Pulling inspiration from the past

A look into the cyclical nature of fashion trends

Baggy jeans. Claw hair clips. Clunky sneakers. Floral print. These are only a few of the famous fashion trends from past decades that have seen a sudden resurgence in popularity today.

It is not unusual for previous fashion trends to become popular again after years of being deemed outdated. In fact, there is a phenomenon in fashion known as the “20-year rule.” This acknowledges that there is a cyclical nature to fashion and that trends become popular again every 20 to 30 years, usually due to the influence of designers and the curiosity of newer generations.

“Fashion trends are repetitive because a lot of designers take inspiration from what was popular in the past, whether that be with what people wore out on the streets or in pop culture,” says Aimie Datu, a former OCAD University material art and design student.

Celeste Levy, a fashion hobbyist, attributes Generation Z’s fascination with older styles to its connections with loved ones from previous generations. 

“For those of us born in the early 2000s, we have seen how much our family members loved the ‘80s and ‘90s,” she says. “I know for myself, I look at old photos of my family from those times and take inspiration from them.”

’70s and ’90s nostalgia

The influence of 1970s casual attire was prominent on the runway during Paris Fashion Week in 2019, with some contemporary twists. The use of loose-fitting trousers, layers and neutral tones were dubbed as “classic chic.”

Today, ‘70s-inspired trends are still making their rounds in modern fashion. Hairstyles such as feathery, soft layers and curtain bangs have taken TikTok users by storm. Earthy colours like browns, greens and oranges are also being incorporated into modern apparel.

But the 1990s is perhaps the most obvious era that continues to impact fashion to this day.

In the mid-2010s, styles from the ‘90s began to make their way back into everyday streetwear. High-waisted loose jeans slowly overshadowed the hold skinny jeans had on young people in the late 2000s to early 2010s. Flannel shirts, vintage band tees, crewneck sweatshirts, denim overalls and even scrunchies were seen everywhere in malls and on people out on the streets.

“There are a lot of vintage trends [from the ‘90s] that I love right now, which are floral dresses, biker shorts, bum bags, and cat eye sunglasses,” says Datu. “[These trends] are sort of timeless in a way and they can look good on almost anyone.”

Author Sneha Konda says in her article Style secrets: Why do fashion trends repeat? that some fashion fads are derived from popular culture. Konda highlights the sitcom Friends and how its female leads inspired the wardrobes of many women in the 1990s. When Friends became more widely available to watch on streaming services such as Netflix in the mid-2010s, the newer generation followed suit.

Still, there are other aspects that contribute to the prevalence of past fashion trends reappearing today.

Datu suggests that not only is there a nostalgic appeal to vintage clothing but it is also gratifying to know that a piece is one-of-a-kind. 

“If you compare clothes at, say, Tommy Hilfiger and the clothes at a thrift store, Tommy Hilfiger has multiple pieces that are new and being made,” she says. “But at a thrift store, you might be lucky enough to find something that hasn’t been commercially or readily made in years.”

With fashion’s recurring nature, it has been brought to question by some fashion environmentalists whether or not it can slow the momentum of fast fashion.

“We’ve been brainwashed to believe that everything is new, and that if we don’t ‘Buy now!’ then the style will be gone forever. Yet in reality, these trends come back into rotation every few years, with just a few variations,” says Audrey Stanton in her article How Fashion’s Cyclical Nature Benefits the Slow Fashion Movement.  

Since past fashion styles are now considered trendy, Stanton suggests buying second-hand from thrift stores or through websites such as Depop and Etsy. She also notes that upcycling old clothing is an option for those who want to revitalize hand-me-downs.

What next?

Although the ‘90s still seem to dominate the trends of today, bits and pieces of the early 2000s are starting to reappear into the mainstream, according to an article published to Cosmopolitan. Tinted sunglasses, baguette bags and baby tees have been seen on models such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and other social media influencers.

As fashion slowly shifts, Levy suspects that high-neck and halter tops inspired by the early 2000s will come back into fashion. 

“I feel like they’re hard to find right now because what’s really popular right now is the ‘90s spaghetti strap tanks,” she says.

Datu hopes that one day leather clothing will reemerge, seeing as leather jackets, matching sets and even dresses were very popular in the 2000s.

“People think of leather as a material that gives a more sex-appeal vibe, but personally I think depending on how the leather is used and coloured, it can come off as very timeless and fashionable,” she says.

Whatever trend wiggles its way into fashion, there will be no doubt that it has been done before in some shape or form and will be done again by generations in the future.

About the author

Alyssa Bravo is a reporter for Youth Mind. She is a coffee fiend and likes music, movies and food. She wishes to travel to Italy and Greece, and hopes she’ll live to see the day the Toronto Maple Leafs win their 14th championship. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her watching videos of dogs or baby pandas.

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