Is “trendy” a dirty word?


The year was 1992, and Marc Jacobs had just designed and shown a collection for Perry Ellis that would become a landmark, a collection that has echoed through fashion until today: the grunge collection.

Full of flannel shirts (made of cashmere), granny dresses (made of silk), combat boots and long underwear, this collection took directly from the decidedly anti-fashion looks of the Seattle music scene. These were the kind of clothes harvested from thrift stores, now dressed up and resold for hundreds of dollars.

Although I was quite young at the time, it still seemed ridiculous. As a young teen, I was interested in both music and fashion, shopping at thrift stores and listening to Nirvana in my bedroom. Perhaps I was too young to interpret the whole thing in context, but I couldn’t help but feel irked and even a little disgusted to see the word “grunge” splashed all over the pages of vogue, with sullen-looking models in bizarre mixes of plaid and thermals. Even a 12-year-old could see what a joke it was and how far the fashion industry was from the actual youth.

Of course, this isn’t the first time fashion has glommed onto a particular counter-culture, but it is the first time I actually witnessed it. It was also perhaps a bit of an awakening to the larger issues of fashion and consumer culture. In the fashion press of the time, what I now saw as a 12-year-old girl were messages of conformity, exploitation, and greed. I remember the word “trendy” was almost a dirty word to my friends and I at that time.

However, like many things, your perspective becomes more nuanced as you get older. And now that we’re starting to see 90s fashion trends re-emerge, I can’t help but think back to this weird period in fashion.

On the surface, yes, you have large corporations basically repackaging a subculture and selling a caricature of it (or trying to, since this look didn’t end up selling well at the time). But I think there are other messages here too.

Marc Jacobs was interested in street fashion, and in what real people were wearing. As a designer, he’s always had an attraction for the strange and imperfect, so it’s no wonder this style grabbed him. Interpreting it for the runway wasn’t, in itself, an act of greed or exploitation. It was a designer interpreting the world around him.

Fashion is not just an expression of our individual identities, it’s also an expression of the culture at large. We don’t make our choices in a vacuum. We take in the context of the world around us. The world around us changes, norms change, ideas fluctuate, moods shift. It only makes sense that our appearances reflect that.

And Fashion, as an industry, creates a business out of that change. Designers recognize these changes and reinterpret them. Sometimes they make something beautiful, and sometimes they make something hilariously dumb.

We all probably realize that there are reasons that gamine, sporty young women were in fashion in the 1920s, and feminine, traditional looks reigned in the 1950s. Historically, fashion is one way a society reflects its values. There must be some interplay there between what real people are wearing and what stores are selling. It’s never really a one-way street, even if it sometimes appears to be. Marc Jacob’s collection reflected a real look, which in turn reflected an important cultural mood and movement.

In that way, trends are simply a part of our landscape, not something to be rejected or scorned. And I appreciate that they seem to be arising more organically these days, and not so much filtered through the lens of big businesses. It seems we have more and more opportunities to tweak them, to make them our own, or even to start new ones. Fashion has become diffuse and less centralized, probably in no small part due to the internet.

I’m really interested in your take. Where do you think trends come from? And are they merely marketing ploys to get us to buy more stuff? Or is there something more going on?

{images above are from the Dec 1992 issue of Vogue, photographs by Stephen Meisel}

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 40


as much as i dislike clothing from places like forever 21, it seems that they are at least partially responsible for the diffusion and decentralization of fashion. i know that trickledown looks have always existed, but partially bc of the internet and partially because of the changes in manufacturing (i wont say “improvements” per se, but the clothes-making process has gotten faster and more efficient at least) the turnaround has become much faster.

Lisa G.

This is a very thoughtful post; I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it.


This is a very thought provoking piece, as always, from you Sarai. I find the gap between the designer being influenced and interpreting street fashion and trends and the need of the companies they head to make serious money an interesting one.At what point is that vision, or response corrupted by money.

But it also made me think of 2008 when the financial crisis became very real, when this was reflected on the catwalks but in true luxury style. It felt insulting and also reflected a political truth both at the time and now – that high fashion is an elite game.
I love the style on London’s streets which seems to me much more reflective of individual style or of trends belonging to specific street cultures. And that brings us to the things that people make for themselves – fitted and trimmed to individual tastes.

