I’ve never really understood fashion. Why is green hot one minute and red the next, who decides this? Is there a fashion god? A fashion illuminati? I imagine secret meetings behind locked doors and sacred rituals involving long black dresses and drinking blood from Louis Vuitton shoes.
OK, every industry has trends, fair enough, but why would you not want to be seen dead in an outfit in April that seemed to be attached to your skin in March? Technology advances and everyone wants the latest gadget, but from what I can see (and please correct me if I am wrong) fashion pretty much regurgitates itself every few years and if you wore the same outfit for 20 years you could probably bank on it being in vogue at least once. A bit like how a stopped clock is right twice a day.
As an unfashionable, 30 something male, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at who decides whether mini skirts are in or out. It turns out there are a number of factors and contrasting opinions on what is the biggest influencer on what’s hot and what not.
My first thought was celebrities. As a nation we are obsessed with them and celebrity endorsement is sought by all major brands. Open any glossy magazine and you will be presented with pages and pages of who’s wearing what and how you can recreate the look for yourself.
So, are celebrities behind fashion trends? Well, certainly celebrities are a primary influence in the growth and popularity of a trend, but that still doesn’t really explain where the trend originated. Most celebrities these days have personal stylists and moving further up the chain, the stylists will probably take their influence from designers and so on.
With the odd exception celebrities aren’t the trend setters, although they are generally ‘on trend’ and dressed in the hot outfit of the season.
You may say that you will see celebrities wearing certain fashions before they hit the high street and popular consciousness, and this would be correct, but there is a simple explanation for this. Money.
New York fashion week is just finishing and London fashion week starts tomorrow. Next week the celebs will be dressed in the latest fashion and appear in the magazines, but the main reason is they can afford to do so. They can afford to pay the designers for the genuine articles seen on the catwalks. It takes 2-3 months for the high street retailers to produce their own affordable ranges, which is why the fashion shows work 6 months in advance and we see Springs trends in the Autumn and vice versa.
So, if the celebrities don’t create the trends is it the designers?
This would seem the obvious answer. At the aforementioned fashion weeks, the world’s media flocks to see what the latest trends will be on the catwalks from the major designers.
But there you have it, they come to see the ‘trends’, i.e. they have already been decided. If brown is in for the winter, you can bet your bottom dollar (a not inconsidered turn of phrase as you will see later) that most of the designers will feature signature brown pieces in their show etc etc. Yes, there are exceptions and they will all put their own spin on the trend, but in general it is clear that when the designers are putting together their collections, they already know is going to be in for the season. If they didn’t then every show would be completely different and effectively there would be no trends, or so many that their impact would be diluted.
So again, the designers drive the trend, passing it from catwalk to celebrity to consumer but it would appear that they are not the originators.
Social and economic factors
This I found interesting and was not something I had really considered before I began researching this article, but makes a lot of sense. If you look at fashion trends over the past 10 years there has been a definite return to glamour, which coincides against a background of political and economic gloom (Iraq war, terrorism, credit crunch, recession). This could be interpreted as escapism in much the same way that fantasy films have been very popular over the past decade (Harry Potter, Twilight etc) – people want to dress up to forget about the doom around them. A bit like sticking your head in floral print sand.
Compare this to the 90s, when everything was going (comparitively) well. Cool britannia was all grunge, track suits, trainers and where what you like.
Going back further to the 60s, mini skirts and flower power was all about rebelling against the establishment, the vietnam war and the birth of sexual liberation.
The 80s decadent new romance could be interpreted as escapism from Thatcher’s cold, prudent, conservative Britain with its poll tax and miners strikes.
It would certainly seem that the world does have an influence on where fashion will go, but we still haven’t got to the root of who picks up on the zeitgeist of the day and sets the trends accordingly.
While printed magazine sales are down  they still have a huge reach and there is no doubt that the glossies are a primary influence in the development of trends. After all, if the editors choose not to cover a particular fashion then it will never reach the critical mass required.
The fall in printed media is offset with the huge growth and reach of the internet and fashion magazines have reached a wider audience than ever in their online formats.
So why do editors choose particular looks? I hate to say it, but the answer is…
The media is reliant on advertising and the major advertisers happen to be the big brands where we like to shop. Fashion is big business (estimated at £21 billion in 2010 ) and ultimately, sorry Jessie J, it is all about the money.
So why do trends change each season? Well, if you went into Zara and everything was the same from month to month then you would have no reason to purchase a new dress, or a new jacket. New trends are introduced to give us reason to change our wardrobe and continue to spend to keep up with our peers and celebrity heroes.
All of the big retailers have head office teams dedicated to fashion forecasting and each season they have researchers looking for trend ideas on the street, studying the political and economic background and (sorry again) looking at what hasn’t been round for a few years and is ripe for a comeback.
There is a silver lining in this though, because ultimately what this means is that fashion is driven by…
While the retailers may have the major influence in seeding what is hot and what is not, if they get it wrong then you, the consumer will not buy into it. Ultimately, you are the arbiter of whether a trend looks great or not and for every successful trend each year there will be dozens that we have collectively said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to.
They will studiously analyse sales figures and look for spikes, i.e. 10% increase in pink polkadot high heels last month, so again the early development of the trend is influenced by you.
Social media is also a huge tool in the power of the consumer and instant feedback on facebook, twitter, blog comments etc tells the retailers which trends to push.
Additionally, trends can still start on the street and skinny jeans are a classic example. This trend was first spoted in 2003 by the head of trend forecasting at Cotton Inc on a trip to Stockholm, where she saw groups of teenagers wearing their jeans rolled up a few inches to make them tigher around the legs. She took photos, went back to head office and by 2006 skinny jeans were all the rage .
So, there we have it. Fashion trend ideas are brainstormed by fashion industry retailers, voted for by you (despite you knowing it!), pushed to the designers, debuted on the catwalks, endorsed by celebrities, covered by the media, developed back into high street ranges and ultimately worn by you! This process is rinsed and repeated every 6 months
It’s been interesting looking at the circle of fashion, particularly as a man who has worn blue jeans and a black t-shirt for the last 20 years and will probably be doing the same for the next 20. Do you agree with my analysis? What’s your own thoughts on how fashion trends develop?
After all my reasearch, one burning question remains… when will shell suits be back in vogue ;-)
 Mag ABCs: Glamour stays top as More plummets (Press Gazette) – http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=49864&c=1
 London Fashion Week: Why British fashion is worth £21 billion (Telegraph) – http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG8008413/London-Fashion-Week-Why-British-fashion-is-worth-21-billion.html
 Roaming the world detecting fashion (New York Times) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/jobs/11starts.html