What's in or out in the world of fashion - who decides?
This season it is fringing; on jackets, skirts, boots and bags. Last season it was nerdy-but-cute puppy picture tee-shirts and fluffy bunny jumpers. But who says? Who decides what we should be wearing?
Designers
The knee-jerk answer is to say it is the fashion designers who set the trends, but it is much more complex than that. The top fashion houses have teams of people dedicated to coming up with new styles, the killer looks that will sweep the country and have everyone clamouring for their clothes. It is true that the – often ridiculous - haute couture we see on the catwalk will trickle down to the high street, but often in a very diluted way. So, if you see a lot of flowers at London Fashion Week, chances are floral prints will be popular this summer.
The Editors
New designs have to pass through filters, the most powerful being the fashion editors. They pick and choose from the new collections, decide what will appeal to their readers, and showcase them in their magazines and websites.
The Buyers
Also filtering out the wacky from the wearable are the high street buyers. These are the people who take what they see on the catwalk and turn it into the mass-produced clothes we see in our high street stores and supermarket ranges. Nipple-skimming, gold-leaf encrusted bustiers probably won’t make it – but gold embellishments and structured tops will.
The Zeitgeist
Despite this, many high-fashion trends just don’t catch on. For example, designers have been putting models in ankle socks and stiletto heels for years, but this has yet to make an impact on real-life fashion. When designers do score a big success it is often because they have tapped into something else, something much broader and deeper than mere novelty. One of the most famous times designers kick-started a trend was in 1947 when Christian Dior showcased his New Look. The gorgeous wide skirts and nipped-in waists were a sensation, and dominated the fashion scene for the next 15 or so years.

But the New Look wouldn't have been so successful it hadn't come when it did – in the wake of a punishing war when women had to ‘make do and mend’, or button themselves into practical uniforms and Rosie the Riveter style boilersuits.

Dior’s outfits used yards and yards of fabrics, in far from utilitarian colours. There were swirly skirts, not Land Army breeches, and darling little hats instead of grimy headscarfs. Here, fashion was an expression of the spirit of the age. With the liberation of the sixties came the liberation of mini-skirts and tunic dresses in eye-popping colours made possible by advances in chemical dying. Men swapped their ties for tee-shirts and polo necks, and tailored trousers for jeans. In the eighties, hair got big and shoulders got bigger. Women wouldn't step outside without red lipstick and matching heels. It can be argued this was a reaction to the stern leadership of Margaret Thatcher and the unrest and unemployment that marked the decade. When the nineties came around and everything started booming, we all chilled out in shell suits and ultra-baggy trousers. Right now, clothes are reminiscent of Hollywood’s hey-day – beautiful sheer fabric skimming the figure, yards of bias-cut satin and wonderful knitwear in angora and cashmere. Fashion at the moment is in direct contrast to the austerity in which we are living.
The Celebrities
So that’s the socio-political answer of who decides what is in, but it doesn't paint the whole picture. We don’t buy a killer pair of shoes or a cashmere scarf to escape, or celebrate, our economic status. We buy them because we love them – and we have probably seen them on someone famous. Decades ago, it was the royals who set the pace; witness Queen Victoria’s symmetrical hairdo, which was emulated by every woman in the country. The last time this happened on a large scale was the early 1980s, when Princess Diana’s chic side-flicked hair sparked a national trend. Nowadays, it is the celebs who set the pace. When the film Pulp Fiction was released in 1994, everyone went mad for Uma Thurman’s Rouge Noir lipstick, quickly leading to waiting lists on Chanel counters across the country. The celebs (or their stylists) have access to the top designers and can showcase their styles. What they wear at award ceremonies and on stage can quickly go viral. Back to royals again, but when the Duchess of Cambridge steps out in a high street outfit it regularly sells out; witness the red LK Bennet dress she wore to Wimbledon last year. Reports said the £250 dress had sold out within four hours of Kate being pictured in it.
Us
But the celebs don’t dictate everything; no-one is wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress any-time soon.

At the end of the day, if we don’t like it, we won’t wear it, no matter what the designers and fashion magazines try to tell us. Very often the trends come from below – the streets - and are filtered upwards, through clubs, word of mouth and social media.

The New Romantic look of the 1980s, with its frilly shirts and man make-up, started in the Blitz Club in London, not on a designer’s sketch-pad. A few years before, punk began on the streets, fuelled by independent clothes shops and a home-grown music scene. And we are still dyeing our hair pink.

Off the shoulder tops are big news right now – pull a slouchy jumper to one side or shrug off your jacket. This is a trend that began on the streets (presumably in a warm country...) and has trickled up to the catwalks.

The same can be said of skateboard style, a true street look that has been adapted and stylised by the designers.

There is no one group of elite people who decide what is in and out. Everything from the economy to teenagers kicking around on street corners have a say in what we wear.


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