Fashion Cycle

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The production of garments is linked to the seasons of nature. The change in seasons provide us with a natural explanation for the transition of special categories of clothing, which are adapted according to the weather conditions. Warmer or lighter fabrics are used for creating such garments. Even our language refers to the seasons, as we do not simply call a given piece of garment a jacket but mostly add the season for which the jacket has been designed. We say, for example, that we will

99 Bell (1997:224)

Death of wear our "winter jacket" instead of our "summer jacket" when the weather conditions change. The need to wear warmer or cooler garments is thus a good reason for linking the fashion year to the natural seasons. This natural order can also be reflected in that of our wardrobes at home. During the cold season, all the pieces for summer have a place in the rear. This order is then changed when the seasons change. As in former times, we still have a representation of nature as an ordering structure in our homes, although behind closed doors. Maybe this is a hidden ritual in our consumer society according to which we also restructure the order of garments in our wardrobe in spring and autumn. This is when we become aware of the seasons and begin to mentally prepare ourselves for the warm or the cold time of the year.100 The awakening of nature in spring, summer, and its change in autumn and winter are natural references for the dramatisation of fashion collections. This why we pointed out that the fashion industry has a natural reference for creating collections according to the seasons. What is not clear for the moment is why garments become outdated, and why we face new fashions two times a year. Why do several consumer groups feel the need to discard the previous season's designs? What creates the social pressure to buy new clothes even though the old ones could still be used? What forces fashion shops to get rid of their stock of the past collection as fast as they can, and by any means? According to Thorstein Veblen, the reasons for it are manifold. In his Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen argued that the change of fashion is motivated by the upper class's desire to display its social status through demonstrative wastefulness, a wastefulness that creates prestige. Fashion, in this context, is a good medium for such efforts. Another way to show wastefulness is the creation of new fashion trends.

"Having so explained the phenomenon of shifting fashions, the next thing is to make the explanation tally with everyday facts. Among these everyday facts is the well-known liking which all men have of the styles that are in vogue at any given time. A new style comes into vogue and remains in favour for a season, and, at least so long as it is a novelty, people generally find the style very attractive. The prevailing fashion is felt to be

100 We are speaking from the middle European point of view, but fashion collections are introduced in the same way even in places such as Hong Kong where the seasons do not vary much. The show windows present pullovers and winter coats for the winter collection despite the hot weather conditions.

beautiful. This is partly due to the relief it affords in being different from what went before it, partly to its being reputable. "01

Although the above text was written at the end of the nineteenth century, there is still a lot of truth in it about our contemporary situation. Prestige is still an important motivation for the fashion cycle. Garments and furniture are, according to Veblen, categories of consumer goods in which the beautiful and the precious combine at their best. Prestige decides what forms, colours, and garments find approval at a certain time.102 This may have been true of the times when the above words were written, but today we will have to take into account the balance between production and consumption, and the balance of power in claiming the necessities for a new trend and at least the approval of it. Veblen also pointed out the importance of novelty in showing prestige. For Boris Groys, novelty is an important force in the economy of our culture today:

"The new usually appears in history as fashion. Fashion must generally let itself be judged more radically rather than merely strive for the new. A new and widespread form of this judgement is the more often heard, contemptuous remark, 'Oh, this is just a new trend'. This means that the corresponding cultural phenomenon has no historical consistency, it is transient by nature and will soon be replaced by a new trend."103

Georg Simmel takes yet another approach, focusing instead on the conspicuous consumption of novelties and on the dynamics of class imitation. Class imitation is an internal mechanism of the fashion system:

"The vital conditions of fashion as a universal phenomenon in the history of our race are circumscribed by these conceptions. Fashion is the imitation of a given example and satisfies the demand for social adaptation; it leads the individual upon the road which all travel, it furnishes a general condition, which resolves the conduct of every individual into a mere example. At the same time it satisfies in less degree the need of differentiation, the tendency toward dissimilarity, the desire

