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The concept of trends and fashion have been linked since the dawn of the modern fashion system in the early 20th century. Trends allow fashion to be divided into digestible chunks for the general public who may not be familiar with all its nuances. But how do these trends emerge? Here’s how you can spot and predict trends like a professional.

1) Consider politics and world events:

Although the world of fashion can be quite insular, people within the industry are not immune to the leading issues or movements of their time. The past few years have seen rapid growth in countries such as China and India and that has been reflected on the runways. Asian themes of all kinds found their way into clothes from all over the world. Also, when America went to war with Afghanistan and Iraq, a clear militant trend emerged in the collections and lasted for many years.

2) Think about any major art or fashion exhibitions of the recent past:

While the debate regarding fashion’s validity as an art form may never be resolved, the two communities are quite close and share a great deal. Yves Saint Laurent responded to the work of Mondrian in his collections and Marc Jacobs makes frequent references to the work of Cindy Sherman and Rachel Feinstein, especially after Sherman had a retrospective at MoMA a couple of years ago. Art aside, fashion often inspires other fashion and the Madame Grés and Yves Saint Laurent shows of recent years have inspired numerous designers.

3) Find out who the top editors and stylists are:

To a degree, trends are completely fabricated. Just because the industry decides that pink or ballet-inspired skirts are the most prominent concepts doesn’t mean that other ideas didn’t circulate throughout the collections as well. All editors and stylists have their personal preferences, just like everyone else, and the favoritism can show. A certain stylist might really love slim pants, while an editor adores short fur jackets. Before long those things end up in the magazines and, eventually, on bodies. Trends are ultimately the choice of those who dispense images of fashion to the public.

4) Culture is key:

Until the 1960s it was expected that young women in the Western Hemisphere would dress exactly like their mothers no matter how old they might be. The 60s brought youth and energy into fashion (and everything else) and changed the rules forever. The emergence of social media and other digital technologies has had an equally profound effect on the youngest generation of designers. Be conscious of societal evolution and it won’t be long before those ideas are incorporated into clothes.

Fashion Culture Clash

Paris Fashion Week ended less than a week ago, but some prominent themes and trends have already crystallized. One of the most ubiquitous elements running through the collections was a tribal theme. This brings about serious questions regarding cultural appropriation in fashion and how it relates to body image. I spoke with Gillian McGhee, an anthropology student, to get her thoughts on this particular aspect of the season.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Martin: How do you feel about fashion appropriating the dress or aesthetic of other cultures?

Gillian: I don’t think it can always be a negative thing. A lot of times we see, Halloween is a great example, you dress up as a different culture and it’s branded as racist. But I don’t think it always has to be this venomous cultural appropriation. I think there are ways of incorporating a different culture’s fashion into your own that isn’t offensive and it can be used as a learning tool. Then it makes it more familiar to you and it’s not scary.

M: When it’s done poorly, what do you think makes it an inappropriate reference?

G: I think if the people’s culture you’re appropriating from take offense to it then you’ve done something wrong. A lot of times you find…some people just get offended off the bat as soon as you bring a different culture into fashion and say ‘that’s racist.’ If the original group doesn’t take offense to it and it’s not being used in a derogatory manner, generally, I don’t see a problem with it.

M: How do you think fashion affects our culture’s understanding of itself?

G: I think fashion is a really important medium that can reinforce and express different cultural values in a way that is very individual because you use your agency to choose what you wear and it also shows, as a collective, what group you belong to within a society and in society in general. I think fashion’s a really cool identity marker for a culture and for a person and that’s why I think we place so much emphasis on it, and it’s also an art form.

M: Do you think that that marker or identification system brings more people together or is more divisive?

G: I think a lot of the time it can be divisive, at least in American culture because we focus so much on ‘I’, the individual and what ‘I’ do. We want to each be separate and unique from one another. Clothing is something people bond over all the time so I think it can do both.

