How important are trends in 2019? Does the internet’s ability to take trends from micro to ubiquitous make them more powerful or less? Are we on the verge of entering a post-trend society, or is asking that a trend in and of itself? These are questions I’ve been mulling in general for a long time, but they began echoing even more loudly when I read an online article in which someone disparaged trends for their tendency to quash personal style. I parsed through the complexity of this topic in a recent Slack conversation with Leandra, which is recorded below. Meet us in the comment section for further unpacking. -Harling
Harling: Hi! I’ve recently been digesting a few weighty fashion questions and I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Leandra: Hi! Tell me.
Harling: I just wrote a story about an aesthetic movement that is gaining ubiquity in fashion wherein everyone seems to have mutually agreed to dress like they just got back from a garden party in Ibiza by way of a music festival in Sedona, and the more I thought about it the more convinced I became that it is evidence we’re entering a true, post-trend era. Because it’s not a trend so much as it is an apotheosis of summer fashion, ripe for interpretation according to one’s personal style.
Simultaneous with writing this, I read a piece in which someone was quoted talking about how trends are the death of fashion, and that when something is trendy she is less inclined to desire to wear it. I respect this perspective! And I’ve certainly felt that way at times, especially at the very end of a trend’s cycle. But despite that, and despite feeling energized by the prospect of operating in a post-trend world, I’m also compelled to defend trends. Because even though they might now carry the same weight as they did in a pre-Instagram age, they still maintain the capacity to delight, and they still seem important in the grand scheme of how fashion operates. What do you think?
Leandra: I think that a) I had to google apotheosis because it’s one of those words I don’t actually understand, that b) garden party in Ibiza mixed with Sedona music festival is one of the strongest characterizations you’ve ever invented, that c) we’ve been conjecturing about a post-trend world since personal style became the most pervasive trend of the moment but that d) personal style is still very much a trend in its own right, so it is impossible to imagine a world where fashion exists without the concept of trends.
It’s like if there was no food in the food world. That’s actually a terrible comparison, I regret saying it !but! I agree with your impulse to defend trends–I’d defend them too. And we spoke about this briefly in our shopping email exchange but someone who says trends are the death of fashion is coming at them from the perspective of either setting or very early adopting said trends. They’re not the death of fashion at all–they’re actually kind of the life of it. I can elaborate further, but does this make sense to you? If it is true that fashion says “me too,” that is literally the definition of a trend that takes off, no?
Harling: It does make sense! I think that the definition of “trend” has been flattened to mean “EVERYONE is wearing this,” and in a way that’s true now, but it’s a recent development and it confuses the fact that, in the past, a trend cycle had so much more nuance. I was reading about Laver’s Law recently, which is the timeline that fashion historian James Laver invented in the 30s stipulating that before a trend is in fashion it’s “edgy,” once it is in fashion it’s “smart,” and TWENTY years later it becomes “ridiculous,” but now the ridiculousness arrives much sooner. And I think that’s what leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, and gives trends a negative connotation even though they’re still performing the same function they were before, when it comes to informing how we think about fashion, which is why they’re definitely not obsolete.
Leandra: So, before a trend is in fashion it’s edgy because it’s only being exercised by conceivably “edgy” people, right? Once it’s actually in fashion, and worn en masse, it’s smart because we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but I would disagree that it’s ridiculous 20 years later–it’s more like nostalgic 20 years later; it’s ridiculous like five years later. When the proximity is still close enough that you are comfortable judging yourself for having participated. That said! I agree–it does arrive much sooner. The cycle is more like five months now, right? And there’s a direct correlation between how much sooner we experience peanut butter syndrome (too much too fast) and how much more we are exposed to visually through social media. If I spend enough time scrolling through the discover page on IG, trends that I genuinely love, that I believe to be mainstays of my personal style start to make me feel like a parody of myself.
Harling: Totally. That’s the thing about PB syndrome–it makes you forget how you originally saw the trend you genuinely love (or used to love), free from the noise of how other people see it. That process actually reminds me of what the internet has done to certain words or phrases: gaslighting, “mood,” content, toxic, etc. Their meaning carries less weight now, or rather, their meaning is attached to too many different things, you know?
Leandra: No I don’t, can you explain? Sounds interesting!
Harling: I think what i’m trying to say is the the internet has the power to dilute things, be they fashion trends or zeitgeist-y words. Once they are applied to too many different contexts, their original spark is dulled.
Leandra: They become misnomers. So that presents a good question–how are you defining trends, like what do you think that writer meant when she said “trends are the death of fashion”?
Harling: I see what she was saying in that trends feel more like gimmicks now–cheap thrills that boom and bust at a rapidly increasing pace and therefore don’t seem to carry as much importance (and can actually be damaging in the sense that they encourage ubiquity and quash individuality, to an extent). I guess my thesis (which I’m still processing) is that broader aesthetic movements, like menocore, or the aforementioned Ibiza/Sedona extravaganza, are the successor to trends in terms of what is actually shaping fashion in a broader, long-term sense, and those are slightly different from trends, though trends do play a role in them
Leandra: They’re more like sub-trends, right? Or they’ve been repackaged as like, “storytelling opportunities.”