101 Veblen (1934:177)

102 Veblen (1934:131)

Death of for change and contrast, on the one hand by a constant change of contents, which gives to the fashion of today an individual example as opposed to that of yesterday and of tomorrow, on the other hand because fashions differ for different classes - the fashions of the upper stratum of society are never identical to those of the lower; in fact they are abandoned by the former as soon as the latter prepares to appropriate them. Thus fashion represents nothing more than one of the many forms of life by the aid of which we seek to combine in uniform spheres of activity the tendency towards social equalisation with the desire for individual differentiation and change."104

Marketing uses this class imitation model even today, but a more differentiated articulation of it. The classes today have been turned into consumer target groups: the upper class elite, the middle class and the lower class have been replaced according to the diffusion model by innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.105 The trickle down theory has been revised since because with time it became clear that fashion not born in haute couture houses but influenced by street culture also had an impact:

"On the basis of these and other developments it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that what we have now are multiple fashion systems in which fashion moves up, down and along from a variety of starting positions and in several directions, rather than a single system in which fashion only moves in one direction, "trickling down" from the elite to the majority. If this is so, we should be looking for new fashions in the street, from students in colleges of fashion, from "pop" designers, among ethnic minorities and so on, and not simply - or perhaps not at all - in haute couture."106

Of course, there is influence from the street today, but in comparison to the couture houses, the street has no strong economic backing for its contribution to culture. And the internal mechanism would not change the fashion trends year after year. Stanley Lieberson did an empirical study on first names in the United States.107 The cycles in which names come into fashion

104 Simmel (1971:296-297).

105 Rogers (1976).

106 Du Gay (1997:145)

107 Lieberson (2000).

and vanish are longer than those in the fashion business, although the shifts in fashion are becoming more modest from year to year.108 This leads to the assumption that there must be external factors, which, for example, do not exist in the non-commercialised context of first names.109 External factors for it are:

"[...] the role of organisations on fashion; the impact of social, political, and economic changes; the influence of mass media and popular culture; the symbolic nature of fashion; the linkages of fashion to the stratification system; the different domains of fashion; imitation; long-term patterns change; and the role of such specific sources of fashion as France, California, Milan, New York, and London."110

And of course, we will not forget the role of the show window as an important communication medium in the dramatisation of the new fashion and in the change of fashion during the sales period. It is surprising that we have up to now found no evidence for how the transition from one fashion to another really works. Is it a rupture, or is there a kind of passage rite? Maybe it is a rupture because, as Roland Barthes claims, fashion magazines do not speak about the past trend, about the unfashionable.111 It is a kind of taboo in our consumer culture, or as Emile Durkheim put it: a negative rite.112 Negative rites do not prescribe actions, but impose restrictions on several actions (as in our case on the discussions about the unfashionable), the only exception being the seasonal sale window. It has to speak about the past collection, because it needs to sell it in order to get rid of the stock. It has to stage the things that are out of fashion; going by the date, they seem to be worth fifty percent less than they were the other day. Here, the retailers are an external force, and they crucially influence the production of the fashion cycle. Paul du Gay argues that the fashion retailers and the buyers for the store who act on their behalf play a more significant role than manufacturers, designers and the fashion public itself:

108 Lieberson (2000:93).

109 There are a lot of products on the market with human first names. Because of competition, bigger companies tend tc register the names under specific product categories according to patent laws. Industry will gradually get rid of names that can be used for products. This is an interesting dynamic, where first names get commercialised and the right to use them is restricted to patent holders.

110 Lieberson (2000:20).

111 Barthes (1990:179).

112 Durkheim (1971:299)

Death of

"Many of the changes in the nature of and terrain of fashion can, nevertheless, be grasped by examining the power of leading clothing retailers and, in particular, the relationship that they have with fabric producers and garment manufacturers and their involvement with production and design issues"113

Thus, the retailer and the point of sale play an important role in determining the nature of fashion. But our investigation is more about the symbolic nature of the retailer's power within the fashion cycle, as we will not focus on economic or social science issues.

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