Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. ― Nathaniel Hawthorne
George B. Sproles in his study “Analysing Fashion Life Cycles - Principles and Perspectives”, stated that "Fashions evolve consistent with the theoretical product life cycle, having stages of introduction and adoption by fashion leaders, increasing public acceptance (growth), mass conformity (maturation) and the inevitable decline and obsolescence awaiting all fashions."
However, at times when muses of fashion design fall silent, many a creator will turn to history in search of ideas and reinvent clothing items which used to be hip in bygone decades or centuries.
Recycled pieces of fashion history have a habit of going pop again almost over night every once in a while. Blame it on conformism or the limited scope of human skin in need of coverage, but it’s still there. Denim, white shirts, and LBDs are ageless, and we’ve seen them worn as part of countless getup combos over the past couple of decades. On the other hand, there are many era-specific clothing items we’d hardly expect to see on a 21st-century catwalk – and yet, designers at times fish out these fashion relics and successfully reintroduce them into the limelight in a slightly revamped guise. The desire to be unique while drawing on pieces with a universal appeal is the cornerstone of contemporary design, as we can see from the biggest trends that are currently shaking up the fashion tree.
Fashion trends are dictated by creators who aren’t afraid to experiment and draw on the lessons from the past.
CHOKED (NOT) FOR EXPRESSION?
A piece of 19th-century attire with a heavy historical undertone (Leona Epstein, Buzzfeed.com), the choker was reinstated into top fashion tiers on multiple occasions. Nowadays, though, 21st-century chokers have none of the connotations the tight necklace might have had in the past.
Namely, in late 19th century, women who wore thin red or black ribbon chokers were regarded as ladies of loose morale, and back in the Depression era, accessories such as black woven close-fitting necklaces were tacitly interpreted as a secret endorsement of lesbianism. Back in 1900s, Queen Alexandra of Denmark brought back the glory to the chic choker: the queen allegedly wore broad collars to hide a small scar on her neck.
These days, chokers are hip again, but their display has little to do with sexual preferences – or moral flimsy, for that matter. A byword for timeless elegance, the tight necklace makes a perfect finishing touch for a fancy dress, and it can also be incorporated into everyday wear or runway-style clothing combinations to equally laudable effects.
DENIM’S DEAD, LONG LIVE DENIM
Denim is another piece of fashion history that’s been heavily used – and abused – by clothing designers pressed for inspiration. Originally used to make workwear for miners whose attire had to withstand lots of tough love, denim went wildly popular among rebellious youth thanks to James Dean and Marlon Brando, and it has been going strong across the globe ever since.
In late 20th century, the use of denim spread from pants to jackets and trench coats: everyone had at least indigo-colored overall in their closet, and head-to-toe denim outfits were a common sight in the ‘90s.
Today, traditional denim jackets are back in vogue, along with distressed and ripped jeans, and both ladies and gents are extremely fond of the heavy-duty blue fabric, both in its unblemished and abused guise. We’ll probably be seeing more of good, old blue jeans in the years to come: after all, denim’s so hard-wearing that its popularity may take centuries to wear off.
WHEN THE HOURGLASS TIPS
Corsets are back in trend these days, but their use in getup mixes is now quite different than it used to be back when the clothing item made a loud entrance on the fashion scene (Drea Leed, elizabethancostume.net). The close-fitting bodice has been in use since the 16th century, but it was only in 1700s and 1800s that the stay became an inevitable component of a lady’s attire. Back in those days, corsets were worn as an undergarment whose purpose was to restrain a lady’s curves and give her body a beautiful hourglass shape. The use of the corset as body-shaper persisted until World War I, when bodice-like undergarments gave way to bras.
Nowadays, corsets are no more an unpleasant piece of underwear ladies loathe fitting into: they have become a part of mainstream fashion, and are sometimes flashed around parties and fancy dinners sans any tops. A symbol of femininity, high style, and seduction, corsets now come in a host of styles and cuts, and are especially popular among Gothic fashionistas.
LACE, GAUZE, AND ALL FRILLS FANCY
If your first association to lace is a wedding gown or Victorian dress, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past few years. Lavish lace dresses (Rodeoshow.com.au, 2016) are a major hit among fashion-forward ladies these days: just like their female ancestors in the 16th century, modern girls can’t resist the charisma of lavish ruffs in a range of cuts and designs. Though lace has always been a symbol of high fashion, it was in the 20th century that it saw its mass renaissance thanks to royal ladies like Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Diana, Grace Kelly, and Kate Middleton.
Today, fancy frills and elaborate crochets are no longer a privilege of noblewomen as they used to be back in the past (Rosie Swash, Imogen Fox, The Guardian, 2011) a 21st-century princess will wear her lace every day, thank you. Catwalks, movie premieres, and similar vogue venues aren’t the only spot where you can catch a glimpse of lacy dresses: having stepped down the pedestal of high fashion, the lush material has taken to the streets, and is now as common a sight in nightclubs and marketplaces as it used to be at coronations and royal weddings.
BOMBED WITH BOMBER JACKETS
Another piece of workwear turned fashion statement, bomber jackets (Jessica Bucci, Startupfashion.com, 2016) went pop back after World War II, and have since then been in vogue in many styles. Initially worn by aviators who needed sturdy protection from wind and freezing temperatures at high altitudes, the bomber jacket was embraced by civilians as of 1950s and has served a symbol of youth rebellion in the decades that ensued.
Worn with ripped jeans, plain flannel shirts, and leather boots as part of a grunge-style getup, bomber jackets are now mainstream – or at least, as mainstream as they can be in the world where fashion statements are 100% unique even if they draw on time-honoured clothing items.
WELL-HEELED FASHION TRENDS
If you think heels are a symbol of a lady, you’d better think again. The sexy footwear that reigns catwalks today was once worn by men: King Henry II of England is said to have walked around in pointed-toe heeled footwear in an attempt to conceal his deformed toes, and knights of Richard the Lionhearted also wore heeled shoes, albeit for a reason that had more to do with horseback riding and stirrups than toe shape. The French Revolution took a bloody toll on one of the most fashion-forward European nations, and heel height was collateral damage: since 1794, European aristocrats wore heels sizing up to two inches, i.e. up until 1860, which brought the invention of sewing machine and a re-ignited love for heels among both royals and commoners.
Once a status symbol, heels jumped on the mass fashion wagon and became a part of everyday wear for many ladies. These days, fancy female shoes rock chunky platforms, Louboutin-inspired red bottoms, stiletto heels, and wedges, and few – if any – men would dare take them out for a walk around the block.
Fashion trends are dictated by creators who aren’t afraid to experiment and draw on the lessons from the past. Judging by clothing trends as they stand today, conformity is strong, but the need to be different while complying with widely accepted fashion trends is no less powerful (Samantha Lumbert, Personalityresearch.org, Rochester Institute of Technology) . For this reason, it’s not a wonder that olden frills and fancy feathers sometimes pop up and go pop in a somewhat modernised guise. Repetitio mater studiorum est, as the adage goes, and it holds true in both life, art, and fashion as a form of artistic expression.