Fashion Cycles: What Is It And How Does It Work?
"While the 20 year cycle is still true-ish, all of the new technologies available and also the rise of social media has condensed the life cycle of trends"
For a long time, general knowledge said that fashion trends circle back every two decades. It makes sense when we consider that in the industry we used to know before, twenty years was more than enough time for a trend to rise, fade away, and return with a modern twist. And while the 20 year cycle is still true-ish, all of the new technologies available and also the rise of social media has condensed the life cycle of trends – I mean, by a lot. Nowdays, different styles from every decade are making appearances at what seems to be random moments, and a multiple aesthetics can be very popular at the same time. Trends as we know today can be originated from multiple sources like celebrities, influencers, runway fashion shows, textile manufacturers, social media, music, and more. Their brief appearance and quick disappearance are now very well calculated by designers, stylists and trend forecasters. A new trend may arrive for one reason and fall out of favor for another, or even for no reason at all, it just suddenly turns into old news. To understand it a little better, let’s talk about the five stages of a trend life cycle: introduction, rise, peak, decline and obsolence.
It can be anything style related, like a silhouette, color, pattern, fabric, or any other thing. The origin of any new trends usually comes from a major brand or designer, or from a TikTok influencer if we are talking about gen Z trends. Even though it’s a fact that not all new trends presented in one season will rise to impressive popularity, when the introduction comes from a major brand or an influential person, the chances are higher for the said trend to find success among other high-fashion and luxury brands before it becomes accessible to retailers and fast-fashion. New trends can also be introduced by alternative means, like the DIY fashion trend that we all watched be born during the series of lockdowns in 2020. And, not odd to the introduction stage, the visibility of a trend is born from a niche target audience, being it either high-fashion or edgy consumers. That’s also the explanation to why trends at this stage exist in small quantities and at only a few retailers: mass production only starts when a trend’s relevance is assured.
Rise This happens when some upcoming style evolves from simply being “new” to being actually “trendy”. It often happens with the help of influentional people like actual influencers or celebrities who popularize the style and concept. Stylists and media strategists also play a big role in this popularization, as they’re the one who will calculate which person will wear what.
For example, the super famous and followed pop stars Ariana Grande and Olivia Rodrigo – specially important for gen Z – were seem wearing platform heels at more than one occasion and they also had lots of Instagram posts with them. Just a few months after, trend forecasters noted the shoe had a rise of populatity of almost 30%. It was a trend originlly introducted by major brands like Valentino and Versace, but it took less than a year for us to see platform heels shoes being sold by multiple fast-fashion retailers. Occasions like this are the exact explanation to how a trend can go from celebrity-favorite to mainstream-favorite: celebrities are largely responsible for diffusing trends to the general public, once this public is widely influenced by their ideas and general lifestyle.
Peak The peak stage is where a trend reaches the highest point of its popularity among the mainstream audience. Now most retailers carry the trend and it is now much more accessible to all consumer types, with prices way lower than they had during the rise stage, and it’s not present in most luxury brands designs anymore. This is a very peculiar time in a trend’s life cycle, because the length of its peak is kind of unpredictable – it all depends on how much time it will take for people to get over it. Some trends stay popular for only one season, while some other trends are able to maintaim a high popularity for many consecutive seasons – it can go for years if it’s a relly good one. This is where trend forecasters are really useful and can provide really helpful data to fashion brands who must know season-to-season how an increasing or popular trend will behave in the coming months. A trend that’s predicted to decrease in popularity most certainly won’t be included in the brand’s upcoming collection or line, creating more space for new and more efficient trends.
During that stage, high-fashion and luxury brands tend to be at least one season ahead of their bridge and fast-fashion counterparts, so when a trend is at its peak for the general public, it will not be seem in the high-fashion. This is because they’re the ones which are supposed to introduce the new trends, so they tend to stay away from mainstream appeal in order to maintain their status.
Decline On a related note, the decline stage closely follows the peak stage because it lives behind the fine line of market oversaturation. A trend’s widespread popularity is often its downfall, because consumers tend to grow tired of seeing too much of a trend, or start to feel too “mainstream”. Some trends rise so quickly that consumers get bored of it just as fast. When this happens, luxury brands keep the trend for one or two seasons only, and retailers begin to sell the trend at discounted prices before eventually phasing out the trend entirely.
Obsolescence Here we are: the final stage of a trend’s life cycle. During this specific stage a style becomes labeled as ‘out’ and ‘uncool’ - or cringe if you’re a gen Z enthusiast. Groups and consumers who very shortly before enjoyed the said trend will now move on to new peak trends and leave the old, obsolete ones behind.
But as much as it sounds like it, a trend that has became ‘obsolete’ is not always forever banned from the the fashion cycle – it can be cool again in some time, and it doesn’t have to take 20 years. More ften than not, past trends are reinvented to fit the current moment and then trey’re ready to experience a full life cycle again. And even though the life cycle of a trend can’t be predicted with 100% precision, it is possible to find certain patterns to it in order to better navigate market changes, reaching pretty good statistics, and while following this current model, fashion brands are able to make better collection decisions that will satisfy their customers and later on create new trends for the world to follow. Luxury and fast-fashion brands may have different roles in society and they also may be on staggered trend calendars from one another, but the usefulness of understanding a trend’s life cycle remains the same for both of them. It’ s also important to understand that each trend lives through its life cycle in a unique way, so to have real-time data on specific trends is essential to clearly see their past, present, and future behaviors.