In any given time or place, there are trends –– fashion styles that take whole age-groups by storm, worn with high frequency and with a unique aesthetic value. Some are fleeting, like hair and makeup styles, while some last for generations: think aviator sunglasses.
With the explosion of social media during the past few years, it seems as if trends come and go with more frequency. Regardless of their timelessness, trends appear to reflect either the past or the future. Our current trends have a certain reverence for various time periods, ranging from the 90’s to a futuristic fantasy. Last year’s trends included camouflage pants, bandeau tops, mustard yellow (in general), off the shoulder tops, vinyl shoes, cuffed pants (to the ankles), sparkly makeup and layered choker necklaces. Some trends seem to pop up out of nowhere –– sparkly makeup, for example, doesn’t explicitly belong to a time period –– while others are directly referential to a time period or “vibe” –– take highly cuffed pants (1990s). The trends worth keeping are those that have a new take on old styles, whether it be with texture, color or shape; the trends worth dumping are those that give no new meaning to an old style.
Part of the nature of fashion is cyclical. Trends come and go, hopefully repurposed or with a new flair. Yet there is a tension in this cycle: if a new trend does not pay homage to an old trend, and instead brands itself as a stylistic invention, it is stealing.
In order for something to be a trend, it has to have at least one element that is new; a trend from the 1950s cannot be a trend in 2018 if nothing about it has changed in terms of wear, function, shape or color. If 1950s style poodle skirts returned, they would not be a trend if people wore them with the same pointed heels, red lips, flipped hair and long-sleeved cardigan. If a trend is going to reference a previous style (puffy scrunchies referencing the 1980s, for example) it must have an understanding of the historical context from which the item originally emerged. Engaging with a trend because it is reminiscent of some earlier time period, or “vibe,” is dangerous without context because it too easily allows for the wearer to blindly declare ownership of something that is not their own.
Many so-called “trends” in 2018 lack innovation. Take, for example, hoop earrings. Today, they are everywhere, on any type of person. But 20 years ago, hoop earrings were associated with Latinx culture, according to an anonymous writer at Vice. People in marginalized communities have been rocking hoop earrings, box braids and cornrows for generations. They are marked as trends now because they have been appropriated into mainstream (read: white) culture. The hoop earring “trend” is an example of a style that sees itself as making a comeback, or even coming out of nowhere, but that is not the case. When discussing trends, it is important to recognize their origin and cultural significance in order to distinguish them from real trends and cultural appropriation.
An easy example of a recent trend that has taken a sophisticated turn is the fanny pack. In the 1980s it was worn around the hips, and perhaps marked an overly enthusiastic tourist, or maybe a prepared high school teacher. Today, fanny packs are slung around the shoulders and across the torso. Instead of having a nerdy association, fanny packs have a new ironic meaning, referencing the general mockery that a fanny pack once had and turning it on its head. This particular intentionally-ironic style has swept 2016–2018 and is called “norm-core.” Norm-core might be overdone, but it also shows the power of finding humor and irony in previous styles; it allows consumers to question why they held certain normative judgments and indeed gives glory to the nerds. The fanny pack trend is a template for how many trends can function.
Another clothing item that has resurfaced with popularity is wide-leg pants. Generally starting from flare jeans, which reference seventies disco style, wide-leg pants have manifested in high-rise culotte pants or palazzo pants. Instead of simply being bell-bottoms, these new pants play with the texture of fabrics and silhouette in a way that brings a variety of possible styles to the pieces. They show an interesting take on a previously worn-out and simple style.
But think about the trends from 2016 onward. Off-the-shoulder tops have graced countless Instagram pages, usually paired with a red lipstick. Are these meant to reference Mexican peasant-style dresses? Or what about septum piercings: do these reference Aztec, Mayan or Cuna Native Americans, who were previously mocked for the style? The amount of trends that have come and gone is large, but the general ignorance surrounding their origin is persistent.
I am not writing to lecture on cultural appropriation, nor am I qualified to do so. However, there is the ever-present issue of “mystery” behind the origins of trends, and that mystery is easily solved with a little research. The trends of the last two years have been a murky mess of culturally referential styles and innovative choices. Will the next trend be a new take on rolling backpacks or low-rise jeans from 2007? Trends urge us to think more seriously about what we put on every day –– whether it be something our grandparents recognize with a sense of distant familiarity, or something entire populations have been doing for centuries. It is on us, as consumers, to think about how time and place influence our style decisions.