Has Style Really Changed in the Past 20 Years?

In the article, “You Say You Want a Devolution?” By Kurt Andersen published in Vanity Fair this month, the author talks about how when political, economic and technology changes happen at a rapid pace, the changes in cultural style are slowed down. This really struck a chord with me, because I can usually tell the differences in style and trend between 1990 through 2002, but after that things start to get blurry…

1990 Minimalism

2002 Maximalism

His observation was that styles in dress consistently changed every decade until we hit the 1990′s, then changes in fashion, art, film, and architecture slowed down in a way that seems like we’ve been asleep since 1995. The most notable change is how these cultural items and ideas are marketed and distributed, which is largely due to the Internet and new technologies in communications.

How it’s affected fashion, for example, is the speed and depth of how we are able to access almost any kind of information on fashion. We can access styles and trends of the past, present, on the runway and on the street.  We can find out what celebrities wear to Starbucks, follow indie fashion bloggers, view online runway shows, research trends, etc…so we are basically taking in and exchanging information, but where are we generating any new ideas?  Has information consuming and gathering replaced individuality? Is “the medium” now the new black?

There could be a possibility that fashion photo blogging of outfits is it’s own genre, except it really seems to be is a re-mix of already existing styles. You can have vintage, designer, and mass market combined in one look.  Vintage fashion inspirations, especially those of the 90′s are not altered by much,  (also is 90′s now vintage?).  Vintage has been widely accepted by the mainstream as well as mass manufacturers who knock those designs off to make vintage style available to everyone.  Authenticity, and not individuality seems to be the driving force here.

Examples of how 90′s floral grunge dress trend can be found in different levels from the runway to the consumer…

… in a country where an adorably huge majority have always considered themselves “middle class,” practically everyone who can afford it now shops stylishly—at Gap, Target, Ikea, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Barnes & Noble, and Starbucks. Americans: all the same, all kind of cool! And yet, on the other hand, for the first time, anyone anywhere with any arcane cultural taste can now indulge it easily and fully online, clicking themselves deep into whatever curious little niche (punk bossa nova, Nigerian noir cinema, pre-war Hummel figurines) they wish. Americans: quirky, independent individualists. http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2012/01/prisoners-of-style-201201

I have to wonder that once you find that cool obscure niche thing online, do we just move on to the next cool thing we can find? Are we sticking to basics because we’re sure those won’t change next season?  Do we mine of styles of the past because vintage is not going to change either?

Slow growth…these Vogue covers of SJP below are 8 years apart, her hair and makeup, as well the clothes she is wearing are not dramatically different or even dramatic at all.  She just went from short to long hair, pants to dress, and black to blue (okay cerulean blue). There’s no weirdness of “I can’t believe I wore that in 2002.”  I don’t blame SJP, but have to question the stylists at Vogue for not seeing the similarities of the actress on these covers.

This is not the clean slate of ’90′s minimalism, recovering from an 80′s hangover and embracing the rise of new technologies. The 2000′s coincide with the rise of luxury designer goods accessible at sample sale prices.  A luxury bag is timeless, yet there are new ones out every season, same thing – different color.

…and then there’s Lady Gaga, who was compared to the chameleon-like Madonna in the article. Lady Gaga will sometimes borrow Madonna’s style, but the difference between the two are clear. It seems Gaga is able to pull off minimalism and maximalism at once to create something unique, while Madonna’s change of wardrobe is a singular focus on a style, designer, trend, or her current career move.

‘We are all breaking the rules – mixing sportswear with workwear, the old and the new, crossing traditional gender divides, leaping between the proletarian and the elitist, juxtaposing the natural and the artificial, mating the vulgar and the respectable . . . deliberately sending out confusing, even contradictory signals.   -Ted Polhemus “Supermarket of Style”      http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept5%20467.html


DIY fashion is one of the few genres that I think generates some of the most creative new ideas. I think documentation fuels their work, in which creativity is the goal, without regards to being “authentic”, nostalgic or even trendy.   To be clear, I do not mean the crafters, knitters, or sewing how-to-doers, but the scrappy DIYers that have the imagination and talent to work with limited sources, recycled and found materials, basic tools, to make something really unique, sometimes strange – sometimes beautiful.  At times it feels like experimentation without a point-of-view, but maybe that’s the whole point in pushing the current state of fashion forward.









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