Fashion Trends and Theory: History Repeating

As the saying goes, History repeats itself; interestingly, so does fashion.

The fashion cycle

fashion cycle
An illustration of the fashion cycle from

The typical fashion cycle goes through five stages according to First, designers introduce a style, that style is often worn by chosen “fashion leaders,” such as high profile celebrities. When a celebrity wears a new style it gets attention from fans and the media. The hype translates into mass production of the style. The public’s interest develops the style into a popular trend, as more people adapt the look. Eventually, the excitement dies down as the market becomes saturated and people become bored. Form there a style is replaced by something new and more exciting, typically introduced by the same famous people and designers.

Fashion leaders

The famous have led the fashion industry for years. “Before the civil war, Paris was the fashion center,” said Robin Kloosterman, a historical reenactment and fashion enthusiast. She proposed that, before movie stars introduced the trends, it was royalty and the nobility. This is a concept called trickle down theory, originally created by Thorstein Veblen in 1899. Trickle down theory states that lower classes will try and mimic the wealthy and influential by adapting their styles. These styles are originally introduced at higher prices than the masses can afford and with time become available to the general public

trickle down
A diagram of popular trickle-down fashion from

Kloosterman recalls the time when women would get their fashion magazines every month or two and adapt the styles for themselves on their sewing machines. In a way, this was faster than today’s method. The internet makes new styles instantly known, but most of us must wait for manufacturers to start producing the things we want to buy. If they ever do. And don’t worry, if you miss a style you like it will probably reappear in stores a few years down the road.

Old Trend, New Spin

If you don’t think fashion trends repeat just ask any relative or friend over 30, if you’re over 30, think back to your teen years and you might notice some fashion similarities. The repeat is not always glaringly obvious, old ideas are often reshaped or iconic articles of clothing are combined with other trends. For example, the famous bell bottoms reappeared more subtly as flare pants, while we see a resurgence of leggings and neon hues from the 80’s (minus the leg warmers). Some items come back into style as retro or vintage trends. According to, a fashion fad will only last 3 to 12 months, a trend will last 1 to 5 years and a classic will be around for 5 to 10 years. Then if you wait around 20 years the trend will hit the scene again.

Technology’s impact

In the next few years this pattern may begin to change. Consumers have a little more style freedom with the increase in online shopping, since online stores are not limited by the trends available at the local mall. Popular looks are quickly picked up by social media and shared with the world, and consumers are quick to adopt the new look. Unfortunately, with online shopping it’s hard to choose something that is certain to fit. According to Peder Stubert’s  Huffington Post article, technology could solve this deterrent. Some online retailers are introducing functions that alert the buyer to size differences between past purchases. Other companies are creating “virtual fitting,” technology that can either cross reference current garments with an online product or use 3D computer body modeling. Technology could make online shopping easier and more convenient.

What now?

With so many different styles, the challenge is what to do with all of it. There is a whole world of fashion at our fingertips, both in style and out of style. There are more tools to create your own distinct look than ever before. Old styles can easily be  recreated or reimagined by consumers. As Kloosterman said, “It’s more than knowing what the clothes are it’s how they wore them.” That information can be used to bring back an old look or modernize a out of style article of clothing. The tools are out there, what are you going to do with them?


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