Let's Talk About: Spotting Fashion Trends

Trend Spotting

Where do ideas for a popular trend come from? Designers look to many sources when researching trends. Some subscribe to predictive services that show trends based on several areas of research. Once a designer understands trend predictions, the next step is to adapt a new trend style for the their customer base.

Shopping the market:

The fastest way to see what is happening right now is to shop where mass produced apparel is sold. This is called “shopping the market”. When doing this, the designer can focus on specific apparel types. Fashion trends are often sold first by small boutiques, online stores or vintage shops. By looking at what these stores are selling, a forecast for future trends can be possible. Often, the term "cool hunting" is used to define this process.
Examples: boutique shopping in cities, flea market shopping, vintage shopping online

World Fashion and Fashion media:

New York, Paris, Milan, Tokyo and other international fashion cities present shows worldwide each season. These shows are watched by industry professionals and the media. They are looking for new styles, colors and silhouettes that could be influential to the current market. This information can be sent to designers who subscribe to trend reports by predictive services.

Predictive services package reports that show what they observed during market week or on the streets in cities around the world. This time-sensitive information is costly, but it’s often the only way that designers located outside of the fashion centers can get the latest fashion information. The consumer will see similar information in fashion blogs and later in glossy fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle and others. Online reports happen more quickly than print media and are often the first to report styles to the public.
Examples: fashion web sites, fashion magazines, designer web sites

Regional subgroups:

Some trends develop in specific cities or global regions where apparel may be worn by those who are experimenting with fashions. An example would be that many designers of young men’s wear look at the surf and skate trends that develop along the coast of Southern California. The surf culture there is often inventive with apparel, adapting existing styles to create new ones. The climate allows this group to wear and experiment year round. These fashions are often produced first locally by small companies or individuals long before they reach the mass production stage.
Examples: Surf culture, ski culture, resort fashions

Social groups and Street fashion:

Major events are occasions for observing trends and forecasting styles. Often trend research looks at “early adopters”. These are people who experiment with fashion and want to explore new and unusual styles. Large cultural events such as Coachella, a music festival held each spring in the California desert, showcase new trends as worn by the people attending this event. Because of the normally warm weather, this event is often used to predict new trends for spring and summer. Club scenes, celebrity awards shows, and events where early fashion adopters attend are locations where designers look for trends.
Examples: the Oscars, Music awards, Music festivals, Rockabilly car culture, Club culture


Sometimes a media event can start a trend. A popular movie can create a demand for a specific style, accessory or silhouette. An early example of this was in 1933. A wildly popular formal dress was designed by Gilbert Adrian for Joan Crawford to wear in the movie “Letty Lynton”. That dress captured the public’s imagination and copies were sold in huge numbers following the release of the movie. Another example in the 1990’s was a “Y” necklace seen on “Friends”. This was a fast trend that was quickly copied. More recently, “Mad Men” as created a demand for late 1950’s and early 1960’s fashion styles for both men and women’s apparel.
Examples: movies and television, stage plays and musicals, music videos, blogs

The Arts:

Gallery exhibitions can generate new interest in styles from the past or regional costume and textiles. The Metropolitan Museum’s 2003 exhibit: the Goddess, the Classica Mode, created an awareness of Ancient Greek and Roman fashion influences. This sparked a revival of Grecian inspired gowns in contemporary fashion.
Examples: recent exhibitions on Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, YSL, the 1700's and others

Political and Economic trends:

Large political events can bring attention to the fashions being worn. Jackie O’s wardrobe during the 1960’s is a good example of how influential a political figure can be on fashion trends. But politics can also affect consumer awareness. The trend towards organic fibers and dyes has political overtones. It affects the culture and economy. This is an example of how a political concern: reduce waste and chemicals in production, can create a demand in fashion. Politics also brings different cultures and cultural types into the public eye. Seeing unusual apparel can inspire early adopters to try new styles. Military inspired trends usually arise from political events in the media.
Examples: “green” production, military wear, wearing American produced apparel

Trend Reports

Overall; research such as this requires time, expense and expertise. As a result, most designers subscribe to predictive forecasting services that do this work for them. The service will send a team to a location where trends have been known to appear. They photograph what people are wearing there. Sometimes forecasters report on what is being sold at boutiques in major urban areas worldwide. These photos are evaluated and selected to show what they feel are important looks.

The forecast report may take the form of a book, online photo library or video showing people “on the street” wearing the trends predicted. These are often sent out by season. Because of their exclusivity, the public cannot buy these reports. Some services release their information after the major market week for that season, when the information is no longer top secret.

Many design houses subscribe to the same trend forecasting services and they are shown the same looks. If designers choose the same trends to follow, the customer will see this as a strong style trend when it reaches the market. This is how a fashion style will seem to suddenly appear in stores. Most likely it was a strong trend prediction, so many design businesses went in that direction.

Some designers do not use trend forecasting services because their target customer will not want to wear a popular trend. Sometimes these are avant garde customers looking for totally new looks. Other customers don’t want to wear new and unusual styles. Often they have a strong style sense that does not change. These are often termed “missy” customers. They want to wear apparel that is accepted and on trend, but not innovative or unusual. In general, missy customers shop women’s departments at moderate department stores or budget priced apparel sources such as Wal-Mart, JCPenney, and Sears.
Examples: Interfiliele, Trendstop, WGSN, and others (see Fashion Trendsetter.com for free reports)

If you were a predictive service, where would you be looking for new trends? Can you see new style ideas in any of the museum shows now on exhibit? Start a resource link list to major sources such as; museums, entertainment media, magazines, street style blogs, and other places where you can spot trends in the making.

How do designers come up with new ideas? Now that we can see where fashion trends are sourced, next week we’ll look at how original fashion ideas are formed and where designers go to get new ideas.

This original article on spotting fashion trends is part 2 of a series on fashion design that are posted weekly here at Pintucks. The contents of this article are the intellectual property of this blog. Please do not copy any content to another blog or digital media without contacting me first. I will ask that you link back to this article and give reference to this source within your feature. If you are using content for a research paper or project, please link back to this page in the traditional academic format, thank you!

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