Fast Fashion and the Trend Cycle

Nina Dorighi and Grace McClung, Journalist

The phrase, history repeats itself, is no exception to the world of fashion and trends. Over the past decades we have seen trends that define the state of fashion in a certain place and time period. However, trends are never new as they always reference or take from the styles from the past, influenced by a growing fast fashion industry and manufacturing capacity. New fashion trends will always come and go, oftentimes resurfacing a style seen in years past. 

The trend cycle is the repeating of fashion motifs throughout time. It is the idea that over the course of several years, the popular style will take from those of the past and redefine the present state of fashion. The trend cycle has been happening for centuries. One example of this is the resurface of gothic aesthetics within the Victorian era (black velvet, lace gloves, corsets) with “its origin [dating] back to the 1400s. Gothic revivalism in dress looked back to the 15th century, and it resurfaced in the mid-to-late-19th century.” There have been resurfaces of old fashion trends throughout history but, the pace of the cycle has accelerated with the use of social media.  Kristin Brakell of Trendalytics explains it saying, “Only weeks after a look appears on the runway, people already have a version of it in their closets and a picture of it on the timeline. In other words, trends become old news much quicker than they did ten years ago.” More recently we have seen trends that pull from the 90’s and Y2k fashion ( butterfly print, shearling, hair clips and more).  Shakaila Forbes-Bell, Afterpay’s Consumer Fashion Psychologist,  explains that fashion trends are, “very much in line with how Gen Z consumers like to shop, which is part of our core demographic.” Trends will always reference the past in one way or another. They all  take from some sort of time period or culture, even if it’s subtle. What makes trends new are the new interpretation of these styles as well as a new generation to consume these trends that makes them seem new. 

Believe it or not, there’s a reason things like flannels and Doc Martens and other seemingly retro styles have made a comeback in recent years. Trend cycles don’t actually happen by chance and there’s no “patient zero”, meaning they don’t come from a single individual like they once did. Instead, trends are “the product of careful calculation that takes place at every level of the fashion industry,” (Gordon). This can be attributed to a more connected and widespread fashion industry, a product of the Industrial Revolution and a boom in the textile industry that followed. Where at one point in time, a celebrity might be the sole spark of a major fashion fire, trends come from all over today, and yet, their source may surprise you. According to Grace Gordon from Flair Flavor, “Instead of thinking of trends as being built from the runway down, you should see them as being built from manufacturing up.” Fashion models and designers don’t have as much of an impact on trend cycles as you’d expect. In reality, it comes down to the manufacturers and what is easy and cheap to produce. The goal is to produce and sell large quantities, so the material of the clothing and what is “hot” is mostly up to the manufacturers. “If manufacturers decide that velvet should be produced, it is velvet that you will see dominate the runway,” (Gordon). Of course, manufacturing doesn’t have complete monopoly over the fashion landscape, and some trends will slip through their fingers. In a digital age where uniqueness is idolized then replicated, small outliers can also have a huge impact on trend cycles and why they occur. As explained by Jonathan Openshaw in The Journal, these people “comprise around 2.5% of the population…often taking an outsider status.” Whether it is oblivion or disinterest, outsiders deviate away from the mainstream, and end up being “responsible for the strange cultural mutations that can become new movements.” It’s also important to recognize that even if manufacturers and outsiders determine what’s being sold, each one of us interprets trends in our own ways, combining our unique sense of style with the options available. We may not all be trend-setters, but the places we choose to spend our money and the things we choose to buy do impact the fashion industry and the trends that pop up.

One of the biggest, if not the largest, contributors to trend cycles is fast fashion. Unfortunately, fast fashion is a huge part of the fashion industry. It’s how most people can participate in clothing trends and afford trendy items. According to Audrey Stanton in The Good Trade, “Garment production utilizes trend replication and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.” So while Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci belts may be coveted accessories, they’re not exactly trendy in the sense that the general public cannot afford them; thus, they remain staple items of the wealthy—and exclusive—elite. However, this was not always the case. Before “fast fashion” became a popular buzzword, designers focused on four seasons of clothing, and they worked months ahead to produce items they thought consumers would like and buy. But, “nowadays, fast fashion brands produce about 52 ‘micro-seasons’ a year—or one new ‘collection’ a week,” (Stanton). If you’ve ever wondered how shirts on Shein are only $5, you have your answer. This industry may provide the masses with insanely inexpensive clothing, but it also wreaks havoc on the environment as demand for a variety of styles increases. Still, fast fashion and trend cycles are synonymous with each other, and it’s doubtful that either of them will disappear anytime soon. 

In the fashion world, trend cycles are not new; they are the guardrails of style and garment consumerism that influences the work of designs and the items on shelves and hanging in our closets. They may have old roots, but trend cycles utilize the creativity and innovation of younger generations to put a spin on dated styles. They are also influenced by manufacturers and production costs, as well as the fast fashion industry that makes trend cycles so known and widespread. While most of us simply enjoy being “trendy”, it is important to recognize that trend cycles can reveal a lot about historically popular fashion and what is appealing to consumers. They provide us with a valuable connection to the past, incorporating different styles from all different time periods with modern twists and designs.