This piece was originally published on JCReport.com.
Last week, we introduced the first in a series of articles about the changing face of fashion trends. Rather than having the clear focus and boldface movements we used to see on the runways, the past few seasons have given us a deluge of eclectic "micro-trends"--from floral prints to ethnic detailing, from architectural tailoring to body-conscious silhouettes. We argue that instead of buying into a signature look or designer ethos, the consumer is now focused on mixing and interpreting these divergent elements in their own, highly personal ways. This week we explore one of the driving forces behind this transformation: new media.
The fashion industry has always been driven by experimentation and creativity. Until recently, however, everyone who lived outside the major style hubs never saw it--their only exposure to fashion came from shopping malls and the pages of Glamour. "The whole point of magazine editorial is to present a cohesive vision," explains Julie Fredrickson, founder of fashion blogging community Coutorture. "That's why traditional media is conducive to fashion that is very distinct and holistic. New media is now providing a more effective venue for niches, subgroups and outliers in fashion to promote their vision."
Fashion big shots and rising stars alike are now accessible to the masses in a way they never have been before. Thanks to sites like The Cobra Snake and fashionista.com, even those who aren't part of the industry know who Jessica Stam is and what she wore to the Beatrice Inn last night. Browsers can learn about emerging designers on Project Runway and www.style.com--designers who are filled with cutting-edge concepts and new ideas, but who may be several seasons away from a mention in the mainstream glossies. As a result, designers and consumers are both drawing from different influences, rejecting the head-to-toe "looks" presented by advertiser-driven print publications. It's no surprise, then, that this widespread exposure has led to a barrage of micro-trends.
Another major cause for this mainstream fascination with fashion is the fact that consumers see it come to life on real people, rather than through the intimidating, unattainable magazine ideal. "When you see people on street style sites, you may actually have a lot of what they're wearing in your closet--or at least enough so you can go out and buy a top or bag to get the look, with your own personal twist," explains Chris Kensler, editorial director of social networking site www.stylehive.com. "With glossies, it's all about brand new things that cost a lot of money, styled by a professional, on a six-foot-tall 17-year-old--a vision that's out of reach for most women. It's still nice as a fantasy, but it's getting marginalized into a niche in the marketplace."
A third factor behind the unrelenting trend torrent is the sheer number of new media outlets fighting for recognition. In the daily quest for original content, bloggers and pundits pinpoint and discuss emerging trends much more rapidly than ever before. "The very nature of blogging means that nearly any topic, from shiny leggings to fall florals, will be picked up. Bloggers are constantly searching for original content in an increasingly crowded space," explains Fredrickson. Just look at the blogosphere tizzy heralding the rise of the purple moccasin after Sartorialist Scott Schuman posted four street snaps illustrating the trend in question--nevermind that few of us have seen anyone sporting them in daily life.
Some may argue that, in this word-of-mouth climate, the fashion editor's role is obsolete. And yet many new media professionals disagree, arguing that consumers seek guidance and advice in such a noisy marketplace. Even social networking sites like Stylehive are under some degree of editorial control, but, according to Kensler, they simply act as funnels for what are ultimately user-defined trends: "Our editors analyze and identify trends from what our users are actually wearing. But while fashion magazines are closing their issues three months ahead of time and are ultimately guessing at trends, we show you who's wearing them right now."
Of course, the effects of new media can't be discussed without also mentioning the effects of the new retail model. Retailers and designers now have to churn out more material than ever in order to satisfy a press that's hungry for headlines and a public with an insatiable appetite to buy. It's hard to pinpoint exactly which came first--the idea of "fast-fashion" or the rise of the 24-hour fashion news cycle. But, rest assured, we'll explore the sartorial chicken-egg dilemma in this series' final installment next week.