Have micro trends disrupted the 20 year trend cycle?


Nothing exists in a vacuum, and when it comes to fashion, pure originality is arguably non-existent. Of course, some styles appear as groundbreaking and brand new. Some are reinventions. But the majority of clothing styles we see today take at least some inspiration from a rich history of fashion. This is no bad thing. Paying homage to your fashion ancestors should be encouraged. 

It is widely accepted that trends tend to cycle back around roughly every 20 years. Tumblr gave birth to a 90’s grunge renaissance in the early 2010’s. In 2020, we saw a re-emergence of ‘Y2k’ styles, almost exactly 20 years on from Paris Hilton’s Juicy Couture moments. This 20 year cycle has evidence ranging from the 1970’s to present day. However, the 20 year predictability is arguably starting to wane. 

Even Paris Hilton is bringing back her tracksuits for 2021.

It’s been acknowledged that the life cycle of a trend has reduced from 20 years. If you are a part of some niche circles on Tiktok, you may have seen some videos that make you, and your wardrobe, feel very old. Some users have taken the Y2K trend further than the mid 2000’s, into the 2010’s, donning layered tank tops and skinny jeans. I am not slating this; I am all for personal style and expression. But I do believe this to be just one example of how trend cycles are reducing to 15, even 10 years. 

Also much debated about on Tiktok is the rise of the ‘micro-trend’. The term was popularised on the app by user @oldloserinbrooklyn, and it describes a trend with a very short shelf life, booming and then expiring within a few months. And it has appeared to disrupt the certainty of the typical 20 year cycle. Instead of a clothing style remaining ‘in style’ for years at a time, eventually being synonymous with a specific decade, the micro trend has come and gone before the end of the season. This encourages the mass production and consumption of that product in a short period of time. 

From TV to TikTok

The cause of this appears to lie in where we get our trends from. The rise of social media has undoubtedly changed the life cycle of trends. Celebrities and magazines used to be the trend setters. A prime example of this is from the TV show ‘Friends’, in which Rachel’s hairstyles were faithfully copied by women the world over. At this time, styles took longer to be adopted by the wider public. The trickle down effect from celebrities and fashion magazines to clothing retailers and then clothing consumers was slower, leading to longer trend cycles. Longer trend cycles meant clothing naturally lasted longer. There was less pressure to constantly update your wardrobe. 

However, now social media is the big player in the fashion world. Micro trends are the result of an internet culture of instant gratification and the constant struggle to be seen in the latest hot trend. The life cycle of a micro trend goes as follows:

Fashion influencers flag up the latest new piece, and ensues a race to own said item. Next, manufacturers respond to the demand and rush to recreate the item. Eventually knock offs saturate mainstream high street retailers. By this time, those who appear to steer fashion trends (ie. Instagram fashion influencers and models) have moved on to the next micro trend.

A notable example of this phenomenon is the House of Sunny ‘Hockney’ dress. Early in the summer of 2020, Kendall Jenner posted a picture of herself in the classic green Hockney dress. Vogue followed up by naming it the dress of the summer. Fast forward a year, and the House of Sunny dress is the poster child for TikTok fuelled micro trends. Not only has it been duped by several high street retailers, including Primark, but it has also been released in at least five different colours by House of Sunny themselves.

The impact of micro trends

But why should we care about all of this? Fashion has always had trends and fads that have eventually fallen away and become outdated. But something has undeniably changed. Our consumption of clothes has rapidly increased in recent years. According to The True Cost, the world consumes 400% more new clothing today than it did just 20 years ago. Moreover, over “92 million tons of textile waste” is produced annually. These staggering statistics demonstrate the incline of not only the production of fast fashion, but the consumption of it too. The increase of new clothing, paired with shorter trend cycles, has led to mass consumption of short term, fast fashion. 

When arguing against fast fashion, many bring up the same counter argument. This is that fast fashion is only what many people can afford. This is clearly evident. Sadly cheaply produced, hence more affordable, items are inherent to the nature of capitalism. Sustainable clothing requires more ethically sourced materials. The increased cost of this means sustainable clothing therefore becomes a luxury and privilege, reserved for those who can afford it. But those who can afford £200 Shein hauls, full of micro trend items that they will throw out in the following months, could probably benefit from spending that same money on more sustainable clothes, that are truer to their personal style and will last them much longer. 

Fundamentally died to this debate is the concept of personal style. It is important to develop your own personal style, true to your personality and who you think you are in the long term. Removing yourself from the rat race of micro trends and social media fashion may allow you to discover what you really want to wear, from any style or decade. By buying what you actually love to wear, your wardrobe will last much longer! It not only benefits you, but also the environment. Forget what you think is fashionable or big right now – in 6 months time it probably won’t be. Instead, aim for clothing with the long term in mind. Do you think you think you will get lots of wear out of it? Will you cringe at it in a year’s time? If so, try to stay clear of such items!

Avoiding short term trends

To avoid micro trends, dissect the item of clothing into what you actually want. For example, colourful resin jewellery has been a huge trend this summer. Although jewellery like this is very easy to make at home, large manufacturers have been creating it on a mass scale. As Tiktok user @lilrotini suggests, try to think about what you specifically enjoy about the piece. When purchasing a micro trend item, have the following questions in mind. Is it the colour that you like, the style, the shape, or all of it combined? Take your favourite feature, or a combination, and aim to purchase an item that fits your desire (be it second hand, vintage or new). This way you avoid consuming an item that is specifically a micro trend, and end up with a piece of clothing that you love and will stay classic in your wardrobe for longer. 

Colourful and chunky jewellery as seen on Bella Hadid characterised summer 2021 trends. Also seen on the likes of Dua Lipa and Iris Law.

If you lean towards a certain decade, this is easy to incorporate into your shopping habits. Try to find classic items of that era that avoid specific micro trends. For example, if you’re into the 70’s aesthetic, such as colourful flares or sweater vests, try exploring classic 70’s pieces. Get a classic pair of flares and a simple sweater vest that abstain from distinct 2021 trends. This will outlive any current crazes, and look stylish for much longer. 

Shortening trend cycles ultimately lead to increased consumption of fast fashion. The rise of the micro trend has exacerbated this, encouraging a heightened turnover of new clothes. Of course, sustainable clothing has become something of a privilege that only some can afford. But fast fashion is often a necessity, and there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Therefore, the focus needs to shift away from sustainable clothing from sustainable brands. Instead, the aim should be towards creating a stronger, long term wardrobe that reflects your personality, instead of the current, short term trends.

1 thought on “Have micro trends disrupted the 20 year trend cycle?

  1. The issue at hand rests on the postmodern entrapment asserting that all trends of the future must derive from the past. Our fashion-awareness has become ultra-retro and we are unable to conceive of a singular popular style that reflects the ideology of our modern society. We have reached a point of ultimate individuality and there are indeed no defining trends of this decade as of late due to microculture, social media and endless self-referentiality. We have made great advances in innovation when it comes to materials; practicality, durability and multipurpose convenience should be a defining feature of 2020s fashion, but this scientific leap has been kept from the often sexualised, frivolous styles designed to enhance the figure and complement the unique individual of today’s street and social media post. We need to break loose from the endless recycling and dumbing-down of goth and emo fashion which became so embedded in the 2000s zeitgeist of online trauma-isolation, and unite our fashionable society with a sustainable, futuristic and creative new look. The trend cycle cannot be decelerated, but it certainly can be made to look cool.

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