“SOME DAYS I THINK IT STARTED WITH THOSE IDIOT CROCS.”
Marian Salzman, one of the world’s most decorated trend spotters — the visionary credited with predicting the rise of the metrosexual — is trying to peg the moment the fashion trend died. When the biggest trend became no trend at all. The day the fashion police turned in their badges.
You saw mothers doing school runs in AG Jeans, H&M T-shirts, a vintage Chanel jacket, and Crocs on their feet,” says Salzman, shuddering. “That was the moment that life stood still.”
The year? Call it 2007 — and every year since. And now we’ve come to the point where “seasons don’t matter, trends don’t matter, age doesn’t matter,” says another New York style forecaster, Sharon Graubard.
As a person who’s never quite “on trend,” I’m apparently so out of it that I didn’t even know there was no trend not to be on. It should have come as good news, but I felt unmoored. It’s nice to have a look to aspire to, or at least to mock. Fashion trends are like airplane food in that way — objects of derision you find yourself missing.
But what happened? Did a motley mob charge forth, in skinny pants and pleated slacks, platforms and flats, baby-doll tops and cinched waists, nude lips and maraschino ones, jumpsuits and bare midriffs, and topple a statue of Vogueeditor Anna Wintour?
Blame it on grunge, says Graubard, a senior vice president and fashion director at forecasting firm Stylesight. Yes, the plaid-flannel-and-clunky-boots look of the early ’90s. “A few people said it’s a flash in the pan, but I understood it as a groundswell, a complete change in the direction in the way we look at clothes. Every article of clothing becomes a layering piece. A dress can be worn over pants.”
She contrasts that with trendier times. “In the ’80s you had to wear big shoulders,” she says. “There was one silhouette, and if you didn’t wear it, you felt like you were out of fashion. In the ’90s, the whole style was minimalism. If you wore something embroidered or decorated, you would look dumb. Wearing brights was considered Middle America. But it’s all cracked open now. You can wear anything as long as you wear it with conviction.”
Uh-oh. That takes the pressure off the designer and puts it on the wearer. Isn’t that what we’re overpaying them for? Confidence?
If grunge struck the first blow, the recession stepped in to finish the job. As Salzman notes: “If I’m going to be working at home and only seen on Skype [from the shoulders up], isn’t one vintage jacket all I need?”
What is work wear today?” she continues. “Is it business casual? Is it effectively provocative so someone notices me and doesn’t fire me? Or is it painfully neutral?”
Perhaps no one is better positioned to see the trend, or lack of one, than veteran fashion forecaster David Wolfe. He was in Paris in 1976, when Saint Laurent sent models down the runway wearing the Russian peasant look. “It was a joke to start,” he says, “but six to eight weeks later women all over the world were wearing versions of it. That’s the way fashion worked then. Now it’s so fragmented and tribalized that there are so many different trends going on simultaneously.”
“Grunge was a wonderful trend,” says Wolfe, a creative director with the trend-spotting firm the Doneger Group, in New York, “but it never went away. In order for trends to be interesting, they have to leave. Now we have vintage, we have the ’40s, we have the ’90s, we have the ’80s. We’ve got the exotic Asian, Japanese bag lady, all-American preppy, the stern cow girl. We’re going to have Gatsby in a minute. You can wear cowboy boots with a black leather jacket and a tutu.” (That’s good news for all the Disney Princess-addled 4-year-olds who get to dress themselves.)
As he ticks off the simultaneous trends, I think about an item I’d just read in the Globe’s Names section. It was about a Boston Casting call for a David O. Russell film set in the 1970s. “It would be helpful, however not required, that you arrive in ’70s attire,” the notice read. “For example, bell-bottoms, vests, flower shirts, Afros, sideburns, mustaches, long hair, mini dresses/skirts, platform shoes, etc.”
It made me wonder what some future aspiring extra would wear in a 2012 period film about the Red Sox collapse. But who can say? If there’s one thing we know about trends, it’s that they trend. The demise of the non-trend looms.