Who sets the fashion trends these days?

The world has changed drastically in the last decade or two, with advanced technologies disrupting every aspect of life and across industries. In fact, it seems the whole world has been turned upside down and fashion is no different.

Throughout the ages, what people aspired to wear was dictated by royalty. The common folk could only admire the extravagant, colourful garments from afar. Today, thanks to technology and social media, those same common folk have the power to set fashion trends. 

Paris, Milan, New York, and London used to rule the trillion-dollar fashion industry, but that has changed. Setting the trends is no longer their sole prerogative. Sure, they play a crucial role, but not the only one.

Photo by Adele De Bruyn on Unsplash

How do fashion trends emerge?

In past decades, fashion trends typically started in fashion houses, then they were promoted in glossy magazines before the clothing landed in retail stores. Technology has changed that neat system. In the hyper-connected world of today, fashion trends have found multiple avenues to the consumer.

In addition to traditional runway extravaganzas, fashion trends now emerge via live-streamed fashion shows, celebrities, and fashion influencers on social media platforms.

1. Fashion Shows

In the past, most of the fashion trends we saw coming and going were inspired by designs seen on the runway during fashion shows. Fashion shows are extravagant events that create a magical setting for designers to show off their creations. The garments modeled at the major fashion shows differ, so trend forecasters attend shows year-round to get a holistic picture of what’s happening in fashion.

The runway sparks trends because of the anticipation and the prestige of these events. However, many key players in the fashion world have become disenchanted with the runway as the number of fashion shows has become excessive. People began to question the point of showing fashion that the public has to wait six months for before they can buy anything.

Things changed drastically in 2016 when recording artist Kanye West launched his album The Life of Pablo in tandem with his fashion show in Madison Square Garden, live-streaming the event to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.

Since then, and especially during the pandemic, streamlined fashion shows have become commonplace. Shows are photographed for social media, and anyone anywhere can attend them via their computers.

Attending fashion shows is no longer the exclusive pleasure of the privileged and the wealthy; fashion shows have become consumer items for the masses. 

So, fashion shows have evolved, but are they still relevant in a world where designers and brands can sell directly to their customers through their online stores, and consumers can stream new fast fashion items as soon as they appear? 

Photo by Armen Aydinyan on Unsplash

2. Celebrities 

To understand the effect of celebrities on fashion trends, all you have to do is google the words celebrities + fashion and a slew of websites appear dedicated to what celebrities are wearing to what events and where their fans can obtain the same look. Fans can find out what Gigi Hadid wore to the local supermarket, what Kim Kardashian’s preferred handbags brands are, who strutted down which red carpet at what event. For those fans who have the money, the brand and price of each item are also clearly indicated.  

Brands pay astronomical sums to have nominated stars wear their products at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. The exposure brands get from celebrities showing off their products to millions of viewers is worth the investment over and over.

The fact that celebrities are highly influential is the very reason why companies turn to them to be spokespeople for their brands and products. Having an A-lister wear a designer gown or jewelry item is worth millions in marketing spend for brands. 

3. Influencers

One of the biggest game-changers in the fashion industry has been the emergence of influencers. Influencers, as we know them today, had their beginnings at the start of the millennium with the arrival of fashion blogging but the phenomenon really took off when Instagram launched in 2010.

Brands quickly realized that they can benefit from popular Instagram users posting photos of fashion outfits they like and started paying them to wear their products. As popular people who influence the buying decisions of their fans, fashion influencers are worth their weight in gold to brands. Influencers become celebrities in their own right and the most successful among them earn megabucks. 

For instance, Italian fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni, who first became famous for her award-winning blog, “The Blonde Salad”, earns tens of thousands of dollars for an Instagram post. According to Statista, the value of a post on Instagram by Ferragni was worth AUD$ 138,177 in December 2019. 

Chiara and other fashion influencers like her have a massive impact on the fashion industry. Their influence on social media platforms has spurred brands to invest $15 billion in influencer marketing, according to a report by Business Insiders. The study estimates that for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, businesses would earn $6.50 in revenue. 

