist political messaging.

And he shared examples of anonymised data, originally used by Cambridge Analytica, that matched five psychological and personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – with choices people made about fashion brands.

For example, those who preferred American heritage brands like Wrangler and LL Bean were said to be low on openness, more conventional and more likely to engage with pro-Trump messaging, while people who liked more esoteric brands, such as Abercrombie & Fitch or Kenzo, tended to be less cautious and more liberal.

This little-reported aspect of the campaign was a new “weapon of mass destruction”, said Wylie, a former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, who also revealed that careful study of fashion informed a significant amount of its research.

“They [Cambridge Analytica] looked at actual people. How they engaged with certain brands was put into a funnel and helped build the algorithms,” he said in comments reported by the Guardian.

“When you look at personality traits, music and fashion are the most informative [tools] for predicting someone’s personality.”

Sourced from Business of Fashion, Guardian; additional content by WARC staff