what’s wrong with fashion?

what's wrong with fashion?

*is* there anything wrong with fashion right now?


perhaps it’s all fine and dandy to some, and some aren’t perceiving anything…but…

sometimes i get this feeling that something seems like it’s all coming to a head…there’s a certain, but increasingly palpable uncertain-ness in the air, from a fashion industry perspective, but also, from a consumer perspective. i know a lot of people may not be able to perceive it, they may not care, but i’m feeling it acutely, almost like it’s a premonition.

it feels as if, collectively, as a culture, we’re all wondering where to go next and what’s going to happen next.


i know i cannot the only one feeling a subtle paradigm shift happening in terms of fashion…and really, a shift happening in the culture at large. it seems as if perceptions are shifting on a grand scale.

do you feel this too? or no? if not, what do you feel? articulate it, if you can!


(frankly, i love thinking about fashion and style, i like the idea of fashion, the process of making wearables…but the reality of the way it is in the stores and on the runways right now just leaves me wanting, leaves me cold and questioning.)

(and so, i absorb. i think. and i question.)


on the absorbing tip…

the article from WWD (in the snap above) queried fashion industry insiders who were pondering the current state of fashion at this very instant. the aforementioned called out the following as possible reasons why all things fashion-related feel more than a little uncertain:

-the economy tanking (especially here in the US, it’s beginning to look pretty dire…)

-insane prices of designer wear (coupled with the aforementioned weak US economy and value of the dollar against other currencies like the pound and euro)

-the lack of color in the recently commenced fall shows: black is dominant. people want and connect with color, but designers aren’t offering it (these dark colors for clothing seem almost funereal, and are, interestingly enough, an apt metaphor for the malaise and fear in the air culturally, politically and economically. hmm!)

-an overhyped fashion industry machine: stuff is churned out so fast and slammed into our face so much (via magazines, blogs, websites and the like), we lose sense of what season we’re in and what’s really significant at any given moment stylistically.

-the lack of a single, solitary “must-have” item in the market at the moment (a trend for consumers like us to fixate upon, which would drive us to the stores to buy, buy, buy)

-an off-kilter delivery cycle that puts clothing on the racks and shelves of stores months before a season actually starts…which works against the fact that people want to wear what they buy RIGHT NOW. why stash it away for later?? (think: putting out spring threads in the dead of winter, fall clothes in the heat of summer.)

-fast fashion is a worthy adversary: some retailers push new, relevant designs out to their floors constantly, pleasing the customer…something it’s more difficult for big designers to do or sustain. designers feel the pinch.

-some people would rather spend good money on the latest gadgets (think: iPhone), something that ensures long-lasting, practical use, than buy lots of (inevitably) trendy, disposable clothes.


on the thinking tip…

other possible reasons for malaise and uncertainty:

-some lament (and others celebrate) the diversity of today’s style scene: anything goes. this is bad news for manufacturers, who, like it says above, would probably prefer one dominant look to foist upon a large number of potential customers.

-and trends change SO FREAKING FAST now, consumers can’t keep up. and what happens when the trends du jour don’t resonate with customers? not everyone’s into each and every look! just because designers are into it, because designers are making it, doesn’t mean that customers are going to eat it up. the aforementioned diversity of today’s cultural landscape is at odds with that designer motive: many people cannot relate or find what’s on offer as being relevant to their bodies, or their lives.


consumers, people like us, all of us, who buy clothes, are feeling more than a little blasé about the current state of fashion and shopping too. a recent article from the telegraph references the article i paraphrased from WWD. called why fashion has gone off the rails, i feel it sort of encapsulates this current uncertain fashion zeitgeist:

You scarcely need to listen to the biblical chorus of retailers blaming the credit crunch, the weather, energy bills (anything but themselves) to see the evidence that this spring women have risen up, taken a look round the shops, pulled a face – and kept their plastic in their purses.

