Economy Of Fashion: How Different Trends Reflect The Financial State

by Gillian Fuller

It's common knowledge fashion is cyclical in nature.

The concept of “newness” in fashion doesn't refer to the premiere of a trend, but rather its revival.

Why fashion cycles in this manner, however, is less obvious. There are lots of factors at play: cultural trends, politics, celebrity influence.

One one of the most surprising factors to influence the cycle of fashion, though, is the state of the global economy.

If you think about it, it makes sense. When money's tight, fashion is one of the first indulgences a consumer will sacrifice to save money. Frugality becomes more important than trendiness.

During tougher times, if you need new clothes, the focus is less on passing fads and more on classic, quality pieces worth the expenditure because they'll last (which also aids in cutting down cost per wear).

As FIT professor John Mincarelli tells ABC News, “In rough economic times, people shop for replacement clothes,” adding “basics” prevail during an economic downturn.

Economist George Taylor was the first to notice the correlation between fashion and the economy; he developed the "Hemline Theory" to describe his findings.

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In the 1920s, he noticed hemlines became shorter as a way for women to show off their silk stockings.

Once the market crashed, longer skirts became de rigueur. Why? Because longer skirts allowed women to hide that they weren't wearing— and couldn't afford — stockings.

Skirt length isn't the only indicator, though. Some, like Estee Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder, believe sales of cheaper thrills best indicate the state of the economy.

Small splurges, like lipstick, increase in sales during economic downturns because more expensive indulgences become unrealistic.

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Heel height, too, provides clues to the state of the economy.

As reported in Jezebel, consumer products expert Trevor Davis claims,

Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up — as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape.

Accordingly, heel heights were highest — with a median of 7 inches — in 2009, during the peak of the recession.

So if we take this information and look at the recent runways, you can learn a lot about the current state and projected future of the economy.

For instance, last year's “ugly sandal” trend (Tevas, Birckenstocks, Adidas slides) is still going strong and, according to Davis' theory, it suggests we're pulling further out of the financial crisis.

How? The flat sole plus the sheer unattractiveness of the shoes signifies we, A) have an expansive footwear collection, enough to include this ugly pair, and B) are willing to spend money on riskier fashions.

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This winter's Fashion Week showed further support of this positive economic projection.

Dominant trends included fur, leather, sequins and glitter — a sign consumers are not only willing to splurge on luxury, but are also wanting to stand out.

The prominence of glitter, in particular, is noteworthy, too. During periods of economic growth, flashy styles dominate as consumers want to show off their wealth, whereas during periods of recession, it's a faux pas to advertise lavish spending.

The more embellished and less practical the trends, the higher the probability money is flowing freely.

It's important to remember fashion is still an industry, just like oil, media and military, and therefore, is heavily influenced by our economy.

So the next time a girl in crazy stiletto platforms steps on your toes, don't blame it on her... blame it on the economy.

Citations: High Heels Are New Economic Indicator IBM Analysis Shows (Huffington Post), Hard Times But Your Lips Look Great (New York Times), Do Short Skirts Really Mean Better Times (ABC News), High Heels Are The New Lipstick Index (Jezebel)