The embarrassment of showing up to a party in the same dress as someone else is an old cliché. But lately for some fashionistas it may feel like this isn’t just happening at parties, but also at the office, out with friends, and pretty much everywhere else. And they’re not just wearing the same things as one other person, it feels like they’re wearing the same thing as everyone! Even though clothing brands are in competition with each other, these days it seems as though they’ve all reached some sort of agreement to release strikingly similar clothes all at the same time.
Each season as they come out with new lines we see the same colours, the same types of patterns, and the same silhouettes, from the high-end brands down to the cheap fast fashion companies. For fashion consumers these synchronized styles can have frustrating results. Trendy clothes no longer feel like a unique expression of personal style that lets a person stand out, instead an on-trend wardrobe has become a sort of camouflage that makes a person just blend in with the thousands of others who all bought the same hot new looks. The reason that everything trendy all looks the same now isn’t because of some sort of mass agreement about what we all like, it’s because fashion is big business, and predicting, or creating, the next trend is a big part of that.
Every clothing company wants to make sure they’re cashing in on the next new trend and there are a couple ways to try and do that. One option is for fashion businesses to endeavour to set the trends. Designing unique clothes and successfully marketing them to key demographics who are the trendsetters is an art form, but also a risky business strategy. If a new look misses the mark, or worse if the whole line or concept doesn’t resonate with buyers, then fashion brands can lose big. Setting trends is also difficult on the compressed timeline that fashion companies currently work with. There used to be two main fashion seasons: spring/summer and autumn/winter. This has since expanded with new collections for each of the four seasons and additional clothes for made up seasons like “resort” and “pre-fall”. Some fast fashion companies release new looks at least weekly. Any clothing company looking to stay current has to roll out new lines almost constantly and it’s hard to design things that fast that are genuinely cutting edge.
The other option is for companies to try and predict what’s going to be fashionable next and then make clothes that capitalize on that. This strategy means using a range of resources, like analyzing consumer data and digital footprints, looking at what’s happening in other industries, and monitoring trend-setting celebrities. Trying to know the future of fashion is a lot of work, so many big fashion brands have decided to outsource this job to fashion forecasting companies. Or, more accurately, a lot fashion companies now rely on a trend forecasting company, singular, since there is one big name forecaster that dominates the industry.
WGSN is the leading fashion forecasting company and they have become such an integral part of the fashion industry that there is now some question as to whether they’re predicting the trends or creating them. Designers look to WGSN, and a few other fashion forecasters, for information on what colours will be hot in the upcoming season, what types of patterns and fabrics consumers will be looking for, and all kinds of other information about what’s coming and how it’s going to impact fashion. Companies use this information to quickly create looks that will appeal to on-trend consumers.
But WGSN goes a step further than just providing information that is predictive; they also provide pre-made design templates for clothes. A designer (or frankly anyone) could use these templates, modify them slightly, make them in whatever colours and prints WGSN says are going to be in next season, and voilà, they have a hot new fashion line ready for release. And that fashion line is going to look a lot like all the other lines from all the other companies that did the exact same thing. Which goes a long way towards explaining why certain styles are ubiquitous at certain times, even across brands. Right now H&M, Gap, Express, Bebe, and others are all selling faux fur leopard print jackets in roughly the same length with similar shapes. When this happens it’s hard to tell if all of these companies simply happened to read the trend forecasting information the same way and arrived at the same conclusion, or if they all download the same template from WGSN and applied the same pattern and fabric.
For fashion consumers it almost doesn’t matter, the result is that same. If you buy that cool leopard print jacket don’t expect to be unique, literally thousands of other shoppers in at least four major stores all bought basically the same jacket as you.
For those who do want to stand out a little the answer may be counterintuitive. Cool, trendy clothes used to be a way to look and feel a little special, to express our individuality. But as each new trend sweeps across the industry and each company churns out indistinguishable lines, the best way to forge your own style is to reject the trends. Deciding to create a wardrobe that has some classic timeless staples mixed in with interesting pieces from small boutique designers gives you freedom to decide what you actually like, rather than just gravitating towards what you see everywhere.
Getting away from the big name brands that all rely on the same forecasts and templates also means supporting designers who actually design and promotes fashion as an art, not just a business. Best of all, deciding not to shop at the same places as everyone else, and not buy into the same trends as everyone else means smaller chance of showing up to the party looking like everyone else.