Fashion trends: Cyclical in nature?

by Baba

Its true isn’t it? Fashion does tend to repeat itself. Take a good look at what the runways have right now and if you search hard enough…you will find that at least a quarter of the current stuff on the runways has been inspired by retro or vintage looks!!

But what does retro or vintage actually mean? Does it mean that the same old clothes are removed and washed, and presented again as new looks? Or does it mean that designers combine old fashions with current trends to create vintage-inspired new looks?

It can be very surprising and frankly, it does sound like cheating. How can major designers stoop to recycle old fashions into new trends when they look exactly the same? Are we that uninspired in the modern age that designers have to resort to cannibalizing old fashions?

Let’s just find out, shall we?

“Vintage fashions”: How did the trend start?

No one knows exactly when and what created an interest in vintage fashion. Till a few years back, anyone who wore old clothes was simply referred to as cheap but all that changed when fashionistas and celebrities started wearing gowns from the yesteryear collections of designers like Karl Lagerfield and Chanel to red carpet events. Pretty as a picture gowns that were essentially designed way back in the 1920s- and 1930s suddenly came in to prominence and the style slowly started to seep down into the younger Hollywood set. Fashionista twin celebrities like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen where another teen sensation that wore vintage fashion consistently. Not that they made it look good but for some reason, they managed to make it work! The essential look that they sported was old combined with a few expensive new pieces that created a completely new look. The tweens also managed to make a complete fashion empire of the look by designing and selling the patchwork look through their in-house fashion line for students. Eclectic stars like Dita Von Teese and Chole Sevigny also were deep fans of the look and although they were initially panned for their old fashioned dressing sense, they did manage to garner praise and acceptability over time. But no one managed to nail the look as Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Over a few years time, almost every student in every major city in the US was now raiding their parent’s clothes closets to find fashions that could be distilled to form hip and happening college wear!

But how does vintage dressing translate to modern trends? And how do designers manage to incorporate old looks into their fashion collections without getting accused of stealing?

One major group of people that can be blamed for the surge in recycling of trends and fashion styles are fashion stylists! In an effort to create distinctive looks for the stars they were dressing, popular stylists started raiding charity run second hand clothing stores, garage sales, car boot sales, flea markets, antique stores, estate sales, vintage clothing stalls and collectible fairs. It was always possible to find cheap but still wear worthy clothes that no one else had or had worn to red carpet events. Distinctive but old fashioned dresses could then be tweaked and dressed up by designers to look different! And more often than not, stars who were dressed so different to the current modern trends were lauded by the media for being “different, classy, and stylish.” It created enough of a media hullabaloo to make the stylist, the Hollywood star and the dress instantly memorable in the public mind. This dress would then go on to be copied and used by other designers as an “inspiration” for their collections. But most designers were savvy enough to use the original design only with subtle and distinctive design changes of their own! And that led to fashion recycling without any copyright infringement!

Can you blame only stylists for the recurrence of old fashions?

No, to be totally fair we can’t! Apart from the fact that popular stars do dictate fashion trends with their dressing and quirky styles: fashion itself tends to be cyclical! And one man spent years trying to prove this! According to respected fashion historian, James Laver, there happens to be a timeline by which a style is viewed over the years. Trends are cyclical and whether you like it or not you can expect one trend to be back in style about 150 years down the line. Lavers law stated that a trend will start looking attractive about 50 years from the time it was popular and there is a step by step progression by which you will be considered hip or weird when you sport the trend. His simple to remember rule stated in 1937 that still holds strong can be simply explained as follows-

* A trend that is sported 10 years before it time will be considered- indecent
* A trend that is sported five years before its time will be considered – shameless
* A trend that is sported one year before it time is considered – daring
* Sporting a trend during the peak of its fashion is considered- smart
* One year after the style has disappeared – dowdy
* 10 years after the style has passed on – hideous
* 20 years after the style has passed on – ridiculous
* 30 years after the style has passed on – amusing
* 50 years after the style has passed on – quaint
* 70 years after the style has passed on – charming
* 100 years after the style has passed on – romantic
* 150 years after the style has passed on – beautiful

Most industry pundits have sworn that Laver managed to get the fashion cycle bang on. But in the last few years, there has been a dramatic change.

Faster absorption and faster application of fashion to mainstream dressers!

We now live in a faster and well connected world. Fashion shows and trends are updated on the internet daily. Catwalk pictures and tips on how to wear the catwalk fashions filter down to the common man that much faster too. As a result, current fashion trends appear on the common may much faster. Eventually boredom will kill the trend but not till designers, models and trendsetters have exploited it to the max. Then it goes through the stages of being dowdy, hideous, and ridicules and eventual hibernation till it pops up again in a refined and better avatar 50 -150 years down the line!

How do modern designers reinterpret vintage trends and designs into modern clothes?

