“Fashion” can be defined as a variety of things. Originating from the French “façon”, “la manière”, meaning “a certain way”, “style, manner” it is used to describe many different aspects of today’s culture. Most agree that the term fashion describes a certain change. In our society, it is most commonly associated with clothing. This is (in part) due to the nature of the industry. The process of producing garments – from design to sale, is much quicker and cheaper compared to the automobile or furniture industry, for example. This is also the reason why (primarily in western countries) clothing fashions are actually designed to have a short lifespan. This development is described as planned obsolescence. The bi-annual shows in spring/summer and autumn/winter emphasise this. Each new season the trends are laid out on the runways – you are shown what to wear in the coming months. Then, with the start of a new sartorial season the old is discarded for the new.
Trends then vs. now
While fashion in this context consists of clothing, clothing is not automatically fashion(-able). In the past, certain eras have been defined by what people wore. Think of the miniskirt in the sixties, hippies of the seventies or power suit in the eighties. Nowadays there is not simply one trend that is to be followed. In fact, multiple trends coexist simultaneously, which the consumer can choose from. This has led to an area which is increasingly difficult to navigate. Everyone decides for themselves what is fashionable and what is not.
Personal style seems to be the most prominent trend right now. However micro-trends are still emerging constantly (think bike shorts). One could argue that this is due – at least in part – to the emergence of the internet and, in turn, social media. We have direct access to the latest runways and fashion shows, we can follow influencers and bloggers and copy their style. Shopping links enable us to buy the exact outfit our favourite influencer is wearing. Brands will then send it to us within a matter of days. The whole process is sped up which explains why a trend is over so much faster. As a result, trends don’t seem to carry as much importance as they used to.
What meaning or function do trends have nowadays? What is the point of them?
I believe that you can’t really have fashion without trends. They are what makes it fun and interesting and new. They form a sense of comradery – if you see someone with the same shoes or a similar outfit you form a sort of bond, even if just for a moment. Trends work as a an expression of social belonging – being in tune with what the people in your community are wearing. Whether that be sporting the latest outfit from the runway or some beat-up Doc Martens. We are social creatures by nature and want to belong somewhere. Dressing a certain way demonstrates that belonging.
From a more cynical point of view trends are a way of maximising profit. The rapid cycle of the fashion industry makes us keep wanting to buy more for fear of seeming outdated. Focussing on something as frivolous as trends also keeps our minds busy and distracts us from serious topics such as poverty or climate change.
How do you characterise a trend these days?
Trends used to work according to the trickle-down theory. They were dictated by designers, first shown on catwalks and then adapted by mainstream and fast fashion where it reached the masses. Nowadays a trend can surface from just about everywhere – streetstyle plays a big part as do bloggers and influencers. It must also be mentioned that at any given time fashion trends are influenced by political, social, technological and economic factors. Fashion is a reflection of society and current events. On a personal level they are influenced by age, occupation, sexual orientation, location and social class (to name a few).
What does that mean for people trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?
In terms of sustainability I think that we need to change our approach to how we consume trends – trying to be more mindful in our consumption. Not every new must-have item has to be purchased. The thrill of something new could come from being inspired by a catwalk look and then thinking of how it could be recreated with clothes that you already own. Styling old clothes in a new way can be just as – if not more – fulfilling. If you do feel like you absolutely need a certain item in your life, why not think about buying it second hand or vintage? A lot of trends that are resurfacing nowadays are actually not new – think of the nineties trend going around at the moment. You can try and find an original item and the bonus point is that no one else will have it!
The next point is shopping sustainably. That in itself might seem like an oxymoron because of course the most sustainable clothing is what is already in your wardrobe. However, as mentioned before, if you are thinking of boycotting the fashion industry, make it the fast fashion industry and not sustainable brands. These are people who are working hard to make a difference and create systemic change for the way that clothing is designed, produced and distributed. While it is hard to find brands encompassing all point of the fashion system, here is a list of a few making significant changes. Buying new clothes is nice and sometimes necessary. If you buy any item from RubyMoon for example, you are in fact helping the environment by cleaning up the oceans. We use Econyl fabric made from recycled fishing nets. On top of that we donate 100% of our profits to women entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Where does this leave us?
Trends play a big part in what we wear. The fashion industry would be inconceivable without them. However, next time your heart skips a beat when you see an amazing outfit on Instagram, take a moment to reflect on all the points that I have mentioned in this article. Let’s try to be more mindful consumers!
Written by Jemima Hotchkiss