Clock the fact that the “mid-season sale” has arrived in so many places before the “season” has even got going (with barely a moment to clear winter’s discounted leftovers) and there’s only one thing to conclude: sorry, but we just don’t like these clothes that much.

consumers biggest complaint?

that, increasingly, clothes are not just blah in terms of style (non-comittal, non-novel, bland details), but are made cheaply of cheap materials. why bother buying when the garment is garbage even on the hanger?

low, low prices are only convincing for a while…when money is tight (and tighter with each passing day), buyers want to know that what they deign to buy is actually a deal, and not a dupe. *something* about that piece, whatever it is, has to sell it, has to signify it’s special nature to the shopper…and in that arena, manufacturers are falling short. perhaps the bottom hasn’t been reached, but we’re falling toward it.

something has to give, eventually, doesn’t it?

…because after all, those manufacturers and marketers are feeling the pinch too. cheap materials and labor mean the potential for eking out more profits…vitally important in economically restrictive days to come. some might call it greed, indeed. and some might say, well, those mass-market makers are just trying to stay afloat, to brace themselves from the wave of uncertainty and possible hard times that feel as if they just might be rumbling toward us all.


and so, some questions to foster discussion:

-what’s the answer, then? what do we do and buy in these times, if anything?

-in this dismal economic scene, where does fashion go? where do we go as consumers? what DO we choose to buy and do to express ourselves when what’s on offer doesn’t suit us anymore?

-do we keep on with this movement of making our own? do we increasingly take fashion and style into our own hands? could this mean even more interest in sewing, restyling, and the needle arts?

-will second-hand shopping become even more desirable for more people? what happens when we turn to said sources, and only find them crammed with discards from those cheap-chic stores? then what?

-what will happen to these designers, to luxury fashion, if the customers stop lining up to buy, from lack of funds, or lack of interest?

-if everything is in style, if everything is up for grabs, is there any way that we could, collectively, go back to accepting one main directive? is there a potential for one overriding aesthetic anymore?

-how do we digest and make sense of the call for more ethical, more green ways of living, of clothing and expressing ourselves, if at all? do these factors weigh in any with this feeling of uncertainty with what’s on offer in the shops, and what we choose, in the end, to put on our bodies? if so, what do we need to do?



where is fashion going next?

(if anywhere??)


  1. emily august

    Hmm. May I answer that by where I think it should go?

    I want more and more people to start consuming less of everything, including clothing, and using up the things they already have. Recycled is so much better than new but organic. In that way, I don’t think DIY fashion will see an end in this decade.

    The market is saturated with details that are becoming ubiquitous: bows, pleats, volume, florals, neons… it has to turn back to basics at some point but I think that things are going to ride out at least another year.

    I also agree and think that the line between What Will Sell and What People are Wearing is going to get muddier, which I think is related to people making their own clothes and accessories more often. Marketing is going to have its hands full. There are so many idols born up by magazines like NYLON that are becoming very incestuous and same-old tired looks just to sell the same products over and over. I hope that people are catching on to the fact that you should work on yourself and work on expressing who you are, instead of fawning over designers.

    That being said, I think that textile artists are going to see more recognition with people sewing at home and wanting a certain look. I think we’ll see more sewing news mixed with fashion pieces.

    Also, I am biased to say that technology will become more a part of fashion… but maybe that’s because Rory is working so closely in that field.

  2. Jeanne

    This is an incredible post, and I absolutely agree, particularly with that feeling that something’s in the air in general. There’s definitely an odd energy going on lately, I think. Earlier this year I blamed it on Mercury in retrograde, but it hasn’t gone away…

    I’ve decided to just stop buying. I’ve got to save up to move this summer, and honestly, yeah, nothing’s really inspiring me right now. Better to put my money away and focus on what I already have, and give away what I don’t need so someone else can have it.

    And I’ve already seen the cheap-chic stuff in the stores; I’ll look at it and go, “Oh, cute — oh, H&M. Oh, Forever 21.”

    I’m really looking forward to the discussion on this, and, of course, seeing what happens! It’s going to be an interesting time, that’s for sure.

