In Defense of Trends: An Essay to Convince Myself to Buy Stan Smiths*
*I'm like totally kidding, that's not what this is about! (But it is)
Has it ever been less trendy to be trendy? We've talked about the sudden huge boom in wardrobe curation and selectiveness, which I think is largely the result of, primarily, an increased awareness and concern for the social and environmental consequences of fast fashion; coupled with a way of weeding through the noise in a world of ever-increasing options. With a million things to be, it's simpler - more refreshing - to choose just one. And stick with it. It's not a bad thing, but there had to be a victim - trendiness, trends, and the girls who love them. For example, making fun of "basic bitches," the ultimate followers. Isn't it more uncool to give so many fucks about being cool that you won't follow trends? Sure. But I think we've all flat out rejected something just because everyone else was doing it - and it makes me wonder why trends are so socially powerful, and how much, ultimately, they should play into our choices.
I'm a guilty of this myself. Like, when I was in Paris, I noticed that 99.99% of girls aged 18-25 are currently wearing Adidas Stan Smiths, the ones with the green tag on the back. I'm not even exaggerating. I'd walk by a high school at dismissal time and count. Like, fucking everyone. To be honest, I actually really love them. I've wanted a pair of Adidas like that since everyone had them back in middle school, and now the cool ones have green on the back, which is my favorite color. But I remember thinking, "Fuck, no, I can't buy those! Everyone has them!" Because the rule of trends is, it's cool to do it before everyone else, but it's like, a mortal sin to just copy everyone else. But the thing is, I really want some Stan Smiths.
I think what it ultimately comes down to is the question of individuality and identity. Fashion is supposed to be personal, and if you're just following everyone else's lead, the thinking is that you lack your own convictions. And I think that's where the sexually charged "trendwhore" comes from - a woman who sells herself, a slave to The Industry. (Disclaimer: I do not actually find this term ~horribly offensive~, I'm just, like, saying.)
Obviously, being an early adopter means you get the fun cachet of "being in the know". But being the first to adopt something, you get the fun of creating its social meaning and value. It's fresh, it's new, it typically lacks heavy baggage. But there's like a weird nuance - it's cool to do the thing that everyone is going to do. It's cool to be the first. But it's horribly uncool to be the last. Jump on a trend too late and all the decisions have been made for you - and you get labelled as slow on the uptake. But it's because the meaning is also diluted. Oh, what does this say, who wears it, what does it make you? Nothing, everyone, and everyone. It's an ephemerality of self - a lack of self - in an era when identity and personal brand are essential.
The other side of the trendy item is that once it's no longer cool, it's really uncool. The stronger the interest, the more explosive the trend, the more explosive the death. It's an item or idea so strongly marked and characterized by a single moment, a single personality, that when social forces move on to something else, the hangers-on are left behind with it. And I think that's where the great terror of "something I like becoming trendy" comes from. It's maybe 50% pretension, but also 50% terror that what you love will become unacceptable in the near future. And for the newcomers, there's something prohibitive about the idea that you're buying something with a very limited shelf life. Even if money is no object, you're buying something that'll let you be really cool for a very short while, acceptably mainstream for a longer while, and slightly passé indefinitely after that. Maybe you'll get lucky, and the trend will become more of a movement - like the transition from bootcut into skinny jeans circa 2007. But maybe not.
Outside of the troubling social consequences of fast fashion - more on that in a minute - I'm gonna go ahead and play devil's advocate here for a second. Follow trends, go crazy, have fucking fun with your clothes. I think it's kind of a myth that you can ever really be unique - all of your clothing choices are ultimately made within a social and cultural context, and constrained by forces outside of your control - financial, practical, whatever. I think it's also kind of a myth that there's such a thing as a "classic" piece, or that you can make choices that render you truly immune. As with all things, moderation. If you like what everyone else is doing, do it, who the hell cares, no one's actually keeping score.