The power of top fashion influencers, and other influencers, lies in their ability to reach millions of target customers. The stories they tell about brands and their products help brands stand out from the competition. 

Many fashion influencers work directly with famous fashion houses and become brand ambassadors. 

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

4. Fashion Bloggers/Editorials

Before social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok and influencers arrived on the scene, bloggers took to the internet and started fashion blogs. By 2003, some fashion blogs had enormous followings. The most popular bloggers attracted the attention of fashion houses and bloggers started to be invited to fashion shows. Kathryn Finney, founder of Budget Fashionista and Diane Pernet, founder of A Shaded View on Fashion, were early popular bloggers that gained tremendous traction.

By 2009, bloggers’ influence was very evident. They earned front-row seats at major fashion shows like Dolce & Gabbana and became part of the mainstream fashion media. Mainstream media like New York Times and the Washington Post wrote about them and some were offered mainstream media positions. It was not long before bloggers monetised their blogs and started to pull in large sums.

The arrival of Snapchat and Instagram changed how followers consume content. Instead of reading an article about what to wear, followers simply look on the app and instantly see an image of their favourite influencer in a trendy outfit. And recently, the video-sharing app TikTok has added another very popular aspect where influencers don’t only show the latest fashion trends, but also share snippets of their personal lives. 

It’s unlikely that blogs will be able to compete with this kind of content in the long run, and some observers have gone so far as to say that the days of fashion blogging are over.

Editorials in mainstream fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Elle, Esquire, GQ, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan have given the world a glimpse into the glamour of fashion for many decades. For many years, curling up with their favorite fashion magazine was a secret pleasure for millions of women. On those shiny pages, they learned about the latest styles and pondered how they could get the same look. 

In the wake of Covid-19, many magazines have taken a hit. Those that remain must find ways to stay relevant.

Australian local fashion and style print title Frankie still attracts more than 260,000 readers, with its focus on shopping local and ethical fashion. The leading fashion magazines no longer exclusively focus on trend forecasting and the red carpet; they are taking on more serious social issues, reporting on unfair work conditions, gun control, climate change, sustainable fashion, and more.

5. Everyday Looks/ OOTD / Social Media

It’s probably safe to say that Instagram, with its myriad of daily OOTD (Outfit of the Day) posts currently holds the most sway over the fashion industry. Instagram is one of the most influential social media platforms, affording fashion and other influencers a platform to affect the buying habits of millions of consumers. 

The platform’s impact on the fashion industry goes further than the influencers and their followers. Brands and designers are using it as a marketing tool to promote their new collections, showcase their latest creations, and engage with customers.

The visual appeal of beautifully taken photographs has been the winning feature for the social media platform. 

TikTok, which was launched in 2018, is making inroads in the social media fashion space. The platform lets users post 60-second videos, and young fashion influencers have taken to the platform in large numbers. The app has been downloaded more than 110 million times and is popular among teens and young adults. 

TikTok’s appeal is that it gives everyone a voice. Anyone can post an OOTD to show what they like to wear. Stunning videos featuring cool streetwear appear as fans scroll down on their mobiles, and soon a new look is born. TikTok has launched the careers of lesser-known designers and has helped small companies that produce limited collections to become financially viable.

Brands have caught onto the immense possibilities of TikTok, and they are actually learning from the posts there what is trending among young people. You could say that users on TikTok are calling the shots on trending styles, at least for young people. In October 2020, the first-ever #TikTokFashionMonth took place, which live-streamed runway shows of major brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada.


Final thoughts

Fashion has undergone a seismic change in recent years. Fashion trends are now introduced to consumers through websites, Instagram posts, TikTok videos and fashion shows streamed online. Tech-savvy influences are leveraging their love for fashion to rake in millions and influence the buying decisions of millions of people. 

These days, fashion trends are emerging on social media platforms in images and videos posted by influencers and anyone who loves to show off what they like to wear.

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