  3. Mary

    I do think part of the reason is that fashion is totally non-cohesive, as far as trends go. Skinny jeans, wide leg jeans, flat fronts and pleated pants, tight mini dresses, long flowing dresses, pointy toes and round toes, high heels and flats, everything is in all of a sudden.

    This is not to say this is bad, but people don’t seem to know what to do. Besides, if there is a current look it is droopy and sack-like, so it’s understandable people aren’t rushing out to get it. Also, its reflective of designers, to an extent, running out of ideas. The oncoming 90’s redux is certainly evidence of this.

    Sescondhand stores ARE crammed with used F21 and H&M, and the trend turnover motivated by places like this basically seem to create disposable fashion.

  4. Mary

    Also, I firmly believe part of the reason vintage fashion is so appealing is because there used to be one dominant, defined aesthetic at a certain time, and the way designers worked within that aesthetic was always unique. Soon everything from the past twenty years will be unidentifiable because the modern aesthetic is derivative, made to fall apart after a month, and has no real “look.” This goes for everything, not just clothes.

  5. la_meow

    i may sound like a doomsdayest, I have to listen to politics all day because my boyfriend is obsessed with it. i think another great depression is on its way in the US, wall street is going to crash, other countries are going to put sanctions on us, we are either going to become extremely communist where we wont have any choices on where we shop or everything is going to become more local, which means more DIY fashion and thrifting.

  6. pamela

    Interesting thoughts, Tricia.

    I’d like to see two trends emerge.

    Firstly, I’d like all the fabric stores that have dissapeared around the Bay Area (and presumably other parts of the country as well?) come back. The big department stores in London all have fabric departments, but that’s apparently no longer cool here in the US. DIY is huge right now, and it can’t be long before some smart retailer finds a way to hitch their wagon to that particular star. (And unless they get a lot smarter, like and infusion of GENIUS, I doubt it will be any of the current “craft” chains.)

    Secondly, I want quality on the shelves. I haven’t bought a new item of clothing since last December. From now on it is my intention to buy maybe one or two quality pieces per season, that I can keep and wear for years. They may be new, they may be vintage. That doesn’t mean they’ll be boring, or “classic” pieces. They’ll be pieces that express me.

    Retailers need a strong vision, and direction. No more with ubiquity, and conformity. Self expression is in, and we need retailers who are willing to speak to that.

  7. Susan

    It’s something I see in myself right now. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed by fashion these days, and not in a ‘holy cow, there’s so much I want, what should I buy??’ way. I love clothes but I want to buy nothing. Nothing inspires me. I feel a huge paralyzing inertia about shopping – should I even buy anything new this spring? This is not me. But I wonder if the whole world is silently galvanizing like this and it’s a quiet, low-hum swarm around me and everyone else, like a collective dissent of rejection of the mainstream.

    I need some chocolate.

  8. Casey

    Wow. This is a great, thought-provoking post, Tricia. Lots and lots for my little brain to chew on for awhile. 😉 I think perhaps you are correct in feeling like society is on the cusp of a paradigm shift; whether that is policitally, morally, economically, what-have-you, is yet to be seen. I daresay that part of what is going on economically (where buying is concerned) is not only due to the failing economy (which I’ve been watching closely since last summer as its plumetted), but also due to the election year. People, I think, tend to be more uncertain when the balance of power is unknown. Its like they’re holding their breaths and waiting to see which way the coin will fall. I think that, in turn, has a huge impact on (already bad) buying.

    Excellent post… 🙂

  9. Katie Alender

    Many good points already raised.

    I do feel like consumers’ heads are spinning with the arrival and departure of trends. It’s hard to spend money on something when you aren’t sure whether it’s in style or on its way out.

    I know that for me, personally, there has been a string of years during which I’ve felt it was a struggle to find clothes that look decent on me. When I stand in the dressing room feeling ridiculous, I’m not inclined to buy. A couple of years ago, I bought a dress from a national chain to wear to a wedding. This past year, I needed another one, so I looked at the same place–and they had not one dress longer than thigh-length. So I actually went ahead and made myself a dress.

