RE-ADAPTING (IN) FASHION
Trends and consumption patterns in the digital era.
words by Vaiva Norkūnaitė
Today we get informed and involved with all things fashion differently from people even a few years ago. From print to digital, from limited access to open for all. The ways fashion icons or messengers communicate their style and how often they do it changed a lot. The ability to approach and spread fashion is no longer as exclusive. Even the Fashion Week is just a few clicks away, available for all those interested to enjoy in the front row of their couch.
Fashion, by definition, is a temporary phenomenon with distinct life cycles of introduction, adoption, growth, maturation and eventual decline. The speed of information flow can dictate how quickly something new can be accepted and not perceived as too innovative or drastic.
Fashion, after all, is reflecting the spirit of the times and representing the collective taste.
For decades, the primary source of fashion were magazines and transformations could only come as fast as the new issue. With the arising convergent media technology, participatory culture and new commercial pressures, fashion starts to be experienced in a more fast-paced and multi-dimensional way. Fashion has expanded to embrace much more than still mechanically reproduced images: interactive online publications and launches of fashion collections are shared on various social media, in multiple formats all of which are focused on virtual bodies and virtual places. The design of media systems impacts the consumption of information and can influence certain decisions, such as the way fashion is perceived and brought to life.
Print media with mostly uni-directional message flow, contrasts with an interactive online communication reclaiming simultaneity and sensory experience. While all media is interactive because it requires certain actions, which are frequently medium-specific (like turning print pages carefully to avoid damage), the user is put under different and unique cognitive and physical demands by digital media having more autonomy to shape the information in front of them.
Just as the Gutenberg’s printing press gave a whole new level of access to information when printed word became available to all, now the process is repeated with new media systems, just on steroids.
Image 1: “The book is an extension of the eye…clothing, an extension of the skin,,,” - McLuhan’s Medium theory (“the Medium is the Massage”) explores how the speed and ease of the distribution of messages is significant to the overall functioning of a media system and its elements. Via McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. 2001. The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.
Promoting individuality and speed. Attracting people to be governed by fashion, to engage with its rhythms and to fit with its requirements creates a population poised for change, in a constant need of a makeover.
Turning to the screens to gain knowledge by searching what to buy to attain a certain appearance directs audiences to be more attentive to advertising. According to Brooke E. Duffy’s book “Remake, Remodel: Women's Magazines in the Digital Age”, users like, comment, share, search and vote online in designated areas and in ways that match with the aims of content producers.
The audience use visuals to communicate information about themselves and to showcase their individuality.
Attention is currency. Spending time scrolling digital devices, gathering and filtering information to curate life through a continual supply of photos on social media sites is an investment. Publishing carefully crafted material about oneself for the verdict of others always remains a risk.
People use their belongings to show their ideas, attitudes, and values, fashionable clothing and accessories are examples of things that assist people in expressing themselves and who they are. As loudness is promoted by the current media design, and nothing attracts more than something never seen before, new trends are more easily accepted. Buying something new equals to staying ‘on trend’ and ‘on track’ with life.
Faster pace of fashion industry also comes from the digital media endorsing an audience not accustomed to wait for updates from monthly magazine subscriptions. As explained in the book “Fashion Media: Past and Present” by D. Bartlett, S. Cole and A. Rocamora, digital imaging regime alters how audiences connect to images due to constant flood of pop-ups and notifications. The need for fresh faces, fuelled by the rapid overexposure due to 24/7 availability of information escalates the competition for viewers’ attention as they become more distracted.
So, the overwhelming amount of data shortens attention span and changes vision.
Fashion industry's survival has always been dependent on constant style changes where there’s an ingrained belief that earlier styles must be replaced when they are labelled ‘outdated’, while still being perfectly functional. Yet, quick decline of trends due to oversaturation, boredom and loss of exclusivity has resulted in even higher consumer expectations, making the fashion industry even more complex where businesses use advanced programmatic tools to track and respond to observed behaviours. Thus, the current media system leads to a faster pace where
the fundamental approach for maintaining a lucrative position in an increasingly dynamic and demanding market is to quickly detect, analyse and respond, repeat.
There’s a sense of saturation of complexity.
Not only the load of information running through, but the various media itself adds complexity. We can choose to modify digital pictures, but the variety of cameras modify us by default. Body image boundaries are challenged with different devices and tools. Pictures contrast with ‘reality’ and can come as surprise to be seen in a different way. Hearing ‘this fits me in real life but not on camera’ is more common than ever. Relying on reviews, influencers and generally more opinions than ever also adds to the complexity and overwhelmingness of human experience today.
Saturation of sensory input makes new techniques of attention management a necessity.
The emerged complexity paves the way for the aspiration of minimalism (monochromatic outfits and interiors, functional athleisure and sustainability), and links to luxury the availability to see, feel and own less.
All things considered, fashion has changed a lot over the last decades as media boundaries expand. Technology impacts culture, and culture impacts technological development in a symbiotic relationship. Altered structural characteristics shortened fashion life cycles, increased speed, responsiveness, agility and also demystified the fashion process, bringing more inclusivity, variety but also complexity. Fashion communication transformed, moving from still images to interactive digital elements when conveying attitudes and values of the times.
With the constant evolution of everything digital, it is yet unclear where the hyper-connected present leads. Yet, when reconsidering, retracing, understanding and having a perspective of what was and what is, we can confidently move to what will be.
So, analysing your sassy self: what messages do I send and receive and in what ways do they come to me? How do they impact my choices and what I pass on? Go experiment. Move on.
Editing and translation by María D. Martínez