I’m 61 now but when I was young the trends were much more polarised. We ALL wore mini skirts, psychedelic colours, bell bottom trousers – then we all wore maxi dresses etc etc. Now it seems to me that we look at high fashion and then do and wear what we want and the choice and permission – our own – is there

I find this an uncomfortable but true reflection of fashion as an elite sport.


I find it interesting that these pics are from 1992 because just the other night I was looking through september marieclaire and marc jacobs has a model with similar cropped dark hair and flowing dress with military style boots!!


Yes, I always hate it when something I’ve always been into becomes “trendy”. To me it signals that the trend is over, but nowadays I’m more faithful to a style that works for me and that I like, and less about what everyone else is wearing.

I think trends come from a lot of places. What’s going on in politics, the media, street style bloggers who remix pieces. I also see the same trends happen again and again every season: nautical, bohemian for spring/summer, classic for year round, military for fall, velvet/luxury fabrics for winter, florals for spring/summer. I think it’s a way to push more clothes onto people who care about what’s on trend, and to get customers to buy more clothes so they’ll be in style.


Wow this was a very intense article….I’ve never really given it alot of thought. I’ve always loved fashion too…I remember grunge perfectly. Much to my mother’s dismay I think haha..I was a teenager in high school wearing some of those types of clothes and jamming out to Nirvana. I’ve always enjoyed thrift store shopping and yard sales. Finding clothes that are slightly on trend and classic pieces that will live forever in my closet is such a joy to me. I can say for myself that I love the trend of Mad men style clothing that’s going on right now. Not just because of the show making classic clothes popular but because they are classic lines that will look good for years to come. I think what really does it for me is making say a blouse myself, knowing in my heart it’s gonna last alot longer than some shirt I bought at a big box store that will fall apart in one season. All in all this was a great thought invoking article!


I really enjoyed this article! Thank you for writing such an interesting piece.

I agree. When I was younger was also very cynical and I thought trendy was a dirty word. As I have gotten older I have also come to realize that trends are an interesting reflection of our continually changing sense of aesthetics and values.

I love how everyone sees, wears and does things differently. Personal style is a nuanced mish mash of influences and finding your own sense of style is such an interesting journey.

The beauty of trends if you can choose which ones to accept and reject, which to interpret and fit into your style and which ones go against your sensibilities.


One of my first thoughts was how little things have changed in 20 years. If those models weren’t wearing combat boots in that first photo I would not have made the link to 90’s fashion…that is, until reading the text! The make-up and hairstyles could easily pass in a current magazine spread too.

As an aside, one of my college boyfriends so detested when things that he liked became trendy that he invented a term to describe the feeling. Of course, I’ve forgotten his word for it!

Jane W.

I think most trends can be traced back to “subversive,” street” origins. Marketers see an opportunity to make money, and so the aesthetic and meaning become diluted.


Hey thanks for the very thoughtful post.
My thoughts was that what you are describing is less about the clothes, but more about what they stand for (their symbolic capital), and the co-option of that. It seems to me to be very a common fate for social movements (and I think you could say that “grunge” was more than a fashion choice and linked very strongly to both a disenchantment with global capitalism (anti-fashion/anti-consumption) and to political movements like the anti-globalisation/ anti IMF protests. The clothes are a symbolic measure of identifying with these alternative ideas and indicating a frustration with the status quo. But when they are co-opted by the fashion establishment, they are blunted, and made less dangerous. You can buy “the look”, and ultimately once its diffused through society as “a look” – that’s all it becomes, a style or a fashion (or “trendy-ness!)I think the perfect example of this process are the advertisements in the late 1970’s/80s which co-opt feminism in order to sell consumer goods. Feminism becomes represented as simply the “right to choose” between different products (reading through a whole load of Ms Magazines from this era it seems to be primarily cigarettes, alcohol and sanitary products that the modern woman chooses between!)
On another level it also seems to be the reality of living under capitalism. We are looking for purpose and meaning in our work and the right to express our creativity, and I have no doubt that Marc Jacobs is motivated by these things too – but the way the economic system works means that we all need to seek monetary gain for our creativity – in this way capitalism has a tendency to swallow up/commodify creative impulses even if they originate in opposition to capitalism. This has probably been amplified with the expansion of brand advertising and marketing etc which are even more about the symbolic capital of the product ( and less and less about the actual product).


