This week’s post explores how and why trends repeat themselves throughout time. I’m pulling ideas from heavy-hitting thinkers, Walter Benjamin and Karl Marx, as well as a new contemporary voice, Ulrich Lehmann. This research and thinking began during the year I spent in Florence, Italy where I helped pilot a Master’s Degree in Trend Forecasting at Polimoda’s International Institute for Fashion Design and Marketing. With the mentorship of Linda Loppa – a world renowned name in the field of fashion education, I developed these ideas into a trend forecasting philosophy and created the macro trend Dust (2013-2018) in order to translate this trend forecasting philosophy into practice.
To understand why trends repeat themselves through time, let’s turn first to Karl Marx who writes brilliantly about how we utilize the past – specifically, past beliefs, past languages, past uniforms – in order to create the present. If trends are a measure of the times, then it follows that when we see history repeating itself, we’ll see the return of familiar trends as well. Marx writes:
Men make their own history, but they do not make just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past …And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language. Thus Luther donned the mask of the apostle Paul, the revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternatively as the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the revolution of of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1780, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-1795.¹
From Marx, we may infer that our decision to clothe ourselves – both literally and figuratively – in the timeworn garments and ideologies of our ancestors is a natural response to the needs of the present (or at the very least, a well-tested survival skill). Drawing upon different events, traditions, peoples and costumes of different histories, we find new/old constellations of thought, new/old ways of dress and presentation, and new/old tools for negotiating our role in the present and refining our dreams of the future. It follows that certain trends or particular elements from the past are bound to resurface. In revisiting and reviving past costumes, customs and cultural trademarks, we find ourselves better psychologically equipped to negotiate the world around us.
In order to anticipate which trends are ripe for a revival, we first must identify the needs of the present – social, cultural, psychological, economical, political, environmental – and find the right kind of visual metaphors and symbols that offer solutions to these modern “periods of revolutionary crisis.”
Let’s take this week’s fashion and lifestyle trend forecast, La Belle Epoque | A Victorian Fashion Revival (an exclusive chapter from our 2017 trend forecast, Nightfall) as an example of a trend that’s ripe for revisiting. To understand why this trend is emerging, let’s examine the period of time between 1837-1901 (the first Victorian Era, if you will) and see what parallels exist between that period of time and the present. These parallels should help explain why we may clothe ourselves in the Victorian “costumes” of the past as a way of navigating the challenges of the present.
A central development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication. The new railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about, rapidly facilitating trade and industry. […] Even later communication methods such as electric power, telegraph, and telephones, had an impact. Photography was realised in 1839 by Louis Daguerre in France and William Fox Talbot in Britain. By 1889, hand-held cameras were available.
The concept of “privacy” became a hallmark of the middle class life. “… The English home closed up and darkened over the decade (1850s), the cult of domesticity matched by a cult of privacy.” Bourgeois existence was a world of interior space, heavily curtained off and wary of intrusion, and opened only by invitation for viewing on occasions such as parties or teas.
Within the fields of social history and literature, Victorianism refers to the study of late-Victorian attitudes and culture with a focus on the highly moralistic, straitlaced language and behaviour of Victorian morality. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period. The later half of the Victorian age roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.
From a trend forecasting perspective, there are parallels to the present with regard to the improvement of communication and new mediums thereof – the advent of the hand-held camera in 1889 is similar in my mind to the advent of Instagram and Snapchat and smartphone cameras. I also see similarities in the focus on a cult of privacy – the interior space of the Bourgeois existence, heavily curtained off and wary of intrusion, appears similar to the current and growing demand for data privacy laws. These are just a couple of symmetries that I can see. Do you think there’s a connection between these two worlds? Take time to reflect on the images below. Once you start looking for this kind of pattern language, you’ll discover its traces in the strangest of places! If you’re interested in delving deeper into sartorial aesthetics and philosophies, don’t miss, TigerSprung | Fashion In Modernity, by Ulrcih Lehman. I’ll be exploring more of his ideas down the road so make sure to stay tuned!