What are the actual mechanics of fashion trends?
July 26, 2009 8:12 PM   Subscribe

What are the actual mechanics of fashion trends?

Looking for specific information from fashion industry insiders / researchers here, no speculation please:

How does the creation and distribution of fashion trends work? What are the specific steps, processes, etc? Is it a random, organic, wisdom of crowds sort of thing, or a centrally planned, fully mapped out conspiracy, or what?

Not expecting high-level economic or sociological theories so much as a description of how it actually works from people who work in or near fashion.
posted by signal to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Are you talking about high end (couture) fashion or the clothes you buy at a department store?

If you are talking about the latter, I can tell you about one of my best friends who forecasts trends and helps choose production lines for a jeans company. I asked her this same question a while ago, and she told me that her jeans are sold at department stores like Nordstrom, which is not cutting edge. So she collects data on what is selling well in the high end designer markets -- the fashion houses that create one of a kind jeans or very expensive ready to wear collections. She also collects related data on other clothes in general -- things like what colors are beginning to sell well, and what styles are doing well in other kinds of clothing (like skirts and trousers) because those styles/details can be transferred to jeans. She then does statistical/numerical simulations to help suggest which jeans should go into production for the new lines. She says sometimes the in house designers will advocate for a design that the numbers don't indicate will sell well, and the head person will weigh my friend's forecasting against the fashion sense of the designer in making the production decisions.

My friend, incidentally, has an industrial engineering degree.
posted by bluefly at 8:43 PM on July 26, 2009

This post about being a fashion trend forecaster may give you some ideas.
posted by divabat at 8:47 PM on July 26, 2009

Are you asking whether there is an explicit organizational decision that dictates the fact that Avocado will be the hip color in 2011, or whether instead it instead is just a bunch of designers using their best combination of instinct, spying, and competitive nature to outsmart each other and sell lots and lots of stuff?

While I do not have direct personal experience, I do have close relatives who work in the fashion industry. From what I have seen, it clearly the latter. These people have a great fashion sense, a great sense of trends, they know what is coming and going, and they are able to think six- to nine-months ahead of the crowd often enough that they have been successful. They also know who the other leaders and trendsetters are, both in terms of the gliterati and the industry. So I'd say it's more like birds flocking (i.e. the wisdom of crowds) than a tightly run syndicate.
posted by alms at 8:48 PM on July 26, 2009

Read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. There is a chapter about one fashion trend in particular, but I think it explains pretty well how specific small groups of people and street fashion can become mainstream.
posted by whoaali at 8:59 PM on July 26, 2009

I'm going to post this because it does, to some extent, answer your question, as well as being fun:


Miranda Priestly: [Miranda and some assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same] Something funny?

Andy Sachs: No, no, nothing. Y'know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. Y'know, I'm still learning about all this stuff.

Miranda Priestly: This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff.



But something a bit more useful might be Susan Faludi's "Backlash: the undeclared war against American women" in which she details what happened in the late 80s, when fashion designers and writers decided what was "in" that season, and nobody bought it. The media was plastered with the idea of the "new femininity" and "new victorianism" and so on, highly feminine clothes which were supposedly a reaction to women dressing in suits -- and if you just went by the media stories and fashion shows, that was what was happening in the world of fashion. Faludi's actual figures show that in reality, those clothes stayed on the racks, nobody bought them and people lost a ton of money. It's an argument in favour of the "wisdom of crowds" model, in a way, but also for the conspiracy model, except that in this case it failed.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

A long blog post describes that there is a conspiracy, of sorts, at play in color selection.
posted by Zed at 10:53 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I worked for a knitting shop that was designing its own yarn line. The colours were chosen from the colour forecast book that Zed mentions. I was flabbergasted when the designer brought it in. It really is a self-fulfilling prophecy. "You mean that somebody said we're all going to be wearing teal... so all the clothing manufacturers make teal garments... so we all wear teal." Yep.
posted by web-goddess at 11:53 PM on July 26, 2009

An equaintance of mine works at Reebok designing shoes and, once or twice a year, heads out to a major urban center - usually LA or NYC - to do "research". He hits up small sneaker stores, checks out what kids are wearing, takes pictures and notes. Takes all that back to work and uses it as inspiration while working on Yet Another Pair of Sneakers.
posted by jedrek at 11:53 PM on July 26, 2009

In a similar vein to jedrek, my wife works as a graphic designer for a small-ish shoe/handbag company that sells to department stores. She tells me that company reps go to the big fashion shows in "fashion capitals"(Paris, NYC, etc) to get ideas for NEXT YEAR'S line from THIS YEAR'S high fashion. According to them, this is pretty standard. Also, it's kind of weird for me to hear, in mid-July, "Wow, next year's summer shoes look pretty wild!".
posted by owtytrof at 6:41 AM on July 27, 2009

There is a maxim that in times of economic certainty, hemlines rise; in times of depression, they fall. Weirdly, everything I try on is too short this year, so I wonder whether companies are trying to kickstart the economy through clothing.

The Tipping Point is worth reading - the chapter was about Hush Puppies, and how it only took a few wearings by certain influential hipsters to get other people wearing them. Something I find interesting is how something can be very fashionable in big cities, yet never filter through to small towns and non-metropolitan areas - is this because said influencers don't travel out there, or because big cities are melting pots where more is acceptable?
posted by mippy at 8:08 AM on July 27, 2009

« Older Help us plan our Colorado Adventure   |   Advice on constructing a sellable leash please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.