Yes, this is my thoughts on the subject too.

Tina C.

I think it’s a vicious circle that proceeds something like thus: a certain group develops a certain style (style is usually linked to some sort of social statement), the style catches the eye of some designer resulting in a high-end fashion show, style becomes co-opted by mass-marketing, style becomes co-opted by the masses. We see this with the “hipster” currently, and have seen it before with Punk and, as the blog points out, Grunge (both of which occurred in my lifetime).

“Trendy,” for me is problematic in the sense that most teenagers on the street aren’t going to get the social implications of their clothing (as evidenced by the blog post–a younger Sarai was more annoyed by the flannel than understanding of what the “look” was a part of). Rather, it’s “cool” to dress a certain way because every one else dresses that way and it’s so retro! (insert sarcasm). For me, this ends up detracting from the message that clothing can send; it also leads to a lemming-like sameness vs. individuality. I think, in part, this is why so many of us here sew–it’s a chance to make something very intimate–our clothing and our style–our OWN.

Then again, I grew up grunge and the anti-capitalism sentiments stuck.


Fashion is just dressing up in costume. A new thing each season, or evening for some people. Much bolder to dress up as your marvellous self every day. But for that, you need to know what you are…


Very interesting topic :)

I think if I have any problem at all with things that are “trendy” is that they encourage people – especially youth – to conform rather than to think for themselves. Personal style is so hard to discover when you’re young and being bombarded by peer pressure and the need to conform. That and when history repeats itself, it generally does so without the values attached to it originally, which just leaves empty trends with no meaning.

What seems to be “trendy” now appears to be a very unpleasant mixture of the worst parts of late 80’s fashion, and skintight track suits. I find it hilarious and sad that the cyclical nature of fashion isn’t even waiting three decades to repeat itself. I’ve never been more happy than I am now, to have the ability to sew, and be the master of my own style! :)


I have rarely liked the latest trend. Usually I am amazed that the public actually pays for some of the latest trends. Interestingly enough, my teenage daughter does not like any of the latest trends either. Our preference is for classic romantic clothing. To that end, I try to find time (which is rare) to sew our own clothing that suits our personal style.

Eleanor (undeadgoat)

To me, “trendy” implies VERY fast shifts in fashion–if you buy only according to the trends, you may end up with a closet full of clothes that only last a season or two. This to me seems quite distinct from the larger sweep of “fashion”–for example, low-rise bootcut stretch jeans have been perfectly acceptable with only slight variations since I was 10 years old. (Yes I am a young’un.) It is still tragic to see a “fashion victim” walking down the street–a girl larger than size 4 in a boardy empire waist top, for example, circa 2007–but my solution is just to refrain from buying or sewing clothes that I don’t think will last me 5 years.


Pick your style and you wont have to worry about trends


Thank you for such a thought provoking post. I think that these ideas bounce around in my head now and then, but your summary and the comments of other readers do indeed reflect the population in general. Most of us who sew recognize the quality of clothing in the market place has declined unless you move into high end RTW. So I see a trend as a certain type of T-shirt, Jeans in different colors, shoes of a type, ballet flats vs. combat boots. These items are usually more “affordable” to the general public who are developing a style. Trends to me are brief, sometimes costume-like, fashion that are fun but not necessarily style.

I also thought the photo’s were current, not “90’s! Never one for the edgy stuff, it starts to all look the same to me!


Having seen the recent leaning towards the ’80’s with the resurgence of neon colors, printed and/or colored jeans and the like, I wonder if it’s a case of fashion executives (for lack of a better term) having a nostalgia for their youth. These types of trends seem to come around every 20-25 years or so, so maybe it’s as simple as that.


