trend ender – neon

Trend Ender is an irregular feature created to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, assess when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.

Trend: Neon. The more accurate technical term for this trend is daylight fluorescence – these are colours that under regular white light appear to have a luminous quality. Fluorescence refers to the property of a substance that makes invisible UV light visible, thus creating a glowing effect. But perhaps since fluorescent is tricky to spell, fashion editors prefer the word neon.

Where it came from: Daylight fluorescence is amazing – a truly modern form of colour. In the 1930s, Robert Switzer discovered naturally occurring fluorescent compounds that could be used to create paint. Fluorescence was adapted for military use during WW2. After the war, Switzer and his brother established a company called Day-Glo, providing high-visibility materials for industrial safety and inks for commercial use. Day-Glo also used fluorescent technology to create consumer paint products that were used by kids… and Andy Warhol. Switzer is remembered for being a very safety and environmentally conscious industrialist. Considering the original glow-in-the-dark commercial product was radium, and the horrific story of the Radium Girls (which includes a deadly manicure anecdote), this is understandable.

When fluorescent ink came into use in the 1950s, graphic designers immediately understood that they could use it to establish visual hierarchy in packaging and advertising. In the 1960s and 1970s, fluorescent ink was lavishly applied for psychedelic effects. That counterculture palette, ironically and iconically, also announced the anti-hippie backlash on the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks… here’s the Sex Pistols. Punk morphed into New Wave and kept the loud graphics. It was New Wave album art which inspired the MTV aesthetic.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that fashion began to successfully incorporate these cutting-edge colours beyond plastic accessories and screen prints, and the reason why it took so long is technological – dying fabrics fluorescent is difficult, even to this day, especially for cotton. Fluorescents in clothing weren’t driven by fashion media, but by pop culture. Hit TV show Miami Vice, based on the two-word concept “MTV Cops” was incredibly influential in establishing a fashion aesthetic that was made for colour television. Footwear brand LA Gear cashed in on the trend. But it was Will Smith in head-to-toe highlighter as the Fresh Prince that exemplifies the hyperactive spectrum of early 1990s.

Grunge turned the lights out for mainstream fluorescents, and when LA Gear filed for bankruptcy, rather than destroying their inventory they dumped it. Fluorescents were discounted, stuck with fluorescent sale stickers under fluorescent lamps. Flourescents went underground… only coming out at night, embraced by party people.

It was rave culture that inspired designers like Jeremy Scott, who introduced the acidic aesthetic to high fashion at the turn of the century. But it took another decade before the early 1990s was ripe enough to be considered nostalgic, so fluorescents could go mainstream again.

When it works: A judiciously chosen “pop of colour” is an effective visual trick for grabbing attention – that’s just good PR. Over the past few years, accessory brands like Zatchels, high street retailers like American Apparel, fashion designers like Christoper Kane, and street style photographers like Scott Schuman, have all savvily employed fluorescents to raise their profile.

When it’s wack: The problem is… everyone noticed. And now, everyone else is using this this tactic too. There’s a peculiar paradox about high-visibility garments – when they become common, they have the exact opposite effect that they’re supposed to.

How it will end: Much like a glowstick, fluorescents shine for only a brief time until they turn into trash. However, they will definitely be back – probably when some smart scientist out there figures out how to effectively dye cotton fluorescent. Then, neon will become so much more ubiquitous, you’ll long for the dull days of 2012.

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13 thoughts on “trend ender – neon”

  1. You and this post are brilliant. I’m a new reader and a forever follower after this. Thank you for an intelligent, well researched fashion post. They are far and few between.

  2. Hi Danielle,

    Very informative post! I enjoyed the history of it. However, the argument for how ‘neon’ will be going out of fashion was not so clear to me. Looking forward to your next posts! Best regards from Bogota.

  3. great post! it makes me sad when trends get overdone like this. i love neon when done well, like with a subtle pop of jewelry, but because neon has been overdone now ad nauseum, i’m reluctant to have anything at all to do with it. i just have to remember though to not care about what others think and just go with what i love. i just don’t want to look ridiculous, so i’m hoping jewelry with small touches of neon will still hold up…because i think neon is such a fun statement, and it’s no good throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

    what do you think of the geometric jewelry trend? ending anytime soon? i used to love it, i still kind of do, but it’s getting soooooooo overdone (and poorly done by many) that it’s making me sick 🙁 there are great designs out there though. it’s tough, part of me doesn’t want this trend to end, but part of me does! lol

  4. Thanks all for your comments. Regarding the end of fluorescence, I just went to London Fashion Week on Friday and it’s a virtual toon town there are so many bright colours, head-to-toe neon outfits and crazy hats everywhere… it’s a peculiar place! I also watched a few fashion shows both in the tent and the big screen and the bad news (?) is that fashion designers aren’t giving up on neon for Spring 2013. Trust me, it no longer looks fresh, it looks desperate. It’s like colour crack cocaine… my eyes need a rest.

  5. My eyes need a rest too. I’m gravitating so much more now towards black and white and burnished metallics. For the past couple seasons I’ve see more and more designers doing black and white, and this combo will probably grow in popularity as the bright color craze fades out (see Marc Jacobs SS13). And then after that…we’ll be sick of black and white! lol Oh the fickle world of fashion…

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