just a thought – r/evolutionary trends


This is my “theory of trends”, a set of loose rules about how trends behave that I cobbled together from observing fashion trends – and then proceeded to apply it to every aspect of my life and the rest of the world.  This is a broad and unwieldy kind of subject that I feel like I have written about before – but on searching, I can’t seem to find it anywhere.  It may or may not be right, but it helps me feel like I have a clue when it comes to that most fashionable pastime of trying to predict what is next and what is over.

1. Trends start where trends end – they are often a “revolutionary” response to whatever the most prevalent, mainstream, popular trend of the time.  The instigators of trends are not interested in what is already popular – ubiquity of any trend is a good indicator that its days are numbered.  The next trend can be predicted by pinpointing the opposite reaction to the current style.

ex. All the jeans available at the mall are high-waisted.  Moms wear high-waisted jeans, kids wear high-waisted jeans, high-waisted jeans are ubiquitous.

2. In the early stages, trends are often improvised, DIY style because the components of that trend are not yet widely available.  Alternately, the trend can be appropriated from an older, demode trend because those items will be relatively affordable.

ex. Rebellious teenagers imitating convicts start buying their jeans far too large.

3. It isn’t just anyone who can turn a loose idea into a bonafide trend – in order for it to catch fire, it has to be adopted or rejected by someone with influence.  It needs to be seen in a hot music video, a tastemaking magazine, linked by a high traffic blogger, vilified by the mainstream media and otherwise be a topic of conversation.

ex. Mariah Carey feels bloated as she’s shooting her music video for Heartbreaker (so the story goes)… so her stylist rips the waistband off her jeans.  Meanwhile, small towns in the USA start banning low-cut jeans.

4. Those at the head of the trend now have to take it as far as it can be taken – to the limits of anatomy. At the same time, designers and manufacturers are catching up with the tastemakers and offering versions for regular consumers, starting in trendy boutiques.  The trend no longer has to be improvised – it can be bought.

ex. Britney and Xtina, besides competing for the sexiest video, are also competing on the rise of their jeans – as low as 3 inches – literally they can not go lower.  Low rise jeans are now available at the mall as pop music fans imitate their favourite performers.

5. If the trend is big enough, it starts to bring some sub-trends along for the ride.

ex. Full Brazilian wax jobs.  The current body fetish is “abs”, and the fad is all about Tae Bo.  For the more modest, t-shirts are now available in longer lengths.

6.  The trend reaches saturation point. It is now available to everyone at every price point.  This is the beginning of the end for the trend.

ex. You can’t find high-waisted jeans at the mall if you tried.  Moms are wearing low-rise jeans.  Kids are wearing low-rise jeans.

7. Revolution time, back to the beginning.

ex. The trendsetters are scouring thrift stores for high-waisted jeans from the late seventies and early eighties.  Kate Moss is photographed by the paparazzi in high-waisted designer jeans.

So to sum up, a fashion trend starts very loosely and begins to ossify from there, until it meets the limits of availability or anatomy.  I find it a fun thought exercise to apply the pattern to what is currently going on – though I have noticed that these days trends no longer seem to have time to reach ubiquity before they are replaced by new trends.  The combination of the internet (which was no way as influential at the time of the example I cited) and the economy (hard times tend to shatter very inflexible, ossified trends in business which affects the ability for trends to reach ubiquity), is changing the life cycle of trends and keeping them looser and less mature.

Do you have your own theory of trends?

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4 thoughts on “just a thought – r/evolutionary trends”

  1. Ahh, this is so true! This timeline is a great way to dissect the whole concept of trends, and I think you’ve done a wonderful job.

  2. “ubiquity of any trend is a good indicator that its days are numbered”

    True! By the time I notice a trend, it’s everywhere and I want it gonegonegone.

    There really has been an acceleration to the pendulum of fashion’s extremes lately, hasn’t there? With so much media — and so much of it interactive — people are riding new waves of fashion so fast. I find a lot of it rather dizzying and prefer to watch from the sidelines.

    I feel about fashion’s cycles the way Bruce Mau does about technology: “Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.” Sure, I keep an eye on it so I can grab good fashion as they race by (flat shoes, berets, high waisted pants) but I love scavenging fashion’s outer edges: DIY, thrifting, vintage, old patterns…

    But still — fashion and fads are fun to watch and mock, no? ;P It’s like watching a parade of aesthetic ad pop fallacies roll on by.

  3. I like your theory – it rings true, especially the last part, about the slow disappearance and “evolution” of the fashion trend. It’s exciting to me – i think it marks the beginning of a new fashion industry, although it will probably be a slow transition, but I really think that “trends” as we know them right now will soon disappear altogether in part due to the reasons you cited above (internet and economy).

  4. One thing I have noticed on the web is that the beginning of the end for trends now often happens simultaneously to celebrity adoption. Since things get accepted as mainstream faster, the non-mainstream trend-seeders are in a constant state of trying to hold that at bay.

    Thanks for the great comments!

    Irene – love the Bruce Mau quote.

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