Ohh. I like this explanation. Especially since there are certain things from the ’90’s I really hope make a comeback. Long flower print rayon challis skirts and dresses being one. Not so much that I wouldn’t wear it unless it were trendy, just that its hard to find the fabrics for it if there isn’t the demand.

Jennifer B

Some of clothing “trends” is directly linked to supply. Narrow skirts in the forties because of lack of fabric. Full fifties skirts when manufacturers had ample supply. Tissue thin layers of t-shirts from the eighties now when cotton prices are high. Layering always is on trend when fabric supply is limited or expensive…


The problem with trends on the high street is it becomes very difficult to develop your own style because once there it is all but nigh impossible to buy anything that is NOT in trend. So I think its the other way round, designers decide on a trend and design the clothes for the cat walk, the High Street shops pick it up, people are forced through lack of any other choice to buy it, so it then becomes the street norm, although people do try to put their own individual style or spin on what is available. Despite extensive searching, I have not been able to find anything in the shops for the last three years that I consider suits my style or body shape which is why I have turned to sewing my own stuff.
I also think the retail business demands quick moving trends in order to get us buying more so generating more profit, forcing designers into repeating ideas from shorter and shorter periods of times just to keep ahead of the demands of the High Street shops.


I started to respond to your post but it became so long I decided to make a blog post in response to this!


Part of me wants to say that all “trendy” clothes won’t last, are part of the consumeristic culture that surrounds us, that it is all a marketing ploy, or some other variation of the same. On the other hand, it isn’t just designers pushing some aesthetic at the consumer that makes a trend. It has to catch public interest, be bought or made, then be worn. It’s very easy to say “I don’t care about trends” or “I make clothes that I love, so they suit me, not the trends.” The odds are high though, that something that inspired the wardrobe choice of even the most devout counter-culturalist was somewhere, sometime, trendy, or will be in the future. Also, while there are some trends I completely don’t understand and would never wear myself, that is what makes me, me. Other trends I love and will wear even when they are no longer popular, or will love for a time, then decide that look isn’t for me anymore. What makes trendy items “trendy” to me, is that a bunch of people all decide more or less at once that a certain item is something they like and then they all proceed to wear it or some version of it. Of course, the odds are high that the fashion industry and or popular media was involved in getting the trend started, they get the message and the goods out for the majority to choose from all at once. That doesn’t have to mean you are a conformist and it doesn’t make you a bad, easily manipulated person/puppet. (otherwise what would a sew-along where everyone picks a theme/pattern to all make in tandem make us?) What is sad is when someone doesn’t like a style and wears it anyway, just to fit in. What makes items no longer trendy is when the majority of people move on to something else; maybe they are bored, maybe they started seeing people wearing trendy items, but not in a flattering way, maybe they got pregnant and couldn’t pull off a peplum anymore. So long as we aren’t using fashion/style as a weapon with which to figuratively beat others (possibly to make up for our own hidden insecurities, but that’s another sort of post entirely), it makes for variety, and variety is good.


Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I struggle with these ideas, too, and at once enjoy trends but feel frustrated by the tyranny and malleability of shared perceptions of beauty. I have begun to come at things from a much different angle as I recently started working for a quilting cotton company and I look at a huge variety of quilts everyday. The variation in styles is staggering and the variation in people’s taste, even more wide-ranging. Though on a smaller scale, all art forms (quilting included), like fashion are at once reliant on the whims of trends to survive and thrive (that’s how we sell fabric!), yet are also deeply dependent on tradition and the history those trends are building upon (or as some see it, disrupting). I sometimes think trends are analogous to learning language. Some things are hard-wired, but otherwise structures, codes and mores are passed down. Then, it’s up to creative, restive minds (here the designers and buyers) to take those constructs apart and make variations. So, mostly I enjoy trends because they indicate a healthy cycle of change and variation and reflect the immense creative pool that humans have to draw from. Clothing in particular is a very personal, physical art form. Thanks again for posting this! Totally got me thinking.


