The rise and fall of trends: Understanding the fashion trend cycle

Reading Time: 3 minutes A closer look into the five stages of a fashion trend’s life cycle: the introduction, rise, peak, decline, and obsolescence.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For a long time, a common rule of thumb for fashion trends was that trends typically circle back every two decades, also referred to as the 20-year trend cycle. According to Forbes, with the rise of social media and fast fashion companies, the 20-year trend cycle has become extremely condensed. Social media has the power to raise a trend to extreme popularity, then drop it into obsolescence overnight. Fast-fashion companies can remain congruent with this expedited trend cycle by producing merchandise that sells as quickly as the trend is created.  

Trends originate from a myriad of sources. Designers pull inspiration from many different artistic avenues, such as museums, art galleries, vintage archives, films, music, social movements, and architecture. In her early years, infamous designer Vivienne Westwood was known to be highly inspired by the British punk movement England of the 1970s. Trends’ appearances and disappearances are calculated by designers, but also by outside parties like stylists and trend forecasters. At times, trends are an unpredictable phenomenon, but every trend can be dissected into five stages.  

Stage One: The Introduction  

The introduction stage is when a new trend enters the fashion space. Initially, a new trend can only be found in small quantities. This is because trends are commonly introduced by high-end designer brands in new collections, by a major brand, or by a marketing agency. That isn’t to say that trends can’t be born outside of the high-end designer’s hands. In 2020, there was a rise in DIY fashion; some trends can start from the comfort of one’s bedroom.  

Stage Two: The Rise  

Following the introduction is a trend’s rise to popularity. This is when a trend starts to gain momentum to be given the label of ‘trendy.’ The trend will start appearing on major celebrities and influencers. Versions of the trend will be seen replicated by other clothing brands. The trend will continue to be diffused across several different avenues, making it accessible to anyone who wants it.  

Stage Three: The Peak  

The peak stage of a trend is when it has reached the top level of saturation in the public. This stage is when most mainstream retailers carry the trend and render it accessible to all consumer types. As a result, most luxury brands will no longer carry the trend. The peak stage is the most unpredictable because there is no way of knowing just how long trends will remain at the peak. There is a vast range from years to single nights, making this stage completely unpredictable.  

Stage Four: The Decline  

What goes up must come down, and when a trend increases popularity, simultaneously its downfall occurs. This stage is when consumers become tired of seeing the trend, and it starts to feel too “mainstream” and oversaturated in the market.  

Stage Five: The Obsolescence  

The final stage is when a trend goes from being coined “trendy” to being labeled as “out of fashion.” Most likely, new trends have emerged and began to rise to popularity shifting people’s focus. This does not mean that the trend will not come back into the fashion cycle. The cycle is in a constant state of repetition and with the speed of the cycle increasing, formerly rejected trends are being reintroduced faster than ever.  

A trend’s life cycle cannot be predicted with 100% precision, but it is possible to ascribe certain patterns to it for designers, brands, and consumers to have a better understanding of the shifting products. Every major trend has a way of being reinvented or reintroduced in some way, shape, or form. Subscribe to trends that appeal to you, even if they are not “in style” right now, it is guaranteed that eventually, they will be back.