    As for DIY being the wave of the future, I hope it stays in style, but I don’t know that it will fully take over again. The time demands are unrealistic for a lot of people.

  10. turtletrbl

    I’m with Susan. I want to buy clothes — need to buy clothes, in fact, but the silhouettes are WAY off. I think it’s fit that is a problem, as much as if not more than shape. Everything is cut flat to minimize fabric cost. So if you’re skinny like me, but with a normal woman’s shape — waist, hips, thighs — you’re outta luck.

    SHRINKAGE is a major issue too. I used to have 1 or 2 things I had to hang dry. Now a good 3/4 of my closet is hang dry. Nobody prewashes garment fabric anymore, which I guess speaks to quality.

    I don’t think luxury changes things as I’ve observed the same problems at different price points.

    I sew, but time and lack of appropriate garment fabric is a severe limitation. I am weighing the idea of buying pants for the summer 2 to 3 sizes larger than normal, in order to allow for comfort and shrinkage.

  11. Steff

    I think this is really great and thoughtful-something I am very grateful for you to post. There’s definitely a change. Whether it’s something to be alarmed a lot will obviously remain to be seen. I think there are quite a few of issues at play here. Number one, not only is the declining economy an issue, but also the lack of support for local and small businesses. As larger corporations push out smaller lines, it is very hard to make a real name among tons of other people who are also being smothered out. These larger corporations also exploit what might be a couture line, or a more high end line. While this can be a good thing for buyers, sometimes I think in art a little bit of elitism can be good, because just as with any other occupation, there are certain levels of expertise, seniority, and natural knowledge/talent. Also, this has created this sort of paradigm where fashion has become less of an art for makers and expression for buyers. Where there tends to be multiple developing fads for groups of different interest, fads are now pop-fads, for everyone. So, while all buyers are simply conforming instead of seeking out their modes of expression, makers are selling out to what will sell the most. And yet again, the smaller love-for-fashion makers are drowning in a pool of very big fish. Does heart not get us places anymore?

    My goodness, I sound so pessimistic! So, on the upside, Target does have some lovely plates!

  12. erica

    Tricia — as always I appreciate your insight and thoughtfulness. I’ve been walking out of retail and thrift stores empty handed more and more often lately, or skipping the shopping altogether — I have so many beautiful things already. Inspired by your blog and others, I’ve been shopping in my own closet. The shopping (thrifting or retail) was about doing something (alone) that made me feel good, but that consumerist pleasure burst (a smashing together of something you’ve written about and some words from George Saunders), is a cheap high. My friend says: “all the beautiful things, why do we have to own them all?” I wonder if a slow life (cooking, gardening, learning, breaking bread with friends –in cute ensembles erected from what I already own) won’t be more satisfying? Lastly — there is something going on. Something sad and urgent. And hopeful. Maybe fashion is a part — and certainly this incredible ability via the internet to see what everyone is wearing and talk about it, has changed the way I think, shop and dress.

  13. Natalie

    I think a lot about the absolutely insane trend cycle. It’s kind of symptomatic of the economy, I think. We’re having all this CRUD (and it is total crud!) thrown at us, and it seems like the only people buying in are the really younge people in their teens… people with high disposable incomes.

    I think the DIY and craft movement is important for the survival of “the self”. We’re starting to realise that we’re probably not going to have a full fashion spread at our finger tips any longer, or, the spread is unsatisfactory as it stands right now because of the stupidly diverse trends being hyped everywhere around us. So, a culture of creating is important if we want to maintain our image of “self”, because we just can’t buy it right now, and who knows how long the marketing machine is going to pump before falling over… then the manufacturers fall over and so on and so forth.

    Rupture and break. It’s one of those phrases I can’t get out of my head. Apparently it was the mantra of the avant garde. We have to destroy everything and then build it again. For me, that’s the most poignant thing that’s happening in fashion today. It is pointing to the implosion, and the smart cookies are learning how to felt, crochet, knit, sew, and style themselves without depending on external resources.