Harling: Yes–that’s a good point. A big reason why trends live and die so quickly is because they become headlines, which robs them of the opportunity to be “discovered” by, let’s say, admiring someone’s outfit on the street.
Leandra: See, there’s a lucrative thesis. Trends as headlines. But still, I think that trends as headlines is a trend in and of itself! And that perhaps even the retreat to absolute minimalism, which is being heralded by houses like Khaite and Toteme and The Row and so forth, are a reactionary headline. I’m thinking, though–Abie’s grandma still asks me, every time a fashion week season rolls around, “What are trends on the runway?” And I always laugh because, “it’s not like that!” but really, it used to be: There were short skirts one season, long ones the next, there were dresses or big shouldered tops, and there are still these banner trends that pour out of seasons. But the outlets through which this information is disseminated are so much more vast. It used to be that you read Women’s Wear Daily to know what was happening on the runways in Paris, and that was bible and those were the trends and Doneger Group would roll those into a report et voila: a season is born.
Now, the playing field is so different, there is no end-all-be-all platform that commands The Rules. There are platforms with more credibility, right? The New York Times, Business of Fashion, etc. etc., but for the most part, we accrue all of this information–“fashion news”–through portals like Instagram and Twitter. And on those portals you get equanimity, right? A personal style blogger calling cow prints the trend of the season right next to Vogue saying the same about tiger print. And you believe who you trust more, and there is no regulation around the decision-making process of an individual on their trust allocation practices. So you end up with this weird jumble of information and misinformation and then someone says trends are the death of fashion, a think piece is born. You know?
Harling: I do know! And when you add to that morass the fact that brands pay people to promote their products on Instagram, or gift things in large volumes, or design pieces specifically so they will blow up on social media, it becomes even more confusing. At the end of the day, though, I don’t think of trends as “good” or “bad.” They’re just information!
Leandra: I like that framing, and think I agree. Although, I do think they’re good. They create a meritocracy that facilitates the growth and nurturing of genuine icons of fashion. Be they designers or personalities.
Harling: They also give fashion structure. Without them, it would just be applesauce. I’m trying to think about the right way to parse through the relationship between trends and sustainability though, which is a key factor in any discussion related to trends in 2019
because another reason trends get a bad rap is because they encourage consumption (i.e. you need to buy the new/popular thing to get the THRILL).
Leandra: Well, sustainability in and of itself is kind of a trend. It is, no doubt, also a path forward, but we have not collectively hit a stride yet by any means. Sustainable shopping is somewhat of an oxymoron because the truly sustainable option is not consuming at all, but austerity doesn’t work within the framework of this industry, and I don’t believe that we should try to make it work. There’s a comfortable spot between excess and abstinence, but the public opinion (or is it the vocal minority?) make getting there kind of tough. There are ramifications tethered to a refusal to consume, point blank. Just as there are any other sustainable effort (rental businesses, for example, are basically dry cleaning services also, and there are tons of implications around that water excretion). I may have taken us a little far off topic.
Harling: Yes, I’ve been thinking about what “sustainable shopping” and participating in trends means to me within the confines of acknowledging that the fashion industry is innately tied to consumption. For me it means only buying things (which can include trendy things) that are well-made, ideally with cotton or silk or wool or some other nice fabric that feels nice on my skin and stands the test of time, things that are made to last. Sometimes that means spending a little more, but generally it also means making fewer purchases overall. It’s also worth noting that trend participation can be as simple as reinterpreting things I already own.
So I don’t shun trends, but I do think about how I (literally) want to buy into them–if at all. And I appreciate them not just in terms of getting dressed but also in terms of thinking about what is currently making fashion tick. Also, for what it’s worth, I also really admire people who can take a trend and make it look totally unique on the basis of how they’ve chosen to style it (which is ultimately probably more challenging than styling something no one else has).
Leandra: Yeah, I define sustainable shopping as buying something you will genuinely be tempted to keep forever. It’s not necessarily anti-trend, though often it manifests that way–Hermes, Brunello Cucinelli, etc. Chanel is the rare trend generator that also creates the illusion of genuine investment shopping…do you think The Row will ever fall into this category? Celine and Bottega, those are trend brands to me. New Celine definitely but old Céline too. I wonder if I feel that way because of the quality of person who gravitates towards those brands! Especially relative to one who prefers, like, Loro Piana.
Harling: For sure, I think that speaks to what you were saying earlier about how trends nurture genuine icons of fashion. Because ultimately I’m far more interested in WHO is wearing the thing (and how they’re wearing it) than the thing itself. As for The Row’s capacity to generate trends, the Thilde pants are sparkling evidence.
Leandra: See, I actually think that one belongs to old Céline, because of the front zippers on leggings they made a season earlier than Thilde’s debut. TOOSHAY?
Harling: Tooshay. The power of trends strikes again.
Feature photo by Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images