A piece in the January issue of Vanity Fair by Kurt Andersen suggests that fashion has been stuck in a "decades-long rut."
Andersen locates the origins of the rut in 1992, making an ambitious statement that although technology has progressed at a blitzkreig pace, pop culture, art and style haven't made any truly significant strides in 20 years:
Movies and literature and music have never changed less over a 20-year period. Lady Gaga has replaced Madonna, Adele has replaced Mariah Carey both distinctions without a real difference and Jay-Z and Wilco are still Jay-Z and Wilco. Except for certain details (no Google searches, no e-mail, no cell phones), ambitious fiction from 20 years ago (Doug Coupland's Generation X, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Martin Amis' Time's Arrow) is in no way dated, and the sensibility and style of Joan Didion's books from even 20 years before that seem plausibly circa-2012.
Andersen also says that because the economy has led places like Target and Anthropologie to mass manufacture clothes and other accoutrements, the American middle class has all become "quirky, independent individualists" who aren't innovating in the way they used to.
But Andersen's major omission is this: just because style hasn't seen a "revolution" since 1992 in a way that looks like the "revolution" of the '60s or '70s doesn't mean it isn't changing and growing.
Obviously, fashion has been retro-crazy for years: just look at the revival of '70s-style clothes that occurred in the late '90s (we spent most of 1999 in our flared jeans and printed polyester blouses). In the aughts, we've seen the '80s come back (skinny jeans and neon are still ubiquitous) and then an apt chronological transition to a grunge renaissance (plaid, combat boots). And as Andersen notes, "Mad Men" brought back '50s-era trends as a fetishized lifestyle.
The observation that hipsters of recent years have just been cribbing from old trends is not a new one. But style trends often arise as a reaction to the trends that preceded them; for example, grunge style was a reaction to the fussiness and excess of '80s carefully sculpted hair and oversized jewelry. Why can't the trends of the 2000s be an equally valid reaction to previous years? Why does, for example, Lady Gaga being carried down the red carpet in a giant egg have to smack of Madonna?
Yes, people are still wearing pants as they did in 1992, but the style and silhouette, for example, have changed. Just because it's 2011 and we're still wearing clothes, and not spacesuits and jet packs, doesn't mean our generation is devoid of creativity and inert when it comes to innovation.
Perhaps it's true that the diversified 2000s can't be summed up in a single, over-simplified label (e.g. the "hippie" '60s, the excessive '80s), but who says it needs to be? Fashion and style are about communicating -- and fashion can still communicate without necessarily demanding a "revolution" in the exact form we've seen in the past.
Just our two cents.
Read Andersen's original article at Vanity Fair and tell us what you think in the poll below and in the comments.