Is the Trend Life-Cycle Elongating?


When I first saw over-the-knee boots in my fashion mags more than five years ago, I swooned. But I thought to myself, “There’s no way that trend’ll last more than a single season.”

Last year when over-the-knee boots were shown again, I bought a pair, all the while thinking, “I love these and I’ll wear them well beyond their moment in the sun … but I bet that moment will have passed by next fall.”

And now, as I look at the billions of over-the-knee boots flooding the magazines, stores, and online shops, I marvel. Because my brain is still stuck in middle school, a time period in which trends lasted a month, and anyone wearing them beyond their window of trendiness was subject to ridicule.

Now, I realize that middle school kids are chock full of The Meanies, and look for any excuse to torture each other. But I am convinced that trends – actual, adult, trendy trends – are cycling for longer. Items are “hot” and “must-have” for YEARS at a time, giving those of us who enjoy riding the waves a bit more time to consider, assess, save up, and purchase in a reasonable amount of time.

I also feel like there is a lot more leeway to wear trends beyond their magazine-approved life cycle. At this point, an item or style PEAKS when it’s trendy, but continues to be worn fashionably for a very long time after that peak.

And I’m so pleased. Because quick-turn trends encourage reckless spending and needless consumption, not to mention making the adult world feel even more clique-y than it already is. So here’s to trends on a curve instead of a spike, and here’s to wearing a trend from five years ago and feeling like a million bucks.

Image courtesy Zappos.

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Originally posted 2010-11-12 06:06:00.

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32 Responses to “Is the Trend Life-Cycle Elongating?”

  1. eek

    I totally agree. I remember when skinny jeans came back into popularity over the last 3-5 years. I swore I would never wear them again, but now I adore all my skinny jeans! Even the ones with zippers at the ankle are back! So I guess what's old is new again 🙂

  2. poodletail

    Super high-heeled platform ankle booties: loved them at first sight 3 winters ago, bought a few pairs that purt 'near broke the bank. Lectured myself about spending so much $$ on a trend but danged if I'm not still wearing them again this season!

  3. Lisa

    Yes! I really liked the boyfriend blazers that were around last year, with the straight cut and the rolled-up sleeves, but I was on a tight budget, it would have been a kind of play piece rather than fitting with my general look, and all the magazines were promoting it as a this-season piece, so I didn't get one. But they're still around this year so I may still go for it. I do wonder if it's more true for things like outerwear/jackets and boots, which I think people tend to spend a little more on and wear for longer anyway – it'll be interesting to see what other examples people come up with in comments.

  4. BiblioMOMia

    SKINNY JEANS! Remember when they showed up, oh, 5 years ago? I thought, "never again." And they're definitely here to stay.

  5. Kasmira

    I feel the same way. It seems like trends are lasting longer. I wonder why….are they better? more flattering? Or are we just poorer?!

    Like the other commentors, I'm amazed that skinny jeans are still "in." Thank goodness jeggings came out because there was no way I was squishing myself into tight, non-spandex jeans.

  6. Nique

    Great post. My eye is just getting used to OTK boots, but I was just telling a collegue that I didn't think I would buy them because the trend was bound to be over soon since they have been around for a few seasons, and their probably not worth the investment. Maybe I should reconsider.
    One trend that I can't believe has been around for so long is the super-baggy pants for guys. I know the skinny pants are in vogue now too, but you still see some guys in the the falling-off-their-butts pants.

  7. Stephanie D.

    I think people are just more open to fashion and instead of being 'in the now' ALL the time they can appreciate a killer piece from decades gone by.

  8. La Historiadora de Moda

    Yes!!! As some of the others have said – skinny jeans and pants. They were really hot 4-5 years ago, and they are still trending. The boots over skinnies look is riding the decade wave for sure.

    I think colorful tights are going to continue to be trendy this year, as they were last year, too.

  9. Jessica

    I definitely have to go with skinny jeans. I remember wearing them in junior high / high school! When skinnies came back I resisted for the first few years and stuck with my classic bootcuts. I finally gave in and bought myself a pair of skinny jeans last year and now I have about 4 pairs that I wear regularly.

  10. christine

    I lived in England for almost three years and I noticed that the trends there hit about two years later on the East Coast. So maybe now the trends are hitting earlier than they used to and lasting a bit longer.

