The sartorial habits of our fashion forebears from decades past can often be visualised in the form of a handful or so defining garments. When one says 1920s, one thinks of flapper dresses worn to Charleston in and a penchant for bobbing one’s hair. When one says 1980s, one visualises luridly bright leg warmers, and impossibly hairsprayed hair a la Madonna in the music video for ‘Like a Prayer’. When one mentions the noughties, one obviously casts one’s mind back to Paris Hilton’s figure hugging, belly-button revealing baby tee, proudly emblazoned with ‘Stop Being Poor’ across the front. But when, in decades to come, fancy dress parties which pay homage to the 2010s are hosted, what sort of caricaturish outfits will attendees don? What are the defining looks that have shaped and will continue to shape fashion trends to come?
The answer is less in a defining aesthetic, and more in a changing culture. The 2010s have not consisted of stand-out garments that have had enduring appeal, for we live in a culture of instantaneity wherein social media allows an item of clothing (see: cycling shorts) to blow up overnight. Gone is the age of iconicity wherein an item stands the test of time. In a decade of ultra fast fashion retailers and content creators prancing about in an endless stream of new items across our phone screens, an item is only desirable for a transitory moment. Shoppers are engaged in an endless acquisition of garments, according to what looks are currently being promulgated by influencers. Our favourite YouTubers proudly proclaim their £200 hauls at brands that have paid them to show off that week’s trending looks, only to do yet another haul at a new retailer the following week.
The Kardashian clan, surely, have a lot to answer for. With business at brands like Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal booming, Orsola de Castro, of group ‘Fashion Revolution’, claims the day has come when Topshop looks like couture. Fast fashion retailers have allowed high street clothing to be considered quality in comparison to their own cheap and cheerful wares. Retailers watch eagle-eyed over the social media feeds of the Kardashians and co, until a post blows up. Fans love Kylie Jenner’s pink dress as worn to her birthday party, but it’s unattainable for the average joe, costing a cool $5k, so they produce a replica, this time, costing no more than the price of a Deliveroo dinner. Throw in a 2-4 week turnaround, minimum wage (or less) for those creating the garments, and the acquisitive lifestyle of the Kardashians can be mimicked; new outfits are affordable, an ever-changing look achievable, only this time without a luxury price tag: these clothes are quite literally cheap as chips.
Reality television beams images of extravagant lifestyles into our homes – exorbitant, lavish, acquisitive – the average viewer can only dream of recreating such outfits, owning such wardrobe space or having such funds to shop to their heart’s content. The BBC’s ‘Breaking Fashion’, a six-part documentary behind the scenes at In the Style, featured one clip in which the brand’s owner claimed fast fashion brands weren’t all the same. He was eager to point out that he tries to ‘challenge’ this notion of them as unsustainable, thoughtless and uncaring with regards to the environment and the wages and costs down the supply chain which allow them to sell their items for such affordable prices. In one episode, a picture Kylie Jenner has posted on Instagram in a mesh swimsuit goes wild. In the Style wants to offer a cheap version. In the following scenes, a 14 day turnaround is demanded of the supplier, in which costs are kept low and unsociable hours are necessary for the task to be achieved. Though the 2010s have seen a vast change to the cultural landscape of fashion and shopping, it leads one to ask, for what? The swimsuit will sell well, customers will be satisfied at being able to achieve a little bit of the Kylie Jenner lifestyle for themselves. Next week, next month, however, and the swimsuit will be forgotten, sent to landfill or left to collect dust along with other 15 minutes of fame garments in the bottom of a chest of drawers. Though the 2010s have been significant, they have not been iconic, and perhaps there is something to mourn about this loss of value placed on clothes, loving them for more than just a minute.