March 04, 2010

The End of Closets Stuffed Full of Clothes

Last year’s biggest fashion trend, from my vantage point at least, was wearing the clothes of the year before. Most people, suffering from the financial pressure of a recession, didn’t buy any new clothes — but that doesn’t make it a fashion trend. What made it a fashion trend was that people who did buy new clothes mostly weren’t wearing them, preferring instead to follow the trend by wearing their slightly older clothes.

And this year? Simon Doonan, writing in the New York Observer, says this is “The End of Trends”: “Nobody is keeping score. All bets are off. Anything goes, even scrunch boots.”

People are showing up in public wearing any clothing they happen to have — or that they see their friends wearing. What this means to me is that there is no longer any excuse for stuffing your closet full of new clothes in an effort to be fashionable. You can be fashionable just by pulling out something that was forgotten in the back of the closet.

In economic theory, the reason for the declining pace of fashion trends is easy to see. Fabric and thread are far more durable than they were in the last century when our current idea of a fashion trend really got going. Clothing lasts eight times as long as it did a century ago. We have raised our standards accordingly, so that something that is the slightest bit frayed may be considered worn out, but even so, it is no longer really possible to wear clothing out. Most people this year are still mostly wearing clothing from 2007 and 2008, and most of it has years to go before it would start to look shabby. The economic imperative to buy new clothing is gone. New fashion ideas have to stand or fall on their own merits, not just competing with other fashion ideas, but with everything else people might spend money on.

And what that means is that anything is “in” if it makes you look good. And since this year’s fashion ideas aren’t really better than last year’s, it is amazingly hard for any new fashion trend to sweep away everything that came before.

So you can wear the clothing you have — or, if it doesn’t look right on you, take it away and make room for the clothing that does. Either way, it doesn’t take a closet stuffed full of clothes to make it happen.

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