Why are fashion cycles getting shorter?

Fashion has always followed cycles, from sixties’ mods to a decade bookended by thong-baring low-rise jeans and yoga pants (we’re looking at you 2000s). Yet, no matter the decade, styles of the past always seem to nudge their way into current movements as we take inspiration from the trend-setters that were. This seems to be the case at the moment. As Fashion Month has come and gone in a blur of (old) Celine bags and statement coats, there’s been a hint of a trend revival: Tumblr Twee.

Tumblr Twee refers to the Alexa Chung-inspired dressing of the early 2010s, think tights under shorts, clunky loafers and Zooey Deschanel in new-girl (or really anything). The trend was seen on the UK’s style set at London Fashion Week in February, with runway viewers clad in French sailor shirts, jewel-hued quilted jackets and hair kept in place with a neat row of bobby pins — all stalwarts of the pre-Instagram was. And while it’s only natural to see a revival of a trend that once was, surely it’s too soon to give CPR to a trend that’s less than a decade old?

Fashion trends are cyclical, and are thought to come and go in five stages: Introduction, Increase, Peak, Decline and Obsolescence. A recent blog post from stylist app Thread said, in general, fashion follows a 20-year rule: The time it takes for a trend to die and become fashionable again. The 20-year rule could help explain why the nineties have had another moment in the past few years and shows like euphoria have helped revive the popularity of the noughties’ velor tracksuit in the 2020’s. But the reason trends like Tumblr Twee and Indie Sleaze (an amalgamation of the nineties grunge and eighties drama in itself) are already seeing a return could be due to one thing: fast fashion.

“We now buy five times as many clothes as we did in the 1980s, and yet we’re typically only wearing between 10-20 per cent of our wardrobes,” stylist Samantha Harman tells The Independent. “Trend cycles have gotten shorter, hugely due to social media. Traditionally, we had the spring/summer, autumn/winter shows – now we’ve got new collections coming out practically weekly.”

The advent of social media came around the same time as Tumblr Twee peaked in popularity. While Instagram launched in late 2010, it didn’t become mainstream until 2012 or 2013, right around the time Tumblr was receiving almost 13 billion page views per month. Prior to the rise of social media, it was only celebrities who never designed to wear the same outfit twice. But, as Harman says, social media meant that us regular folk wanted to be seen wearing something new whenever we posted to social platforms, which increased demand to fast fashion retailers and, ultimately, sped up fashion cycles.

Alexa Chung was a pioneer of Tumblr Twee, while Kate Moss championed Indie Sleaze


Louisa Rogers, founder of maximalist sustainable womenswear brand Studio Courtenay, said the other reason we may be seeing a return could be because these social media platforms “reward novelty or new spins” on different trends. “When you combine this constant need for something new for users to engage with and a sense of nostalgia that has a hold on Generation Z (that perhaps feels at least two of its’ formative years have been robbed from them) it’s less surprising to see styles from as early as the mid-2010s to be reappearing as the ‘latest’ trends,” she adds.

Rogers also credits social media for “inverting the pyramid of tastemaking and trendsetting.” For example, the way trends used to work is they would filter down from “tastemakers” like fashion editors and designers whose runway styles would eventually influence high street store collections the following season. In this modern age, social media allows for anyone to be a trendsetter, with the opportunity to go viral. This is the clear case with Tumble Twee and Indie Sleaze. The revival was first predicted by trend analyst Mandy Lee in October last year.

We typically only wear between 10-20 per cent of our wardrobes

Samantha Harman, stylist

“I’m a trend forecaster and there is an obscene amount of evidence that the Indie Sleaze/Tumblr aesthetic is coming back and we need to talk about it,” Lee said in a TikTok video. “Some key characteristics from this trend were provocative advertisements, amateur-style flash photography and opulent displays of clubbing.”

Lee says this time around we’re seeing the revival of wired headphones, phone cases that mimic old technology and that the trend is taking over in the “same way Y2K massively took over in the last couple of years”. On her TikTok page, which has nearly 300,000 followers and over 10.5 million likes, Lee also dissects Chung’s influence on the era (socks and loafers, her signature collar) and says the micro-mini skirt revival is a trend she “personally can’t get behind”.

A trend first predicted on social media and now donned by the fashion elite? Previously, this would have been unheard of. Now, it’s the norm.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen a resurgence of past trends before. For decades designers have used previous fashion cycles and trends as inspiration behind their collections. Yet, perhaps the reason why we’re seeing a resurgence of the Tumblr was so suddenly is because we never truly let it go.

Tumblr Twee feels as if it was the last defining era of fashion. Between the early 2000’s and the early 2010’s we sped along quickly, jumping from Y2K, to emo and eventually into the Tumblr aesthetic. But what trend defined the late 2010’s? As social media took off and personal style became a brand, trends seemed to fade and our clothes became an amalgamation of past trends. Perhaps we’ve become lazy or, perhaps, we’re simply championing our individuality.

Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in the 2000s


“There is a lot of individualism in how we dress today,” Rogers says. “As we emerge from the pandemic, we are rediscovering our love of fashion and many are taking the opportunity to reinvent themselves somewhat.” She adds that there are some trends that are homogenizing our current trend cycles, namely the “omnipresence of neutral athleisure-wear, the ubiquitous North Face jacket, and Y2K pieces pushed by fast fashion retailers to look as though they are from the early 2000s but that have been recently made”.

One trend Rogers notes that has emerged in the past half decade, one we didn’t see before, is dopamine dressing. “That means vibrant colours, exaggerated silhouettes and humorous details that don’t take themselves too seriously,” Rogers explains. “We will also see a return of old-school glamour: we will miss the opportunities we had to ‘dress up’ prior to 2020 and look to bring this back in a way that emphasizes femininity and sex appeal (think Tom Ford was Gucci and Herve Leger bandage dresses). The upcycling style will become a lot more high end with decadent patchworks, strategically placed applique patches to hide marks or holes, and Japanese-inspired visible mending.”

For timeless dressing, Rogers recommends blending eras to create something new, while Harman recommends shopping your wardrobe, so to speak, to re-discover the gems you already have and to avoid falling into the fast fashion cycle. Because in the end, that’s what trends are — something you’ll wear for a limited amount of time before it falls victim to obsolescence. While Tumblr Twee and Indie Sleaze may be the aesthetic of the moment, the best way to beat the trend cycles is to opt for a wardrobe that transcends it instead.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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