How Recessions Drive Innovation in Fashion

In a country where the economy appears to be headed for a recession (unless it’s not), you can expect everything from housing costs to people’s consumption behavior to suffer. And you can imagine that, in a period of relatively high prices, spending time, attention and money on fashion will be among the first to be cut. But based on years of research into financial trends and spending habits, there is plenty of evidence that the most prominent fashion trends were born out of an economic downturn.

In 1982, fashion writer John Duka outlined how consumer habits changed during the recession of the early 1980s. The parallels with the present moment seem obvious: proportions. Unemployment hovers above 10% and oil prices skyrocket, while property prices and retail sales plummet. While we have already seen an increase in retail spending in 2021 as consumers begin to get revenge on spending, we are starting to see retail sales decline. As retail spending slows, it has a serious impact: companies can’t afford to produce, distribute, and employ workers. Those workers, in turn, are making less money out of pocket — and, to book the 2022 turnaround, they’ll have to decide between paying rent or heeding a new JJJJound reduction.

But what’s true about retail spending in general isn’t necessarily true in the fashion world. Historically, upper-class people who buy high-fashion haven’t changed much in their spending habits, or even enjoyed flaunting their wealth during recessions. As Duka said in 1982, “Retailers say that customers who can afford such expensive items, although they have also become more selective, are still less affected by promotion depression of the economy.” On the other hand, people who shop for less expensive designer items often pause their spending — and limit their purchases of high-quality items to replace lost or broken items or “interesting” items.

Some things haven’t changed: this “newness” remains a specific challenge for fashion designers today as we enter a recession. “[Designers] must get consumers excited to buy, they have to show novelty—a change of vibes— as the kids say,” said Allyson Rees, Senior Strategist at WGSN Insight.

Greater economic forces can shape these vibe changes. As consumers adjust to their personal style due to inflation or falling materials, we see a new design pattern emerge.

For example, in economically depressed post-World War II France, Christian Dior released a “New Look” with a slim waist and broad shoulders – a new take on femininity. “After a while sorting through fabrics, his designs use a lot of materials (like a Chérie dress, incorporating 80 yards of spare fabric), it feels like a luxury,” says Veroniqué HylandDirector of Fashion Features at Elle and author of the Dress Code. “Creating a new silhouette or item of ‘It’ is also a way for the industry to push people to buy new things, rather than being satisfied with last season’s wardrobe.”

Many recent recessions have brought their own novel forms of dress. The 1980s brought bold neon colors, abstract prints, and the rise of hip hop and punk fashion, while indie styles emerged in the years following the 2008 economic crisis. dull, maximalism seems to be the standard response,” says. Hyland. How Recessions Drive Innovation in Fashion

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