Very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. (And responses)

There’s a reason that “they” say “everything old is new again.” Even in the 80s when I was first working out my style, there was the influence of the 20s (I had a flowy, dropped waist dress (ruched waist/hipband and what we now call butterfly sleeves) that would probably have not looked too out of place at at tea party in the 20s, lol) and Victorian (remember Gunne Sax?) which was really just a slight shift from the prairie/peasant styles of the 70s. And the shoulder pads were just updated versions of the 40s styles. As a costumer, I remember when I first saw a certain color combination (a Victorian day dress in pink w/ velvet trim that was olive green). I was initially horrified, but now I don’t even think of it as unusual.

And every generation thinks they are the first (lol – I sound so old), when sometimes they are just doing what their grandparents did (since their parent “rebelled” and did the opposite, now the pendulum swings back). In fashion or anything else. I remember seeing a quote once about “the younger generation” and how they would be the downfall of civilization. It was from Plato or Socrates or someone else BC! (If you have ever read the translations of the graffiti from Pompeii, they sounds like they were written in the 20th century.)

No, we don’t wear togas/chitons as normal everyday street clothes, but we do have designers draping gowns and embellishing tunics in ways that aren’t all that different.


I tend to think of fashion trends as a reaction to what came before, and a reflection of how the current generation of 20-somethings feels about the previous generation and their identity. The flat, boyish girl of the ’20s was clearly a reaction to the s-curve silhouette of the Victorian era, and an expression of their feminist sentiments. Similarly, I think the grunge movement in the ’90s was a reaction to the materialism of the ’80s. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the loose silhouettes of grunge were replaced by tight crop tops and flare jeans. In the late 2000s, we started to tire of modernity and just wanted to go back to the “good old days” – hence the popularity of retro styles and the trendiness of DIY, home sewing and general domesticity. Now the fashion on the runways is getting very modern again in its weird alien shapes and styling, but is reaching back to the Baroque and Rococo eras for fabric choices. Not quite sure what that says, but it does look pretty damn cool.


Oooh… Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?

“Trendy” was *always* a dirty word among me and my friends, and I still hear “trendy” and my brain interprets “ugh, run the other way!” I spent many years living in Austin and elsewhere with musician types, performers, budding film makers and writers all searching, starving for authenticity. It’s become hard wired into who I am.

And what’s “authenticity?” Clothing-wise, I see it as the nexus between self expression, harmonizing with one’s environment, and suitability to the occasion…


Interesting post, as always. I think the change that I felt in the 1992 Marc Jacobs collection you spoke of, the thing that made it different for me, was the direction of influence. I think for years designers were shifting style and trend in the mainstream through their artistic presentations and viewpoints in the runway shows. Much of what was shown was not directly translated into wearable clothing, but it morphed a bit and became a commercial product that then was the trend upon which fashion retailers could rely. The MJ collection was in the wrong direction– he took his artistic influence from a non-commercial, disenfranchised portion of society and translated the street style into luxury items that then made very little sense. Who buys a $600 flannel shirt? No one. As I remember wryly stating in 1992, “what’s with this ‘grunge’? We used to just call ourselves ‘dirtbags.'” And sadly, no one wants to pay to look like a dirtbag. I think we look to designers as artists, to give us some of the mystique and fantasy capable of being created with fiber. We don’t appreciate it when the mystery is gone.


the general course or prevailing tendency; drift: trends in the teaching of foreign languages; the trend of events.

style or vogue: the new trend in women’s apparel.

the general direction followed by a road, river, coastline, or the like.

I like this definition set and how I both enjoy and dislike different parts of it. Everyone seeks that which unifies us to one another- even if that unification stems from being the first to “discover” something cool to “set us apart”. “Trends” in fashion, music, decor, art, theater, etc abound and are only sometimes lasting. I think that it does us good, though, as a culture to try on different trends and see what works and allow what doesn’t to fall to the side. As a dramatic, always-right, know-it-all teenager, I was anti-trend but that in itself turned out to be my trend of the moment. These days I just try to allow myself the freedom to gravitate toward what draws me (even if everyone and her sister was wearing it last year) and I don’t beat myself up if I just can’t get into something (that everyone and her sister might swear by).


