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It seems like everywhere I turn around, there is an article or a reel alerting me about what’s gonna be hot this spring, and I find myself frantically clicking, feverishly taking mental notes. Why do I do this? Am I really going to buy that Gucci bag? I won’t. Am I going to write about why there is such a hot-blooded need to foresee future trends? You bet.
I was watching an episode of Sex and the City recently and saw Carrie wearing a strappy white top over a long-sleeved one. This looks familiar, I thought… Oh, I know why; it suddenly dawned on me. I just saw the exact same thing on Zara’s app the other day.
Okay, I cannot say that the notion of cyclical fashion is at all surprising; it has been around for as long as anyone can remember. However, it seems that trends have never been changing faster than today.
While Renaissance fashion inspired late 19th-century fashion and early 20th-century styles were inspired by the 1800s, there is still a couple hundred years difference. And having in mind that it has only been about 20 years since Carrie was writing her I-Couldn’t-Help-But-Wonder columns, I couldn’t help but wonder: if the time that a trend needs to come back keeps getting shorter, will fashion eventually catch up with itself?
According to James Laver’s theory, a trend that has just been introduced is considered daring and smart, whereas after it is no longer in style, it’s thought of as ridiculous. However, the low rise jeans had the last laugh because, after 20 to 50 years since the peak of the trend, it can and is coming back into style. Personally, I am not ready to laugh about those just yet, but I have been seeing a lot of Gen Z’s rocking cargo pants with a moderately low waist, and it got me thinking: Maybe a trend can only come to life among the youngs who have not yet seen it in their lifetime, so they have never gotten to a stage where it looks just plain ridiculous.
If we take a look at how trends were formed in the past, what did it even mean to be fashionable before Coco Chanel’s revolution of tweed suits and bronze skin? As Karolina Zebrowska explains, being fashionable in the past centuries meant dressing according to what was considered elegant by most. Trends were followed, not set. Risking to become a society castaway if you broke the slightest of pre-established rules was a very real fear, and that could explain why it used to take trends a couple of thousands of years to shift.
Why so many new trends?
A trend has a life cycle that can be divided into five typical stages: introduction, rise, peak, decline, and obsolescence. Some of the introduced tendencies will catch on and some won’t, and this development depends on a couple of factors.
Trends seem to be changing as fast as ever in the year 2023, and it appears that every other week we have another TikTok core, and it’s getting harder and harder to stay up to speed. Thanks to the omnipresence of social media, which has now entered our society’s every pore, our attention span is shorter than ever. We need more, and we need it ASAP. Today is the ideal environment for the budding vegetation of ever-changing trends to grow.
Who sets the trends?
Before the 1960s, it was adults, not teenagers, who decided what was fashionable. However, a clever marketing executive realized two birds could be killed with one stone: First of all, teenagers are easier to manipulate into liking a new fad than the fully formed minds of adults, but adults will end up following trends (or at least incorporating some of its traits) dictated by teenagers because it will make them feel young and hip.
Who are the trend-setters of the 21st century? Influencers? Or fashion houses pushing their agendas through them? It seems that the decision of what’s going to be fashionable still belongs to fashion conglomerates, and influential figures such as Kendall Jenner, Ariana Grande, or the Hadid sisters are purely serving as intermediaries.
So, why do some trends stick and some don’t? We are still kind of riding the wave of Versace (-inspired) platform heels, first showcased two years ago by Ariana Grande and later reproduced by many copycat brands.
This style became so popular that there was a time when you couldn’t walk the street without seeing them in the windows or open Instagram without these peculiar horse hoof-like platforms staring back at you from the home page (okay, maybe that’s just my algorithm, but they were very popular). Nowadays, the trend seems to have evolved into a Valentino Tan-Go platform, but it remains more or less the same—a great example of a trend that caught on well.
In order for a trend to spread, it needs to be at least somewhat practical. During this year’s Coachella, which has become an unofficial fashion week of sorts, I kept seeing some very bizarre-looking denim pieces, which could best be explained as what a baby between jeans and a jumpsuit would look like.
It got me thinking: Why would anyone wear this? Besides the fact that it looks beyond bizarre, it doesn’t seem to even touch shoulders with the remote notion of practicality. “No way this could become a trend; why are they even trying to push this?”, I thought. But then it occurred to me: What if it’s not meant to become mainstream? What if some pieces are solely there, worn by influencers, in order to show us regular people something we will never opt for, so we keep respecting their authority as trend-setters? Because if I’m going to follow somebody’s influence, they would need to have some credibility that I would look up to. And, with their followers believing in their integrity, it is easier for them to sell some actually applicable trends.
As the PR expert Samantha Jones once said to her actor boyfriend who was going to be on a talk show, “But I do insist you top off that tag with some Dior sunglasses. It’s MTV. If you’re not wearing something the kids can’t afford, how will they know to look up to you?”
Zara’s emotional blackmail
Let’s take a look at one of the most influential retailers in Europe: Zara. This Spanish-based retailer has been ranked as the 47th best global brand in 2022 by Interbrand. Their collections are not final once they are up for sale but are constantly being supplemented to reflect the fore-mentioned fluctuating trends.
This being a very unethical practice, it also plays the emotional spending card, and it has been working like a charm. Bright and shiny new clothes, beautifully arranged by professional window dressers and stylists, keep gawking at me from Zara’s window while I’m walking by. The true challenge? Ignoring the words “go inside, go inside, go inside” drumming in the rhythm of my steps as I quicken my pace, off to do the thing that I actually came to do.
Let me put it this way: If Zara was an emotional partner, it’d be a narcissistic one. As soon as you buy something and think your thirst is quenched, Zara comes up with a whatnot that you absolutely are lacking and you come back for more.
I am wondering if everyone faces these challenges, and the fact that the Zara store in my city is always packed with people tells me they must. The essence of trends’ dynamic makes it really difficult to simply be satisfied with clothes already in your closet because the more you buy, the quicker you get sick of them, and then anxiety and possibly FOMO can (and do) follow. After the last couple of years, during which the world has experienced a pandemic, a lockdown, and a war, it would make sense that we are clinging to something that still feels like we have some control over: staying on top of trends.
The socio-economic factors
While a trend’s lifecycle is a constant, the social factors surrounding it are a variable. The Hemline Index Theory suggests that in times when the world economy is on the rise, skirts tend to become shorter. In the 1920s, hemlines were shorter, only to grow longer during the Great Depression. Then, the hemlines were getting shorter and shorter all the way through the 30s and 40s, only to again become longer during the war and the struggling period that followed.
Then, while the world’s economy slowly got back on its feet, the above-the-knee skirt reached the peak of its popularity in the 1960s, only to become longer again as if predicting the stock market crash in 1987.
How about today?
In the last year or so, we have seen significant inflation and, subsequently, a rise in long skirts and, what’s more, denim ones. A fabric popular all around the world, it originated in the small French town of Nimes. Because of its particular sturdiness, it was exported to the US in order to be worn by miners during the California Gold Rush, and it became synonymous with the working class. So, not only did the hemline become longer, but the material used is quite modest and, as such, is a sign of the times.
“The continual desire for newness for the sake of newness will feel very inappropriate,” said Lucie Greene, a consumer insights strategist for this NY Times article. The war on trends is not something that stands the slightest chance of winning because novelty is the thrill we can’t get enough of. Still and all, we can rely on a couple of classics that are subjected to certain changes but remain the founding pillars of style: a white shirt, a pair of jeans, a black dress, and a coat to resist any trends. Luckily, we now live in an era that values sustainability and durability over immediate pleasures, and hope remains that this is not yet another trend.