First, let's address the myth of the classic. This is a thing you can google and get like, 9237482 results of blogs and books and articles and magazines and forum posts about a selection of pieces that you can supposedly buy and keep until you're 90, upon which you will pass them to a granddaughter who will find them a perfect fit both physically and stylistically. No, I'm totally exaggerating, but like, I think sometimes people mistake "searching for a piece with longevity" and "searching for a piece that will last 5ever." It requires a certain awareness of the difference between say, skinny jeans, and mint green skinny jeans circa 2012. But the myth is that your skinny jeans have any real staying power, because they don't. Jeans are maybe a controversial example, what about the ~Crisp White Button Down Shirt~ or the ~Little Black Dress~? I think you can certainly choose broader options, but look at the difference between, say, the billowy, oversized button downs on Seinfeld and a the tailored, body-conscious button downs in House of Cards.
And even if you can find something truly, undoubtedly classic - I am thinking of like, maybe a quilted Chanel bag - there will still be times when say, showing off a label is hella gauche. Entire generations will pass when it's unusable. And you never know when some malevolent social force is going to swoop in and co-opt your item as a symbol and render it stigmatized forevermore. It's not worth the risk.
With regards to fast fashion - and I'm not being facetious anymore here, this is actually really sad - it is actually somewhat difficult to shop truly ethically. You can choose, for the most part, to avoid fast fashion, and that's a great step. But I would say most mainstream mall retailers are probably not too many steps ahead on the human rights scale. You can choose to frequent smaller, more transparent retailers; you can research your clothing; you can buy locally. The problem is that this often comes at a premium of both price and time commitment that's simply prohibitive or downright inaccessible to many.
It's not fast fashion in and of itself that's problematic, it's the "wear it once and throw it away" mentality. But even shopping at higher-end retailers can be a gamble. Price and beautiful branding and a good demographic based marketing campaign are not indicative of quality, or, for that matter, moral superiority. And really, we are going down a real troubling road if shopping at low end retailers as a matter of practicality becomes something we're going to judge people for. It's important to be conscious, and it's important to take the steps that each of us, individually, can do to make a difference in the world. It's about moderation, and lack of excess, and awareness. If you're not going crazy, there's no need to stress about small indulgences.
Let's go back to trends themselves now. Let's imagine that you're really ahead of the pack, you can afford to buy pieces right off the runway, or have them made for you. That eliminates the social consequences of fast fashion argument. In that case, who cares? You know? Enjoy your time with your clothing free of heavy social meaning. Will it be cool in a year? Probably not. Does it matter? Not really. It's impossible to, say, watch a fashion show and really predict what pieces or colors or ideas will ultimately become cool. You can be a tastemaker, you can try to make that decision, I guess ... but The People might still hate it. You could be the person who decided that guacho pants could be a thing. Unless you're Anna Wintour, and then you get to tell everyone else.
Like I was saying earlier, I think the reason we disparage excessive "trendiness" is because it speaks, theoretically, to a lack of a real self. It's fine if your "self" is really into doing whatever everyone else is doing. But I think clothing is also a pretty shitty way to create any kind of real definition. I'm not even saying that in an anti-materialist sense, because I'm all about using clothes as a social tool. I think what I'm really getting at here is that clothing is extremely volatile - the meanings, the significations, the trends. The meanings of clothing change over time, and that's not something that you can individually control. There's no right way to consume, right? Everything we wear ultimately says something about us - ultimately places us in some sort of social grouping, whether we like it or not. What it comes down to is a matter of how broad that group is, and what it means to be a part of that group.
I can't speak to everyone's motivation, but there's something to be said about taking part in your social context - in aligning yourself with one particular moment. There's something to be said for wearing something that blends you in. You're free from having to make the hard choices yourself. You're acceptable. It comes down to a question of longevity. The danger of following trends is, that'll change quickly. And if you're one of the last, people might judge you, yeah - but who gives a fuck, you know? The only real crime is here inauthenticity - if you're going to follow everyone else on something, do it because you like it. Have fun with your clothes.