Trend cycles make us individual, not unoriginal.
In a world dominated by capital, originality is seemingly a falling trend. We live in a world of specific aesthetics, defined by micro trends which take ideas from high fashion and translate them into fast fashion dupes. I’m not here to tell you that fast fashion brands are bad for both the environment and creative industries; there’s enough information out there on those topics. Instead, I want to ask why we’re so obsessed with fashion cultures that are seemingly indistinct to 2023.
The microtrends we’re seeing at the moment all take inspiration from aesthetics which idolise and recycle past trends. Everything must come from somewhere, so it’s understandable that we take inspiration from the past. However, looks at the moment seem to be taken straight from other decades, copied and pasted on to Instagram and TikTok. Whether that’s the slicked back y2k hair, or a 70s blowout, we’ve seen it all before, and things aren’t changing.
Mark Fisher’s The Slow Cancellation Of The Future is an interesting, if depressing, watch. He explains that, in terms of culture, Britain is trapped in the 20th century, with 70s, 80s and 90s culture being delivered directly to us by high-speed internet. The last few years of fashion and music are arguably indefinable because all trends are now happening all at once.
Neoliberalism, recession and the cost-of-living crisis have all impacted the way we live our lives. Many of us no longer have the time or space to be creative. Fisher mentions the housing crisis as a key point in which creative culture changed. Large cities in the UK used to be melting pots for new creative culture, but due to how expensive they are now, they are becoming less diverse, meaning culture is as well.
Additionally, art schools and universities used to be institutions where people of all classes and backgrounds could come and interact with “high” culture in a critical way. These institutions were responsible for conceiving some of the biggest musicians, artists and fashion designers of the 20th century. The university fees New Labour brought in in the late 1990s, and greatly increased by the Coalition government post-2010, have ensured a demographic change in these institutions making them less diverse, and therefore less creative.
Fisher also highlights that, during the technological age we are living in, every piece of information is accessible all the time, meaning we can take influence and inspiration from every era that came before us. The realm of cyberspace is so ingrained in our lives that all this information makes us more lazy in terms of finding new things. We’re now so used to short form content like TikTok, we’d prefer to listen to what is “in” or “out” according to a 30 second video, rather than going for a walk in the real world to see what real people are wearing.
I believe this all to be true, however I see it as a far too deterministic and pessimistic view of society. How many of these micro trends and aesthetics actually exist outside the cyberspace plane? Walking around campus, I don’t see people being defined by y2k, gorpcore or dark academia. Instead, I see people trying to find individuality by taking influence from a range of different aesthetics. Micro trends are perhaps just poor replicas of late 20th century trends, but they mean its corresponding looks are “in” all the time. They might just be rip offs of more expensive trends, but as they become freely and cheaply available in charity shops, eBay and Depop (or other unnameable fast fashion websites), we can try styles on for size before reselling or donating when we no longer feel like they suit us.
I have so many items of clothing that I love now and have worn for years which I wouldn’t have purchased if it were not for them previously (or still being) micro trends. For example, in 2017 I bought a pair of blue camo cargo trousers. Although I don’t think I’d go for a brightly coloured camo again, it kickstarted my obsession with cargo trousers and military liners which I’ve never turned my back on.
Looking at my own wardrobe, a part of me feels relieved that I’ll be able to wear my zip up Adidas jackets (and yes, those cargo trousers) for a good few years. While the fashion cycle used to come around knocking every 20 years or so, these simultaneous never and ever changing trend cycles are making us more, not less, original, and allow us to appreciate, rather than appropriate, the fashion cultures of the past.