  11. Catherine

    Totally – I've been thinking this for quite a while. In fact as I have worked in fashion retail most of my adult life, I can say this has been evolving through the last decade. Examples – lace up boots, maxi dresses, leggings, skinny jeans, military-inspired jackets, smocks etc. Could part of the reason be that it's kind of all been done now? We say things like 'this season the 80's are back!' Really? A whole decade in a season??? It's no wonder things linger. When i was a teenager in the 80's, if you wore the must-have skirt for a week over it's sell-by date you were done for! I am so glad those days are over! I think another reason could be the economic climate but this has been happening longer than that. Another reason could be increase in wearing vintage and thrifting as this kind of blurs the edges of trends. I could go on, and I could make more sense, but I am just quickly commenting between games with my 3 year old!! Interesting post – hope I made some sense?!

  12. Cassi

    I am so jealous you bought a pair. I am still looking the right ones. I do love that fashion trends are lasting longer and longer. Helps the budget

  13. Catherine

    Oh another reason – the incredible speed at which trends get picked up by the cheaper end of the market ironically seems to elongate the lifespan of the trend. Trends don't slowly filter down from the runway now, by which time the designers can declare the trend 'out' – nowadays the cheaper brands seem to have it the day after the shows and so as magazines are full of higher end advertising etc this makes it last longer. Ok I really am making no sense now am I? I know what I mean! Back to playing…

  14. Vile Ornament

    When I tried on my first pair of skinny jeans over five years ago and couldn't believe how flattering they were (I saw them on Scarlett Johansson back when she was a serious trendsetter and, being similarly curvy on the bottom, I was inspired), I figured they would stick around for a while … but not necessarily long enough for my mother to buy a pair!

    I think some 'trends' transition into becoming pseudo-classics because they appeal to a wide audience. Moreover each season designers multiply, and they put out an extraordinary number of ideas and, while only a handful become trendy, it is fairly easy for consumers of fashion to pick the "best" trends to try out, especially because we have all sorts of information available to us on the internet (and not just in ladymags). Bad stuff goes away pretty quickly. And, while the economy may have something to do with people hanging onto pieces for longer than before, I think sustainability plays a role as well. I think we're more conscious of consuming new items every season because we're all thinking more about not wasting our money or our resources.

  15. Sal

    Catherine: I think that's EXACTLY what's happening! Trends used to take eons to get from runway to real life, and by the time regular folks had access, the World of Fancy had moved on. Now, high street retailers are jumping on trendy bandwagons so much faster … which means we all have longer to revel in the "latest" trend.

  16. K.Line

    I think the trends are lasting longer for me because I'm just not switching up as fast as I used to. Which is fine with me. I don't need style whiplash 🙂

  17. Spacegeek

    Yep–skinny jeans. Which I find unflattering and more importantly, uncomfortable. Which is why I embraced the jegging trend– my version of skinnies as I'd never put my hips in even skinnies w/ o a looong top. So jeggings just make me look current while also comfortable!

  18. CompassRose

    I think Catherine has it. In 1987, in Ottawa, as an only-occasional reader of fashion magazines with a limited budget, by the time a trend hit the stores I could afford, or the actual people around me were wearing it, it was long over even in Toronto among the freshest.

    Now, thanks to the Internet, you can actually watch a trend happen – from cutting-edge style bloggers posting street pictures, TO the runway, and then back! And it still takes the same amount of time to filter through to the average person on the street of Averagetown. Unless you're trying to keep up with the beautiful people in some metropolis, you can stun the folks at the office with a trend that THEY'LL all be buying into the next year.

  19. angie

    I totally agree! Trends have a much longer lifespan these days. In fact there are very few fads.

    Style is so individual these days since there is no one way of looking fab – this is what gives trends their longevity. Items are refreshed season after season because people wear them in different ways. You are probably sick of hearing this but effective execution is everything.

    Fashion has to have its early adopters and mainstream market. That’s how the trend cycle stays alive and kicking. YOU have great power on whether a trend stays alive actually.

    Leggings and skinnies were supposed to be a one season wonder – the style gurus were so, so wrong. The public has made these looks completely mainstream. Love that power!

  20. Tabithia

    Nique, super baggy pants on men aren't trendy or even fashionable lol, they're more of a lifestyle thing. I'm not saying every guy that wears them has the same lifestyle but that's what it portrays more than most "trends." Actually for the past couple of seasons studying the trend book when I worked retail slim fit (not skinnies) boot cut jeans were in style for men, now if more would just jump on the bandwagon and let it stay there!

    Skinny jeans for one, maxi dresses too though, they've been around for 3 seasons now and despite a lot of people thinking they'll end I think they'll stick for a while longer. Unfortunately I got rid of all of mine 🙁

    Also, not only are trends lasting longer but they're coming back faster. I am NOT old enough to have clothes I was wearing when I was 5 to be back in style!

