Anyone who is the least bit interested in fashion remembers the iconic green knitted Hockney dress from House of Sunny that everyone and their mothers were obsessed with. With its circular patterns and three open holes on the back, the dress could be seen on top celebrities including Kendall Jenner. The Hockney dress gained popularity mostly on online social platforms like TikTok and Instagram and was quickly duped by fast fashion stores like Shein.
Sadly, like most trendy fashion items nowadays, it soon loses its hype quickly. Although it has been less than a year since this dress was first introduced, now it can be found within piles of clothes in your local thrift store. This has been the story of multiple fashion items and trends within the last few years. Many trends have found themselves dying out as quickly as their fame grew.
One of the biggest reasons for these short-lived trends is the rise of social media and influencers. It has caused an increase in trends and a decrease in their lifespan. These trends come with many negative effects like overconsumption which causes harm to the planet.
To better understand these trends, we need first to understand fashion trend cycles and how they work. The trend cycle usually lasts for a few years, but recently, that has shortened and there’s been an increase in micro fashion trends. Christiane Varga, a trend consultant at Zukunftsinstitut, said in an interview with Vocalist that “there are fashion and product trends associated with a lot of hype. They appear quickly, but are also replaced very soon by another one.”
Fashion trends used to start off either on the runway or from youth, and would last for a few years. They would often repeat trends from the past 20 years — the so-called “20-year rule.” This can be seen from the recent rise of mom jeans and Y2K fashion items, which were popular in the 90s and early 2000s.
These fashion cycles tend to have five main essential parts: the intro, the rise, the peak, the fall, and (eventually) the old. The introduction is when the item starts gaining fame. Then comes the rise, when the item starts becoming popular. The peak is when the item is at the highest point of popularity, then finally the fall, and eventually it becomes old news. Nowadays, many of these fashion trends contain only three components, The intro, the rise, and the old.
Unlike other fashion cycles of the past, when a trend is popular, it’s viewed as “tacky.” Trends usually don’t end up becoming a staple in everyday wear.
With social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok being the primary source of fashion inspiration for millions of people, they have also become a hub where brands can promote their products. But brands aren’t the only ones noticing how beneficial social media platforms can be: Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, earlier this year announced a change of the app’s layout from the explore button to become a shop button where users will now be able to shop through Instagram freely.
While the speed at which trends change does not seem like an issue, it harms us directly, causing an increase in overconsumption. Many people will go out of their way to buy every item that has the hype on social media and throw the item away in a few months.
In an article published by Pebble magazine, which focuses on living a sustainable lifestyle, it is predicted that by 2030, there will be 102 million tons of fashion items and shoes produced every year. The more trends that come along, the more waste will end up in landfills. This can also be seen through the growth of fast fashion stores like Shein and Fashion Nova, which mainly promote their products through Instagram.
Helped by changes that many social platforms have made to accommodate businesses, there’s been an increase in profit that fast fashion stores make. According to Business Wire, compared to 2020, fast fashion companies have grown at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 21.9% during the first few months of 2021. These statistics show how impactful social media can be when it comes to fashion; not only does it affect the lifespan of trends, but it’s a tool used for profit.
Some people might argue that social media does not affect the life cycle of fashion trends and that fast fashion companies do not benefit from promotions on social platforms. Views about fashion are simply changing, they might say. But while opinions indeed affect what fashion item trends, social media still has a significant impact since it can be used to promote the item for it to trend in the first place.
In recent years, there’s been a greater awareness regarding the effects of fashion on the planet, and more shops are creating sustainable clothing lines. According to Forbes, in the next four years, there will be an increase in sustainable items from the fashion industry and more than ever, designers will incorporate materials that can be easily recycled. While I’m hopeful that this prediction comes true, the rate at which trends are moving and fast fashion stores are growing makes me believe otherwise.
It is up to us as consumers to demand a change. While social media can keep creating more micro-trends that are short-lived, we as consumers need to be wary of which trends we choose to participate in. Also, we must decide which trends we follow, and not throw clothes away just because they no longer have “hype.”
I am not saying stop participating in trends altogether. Instead, we need to make smarter decisions on what we consume from social media and the trends that we follow. One way of doing that is buying classics that don’t ever die out and thrifting for fashion items that will fit the trend. It is up to us, the consumers, and everyone else involved in the industry to make better decisions, which will help our planet.