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Microtrends Have a Macro Impact

Overconsumption of fashion in 2023 doesn’t eat

A new year, a new season for fashion. The beginning of 2023 marks a liminal period for clothing design where everything is up in the air. What will the new trends be? What is in and what is out (See the Daily‘s horoscope page to find out!)? Whether or not you are someone who follows what’s next in fashion, it is undeniable that trends play a large role in shaping the cultural zeitgeist of the time. According to Harper’s Bazaar, clothing has been a direct reflection of sociocultural values for centuries: “The idea first came to the fore in the 14th century when rotating fashion trends were used by the echelons of society as a way of displaying their wealth, success and status.” 

What do we picture when we think of the 1960s? Most likely mini skirts, gogo boots, and beehives. The 1970s? Probably bell-bottom jeans, wavy hair, and fur-lined statement coats. Every decade of the 20th century can be defined by its distinctive clothing movements. Just think of how often decade-themed events are held at schools, clubs, parties, and more. Do you see someone wearing a leotard and neon eyeshadow? One could reasonably guess they’re emulating the 1980s. Low-rise jeans and a bedazzled T-shirt? Definitely the 2000s. This pattern in fashion history raises the question, how will the fashion of our current decade be remembered in those to come?

With more access to inspiration than ever before, it seems that the fashion of the 2020s is open to endless possibilities – whether to its benefit or to its detriment. Up through the early 2010s, most people engaged with the fashion of the day via magazines and by emulating the cultural icons of the time. Issues of Vogue or Cosmopolitan would grace our shelves only a few times a year, typically in line with the four seasons. People would view actors, musicians, and political figures in movies, music videos, or televised events that could often only be experienced in the moment. Today, however, we can revisit almost anything at the click of a button. Interested in the latest awards show attire? It was uploaded online only seconds after the cameras started rolling. What was that singer wearing in that one music video again? A simple YouTube search allows you to replay that memory forever. We no longer have to go out of our way to seek artistic inspiration; it floods our senses at every moment. 

This change is both helpful and harmful. On the one hand, the movement from magazines to the internet is helping to even the playing field for fashion by smoothing out the barriers between classes. As the Atlantic article “Fashion’s Racism and Classism are Finally out of Style” explains, “the tight control of fashion’s most powerful and influential brands makes it difficult for people outside the well-pedigreed white elite to enter the industry at all, let alone influence how it conceives of luxury.” The fashion industry has too long championed the exclusivity of the wealthy, the white, and the thin. The equalizing nature of the internet pushes against these imposed boundaries. Anyone with access to an internet browser can view almost any fashion website they wish. Whether they want to make a purchase or simply to draw inspiration, the opportunity to view designs from high-end retailers and fast-fashion knocks is available to everyone. 

On the other hand, the unlimited nature of the internet can also invoke overwhelming feelings. With so much inspiration bombarding our screens at every moment, it can become difficult to find or maintain any sense of individuality. We can see this effect reflected in the fashion trends of the early 2020s. The low-rise jeans of the 2000s, groovy prints of the ’60s, and statement coats of the ’70s have all had a comeback. Even pieces from previous centuries, such as corsets and ballet skirts, have been incorporated into mainstream fashion. In 2023, most clothing inspiration seems to veer into an amorphous amalgamation of all the previous fashion trends ever conceived. This endless realm of possibility can result in incredibly creative artistic expression. We have the opportunity to push against and deconstruct the man-made boundaries of fashion. However, this sublime influx of inspiration can also wreak havoc on both mental health and the environment. 

Short-form content such as TikTok only adds to the already overwhelming amount of inspiration the internet can provide us. TikTok’s format allows for unique pieces to rapidly blow up, spurring fast-fashion companies to mass produce their take on the trend. Yet just as fast as one item comes into fashion, another phases out. According to an article from Screenshot, “there are five stages to a trend cycle: the introduction, the rise, the peak, the decline, and eventually, the obsolescence.” Using this model, it is clear that trend cycles are shorter than ever before. It took skinny jeans about ten years to fall out of fashion. Windbreakers survived for nearly 20 years through the ’80s and ’90s. That viral House of Sunny green dress seen everywhere on TikTok? It only lasted a few months. This groovy green dress perfectly exemplifies the microtrend phenomenon; in an interview with NPR, fashion researcher Mandy Lee defines microtrends as “singular pieces of clothing rather than genres or aesthetics that reach peak and obsolescence very, very quickly.” These days, the average lifespan of a microtrend is a meagre three to five months

The ramifications of microtrends go beyond an overwhelming “for you page.” Tom Crisp, who teaches a sustainable fashion course at the University of Falmouth, claims that rapid trend cycles affect our mental well-being and lead to excess consumerism. “The trends prey on our insecurities about the way we look and feel,” he says, “encouraging us to consume more in order to stay on trend.” The combination of bottomless clothing inspiration and short form content seems to create an insatiable need to always display the newest fashion trend. Needless to say, this rise in consumer culture is extremely detrimental not only to our digital but our physical environment. To meet the impossibly quick demand for microtrends, many fast-fashion companies cut corners when producing their clothing. Instead of durable fabrics, cheaper materials derived from fossil-fuels are often used as substitutes. The poor-quality dyes used to create the trendy, vivid colours of TikTok pollute the water sources surrounding the factories where they’re used. All this for the item to inevitably go out of fashion in a few months and likely end up in a landfill.

How do we combat these effects? Cassandra Ditmer, a sustainable stylist based in Los Angeles, argues that we should attempt to practice mindful consumerism: “If you find an item and can immediately think of at least three ways to wear it with existing items you own, then that’s a good sign. If you are feeling the urge to buy additional items just to make the one new one work, that’s not as good of a sign.” In other words, we don’t have to completely eliminate the potential joys of fashion trends from our lives. Instead, we need to develop a deeper awareness of ourselves as consumers so as to not participate in excess consumption. Don’t base your spending habits solely on what’s trending online; purchase what makes you truly happy. If you’re interested in shopping more sustainably in and around Montreal, check out the Daily’s article “A Second Chance.”