When our TikTok FYP includes fashion, it is inevitable we see a variety of influencers give their “trend predictions” for the upcoming season or year. A lot of their credentials include being a fashion merchandising major, living in NYC, working for X company, etc., and that definitely gives them insight and resources, but the process of trend forecasting is a lot more complex and nuanced than one might think.
Most of these influencers create their predictions from books or websites that were put together by countless trend forecasters who have dedicated their careers to creating these projections, and it’s surprisingly based on history, current events and fashion theory. Her Campus at UCLA sat down with Dr. Lorynn Divita, an associate professor at Baylor University who also teaches at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Divita’s specialty is in fashion forecasting and trend contagion, and she is the author of two Bloomsbury textbooks The Why of the Buy, 3rd ed. and Fashion Forecasting, 5th ed. She graciously gave HC at UCLA all her insights into the industry.
First things first, what exactly is fashion trend forecasting? Dr. Divita explained it to HC at UCLA as “when a person or a group makes a concerted effort to look at all the factors surrounding them, including economic factors, political factors, social movements and causes, what’s going on with popular culture… then takes all of these different areas… and tries to come up with what is called the macrotrend, which is a large scale trend that is making its way through the culture, and apply that to how it will influence consumer decision making for the next 2-5 years, or more even.”
So fashion trends and forecasting are more than just looking at the garments, it’s all about different items that can contribute to one’s aesthetic. For example, Dr. Divita is amazed at the rise of Stanley cups over the past few months: “How did these Stanley Quenchers become so ubiquitous? They are everywhere, and they are in every color, and every kid has one. I am fascinated by how a staid, old company like Stanley has been able to rebrand itself in a competitive market… I love that trend of everyone carrying a Stanley Quencher, because it’s not a fashion trend, but it is because it involves color and aesthetic.”
And what goes around comes around, especially in fashion trends, and it is often explained by the current events and historical parallels going on around us. For example, Dr. Divita compared our modern world to the 1960s as we are seeing the rise of new social groups and increased visibility and representation. “Anytime a particular group of any type, it could be a demographic group, it could be a psychographic group, it could be a subculture, but anytime a group raises its presence in the national and international consciousness, people draw inspiration from them,” she explained. “For example, they could be inspired by colors or patterns.” Dr. Divita warns that this could lead to cultural appropriation and both designers and forecasters have to learn about these groups as much as possible to avoid this pitfall.
Whatever is forecasted and integrated into fashion then enters what is known as the “timeline of acceptability,” which was introduced by fashion historian James Laver. “Fashion change is inevitable, and everyone who looks back at pictures of themselves in junior high is mortified because fashion progresses and moves on.” Dr. Divita said. In the cycle, fashion becomes outdated, then amusing and mortifying, to eventually cycle back and become beautiful again. “Just a couple seasons before, when we start to see things being introduced, we might think they are too daring for us, but then we adopt them,” she noted.
Fast fashion has significantly sped up this process, affecting trend forecasting as we know it. We saw this change before our eyes with the rebirth of the Y2K aesthetic, and now we are seeing it with the rise of minimalist aesthetics such as “coastal grandma/granddaughter,” which peaked last summer and “vanilla girl,” which is currently trending. When asked to comment on these trending aesthetics and changes, Divita told HC at UCLA that “vanilla girl,” is “Part of a macro trend where everyone is seeking simplicity and comfort when everyone has all these things coming at us all the time. It’s sort of a visual way and aesthetic way to say ‘Stop, enough!” and have some serenity in your surroundings, in your personal environment, in your wardrobe.” The quick transitions of these various TikTok trends don’t surprise Dr. Divita because the trends are essentially the same, tending to concentrate around simplicity and an upper middle class demographic.
So Coastal Grandma, Vanilla Girl, etc are not all that inventive. When speaking to Paper Magazine on the same topic, Dr. Divita explained “‘Coastal Grandmother’ is more of a stylistic evolution than it is a revolution. After all, it shares a lot of the same elements of hygge, or the Scandinavian word for a mood of coziness, contentment, connection and comfort, which peaked in the US around 2016. The only thing is that hygge is harder to market to Americans, but if you say ‘Coastal Grandmother’ to an American… they know what it is.”
At the end of the day, certain trends will be forecasted and popular on social media, but they are not necessarily representative of our larger population. Brands don’t often push totally novel trends, they just provide a surface-level variety, so everyone can get what they want. In fact, Dr. Divita told HC at UCLA that Levi’s Jeans just came out with their numbers for the past season, and 30% of sales still come from skinny jeans!
So, how is it possible for all these trends to co-exist at once, the answer goes back to fast fashion and collective selection. Dr. Divita described collective selection, stating “Anyone can choose from among 10s or dozens of trends at any given time because there’s so many… and there are dozens more that we can ignore or discard. So we end up getting small subgroups of people that all adopt the same look and other groups are doing something totally different just as timely.”
High fashion trends now trickle down faster than ever. Going back in history, retailers used to send sketchers to shows in Paris and New York to draw out the trends, and the looks would become available to upper-middle, middle, and working classes seasons later. However, according to Dr. Divita, nowadays red carpet knockoffs are produced within 24 hours. “This is bad for fashion, and the reason why so many brands have resorted to the branding they have. Chanel sells so many interlocking “C” merchandise because you can knock off a garment design style without legal repercussions, but you cannot however copy a logo because that is counterfeiting. In the US, there is no design protection of wearing apparel, so we’ve shifted to putting logos all over the place,” Dr. Divita broke down for us.
Therefore, Dr. Divita encourages all fashion consumers to take a hard look at the clothes they are buying and analyze why they like them because there are so many factors at play. For those specifically wanting to get into fashion, she advises “Read everything. Read about economics, read about politics, because what a lot of people don’t think about is most of our clothing is not made here in the United States anymore… Things that impact other parts of the world will eventually impact us, whether it’s weather-related and cotton crops not growing in India or whether it’s dye factories in China having to shut down because of illness.” She also says to make connections because if one can do that in the apparel industry, they are valuable everywhere.
Therefore, the next time we see a trend forecast pop up on TikTok, let’s take a step back. Let’s look at the greater meaning of it, let’s think if it’s part of an already existing macro-trend and most importantly, think about if it’s something we like. We all have our favorites. For Dr. Divita, 90s minimalism and 70s London punk are always cool. What are your favorites, and how do they fit into fashion history? The answer is likely more significant than what meets the eye.