Why Do Fashion Trends Always Return?

Flares, corduroys, bomber jackets, platform shoes, the list can go on and on. People look back on any decade and say “God, the fashion was awful! What were they thinking?!”. Yet somehow we recycle these trends, make a few tweaks, and they keep coming back. What gives some trends the staying power of always returning? In other words, why do some fashion trends always return?

Why Do Fashion Trends Always Return?

Slim-fit pants, skinny jeans, pegs, drainpipes, stovepipes, cigarette pants, pencil pants, skinny pants or skinnies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time I return from the mall, my mother wants me to model my purchases. And somehow every “hot” item gets marred by her comments of “Oh, peasant skirts are back in?  I wore those!” or “One-piece jumpsuits are back? I’m sure Grammy still has mine in storage somewhere!”. “It” trends are now just updates of my mother’s closet. Luckily, shoulder pads haven’t made a comeback, but it seems as though nearly everything else has!

The real reason these fashion trends always return is that designers look to the past and see what worked, and what didn’t. Much like music today, you rarely get an original; we sample someone else for the background and add our own twist. Tweak it, update it, and younger generations think you’ve reinvented the wheel. It’s nearly impossible to think of something that has absolutely never been done before in any shape or form. Designers have to look for inspiration from somewhere, and what better place to look than the attic?

Some trends come back because they work- they’re universally flattering. Take the baby doll dress for example. It was groovy in the sixties, sure, but people of today could use the forgiving cut of the empire waist. Then there’s the peasant skirt. After a few years of miniskirts, then micro-mini’s, there’s only an inch or two left between you and a fine for public indecency. So what would make sense? Go the polar opposite and try to fuse modest with fun. With a few embellishments, you have a hit, a trend, and déjà vu.

Another universally trend that keeps boomeranging back in style is the skinny jean. Any woman feels thinner just by saying the words ”skinny jeans”. And even if you’re poured into them, it gives your confidence a boost. They might as well be moved to the list of “classic” looks, because my skinny jeans will never retire. Leggings go hand in hand with skinny jeans; both elongate the legs, look sexy, and can easily be dressed up or down. Even people who aren’t on top of trends can manage to piece together a killer outfit with basics like these, hence, a hot seller. Each decade you see slight variations on the skinny jean, maybe it’s white or neon candy colors, paired with heels or sneakers. My two favorites, the skinny jean and the legging, even recently made a hybrid baby- the jegging. And yes, I was thrilled.

Fashions that “normal” people can’t pull off won’t stay around long. It has to be flattering and for the most part, comfortable. When I saw thigh-high boots in catalogues last year, I laughed. Sure, the Victoria’s Secret model looked great in them, but I’m no angel. This is why ankle boots have been in style since the 19th century. Whether it’s with spikes or rosettes, in suede or patent leather, I can always count on some variation of the ankle boot to be ”in”.

Let’s go back to the very beginning. The world’s first “outfit”. The loincloth. No, I’m not saying to look for this one any time soon, but I’m talking about animal print. There’s something primal and sexy about animal print, and there hasn’t been a year where it’s been “out”. Snakeskin print shoes, alligator clutches, zebra belts, giraffe dresses, if it’s a wild animal, you can wear it. It may be time for you to take the feathers out of your hair, but animal prints are constantly being used and revamped. Sometimes they’re neon, sometimes they’re textured, some get embellished with diamonds or faded out and smoky. Perhaps it’s the beauty and grace of these big cats that consistently inspire designers, or perhaps it’s the raw sex appeal, but this one’s never going anywhere. Case in point: this month’s Cosmo gives you a how to guide on using fishnets to create a snakeskin pattern pedicure.

Jeans are the only unpredictable fashion trend. Is acid wash in? To flare or not to flare? Are rips and holes still trendy or does it look like my lawnmower ate my jeans and spat them out? The safest bet seems like a dark wash boot cut, which transcends all decades. It seems as though the rules of fashion are constantly changing, so maybe a fashion “misstep” is really just being ahead of the curve. I need it in writing that white pants can be worn after Labor Day, maybe my mother will believe me then. The only rules I find to be cardinal are no black with brown and no socks with sandals. Lord help you if you break those, because even my father knows that!

My current recipe for success is to take something classic, like a little black dress or an A-line skirt and just add glitter! Jazzing up a classic with some trendy accessories is always a safe bet. Though the word “bling” might be out of style, this recipe never will!

There’s a lot of pressure on designers to create a hot new trend that’s both flattering and accessible. So they look to past decades to inspire them, and it seems like almost a guarantee that after a twenty-year dormancy, fashion trends always return. Even hair styles and accessories fall into this twenty-year vintage recipe. Our current culture seems to be a hodgepodge of past trends, with the exception of Lady Gaga. Some trends may deserve to stay in the fashion graveyard, but hold on to your bellbottoms, they’ll be back soon.

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