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An hour into a nightly TikTok scroll or daily Instagram perusal, the process starts to become monotonous: thousands of users partaking in the same trends, churning out extremely personal content made to garner clicks and views. Indeed, while these platforms can be connective, useful, and informative, they’re also platforms on which users, especially Gen Z, can kill time swiftly and assuredly for hours on end. The dissemination of information is now focused on it being interesting, fun, and incredibly quick to digest, but in an increasingly digital world, the amount of time anything can remain a novelty is shortening as consumers rapidly filter through endless content. Enter: the microtrend.
It is difficult to recall when exactly House of Sunny cardigans and dresses, patchwork jeans, Hawaiian floral print, and charm accessories became so thrillingly new and relevant. One can only say they didn’t stay relevant for long. While these trends all had overlapping moments in the spotlight, every piece shared the same fate: A quick rise in popularity, peak, decline, and finally, relative obscurity in comparison to their once-meteoric popularity. Microtrends are cycles of short-lived trends that gain a high amount of attention in a fairly short period outside of traditional trend cycles, and then fall off the grid and lose public relevance almost just as quickly. Today they are fueled by various factors: TikTok and Instagram, celebrities and influencers, and popular fast fashion retailers that sell largely disposable, trendy fashion pieces quickly, creating an accelerated and wasteful trend cycle.
Truly, social media platforms are where these trends are born, die out, and receive the most traffic and attention during their lifespan. A few particularly potent examples are Vivienne Westwood pearl chokers and the House of Sunny green Hockney dress. These two items in particular reveal a couple of microtrend patterns to interested fashion observers or social media enthusiasts.
Both pieces first received recognition as celebrities began wearing them in public. In the case of the green Hockney dress, Kendall Jenner was first seen wearing it in the summer of 2020, and celebrities and influencers like Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, and Madison Beer have frequently been pictured wearing Vivienne Westwood’s bas-relief chokers. A little over a year ago, both these items had all the hallmarks of consumer success: sold-out stock, incredible mark-ups for resale, and consistent media presence in a condensed period of time. One of the more prominent commentaries on this mass response to microtrends speaks to the relation between social media and the “buy-in” culture that’s rapidly developing in the current microtrend consumer market. Once a product gains traction, people post and share their newest purchase in a 60-second TikTok video, or dedicate an aesthetically pleasing instagram post to their newest outfit. As more social media users see that item, they start to ask, “Will I be left out if I’m not buying in?” Eventually, the supersaturated product on social media timelines causes an opposite effect: the trend becomes tired, overdone.
As the market’s tides push the next big piece to the top of social media feeds, companies simultaneously push accelerated production cycles, generating enormous amounts of fashion waste. And that increased consumption has come at an unimaginably high environmental cost: Excessive water usage, release of microfibers and toxic material, and landfills stocked to the brim with discarded clothes. Carbon emissions are some of the most notable detriments associated with fast fashion. The environmental effects of the industry that consumers are buying into are killing the planet. Still, many brands are aware of this blight on the fashion industry’s reputation and the general distaste that the public has for this mass pollution. While many have responded to the public’s desire for “sustainable” consumption through elaborate greenwashing campaigns, a smaller subset of brands are indeed taking steps to improve their sustainability and ethical practices. Despite this supposed goodwill effort, many of those brands are relatively expensive and not an accessible option for most shoppers.
In addition to the negative effect that fast fashion has on the environment, microtrends also have personal implications on individual consumers’ identities and tastes. With buy-in culture, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand and distinguish between what’s a trend to jump on versus what a consumer actually wants to purchase and enjoy. It can become exhausting on the individual to catch up with the latest, decide whether to follow along, and at the end of the day still be caught in a somewhat uninspiring collection of new fashion fads.
Looking towards the future, consumers must start critically examining the intent and inspiration behind a certain piece or trend. Creating a basic wardrobe with stand-out statement pieces and classy items that never go out of style is a great way to break out of the microtrend cycle. Nevertheless, in the constant battle between timeless and trendy, it may be worth considering the implications of what you’re buying and admiring, and whether the item brings comfort, joy, and confidence.
—Staff Writer Ashley Y. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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