Is This the Age of Personal Style?

A decade ago, which is like a century in today’s fashion cycle, you could take one look at Style.com or Women’s Wear Daily and know that this season it’s all about asymmetrical hemlines and the colour burgundy. In 2014, the beige bodycon dress trickled down from Balmain to H&M and you couldn’t go two minutes on Instagram without seeing some sort of reiteration. And in 2019? It’s almost like the proclamations of “the age of personal style” have come true and fashion has entered a post trend era.

Of course, declaring trends as dead elicits the heaviest of Miranda Priestly sighs because trends don’t die, they just change. Trends are simply shared themes and ideas but at the height of fast fashion, these themes and ideas are coming and going at a mile a minute. If leopard print and ruffled sleeves had showed in two or three collections on Monday, by Wednesday it would be available at Fashion Nova and Zara, and come Sunday everyone on Instagram has only ever owned leopard print purses and ruffled blouses. With not even a fortnight having had passed, ruffled sleeves would be tacky and leopard over kill. The next fad would show up on your Explore page and, in your inbox, you could expect to find six articles about how to incorporate Perspex heels into your wardrobe. Rinse and repeat.

That’s why the latest showings from NYFW and LFW have felt so trendless to me. I can’t look at SS19 and SS20 and say wide shoulders are in and short skirts are out the same way I would’ve in SS09 and SS10. Instead I can say that new school designers are trying to eliminate waste, the Phoebe Philo School of Women Who Wear Whatever the F*** They Want are into tapered trousers and cut-outs, or that Molly Goddard is (beautifully) doing tulle again. There are no gimmicks or fads, just stories and signatures.

While I could never claim that we’re post-trend (or even gimmicks and fads completely), the pendulum is finally starting to slow down. As the fashion industry begins to concern itself with sustainability (see: a trend), millennial and gen-z consumers wanting personalisation and customisation (another trend) and the democratisation of media hierarchies (an Instagram influencer’s trend report can be just as golden as The Business of Fashion‘s), the way we create, interact with and consume trends is radically and rapidly changing.

In 2019, we can no longer afford to mindlessly consume fashion just for the thrill of consumption. Not only is the planet in danger (with the textile industry being the second biggest contributor to pollution and climate change), but we’re at the brink of another recession. Since people can’t just stop buying clothes altogether, our next best bet is changing how we do that. The clothes we buy need to last. They need to communicate who we are and what we believe. They need to matter.

I’m partially sad that that means the end of the it-bag and gimmicks (looking at you, Vetements) and in-and-out lists. Growing up on Style.com and Lucky Mag, being able to forecast square toed shoes and Gen-Z yellow were my favourite hobbies, being an early adopter was my ultimate rush. However, the end of macro-trends means a whole new world of style-tribe specific micro trends to discover.

Per haps what makes this the age of personal style is the emphasis on the person and the personal. The designers telling stories, the personal ways in which we interpret them and the actual person who makes our clothes.

If trends reflect who we are and what we are, then personal style takes that further to where we are and why we are.

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8 thoughts on “Is This the Age of Personal Style?

  1. I’m glad you’re writing again. Loved this and definitely agree – to say trends are dying is dishonest, what’s happening is that subcultures and micro trends are all simultaneously growing and shrinking so it’s impossible to make a sweeping statement for everyone. I’m also interested to see how this evolution challenges us and inspires us, instead of reading about the woe of times past. Don’t bore me. Innovate.

  2. I enjoyed reading this and would like to know what your thoughts are on the rise of climate activism taking place at the same time as the rise of fast fashion? I don’t know but I don’t see fast fashion slowing down in SA. For example, MRP might be the fastest growing retailer and I’m sure most people who fall under the banner of millennials or Gen Z are somewhat aware of the dangers of climate change. I’m really just speculating and going off of my observations but I see a paradox, maybe you’ve thought about it?

    1. For one, I think fast fashion is slowing down and as a business model it isn’t going to be very sustainable for much longer (you only need to look to H&M’s multi-billion dollar inventory crisis where they overproduced too quickly and now they’re losing money to storage, etc. because they can’t sell it all).

      I think the SA context requires a different approach. I mean, as a developing nation we aren’t nearly contributing to pollution and waste as much as the Western world. And we also have a good culture of re-using and donating old clothing, buying second hand. Plus I think it’s a little unfair to expect a country where the majority can barely make ends meet to be able to participate so fully in something as expensive and classed as eco-fashion. I don’t know what the answers are yet but I do think we can’t apply the same problems/solutions we do in the US/European context that we do here if that makes any sense.

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