Most of the modern day designers were not around when fun funky fashions like hammer pants, disco and ruffles were in fashion. As a result, several of these fashion trends were memorable for young designers who remembered their parents or fashion idols of their generation wearing them. As a result, distilling the essence of the style but putting in their distinctive personal statement to the garment became a trademark of recycling trends. And it did make sense! One way to understand it is by taking a look at vintage trends that are now back-in-vogue in 2010. At present, one distinctive trend that has made a sudden comeback is shoulder pads for females. These featured heavily in the 80s where power dressing for women like Joan Collins and Sheena Easton personified classy suits with hefty shoulder pads. Modern designers like Emma Griffiths have now taken the large sized shoulder pads but reinvented them to make them add style to skinny sleeved sharp silhouettes. And the fashion has already filtered down to models like Agyness Deyn and Kate Moss wearing the look at red carpet do’s. Both of these trendsetters are well known for their forward thinking fashion styles. Kate Moss wearing a particular fashion creates an instant acceptance for the look that will filter down to the masses and the cycle starts up again!

So are there any popular trends that have returned time and again over the years?

Well yes…there have been several trends that have returned back in different avatars over the years and for the skeptics, here is a quick rundown of what has been back and what is expected to be back in the year 2010.

1. Hammer pants- these disgusting variant of the Indian Jodhpur was first worn by rapper MC Hammer. Luridly colored, huge and baggy, they were ideal for the moves that he showed while rapping. But distillations of the look have appeared on the ramp again and again over the last few years. Ranging from large baggy pants, to small baggy pants to dropped crotch pants and still later to form the disgusting dhoti pants! And frankly, the look suited no one and still suits very few people.
2. The 70’s with their bell bottoms, flared sleeves, and platform shoes have made their return an innumerable amount of times. And once was more than enough for me. I wasn’t around in the original 70’s but seeing them once around was more than enough for me! Please no more of the 70’s… I don’t think I can survive them again!
3. Fitted trends were famous for a time in between. But then they were out of fashion and then they came back in again. The sad part about fitted clothes was that very few people actually had the body and fitness to wear these clothes! But designers will still insist on showing stick thin models with gorgeous clothes that can fit no normal person!
4. Leopard prints…Bah! Just who does this suit except for the stick thin? Jungle prints are popular and they are always on and off the catwalk but to tell you the truth; no ordinary woman can carry it off!
5. Ultra short dresses and skirts are always in. there is something about long, long legs that makes men crazy! And no matter what kind of year its gonna be…minis are always going to be an hot item when they are on the catwalk. Of course, ultrashort dresses work the same way exposing oodles of satiny skinny legs too! But one of the most disgusting trends as of late on the catwalk this season is the “no pants” look that has emerged. That means ultra short dresses and minis that make you believe that the person has forgotten to wear her pants! I shudder to think how this will translate to real life!

But it isn’t all that bad. There are a few trends that do look good every time they come back. Recycled trends that were great in the beginning and that still look when the come around are-

1. Costume jewelry is so in and frankly it makes every woman including me very happy. If you can find lines of ornate affordable faux jewelry to wear with everyday and formal wear; it’s just so much fun. Bangles, dangles and of course the quintessential faux pearls are just fun to buy every time this trend comes around!
2. Sigh…The 70’s have been beaten to death by now but those clunky platform shoes are never ever going to be out of fashion forever. Four inch heels are going to back this season and they will be around for a long time to come.
3. Bold Prints look great on anyone and every one. Just make sure that you fit the style to the current trend and time and you should do absolutely fine every time the style rolls around.
4. Trendy handbags. Till recently, large clunky handbags were in but try to make sure that you find at least a single bag this is modern yet pretty and you should fine. Try simple lines and a single color in black or white. Large or small does not really matter but simplicity will be able to last longer than trends
5. the black cocktail dress is always in. long, short, dark, light, fitted or flared…a well made and beautifully fitted little black cocktail dress is ideal for wearing anywhere and its frankly never out of fashion. Dress it up or dress it down…it will work at any function too.

Ah well, no matter what happens you have to remember that fashion is fickle. You may be the right person to wear it but unless you have the panache to carry off the trend…it just won’t work on you.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Hannah Mokler March 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

As part of my personal estimation Fashion trends: Cyclical in nature? is a perfectly penned message. Definately effectively worth talking about and after that meriting talking about also. Sincerely, Hannah Mokler


prashant rana April 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm

As per my personal opinion, i have never thought that i will be wearing the old days goodies but as i grew up i am up to it……i feel like i can also be the one who can make the trend… not only can be the celebs and other big model……fashion should be shown to public as if they are wearing that goodies……it lacks when celebs wear it……

Sincerely Prashant Rana


blogReaction June 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Very true and good post. I now see fashions that my dad and mom have continued to wear, are now coming back into style, as hideous as they are. Nice post lol 🙂


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