A Comprehensive Guide to the Origins of Trends

How we end up wearing weirdness.
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Oh, we all know how it happens. One beautiful Thursday morning an unsuspecting college student pulls out her hoodie to go to Anthropology 101 though the post-apocalyptic weather. She’s brave and determined. Her hoodie announces her rightful belonging to the institution. Then suddenly, she notices…Everyone is wearing blue fascinator hats. Even Professor Salter. How did the student not get the memo? Between “in” and “out,” between “belonging” and “non-belonging”, there’s an easily crossable line.



Fine, trends don’t actually work like that. They make their way into our lives slowly through the initial stage of “What the hell is this strange fad?” to the final late-to-the-party purchase. But while sometimes it seems like some Higher Fashion Entity is controlling the meaning of the word “fashionable,” it doesn’t quite happen that way. Especially not nowadays. 

So, let’s dive deep into the only question more important than where humans come from: Where do fashion trends come from?


Fashion blogs like us can write articles like “5 Spring Fashion Trends to Look Out For” because fashion shows repeat themselves. But fashion show trends don't come about in the way you might think.

Runway-inspired trends give off the impression that, say, Donatella Versace and Tom Ford came together for a green smoothie and decided to brainstorm ideas. “Victorian?” suggested Ford and they both drew their own versions that later achieved physicality and strolled down the catwalk to a futuristic soundtrack. But, in fact, designers are usually very secretive about what they are working on and the common threads in trends are achieved differently.


                    Cristopher Kane pissed he wasn't invited to the smoothie drinking party. (Credit)

Firstly, common trends between shows appear because humans are humans – our brains are essentially only processing machines. That’s why every seemingly “new” idea is actually just a recombination of other bits and pieces of information to which the mind has had exposure. Given how small the fashion world is and how few its capitals, it is no surprise that successful designers are often inspired by the same things: major art events, emerging bands, popular bloggers, and upcoming wonderfully pretentious movies. That’s why runway shows are generally different interpretations of the same themes.

Secondly, these trends emerge because the humans interpreting these shows are…again, human. Our brains have an exquisite talent for systemizing and finding patterns. Journalists find - and even create - these patterns when compiling lists of trends for their readers. If one can’t group different runway looks by theme, one can always find repeating textures or colors, shapes or moods. There's literally always something that repeats.

While we’re on the subject, let me just tell you a secret – all colors are pretty much fashionable at all times. No one has the power to deem the degree to which the spectrum of light interacts with your retinas “out of style”... no matter what they may claim.

Girls from the Pictures 

So, designers create what they create, inspired by whatever they’re inspired by, but many of the runway looks are not ready-to-wear. In other words, they transcend mere casual clothing and achieve the status of “art". But it takes more than a cool, boundary-pushing concept for a piece to become the next must-have.

Couture asks a simple question: “Why not?” Why can’t you wear a reversed triangle hat with mirror cones on it? Why can’t you bring back Marie Antoinette dresses, except with embroidered internet memes on them? Why can’t you wear a meat dress? 

The question is admired, but usually from distance: Most people don't want to wear weirdness to Anthro 101, so many designer trends don’t reach the masses. The people who help these trends to reach commoners like us are the ones marketing specialists call Early Adopters and Influencers. Otherwise known as The Girls from the Pictures.


                      Fine, Man Repeller, you convinced me. (Credit)

The Girls From the Pictures are bloggers and It-girls, celebrities and cool women around you. They take the runway grandiosity and tone it down a little bit, then show you a casual interpretation of the trend. If at first you said “That’s beautiful, but I couldn’t pull it off,” these girls will convince you that you can. Maybe you are one of those bold humans yourself. In any case, soon you are found wearing Toned Down Weirdness to Anthro 101.

Another segment of the trend-adopting population used to be the buyers, who made their judgments about which fashion show trend “would sell,” but now, as we move to a consumer-oriented, technologically advanced world, the mediators become less and less powerful. That’s right: Now we choose our own adventure dresses. We have the power now.

Countercultural Anxiety 


                  Haha, look at all this countercultural anxiety appeasement. (Credit)

Of course, trends don’t all emerge from the predictable bundle of a few fashion houses. Sometimes trends aren’t created by the establishments, but emerge from those who failed to fit in them

When the kids who don’t fit the word “normal” exist, they feel anxiety about being the rejects and outsiders of the dominant culture. So, they try to establish a uniform, a signal for the other uncool kids that will house the belonging of their non-belonging. 

But because fashion designers were usually the awkward and weirdly-dressed children in their childhoods, they love everything that has to do with monsters and losers. That’s why “punk” turned into a commodity so quickly. That’s why subculture dress codes get picked up by the people who have nothing to do with said subculture – because fashion stalks the different to turn it into a trend. Fashion picks up the secret code and uses it for its own capitalistic purposes, so the code has to be habitually changed.

General Trend Patterns


                I clearly need friends with cooler shoes. (Credit)

Now, it's important to note that while some trends are never picked up and others climb up from the pits of counterculture, there are some general rules when playing the trend game: 

  • Versatile trends last long. Casual-oriented trends last longer. Classic styles last forever. 
  • There are many cities that are immune to trends – the metallic colors trend has been in my virtual universe forever, but I don’t think I’ve seen a fellow human being in Baltimore in silver Chelsea boots yet. (My love Noel Fielding wore those before they were cool and probably will after). 
  • Color wheel rules apply independent of trends. Like I said earlier, you can wear any colors you want and you'll probably fit a trend somewhere.
  • When you see it in Forever 21, it is probably too late for “cool,” but fine for “in.” 
  • If a style is old enough, it’s vintage and trendy, but if it’s not old enough, it’s passé. 
  • Having fun is always a trend.

Ask Your Own Crystal Ball

Fun game: Try to predict what trend is coming at us next. 

Here's a hint: If it’s been all about menswear lately, the trend will probably lean toward the feminine next. If the designers were inspired by really old gowns last season, next season will probably be more futuristic and robotic. If there’s a Hollywood movie remake of “Madame Butterfly,” expect kimonos and overdoing it with powder. If the skirts were shorter, wait for midis... 

Except, of course, sometimes people just don’t listen to designers. In the '70s they tried to bring back longer skirts, but after the '60s, women were having too much fun showing off legs and no one followed the trend. The moral? You can predict but you'll never be right 100% of the time. We're all human after all.


What is your crystal ball saying about emerging trends? Do you follow trends or is your style immortal, like the Moonlight Sonata? Tell me in the comments.

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