M: How do you think fashion affects how people perceive body or conceptualize body image, either their own or in general?

G: If we want to talk about the fashion we’re bombarded with in media, I think because we have these body types, these models, who have relatively unachievable body types for the average American woman, just seeing those clothes—the clothes that are made for them, the clothes that look good on them—doesn’t necessarily look good on other women, but we want to consume those items of clothing. But what I think fashion can do, it can liberate you from those constraints. I think you can find what fits your body type—finding a dress that you look good in or a blouse that is really flattering—that can really boost your confidence and your image. I think it’s all about finding what fits each person.

M: How do you think it differs for men and women?

G: I think because men aren’t hyper-sexualized the way women are, to the same degree at least, I’m not saying they’re not sexualized because they are, there’s less pressure to conform to that norm that isn’t even a norm for men. Just the way clothing is designed to fit men is not necessarily skin-tight. You can get away with a large beer gut with a large T-shirt and there’s less of a revealing factor for men. Men are covered up for the most part in day-to-day living. Going to the beach is a different story. And I think the way clothes are designed to fit men in this culture kind of gives less pressure to look a certain way, but men are still susceptible to all the pressures from media. Even in celebrity culture you see women swooning over these men that have a certain look and are a certain way and not being able to conform to that can be negative.

Stepping Beyond Fashion

On September 26, Rick Owens showed his Spring/Summer 2014 collection as a part of Paris fashion week. Besides the spectacular clothes, something else about the collection was particularly striking: traditional models were nowhere in sight.

These models were not only non-traditional, i.e. white and emaciated, they were not models at all, but rather a collective of different step dancing teams from various U.S. colleges. The group sporting the clothes was predominantly black and none of them would fit a typical runway sample size.

“We’re rejecting conventional beauty, creating our own beauty,” said Owens.

For years there has been talk about the lack of diversity represented on high fashion runways and little has been done about it. Owens’ aesthetic and mentalityhave always run counter to the norm and I believe his effort to showcase something different to be a sincere one. However, I do not believe the rest of high fashion will follow suit any time soon.

The response to the clothes and the women wearing them was overwhelmingly positive, but I believe that the presentation was something most of the fashion crowd couldn’t truly grasp. This type of step team is foreign enough to Europeans and people from other parts of the world, but equally so to the wealthy Caucasian men and women who comprise a majority of those with influence in fashion.

The inability of many who viewed the collection to perceive and understand this different kind of beauty was troubling. Many of the guests interviewed afterward described the women as “powerful.” Most people would consider this a positive use of language, but to my mind this is much like fashion’s use of the word curvy—a backhanded compliment. If you’re not thin and pretty, at least you can be powerful.

They assigned the dancers power rather than beauty. Their reactions seem to suggest that the idea of women being powerful while outside of the established codes of beauty is not possible. Their comments also bring forth their subconscious belief that women can only achieve power through predetermined beauty standards.

What Owens’ recognizes that so many do not, is that women who are powerful are beautiful. They are more than hangers with a pulse. They have agency. In this case they may be ferocious, but ferocity can be beautiful even if it doesn’t come with a smile, not that runways normally have many of those floating around anyway.

What’s more is that these women were showing their highly honed step dancing skills. They are not simply there to be viewed. They are there to express their own unique rhythms and that can only add to the potency of the clothes.

The show was not meant to be representative of all black beauty, although some took it that way. It is simply a small portion of what beauty can mean in the modern world. It is important to note that not all of the brilliant dancers performing were black or part of another minority group; some were white.

Diversity such as this is a rarity in fashion. For years there was only one shade of makeup for black models, as though everyone with brown skin possesses precisely the same complexion. Asian women have only recently come into the mainstream and many other groups of women have yet to receive any attention whatsoever.

More than anything else, fashion has a tendency to create outliers rather than changing the unspoken standards nearly everyone adheres to. It is people like Owens who make everyone a little uncomfortable. And we’re all the better for it.