  21. Rachel

    I agree that Catherine is right on the money – but Stephanie's comment resonated with me also. I too think that fashion is more forgiving and that people are more open to personal interpretation of trends now than ever before. And in our economic situation more consumers are thrifting items and creating DYI projects, which I feel not only prolongs trends, but helps to revive trends from the past. It's funny, someone mentioned the return of the 80's and I swore that I would never wear 80's clothes again, but now my clothest is full of them, repros as well as originals thrifted.

  22. KT

    I was just thinking about this phenomenon. In my opinion there are trends and there are fads. Trends are the things that slowly come into acceptance (Over-the-knee-boots) while a fad jumps on the scene in all its glory to fizzle out just as instantly (initial-embroidered shirts, sillybandz). Telling these apart are tricky, but if you are able to do that you end up with wardrobe items that stay current for several years. – Katy

  23. Michael McGraw -

    I cannot explain why jeans with holes in them are still being sold, but the trend has been around long enough that I am wearing a pair right now.

    I still feel like a bit of an idiot, but I like the flair on them. The people around me seem to think they look fine.

    (The distinctive tear in my pair right now is a torn "E." How did they know my middle initial?


  24. leah

    Ooh you read my mind!

    I was just thinking about this exact thing this morning.

    I like that things stay fashionable. I think it has to do with the fact that people were sick of buying new clothes every season, and are more aware of what suits them. So they stick with what works, updated with accessories. The rise of fashion blogging and the "What Not To Wear" series has put more emphasis on personal flair and style, and buying things that suit you rather than what is in fashion. It's a turn for the better for sure.

  25. jilly

    I was thinking about that all summer long when I found that gladiator sandals are still around. And again when I finally broke down and bought a pair of skinny jeans.

    I also agree with Catherine, but to go a little further the trends themselves are accessible to be made at a more affordable cost. Or has it always been that way and I'm just waking up to that now? I mean, military and ruffles are styles that can be carried out with any manner of fabric and are relatively quick and easy to put together. They're also easily found in thrift and surplus stores. Could this be a way of making the fashion world fit our current economic situation?

  26. Catherine

    Me again! Oh yes gladiator sandals, good one! Totally agree with lots of the points here. Also wanted to make the point that it's not just us mere mortals – Kate Moss has been wearing her skinny jeans for years now! Moreover, not wishing to over-generalise, but I think it also has something to do with the changing demographic of fashion customers. I am a 40 year old woman – for various reasons, fashion trends are no longer confined to younger customers in the same way that they were a while back. I think this also elongates the cycle as there is not such a quick turnaround of customers if you know what I mean? We have woken up to the fact that, as others have pointed out, it's mostly about how you wear stuff rather than what you're wearing and this makes garments more versatile, more long-lasting and have a wider appeal. From a more personal point of view, I have also woken up to refashioning and making my own, as others have mentioned.

  27. lisa

    The trend life cycle in the last decade has gone so quickly and recycled so many concepts from past decades that nothing feels new anymore. So fall/winter 2010 is all about Mad Men style and ladylike dressing. Okay, but didn't we already go through a ladylike/demure phase 5 years ago when circle skirts and round-toed pumps took off? I have a pair of brown suede kitten heels with turquoise bows from that time frame, and they look very on-trend compared with Prada's fall/winter 2010 kitten heels. It's tiring, expensive, and environmentally unsustainable to keep up with constantly cycling trends. I do keep them in mind when I shop, but it's more a question of what I like over what's hot right now.

  28. Audi

    I agree! Leggings, harem pants, military or band leader-styled jackets; I could go on and on about how many trends I thought would fizzle that have persisted for several seasons now. I wonder how much the blogging world influences this, because the concept of remixing and wearing the same items in new and creative ways does a lot to keep garments looking current. And then thrift shopping and buying vintage has been on the rise for years, partly because of the economy and partly because it seems to be a trend (albeit a long-lived one) in itself. But this might just be my own skewed view, since I spend a lot of time in the blogosphere.

  29. WendyB

    I think it's always been like this. As I pointed out in posts I did on double denim and boyfriend jeans, it often takes trends years to catch on in a widespread way. The influencers move past a trend before the majority of the people even start accepting it, so there's a feeling of fleetingness, but it's just a feeling. The actuality is something different.

  30. fleur_delicious

    yes, skinny jeans! Just like eek, I can't BELIEVE they have held on. And like eek, I swore I would never wear them … and then … well, you know where this is going. I bought a pair this fall with jodpur styling, even with the ankle zips. And I'm kind of loving them – though it's still definitely pushing the boundaries of my booty-acceptance.

  31. Lorena

    Yes, trends DO seem to last longer.
    There is one trend that has lasted wayyy too long and it''s the leggings.
    One I never thought would come back are CLOGS and one I hope never comes back is horrid flourecent colors. Maybe its just me getting old 🙂