How the Fashion Trend Cycle Works

Without knowledge of the fashion industry, sometimes it can seem like trends come out of nowhere. I mean, who let low rise jeans come back into style? Why has Y2K replaced the coveted ‘90s inspired style of 2015? Well, not to worry friends, for, I am here to give you the basics of the trend cycle.

First off, all trends are predicted five to 10 years in advance, which is why if you look at high fashion runway trends from 2015-2016, you will see a lot of things that are coming out for the masses now.

In runways from fall 2015, we see a few things we would recognize today. There are brightly-colored berets, which we saw trending around Thanksgiving of this year for a brief moment. Notice also the mainly neutral colors, which focus more on texture than pattern. Connect that to the love of sage green and browns all year. Additionally, there is a lot of sparkle and glitter going on. One of the next biggest trends coming in spring 2021 is glitter pants and shirts (learn more about upcoming trends here).

Her Campus Media

This is not the only indicator of what to look forward to, though. Economic and social factors, such as the pandemic and the consequential economic decline, were not predicted by the fashion industry five years ago. As a general rule of thumb, in times of economic prosperity, we see bright colors, fashion risks, luxury fabrics and materials, and more challenging silhouettes. Look to the early 2000s - lime green and pink were THE color choices of the time. We were taking risks like wearing jeans underneath skirts (Ashley Tisdale reference, anyone?), experimenting with accessories and wearing denim dresses (okay, I love it, though).

Sarah Maberry

On the flip side, in times of economic disparity, we tend to see more recycling of older trends with a twist, muted colors, less restrictive silhouettes and a focus on function. Think of current streetwear trends: you see layers of dark neutral colors, with baggy pants and a big jacket. The pants have many pockets and you see callbacks to ‘90s style in JNCO-like silhouettes. 

Additionally, in the 2015 Tumblr era, a time of relatively neutral economic growth, we see yet another example of these economic factors tied into fashion. People loved the grunge of the ‘90s with some chokers and flannels, but the silhouettes involved skinny jeans and crop tops. The outfits were achromatic, having a focus on black and white with the occasional pop of color. 

Anna Schultz- Anna Schultz / Her Campus

Aside from the overall color palettes of different times in trends, you can also think about really popular singular colors. A few years ago mustard yellow was big, with burgundy before that, and millennial pink before that, and so on and so forth. The trend of singular “statement” colors is very predictable.

assorted-color toy ball lot Phil Sheldon / Unsplash

Everyone say, “Hi, Roy G. Biv!” We all know and love the color wheel when it comes to paints and pencils, but let's use it now to think about fashion. So, a few years ago, burgundy was the color that everyone wanted to wear. We all were engaging in monochrome fits like never before. After this, mustard yellow came along and we dropped poor burgundy so quickly. Now, sage green is the color everyone is looking for. If we look at the color wheel and start at the red, we can see the counterclockwise progression of these colors over the years. I wonder what blue shade will be the next big thing?

Apart from all of these cyclical factors of trends, the fashion industry has, for many decades, been slowly moving into more androgynous silhouettes. If you imagine a woman in the 1800s, you see a corset, a large skirt and her breasts pushed up high. Flash forward to the 1920s, dresses are still very in, but they’re less restrictive and have more of a slip feel. Conversely, in the 1950s, you see the hourglass silhouette once again, but you also see the beginning of  “menswear” for women. At the same time that strides were made for women’s workwear, there was a push against this that inspired the hourglass to come back. 

/ Unsplash

We see this today in the combination of very loosely fitting outfits, along with the resurgence of underwear as outerwear. People want to explore what the bounds of androgyny is, combining our current political climate with the desire to express oneself in a visible way. Since the visibility of queerness is still taboo in many places in the U.S., the trends of androgyny becoming more popular have allowed people of all genders and sexualities to explore themselves through fashion without outing themselves. If this were a theory paper, I would connect this to the popularity of putting pronouns in your bios on social media and how the lack of being able to tell if someone is queer from looking at them is all the more empowering for everyone to find who they are outside of gendered bounds. But anyway, this is about fashion!

I know this may sound a bit prescriptive, but there will always be changing factors in fashion that tie into these trends. During mandated lockdowns, DIY clothing trends like tie-dye and bleach pens became very popular. This trend arose because of the lack of access to regular brick-and-mortar stores, along with the distrust of USPS to ship things on time. This was not a trend that could have been predicted, yet it seemed like everyone was showing off their new clothing (or, in some cases, their ruined clothes…). There’s no way that someone five years ago would have been able to see all of those factors together and prepared for tie-dyed clothing. 

tie-dye-legging-skimmer Gap Factory

You now have a great start to learning more about the fashion industry and the trend cycles. With this information, you can think about what trends might be coming soon, and how to get ahead of them to be the best-dressed version of yourself.