From quiet luxury and mermaidcore to coastal granny and Barbiecore, the cycle of fashion trends has spun out of control.
Gone are the days of Miranda Priestly being canonized in “The Devil Wears Prada,” where the precise lineage of Anne Hathaway’s blue sweater could be traced from Oscar de la Renta’s cerulean dresses to a trash can in a corner. Social media – namely TikTok – has made anyone an agenda maker, and today’s trends often start with the masses.
“It’s a change from the old trickle down effect. We no longer wait for luxury brands to show a trend or rely on the runway to start it,” said Kayla Marci, analyst at trends forecasting agency Edited.
Identifying the beginning and end of a viral trend is especially difficult now. They last from a few weeks to several years. Competing tendencies can contradict each other; minimalist silent luxury and maximalist Barbiecore, for example, dominate the conversation at the same time.
Given this fracturing, what a trend is and what it is worth to retailers is being questioned. What makes a trend a trend – and who decides? If trends come and go and hit smaller pockets of consumers, should brands even bother to listen to the noise?
For now, brands are using viral trends to shape messaging, reach new audiences, and make merchandising decisions. But how companies should think about interacting with specific trends depends on the trend – and the brand.
“It’s very important to figure out what naturally connects with your customer and who you are as a brand,” said Erica Larsen, executive vice president and partner at marketing agency Shadow.
BoF takes a look at five viral trends – barbiecore, quiet luxury, mermaid, coastal granny and cottagecore – to find out how today’s trends are igniting and how brands can respond.
How are the trends bubbling?
The pandemic’s artificial pause and TikTok’s rapid rise have affected cycles in ways it will take time to understand, said Lorna Hall, director of fashion intelligence at the company. WGSN trend prediction tool. Today, trend building is more like a conversation, where social media users, consumers, brands, retailers and celebrities go head-to-head.
Some trends are consistent: macro trends like minimalism (buying less and wearing simple, neutral ensembles) or maximalism (synonymous with flashy and overdone fashion) have historically arisen in times of socio-economic turmoil or celebration. When a particular trend surfaces, a period of backlash ensues.
“We came out of the pandemic and we had this maximalist moment, which was such a release,” Hall said. “Now reality has bitten: not just economic reality, but real-life reality. We are back to daily norms.
The forces behind the trends exist outside of TikTok, Hall said. “Quiet luxury,” which refers to subtle, sleek outfits without logos, for example, is one of the biggest trends right now, having received around 40,000 mentions on social media in the past three months, according to Brand watch. The sleek allure it embodies reflects a more cautious economic climate.
What makes a trend last?
Even if a trend aligns with a larger cultural or political moment, to break through it needs a certain level of hype. Most trends have a peak that lasts about two to four months, Brandwatch found, but the ones that have the most resistance are often tied to pop culture.
“The more the pillars line up, the broader and deeper the trend is likely to be,” Hall said.
Movies push a term into the center of the cultural conversation — and keep it there with trailers and promos, said Brandwatch communications manager Kellan Terry. Barbiecore is the best example of this: the buzz surrounding the film, which has lasted for more than a year, has kept the aesthetic topical.
Similarly, HBO’s “Succession,” which followed a billion-worth family that operated a media conglomerate and aired its final season last spring, fueled a surge in mentions of “quiet luxury” online: Brandwatch saw the mentions go from 3,500 in April to nearly 18,000 in May. Mermaidcore is on the rise after “The Little Mermaid” premiered in May. Inspiration can also come from outside of film and TV: In 2020, Taylor Swift’s widely circulated albums Folklore and Evermore evoked a cottagecore aesthetic, but the trend’s biggest boom was driven by new features cottagecore on the Animal Crossing video game, according to Brand Watch.
Being tied to a pop culture moment increases the earning potential for brands and retailers investing in apparel or related partnerships, Larsen said. Brands like Aldo, Gap and Forever 21 have released collabs related to the upcoming “Barbie” movie.
Some trends have the power to survive a cultural moment. Cottagecore, for its part, can now be considered a permanent aesthetic cultural descriptor, as it has been consistently mentioned over the past five years, said Terry.
Are trends important?
Trends are becoming increasingly difficult to identify. The speed and confusing nature of today’s trend cycle means that most viral trends represent a fleeting marketing opportunity for brands, rather than a fundamental change in the way consumers dress. Yet they reveal details about consumer habits and attitudes.
As trends gain momentum online, they tend to branch out into smaller niches rather than consolidating into larger phenomena, creating confusion as to what brands should do next. , Hall said.
And a moment of virality does not always rhyme with sales. Sales of related skus for understated luxury — blazers, wide-leg pants and neutrals — were higher in July 2022 than when the succession-related conversation peaked in May 2023. With that, it’s easier for brands to capitalize quickly. on a trend if they can spotlight items they already have in their assortment, rather than creating new pieces to match a trend that may have fallen out of favor with customers by the time they hit the shelves.
“Gen Z consumes a lot of these trends as entertainment. They don’t necessarily buy everything,” Hall said.
Niche trends, however, can last. The coastal grandmother trend, epitomized by loose linen outfits in the style of Diane Keaton’s character in Nancy Meyers’ 2003 film “Something’s Gotta Give,” has never been so cited as cottagecore, barbiecore, luxe quiet or mermaidcore. But its sustained five-month momentum suggests that while the community that’s embraced the trend may be smaller, it’s dedicated to the long-term aesthetic.
It is difficult to measure the exact impact of a trend on sales. More accessible trends like quiet luxury tend to see higher sku sales than cottagecore or mermaidcore, but neutral quiet luxury blazers and pants also already have wider appeal than cottagecore puff sleeves and embroidered tops and the luminous dresses, sequins and meshes of mermaidcore.
Consumers buy trend-related staples even after a hype cycle has ended, turning gaming into portability, Marci said. Ballerina sales rose even after TikTok’s big balletcore boom earlier this year, even as leggings and tulle skirts dropped.
Tapping into trends can create immediate value for brands: Using popular terms can optimize search appearance, said Shadow’s Larsen.
“You can really create sales spikes on it,” Larsen said. “People type in Barbie, if you have something on your website that says Barbiecore, you can easily capture that.”
J.Crew nodded to “captaincore,” in Instagram images for their summer collection in late June. When the “coastal cowgirl” was all the rage, American Eagle showcased denim cuts in-store and showcased Western looks on Instagram and showed the media how to style American Eagle products to “get the look,” which resulted in two Teen Vogue features.
Yet after years of endlessly exaggerated “basic” trends, consumers — and brands — are growing increasingly skeptical.
“People are tightening their budgets and looking for options that will last them season after season,” Marci said. “There are so many of these basic trends that they will start to look disposable.”