A lovely thoughtful post and discussion…without sounding too heavy I guess the thought that came into my mind was that there seems to be a need to seperate out the longer term trends that happen organically in fashion (shirts are looser and pants are tighter than they were 10 years ago; in the 1970s brown was the basic, it was grey in the 80s, black in the 90s etc) that reflect changes in society/technology/art etc, from the deliberately short-term fashions which are designed to go out of fashion in a year, in order to keep the wheels of capitalsim oiled and more and more clothes sold. I suspect many of us home-sewers deliberately avoid the latter, while obseving and even enjoying the former. If you make one great coat every five or ten years, then that coat may well reflect the general outline and colour trends of the period…we all like variety and change…but few of us can be bothered making something so extreme we know it will look daft in 6 months (fluro mesh waistcoat anyone?…). When you seperate out clothes and enjoyment of fashion from the relentless need to turn over stock and maximise profit, you get some really interesting creations (as demostrated on this and other sew-it-youself sites).


I agree Penny! I like to make and sew things that are classic and that will last, not the trendy thing that will be gone. I like to buy the same way. I hear people complain they don’t like shopping for clothes, or they don’t like the current trends, but they must buy them anyway, right? I ask WHY? If you don’t like it, change it. Or as one of the other commenters said, know who you are and dress that way. Then the trends don’t matter, and you personally aren’t helping to keep the wheels oiled. :)


No way is trendy a bad word. I remember thinking it was when I was a teenager, and thinking my friends were so punk.. it only took me a year or so to realize punk wasn’t not trendy, and that they were all wearing a uniform, too. I like trends, I like fashion, and my September issue of Vogue is giving me a lot of inspiration to bring to my sewing. But no, I will not be spending 1500 on that Lanvin dress I adore any time soon.

Laurie Myer

Regarding relationships, I do believe that “quantity has a quality of its own.” Not so regarding fashion/clothing! Knowing our own selves is not only a delight, but also simplifies our fashion choices, don’t you think? Really enjoyed this thoughtful post–thanks for sharing :)


Oh my, you’ve opened a bit of a Pandora’s box! It is a complicated question. Dumb as runway grunge may have been, I think I would rather see trends filter up (i.e., street to runway) rather than filtering down (runway to street). Big business may be capitalizing on street style, but distasteful as that is in some ways, it feels less “Big Brother” than street style following runway dictates. That speech given by the Meryl Streep character about why the Anne Hathaway character was wearing the cheap cerulean sweater in The Devil Wears Prada gave me the chills! Meanwhile, with blogs like The Sartorialist, Advanced Style and Japanese Streets being so popular, street style is filtering up, down and sideways these days. And just like Twitter can spread news light years faster than the fastest of traditional media outlets, street style can change light years faster than big business can emulate it, even in these days of two weeks from concept to finished product on store shelves. This was a fascinating and thought-provoking post, thank you!


I gasped when I saw the second photo in your post…I bought that flowered dress at a Goodwill thrift store last winter for about $5, and yes it is silk and quite lovely. What goes around comes around? Designers imitating thrifted goods being thrifted ten years later.

I find it wonderful that trends are not the end all be all in fashion today and I can wear whatever pleases me. I also think it is exciting that some designers are taking cues from “street styles”, not the other way around.


I love this post. I recently taught a bit from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (remember that ’90s gem?) to a group of high school students. It was a paragraph about how the protagonist and his friends took pride in thrift store dressing, and scorned anyone whose shirt cost more than $20. The students were mystified. Completely mystified.

I realize that this anecdote doesn’t directly touch upon the heart of your short essay, but it does, I think, add to the conversation. How deep the irony: in the flush and rich nineties, cheap-o anti-fashion was king, and in the empty-pocketed 21st century fashion houses reign supreme (though they do overtly follow the echo of the street, just as Marc Jacobs did twenty years ago).


I love that book.

Really interesting points about the inversion of the economic climate!


imo, there’s an awareness of street-dress and on the part of some designers, greed. is that man wearing a long kilt? really? and a homeless person’s sweater? if that’s a statement, what is it saying? no homeless person wants that sweater. they want a warm one with no holes. and real pants. and then they want the money that some trendy person would have paid for forked over for those tacky looking designer togs. does she have a personal shopper?

why do designers think that people want to look poor and undernourished? give that girl a meal, FGS. rant over.

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