Fashion Trends

Style secrets: Why do fashion trends repeat?

Beside the fact that Netflix is pulling the plug on Friends (for real this time), something else caught my attention: I was too busy obsessing over Rachel’s skater skirts to realize that Monica Geller is my true fashion hero. Why? High-waisted mom jeans, functional dresses (almost always with pockets), double-breasted jackets (yes, she made it a thing before the Hadid sisters), snug cropped sweaters, strappy midi dresses and barrettes — she popularized all of the 90s normcore fashion trends that are this season’s hottest favorites. This got me thinking. Why is fashion cyclical? Why does it repeat itself over time? These theories could hold some answers:

Eleven and her gang on Stranger Things. Fans and fashionistas are now obsessing over the 80’s outfits on the show. Photo credit: Netflix.

Theory #1: Inspiration strikes in mom’s closet
🎡 The “20-Year Rule” is the most commonly referenced concept in the fashion industry. Based on this, what’s popular now will be popular once again in 20 years. More or less.
Aside of sneaking away my mom’s beaded purses and retro glasses from her fond 80’s, there’s more evidence to prove it: Jackie Burkhart, Donna Pinciotti (and even the boys’) fashion from That 70’s Show were lapped up by audiences from the 90’s through 2006. That era now represents classic chic, as evidenced at Paris fashion week in 2019.
Eagle-eyed fans weren’t just following the Stranger Things plot this season — it was also the cast’s 80’s outfits that have led to a barrage of analyses, mostly about scrunchies, suspenders, clothes bursting with color, and ‘How to get Eleven’s mall rat makeover.’
Need I even talk about everybody’s favorite 90’s TV friend, The Friends, and how they continue to be relevant in pop culture’s snowballing landscape? Surprise, surprise, all 20-year cycles more or less.

This infographic shows James Laver’s law of the fashion cycle. According to James Laver, fashion trends come back every 50 years.

Theory #2: See you in 50 years
🎡 Fashion theorist and historian, James Laver’s has another theory about the fashion trend lifecycle.
This one was backed by Stanley Marcus, the former president of the American luxury chain, Neiman Marcus, who used Laver’s Law to stock clothes for his store in the late 60’s. According to this Law, when a trend is in fashion, it is ‘smart.’ One year before this, it is ‘daring.’ 20 years later, it becomes ‘ridiculous.’ 50 years, Laver said, was how long it took for a trend to begin to creep back into style. This law, Laver said, was applicable to all creative mediums like art, architecture, design and even music.

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Although fashion trends are a cycle, obviously, there has to be a purpose for its return, otherwise it’s just costume. Although I’d like to have said these wise words, Laver said it first.
Think, shoulder pads — Inspired by men’s football padding, designer Elsa Schiaparelli made it trendy in the 30’s, women embraced it during the World War II when one in four married women were allowed to work outside home. It became a power dressing essential in the 80’s when women were shattering the glass ceiling. And with the resurgence of women’s movements like #MeToo, and the largest percentage of women in the U.S. congress, it’s now hot again.

Theory #3: Of hemlines and stocks
🎡One one of the most surprising factors to influence the cycle of fashion, though, is the state of the global economy, according to this observation in the Elite Daily. During an economic turndown, fashion is an indulgence that gets nipped — people look less at trends and more to ‘investment pieces’ or classics, like your trusty little black dress or men’s classic white button-downs.

Fashion and the global economy are related. Did you know the length of skirts could showcase the global economy?

 It wasn’t a random influencer with a theory, but an economist who first noticed the correlation between fashion and the economy. George Taylor developed the “Hemline Theory” to describe his findings. In the 1920s, he noticed that women were wearing shorter skirts to show off their silk stockings. When the market crashed, the hemlines dropped, and the skirts only got longer. The correlation was evident — Longer skirts allowed women to hide that they weren’t wearing (and couldn’t afford), stockings. During periods of economic growth, flashy styles like fur, leather, sequins and glitter take centerstage with consumers wanting to show off their wealth. The more razzle-dazzle and less practical the trends, the higher the probability that money is flowing freely.

These theories give me something new to think about.

Should we invest in classic pieces that will never go out of style, and that which we can wear until they last? Or, should we invest in fads and hang on to them because they’ll be back again anyway? Could both these options, and fashion’s cyclical nature possibly feed into the slow fashion movement, a principle that advocates buying better-quality garments that will last for longer and values fair treatment of people, animals and the planet?

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