Microtrend: The Good and The Bad of The Trend Cycle
If you wear a “cottage core” aesthetic, you listen to “Folklore” by Taylor Swift and play Animal Crossing. If you wear the “VSCO” aesthetic, you carry around a Hydro Flask and wear scrunchies around your wrist. If you wear an “e-girl” aesthetic, you love watching anime and chatting with gamers on Discord.
Gen Z has mastered killing time by scrolling through social media to fill up the empty void. It was a daily hobby most of us started during quarantine. Since the consistent use of social media during the pandemic, there has been an overwhelming rise in microtrends. The algorithms choose which fashion trend shows up on our feed and makes us yearn to buy it. Those microtrends end up spilling out beyond the screen and creating our very identities.
With social media constantly pushing out more and more new trends, microtrends have shorter lifespans than trends used to have in the past. It would take most fashion trends about 20 years to come back in style but with social media the trend cycle has completely transformed.
It is common to want to buy a trend that you see in the media. People have done it for generations even before social media existed. Rachel Nevarez, a professor in the fashion department at Fullerton College, says trends used to be found through magazines and going through your mother’s closet before the internet even existed.
“Before Tiktok, there was something else. Before TV, there were magazines. Before magazines, there were newspapers. Before newspapers, there was word of mouth,” Nevarez says. “Technology is rapidly advancing. We are not searching for these trends. Trends are constantly shoved in our face, whereas, previously, you had to seek out trends.”
Consumption for Gen Z is an expression of individual identity, according to a study from McKinsey.
Finding a new sense of style makes people feel more like themselves and helps them find which group they may fit in, which creates a sense of belonging.
“It’s called eclecticism, it’s where people get into their little cliques online and each clique has its own style so now, depending on what you wear, you represent a small subculture,” says Dani Soto, a student majoring in fashion design and the president of the Fashion Club at Fullerton College.
A new microtrend that has been popular since November 2021 is the coquette aesthetic. The coquette aesthetic is dainty, feminine, and flirtatious. This style is inspired by many different decades like the 50s, 60s, and 2000s.
This trend includes the color pink, pearls, heart shapes, and ballet flats. Ballet flats have been rising in sales, and the global ballet flats market size is estimated to be worth $1 million in 2022, according to the Digital Journal Report. People who wear this trend may associate themselves with others who listen to Lana Del Rey, watch Sofia Coppola movies, and have the book “Lolita” on their night stand.
With so many new aesthetics being created from social media, people are constantly trying to fit in with these trends. Young people online have expressed feeling exhausted as they are already trying to find their own sense of style and who they want to be.
“The desire to buy a new fashion trend doesn’t come from attention span but habituation,” writes Carolyn Mair, in her book “The Psychology of Fashion.” In other words, people are observing fashion trends through social media and have an internal need to conform to whatever they see on their screen.
It is difficult to keep up with so many microtrends, especially with how much money it can cost. This rapid consumerism of fashion trends is only accessible for people who can afford it which is why fast fashion has become economically successful.
The underlying problem that comes with microtrends is the constant production of fast fashion. It is a vicious cycle that has accelerated from the popularity of social media.
Fast fashion brands cause pollution, create textile waste, and are known for giving employees minimal pay with unsafe working conditions. There are many more ethical issues with fast fashion that have gotten progressively worse since microtrends have become popular on social media, especially with Tiktok.
It is necessary for faster production to happen in order to create the microtrend garment while the trend is still relevant. When the trend is over, most people throw out their clothes which creates a huge waste.
Shein, one of the biggest fast fashion brands in the world, is constantly releasing new trends on their website. Shein exceeded $16 billion dollars in gross revenues in the first half of 2022 and will continue to rise, according to TechNode, a Chinese news outlet covering startups.
Emerald Taylor, a student who is in the fashion design certificate program at Fullerton College, says there is still a way to keep up with microtrends without contributing to fast fashion.
“We can still take on microtrends while being conscious about sustainability and fast fashion. We have secondhand stores, thrift stores, that type of thing so you can find ways to keep adapting to the microtrends without having to cause damage to the planet,” Taylor says.
Fashion students have recently taken on the challenge of creating something unique out of these microtrends while being sustainable.
Georgiana Melendez, a student majoring in fashion design at Fullerton College, discusses how she was inspired by her love for mini skirts, which are prevalent with the Y2K trend, and created one out of bottle caps.
“Obviously, mini skirts are coming back and I love them. The micro mini skirt is made out of all bottle caps and is completely made out of recycled materials. I just really wanted to go with the theme of sustainability,” Melendez says.
Soto, the Fashion Club president, created a dress that was inspired by ruffles coming back in style and the aesthetic from the popular Netflix drama “Bridgerton,” which is set during the early 1800s Regency era in England.
“I organized a whole event over the summer for students to make garments out of old clothes. I used an emerald green curtain and a crop top,” she says. “Microtrends are good economically. It’s good to make money but not for anything else. I don’t think it’s sustainable long-term.”
Taylor created a green flowy dress inspired by the “70s” rockstar trend.
“I am inspired by play-on words like ethereal, enchantress, mystical and goddess. I am really inspired by Stevie Nicks,” she says.
These trends and aesthetics come from subcultures online that help people find others who are interested in the same hobbies as them, but this does not necessarily have to define who you are.
People are starting to realize that no person needs to stay in one aesthetic or box. The resurgence of so many different eras at once have made many people blend them together.
This new awareness of the toxicity from microtrends online have helped individuals establish their own identity instead of staying within one specific crowd. Microtrends are allowing each trend to bleed into one another.
Gen Z does not want to conform to brands’ marketing towards different cliques but create their own personal idea of what is to be considered “cool.” This generation takes different parts of a brand or a style and makes it their own.
“Microtrends blur the lines. You can be all of it at once,” Nevarez says.