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Trending Through Time: A History of Trends and Their Impact on Creatives

Aya Tlemcani
A Timeline of Trend Circulation

Trends are a visual and metaphorical representation of the ever-changing cultural, social, and technological landscape that we live in.

Throughout history, the creative community has remained at the heart of the trend cycle. Creatives catalyse trends by translating public attitudes into art, then consequently embrace trends to keep their work relevant to the public audience.

The impact of trends on the creative industry has remained constant, but the means by which trends circulate is ever evolving. From catalogues to the silver screen to social media—let’s take a look at the timeline so far…

Word of Mouth—Slow Beginnings

How did people figure out what was trending way back when? Word of Mouth of course!

One of the earliest examples of trend consumption can be seen in the way fashion trends trickled down from the higher echelons of society to the oft-poverty-stricken masses. The upper class used revolving fashion as a way to symbolise their wealth and status, they purchased new clothes simply because they could. Naturally, lower-class citizens would emulate these looks by getting creative with the little resources they had but often by the time they'd mastered a certain look, the rich were on to the next—and thus the fashion trend cycle was born.

We can also look to history to see how trends can influence the very structure of society, the Renaissance emerged in Italy during the 14th century and gradually spread throughout Europe, consequently challenging traditional ways of thinking and paving the way for scientific discoveries and innovation.

In today's trend-dependent society, it is hard to comprehend the idea of a trend taking years to reach the masses but the spirit of trend compliance remains the same all these years on.

Newspapers and Magazines—The Power of Print

Magazines and Newspapers were all the rage in the early 20th century—news went from being pedalled in whispers to the written word!

The rise of mass media quickly caught the attention of businesses, they realised print publications were a great way to advertise their products to a wider audience. Soon, the public was consuming advertisements as part of their daily routine and the public's desire to have the most covetable new products accelerated the trend cycle to a new level.

Magazines helped popularise the Mid-Century Modern interior design trend. During the 1950s and 60s, magazines repeatedly featured homes with clean lines, simple forms, and a focus on function over ornamentation—the hallmarks of the Mid-Century Modern style. Again, we can see how trends were a reflection of their cultural and social context—the Mid-Century design style emphasised simplicity, efficiency, and a rejection of excess in post-World War II society.

Better homes mid-century modern cover
A Better Homes cover circa 1958 illustrating the popular Mid-Century Modern design style.  Image source: Retro Modern & Vintage Interiors.

Catalogues—The Golden Age of Advertisement

As businesses began to expand and reach customers who lived further away, catalogues became a popular tool for promoting the latest trending products and aesthetics.

In the UK fashion industry, the Littlewoods catalogue played a significant role in how people consumed trends. Littlewoods catered to a growing middle-class market who could afford to keep up with the latest trends and their catalogues allowed them the convenience of shopping from their own home.

Littlewoods catalogue 1971
The front cover of the Littlewoods' Autumn - Winter 71' - 72' catalogue. Image source: Vintage Catalogues.

Catalogues offer an interesting visual representation of how styles and tastes have continually evolved. The IKEA catalogue is one example of this—a complete documentation of design trends throughout the 21st century.

Television and Film—A New Creative Universe

Cinema, TV shows and commercials put trends on a new pedestal—thanks to the silver screen trends were accessible to millions across a national, or even international, audience.

Television played a significant role in promoting music and dance trends, such as The Twist and the Mashed Potato—a similar phenomenon to what we see on TikTok today.

What we see on screen quickly filters into mainstream society. For instance, the late 90s hit movies "American Psycho" and "The Matrix", both featured very minimalist interiors which contributed to the rise of minimalism in the early 2000s. The trend was seen as a reaction to the excesses of the previous decade.

Social Media—Emergence of The Micro-Trend

Social media revolutionised the way consumers interact with brands and their products, exponentially accelerating the lifecycle of a trend.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all paved the way for TikTok, the social platform that today reigns supreme in the world of trend distribution.

With an army of infinitely creative young users and a tailored algorithm, TikTok created a perfect storm for virality that prompted a new evolution of the trend altogether: the micro-trend. From "cottage-core" to "dark academia", the micro-trend capitalises on unique aesthetics, niche interests, and a sense of community. But the micro-trend is categorised by the speed at which it emerges and equally quickly disappears.

Search results cottagecore tiktok
12.8 billion views for #cottagecore on TikTok.

In recent years, we have seen an explosion of interior design and fashion trends come out of TikTok—these trends are inherently good, reflecting a cultural shift towards sustainability, inclusivity, and individuality. But what do they mean for the careers of designers and stylists working in the creative industries?

Where We Are Now

From the luxurious fashion of the Renaissance period to the minimalism of the 2000s, creatives have proved that they are capable of navigating, and indeed influencing, the changing landscape of trends. But where do they stand in the present day, amidst the most turbulent evolution of the trend cycle yet?

Presumably, have to keep pace with the trend cycle in order to keep their brand relevant but if that is the case, where do they draw the line between what is simply on trend and what is truly on brand?

We must also acknowledge the financial toll that the modern-day trend circuit can have on a creative business. The cost and effort that it would take to align with every passing trend are not financially viable, nor environmentally sustainable.

Rather than blindly following trends, designers and stylists must assess emerging (micro)trends and interpret them through the lens of their brand's aesthetic and values This way they protect their business and their passion. By balancing innovation with consistency, creatives can maintain their brand's relevance against ever-changing consumer demands.

As evidenced, trends in art, music, fashion and design are a manifestation of the cultural, social, and technological backdrop of their time. With modern-day society's drive for progress and innovation, we can expect the trend cycle to do nothing but accelerate and we can trust creatives to continue creating, circulating, and embracing trends in a way that shapes culture and society.

With the growing popularity of virtual and augmented reality, I am excited to see their role in shaping the next evolution of the trend.