Are You Also A Victim Of Microtrends?
I was never a fan of my parent’s huge collection of HardRock Cafe T-shirts until I was. Growing up, I would always lament “Who needs so many similar-looking white T-shirts that all start with ‘HardRock Cafe’?” when I had to put the clean laundry away. So I am sure you can only imagine their surprise when I asked them if I could ransack their precious collection for a “trendy oversized graphic shirt” just last year.
Since then, I have completely swapped out my fitted cotton shirts and skinny jeans for baggy oversized shirts and baggy jeans for casual everyday wear. My parents still pick out clothing pieces that resemble my old style of dressing when we visit shopping malls and get confused when I insist that those types of clothes are no longer cool. They get even more confused when I come home with second-hand clothes that they think are definitely not worth the money I paid for them. I was really excited to share my finds with just about anyone who would listen the last time I came home from The Hammock Market, and made the mistake of showing my Dad what I had bought: Nike Tee and Abercrombie & Fitch long-sleeve. As expected, he clicked his tongue in disapproval and asked, “Why did you pay good money for old clothes that are no longer in season?”
So what makes something cool or trendy? Besides hopping on the “vintage is cool” bandwagon, I find it fascinating how quickly certain fashion items trend: how frequently they start to appear on my For You Page on social media platforms and even in stores. Personally, I sometimes catch myself switching the words “cool” and “trendy” out for the phrase “I saw this on Instagram/TikTok just the other day” when I try to explain why I like something I see on the shelf — it is almost as if I am reaffirming my likes and dislikes in accordance with what is gaining traction among other users (who are interested in fashion).
According to TechTarget, a microtrend is ”a tendency in the direction of some phenomenon that is fairly pervasive within a given sphere of influence and may only last for a few years, or even months”. For the rest of the article, let’s just dilute this definition to: microtrends are (fashion) trends that circulate rapidly on our favourite social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok for a short period of time. They do not last long; people stop wearing them after a while and they disappear from store shelves as quickly as they first appeared.
In the following video, @rebecaoksana on TikTok talks about differentiating trends from microtrends. She explains how we need to look to the past to understand the origins of a trend before we carelessly categorise it as a microtrend. For example, she challenges the common sentiment that the flower choker is a microtrend by calling it a “classic” trend that has existed a long time before today.
How to tell if something is a microtrend? | Source: TikTok
According to HelloMagazine, SilkFred’s Head Stylist, Megan Watkins explains "Flower chokers first hit the runway last year in Prabal Gurung’s 2022 resort collection and have since been spotted on Instagram trend-setters like Nina Sandbech and Matilda Djerf and have been making the rounds on TikTok, showing that these floral accessories are the trendiest Y2K accessory to have in your spring wardrobe.” Celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Haily Beiber have been spotted wearing this new trend.
Harry Styles rocked an oversized version of the flower choker on the BRIT Awards 2023 red carpet. | Source: Yahoo
Many have attributed the return of Y2K fashion to the fact Gen Z have been discovering them and showcasing them on TikTok. @elle.richards on TikTok describes nostalgia dressing as “a longing of the past and can be seen as an escape from the uncertainty of the future”. She believes that “young people are dressing in past decades because it provides an emotional escape”.
Explaining nostalgia dressing | Source: TikTok
Similarly, behavioural psychologist professor Carolyn Mair PhD, and the author of The Psychology of Fashion, shared with Elle UK about the power of nostalgia as well as the difference between evoking a positive and negative nostalgic response. He explained that “We are more likely to feel nostalgic when we’re feeling unhappy or lonely, or things are not going well. Therefore, deliberately engaging in nostalgic (idealised) memories can boost our mood and help us “escape” from the uncertainty and turmoil we’re living in today.”
“People are just going to get tired from seeing it everywhere, but be sure that this is going to come back like it has.” — @rebecaoksana, TikTok
Therefore, let us re-evaluate the definition of microtrends. If Y2K Fashion is nothing new, why do trends like the flower choker get labelled as “microtrends”? It looks like the label “microtrends” serves a lesser purpose of simply describing the duration of how long a trend lasts, but is more often used in a way to condemn trends that seem to sprout out of nowhere and take over Instagram or TikTok. In my opinion, the label is a way for someone to express their frustrations regarding the constant perpetuation of a particular trend that everyone else but them seems to be fully on board with. And they cannot wait for the trend to die down so that they can prove to everyone else that they never really liked it in the first place.
Supply and Demand
Social media platforms catalyse the process for trends to take shape. When It Girl and style icon Jennie from Blackpink posted an Instagram post sporting a COS quilted bag, it kickstarted a huge demand for puffer-type bags. According to AsiaOne, Jennie’s influence is so great the products she is spotted using are often “quickly snapped up”. Fans have dubbed this as the 'Jennie Effect'.