  14. Unicorns have whiskers

    This was a really intelligent and needed-for post, and you obviously have very intelligent blog readers too, Tricia! 😀
    I’m European, but there is talk about the uncertainty of the US economy here too, and it affects our economy too. For example, real estate market has slowed down, people are uncertain and don’t want to buy right now.

    Personally I long for a time when people had less, and took better care of their things, wore their favorite clothes until they fell apart, mended, and sewed a lot of their own stuff. I guess.. a simpler time. When things had more inherent value, and people didn’t take everything for granted. Like how mom used to sew most of her wardrobe, and most of ours when we were kids, and how I would inherit things from my older sister and cousin. The way I wore my favorite (and only) pair of jeans and a stripy blue sweater every week.
    I really wouldn’t want my own child to grow up a consumerist shallow brat…
    I’ve been really put off by mass market clothing stores lately, I can’t step in without feeling oddly uncomfortable.
    In the turn of the millennium there was talk that people were feeling uncertain and a lot of craftsy and “natural” things were coming back to fashion, but I guess people just realized that the world wasn’t going to end and returned right back. Or maybe that trend is still bubbling under, as this feeling, like you said.. some people are wanting that change, but will it reach a critical mass? Maybe people do need a crisis or a depression.

  15. suzi

    Very insightful thoughts, I love that peole are doing, making and creating their own things. And I think it has been inspirational at how well individual artist are doing on sites like etsy. That place has grown so much over the last year . When I want to buy something unique I go there. When I want to see unique , individual styles I go to places like wardrobe -remix ( and there are so many others) where we can see people that really embrace putting things together that fits their individual needs and taste. There is definitly a movement, and I think it happens to be more of an internal questioning … of what kind of impact am I making on the earth, among my friends, family and neighborhood. I think that is very good.

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  18. Moi

    Great post. I do however disagree I think the consumer is very much in power now.. take the trend of going ‘green’ we are definitely in charge now, and we have started to think before we buy..something that we never used to be.

    I guess the designer prices makes you think twice before you buy, but I have not sensed this shift as much, maybe because I am in the UK and don’t feel the uncertainty when it comes to what the uncertain state of the economy. The black collections are definitely a view on how the economy is.. to buy colours are a splurge often only the rich can make, it is safer to go for black and designers have to make money at the end of the day.

    We don’t need a machine telling us what to buy.. why would we need that? We have the luxury of buy what we like without feeling un-trendy because everything goes!

    The focus have never been more on personal style, and I think fashion now is leaning towards going back to basics, that is what I am feeling.. at least.

    Again great post!

  19. elliebelle

    Wow, what a great post with many thought provoking statements. I think it will be very interesting to see where the fashion industry goes, and if anyone will follow. I, like many others, hope to see a resurgence of smaller companies with more unique and creative fashions where quality is actually important. I myself have been doing the majority of my shopping on Etsy.com. Now if only we could overhaul the health care system in the U.S. so people could actually AFFORD to work on their own and create small businesses. Without that we will all be stuck “working for the man” in this crazy Wal-mart world.

  20. dana

    tricia, i think the lack of quality is becoming more and more of an issue. the other day i was looking for some professional work pants at banana republic and couldn’t believe how cheaply they were made ($90 pants!)…i don’t know if it’s just me getting older (and a little wider) or the industry, but everything feels and looks so cheap. i’m not a big fan of the gap (or BR, really), but have a few pairs of jeans from there and in a year, they’ve completely fallen apart. i’ve just decided to wait until i can afford better stuff. i’ve never been very fashionable or trendy, try as i might, so at least i want things that fit and will last. and sadly, the thrift stores are full of this cheap crap…i’d better learn to be a better sewer, i suppose!
    i’m so glad i found your blog and wardrobe_remix, since both have given me a lot more confidence to wear what i like and not worry about those mall b*tches or what’s “in” or “out.” and i’ve started wearing so much color, i surprise myself (which makes shopping difficult, since verything is beige or black).

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