Anyone on TikTok would be able to recognize at least one of these micro trends. Social media and TikTok especially, have generated an onslaught of trend after trend that quickly dissipates and then is taken up by a new one.
Short-term trends have always been around. In the 2010s there were mustaches, Crackle nail polish, Justice, Anastasia Dip Brow, and Kylie lip kits, just to name a few.
However, there have never been this many trends at this speed before. What does this mean? It helps to define some terms first.
What is a trend?
In the Fall of 1981, George B. Sproles explained the fashion industry in The Journal of Marketing. There is a trend cycle, which occurs in 30-50-year increments. This is where styles will shift from one extreme to another and be recycled and reflective of the past. The swinging from one extreme to another is also referred to as “the pendulum”.
An example of this is the shift from low-rise jeans in the 90s and early 2000s to high-waisted jeans in the 2010s and 2020s. Trends, as understood in the 80s, did not refer to a single short-term aesthetic, makeup trend, object, etc. They were referring to the monolith of style characteristics that defined a generation. This is an important distinction in my opinion, because it prevents the question, what is going on right now?
Micro-trend vs. Fad?
In 1981, what we called microtrends, they called fads.
Fads referred to short-term styles that went against the dominant trend. These were short-lived (In 1981, their version of short-lived was a season to a couple of years) and only adopted by a certain subgenre of people. Microtrends are similar in the sense that they are short-lived style choices picked up by a small group of people.
The difference is, with the usage of TikTok, the microtrends get picked up by more people, yet they last a shorter period of time.
Gen-Z and Tik-Tok
Many have highlighted the disastrous effects that this is having on the environment, with brands like Shein selling quickly produced, cheaply made clothing that quickly goes out of style and ends up in landfills.
Where is there to go from here? Younger Gen Z, and perhaps even Gen Alpha depending on where you draw the line, don’t seem to remember a time when trends lasted for more than a month. I created a Google poll about trends and distributed it around my college, my cousin’s college, and my 15-year-old sister’s high school. I won’t get too into the results, but there were a couple of comments that were striking.
A 14-year-old girl said,
If it’s something people do around the world that lasts longer than a week, it’s a trendAnonymous 14 year old girl
A week? That’s the threshold?
I’m not saying a 14-year-old girl is the deciding factor in deciding how long something needs to be relevant for it to be a trend. But, her answer highlights something that’s becoming increasingly obvious: the trend cycle is speeding up.
In 1981 Sproles said the trend cycle happens in 30-50 year cycles. Growing up, I always heard it happened in 20-year cycles, and now I hear 10 years. In just 10 years the pendulum swings to the other side and then back again. In 2011 NPR said it was the “End of Trends”, and again in 2022 Vox declared “Trends are Dead”. Are they correct?
What Does This Mean?
If we think about trends according to their actual definition (not micro-trends or fads) we’re on a path where there might be no more styles that define a generation.
If the trend cycle continues to speed up, and keeps recycling styles over and over again, at what point does it just cease to exist? At what point are trend cycles moving so quickly and the pendulum is swinging so fast that everything just jumbles together? There will be no more collective style.
I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I am not here to make a moral judgment. However, I think many Gen Z think this is a good thing. It seems like this 15-year-old girl who took my poll thinks negatively about the whole system saying,
“I believe that trends on social media are one of the oldest tricks in the book that the patriarchy uses in order to fit women into a box. They use these trends to make women feel that they aren’t pretty because they have “a negative Canthal tilt” or haven’t had a new surgery or don’t buy micro trends off shein. Influencers use women’s insecurities to profit off them and keep their businesses running.”Anonymous 15 year old girl
Not everyone felt this way. Some thought the internet brought much-needed inclusivity to trends. Others weren’t even aware there was a pattern and only knew of microtrends. So what does this mean?
Will the next generations have a style that defines their youth? Only time will tell, and then only in hindsight will we be able to see how much of an impact the trend cycle had on our consumer lives. Overall though, this started with Gen Z, and I think if the whole fashion system were to come crumbling down if it hasn’t already, it would be at the hands of Gen Z.