Jennie styling the Quilted Oversized Shoulder Bag in off-white from European fashion brand COS | Source: Instagram
Creators who were quick on the uptake of the trend managed to get their hands on it before it was sold out everywhere and showed off their new purchases in the form of “Unbox my new everyday bag” or “Styling my new everyday bag” types of videos. PurseBlog believes that our seemingly newfound “fascination with puffer bags can be largely traced back to” the Bottega Venetea’s Pouch which debuted in the late 2010s and was introduced for Spring/Summer 2019. It “became one of the most memorable ‘It’ bags of the 2010s and put the house’s creative Director at the time, Daniel Lee, on every fashion insider’s radar".
Bottega Veneta The Pouch | Source: PurseBlog
A cohort of new puffer bags have joined the ranks, drawing inspiration from coveted pillow-esque styles and ultra-casual puffer jackets alike. From Loewe to Louis Vuitton, there’s no shortage of brands eager to get it on the puffer bag hype. — PurseBlog
Riding on the wave of return of puffer bags, other puffer-type bags from international brands like My Mum Made It, as well as local brands like The Paper Bunny and Beyond The Vines, started to gain attention. According to Vogue, puffy accessories “have long had a welcoming appeal” because they are “friendly and inviting, almost cartoonish” and “have a lightness that just doesn’t exist with a hardlined briefcase”. This element of play and fun easily fits into McDonald’s brand image, especially in relation to its family-friendly identity. MacDonald’s Singapore announced in March that they were giving away a free McGriddles Patty Puffer Bag — made to resemble the McGriddle’s brown sausage patties — with every purchase of the Breakfast McGriddles 2x Value Meal. Since MacDonald’s was only giving away 200 bags, the staff in charge of the event had to turn away a few expectant customers who came a little later than the rest. A handful of individuals who did not participate in the event took to social media to ridicule successful customers who woke up before the sun rose to queue up. They believed that these customers could have easily gotten their hands on "dupes" found on popular online shopping websites like Shopee and Taobao for cheap and much less effort.
According to Certilogo, duplicates “in the context of TikTok”, better known as “dupes” on the Internet, refer to “users sharing their findings of affordable alternatives or knock-off versions of popular brands or products”. It is not rare for users to compare similar products in order to get away with a cheaper alternative that basically offers the same user experience and satisfaction for a fraction of the price of the original. However, I believe that it is worth noting that many of these dupes only appeared in response to certain trends taking place on social media — without the demand for a cheap alternative, there would not have been a move to create a supply to fulfill it.
@alextheapollokid_ shows off his dupe for the $200 Quilted Oversized Shoulder Bag from COS from Taobao that cost only $20 | Source: TikTok
You snooze, you lose!
“Today, buying a dress is like buying a Big Mac; cheap, fast and, judging by the poorer quality seen in fast fashion clothes, not very healthy.” — Christina Dean, Redress founder, and Chief Executive
Timing is key to the success of microtrends and fast fashion. According to The Good Trade, fast fashion companies “can create new, desirable styles weekly, if not daily” “by replicating streetwear and fashion week trends as they appear in real-time.” “The brands then have massive amounts of clothing and can ensure that customers never tire of inventory.” Therefore, it is only natural for fast fashion companies to race against time and their competitors to produce the current “hot” or “trending” items customers have been eagerly waiting to hit the shelves for an affordable price as soon as possible.
Chinese fast-fashion giant Shein has been dubbed as the world’s most popular fashion brand. According to TIME, a report compiled by Money.co.uk has revealed that “Shein has taken over giants like Nike and Adidas as the most-Googled clothing brand, and Zara and Macy’s in online sales.” There are “6,000 clothing factories in China under Shein’s label, while internal management software collects near-instant data about which items are selling and which aren’t to visibly boost the popular items.” Looking beyond its cheap clothing prices and worldwide shipping that appeal to women in their teens and 20s, the way its algorithm works to differentiate the old and new trends greatly complements the rapid rise and fall of microtrends — the continuous rotation and display of trends and styles are exacerbated.
Therefore, fast fashion companies and microtrends have a co-dependent relationship because one would not be able to survive without the other: microtrends only become established among a demographic when everyone else seems to own it and fast fashion companies would not be able to compete with sustainable brands if there was no need incorporate a new microtrend in their next line release every other day.
So, are you also a victim of microtrends?
Source: FIV Magazine
To me, the catchphrases “BLANK trend is back!” or “BLANK trend is here to stay!” splashed on the cover pages of fashion magazines or TikTok videos always hold a tone of severity. It enforces the idea that we are powerless in the face of the natural rotation of old and new styles — we just have to accept it. But are we really nothing more than passive consumers?
In an era of accessible social media platforms like Instagram and Tiktok, fashion trends are no longer exclusively reserved for celebrities or those who live the high life. Media consumers all around the world like you and I can easily see how trends or microtrends manifest not only all over social media but also in the stores we frequent as well. Whenever we make the conscious decision to get something we “saw on Instagram/TikTok the other day” and wear it out, we are part of the cog in the machine that drives the enforcement of a particular trend.
While there is definitely nothing wrong with purchasing cheaper alternatives and being content with them, it does make me wonder if we can do anything better to resist the production of fast fashion and its negative implications on the environment, labour conditions, and society. After all, these negative implications will eventually catch up to us one day.