Teri Agins is the lead fashion writer for The Wall Street Journal and starred as a guest judge alongside Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Michael Kors on Project Runway Season 3, Episode 11.
This chapter “What Happened to Fashion?” serves as the introduction to her first book “The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever,” which was published in 1999 by William Morrow and Co. in New York.
Fashion is a constantly moving target, working under the “imperative of planned obsolescence”. (404) Agins tells us about a revolutionary shift that occurred in the fashion industry that wrested control away from the fashion industry powers and toward the consumer. Citing the examples of failed marketing of short skirts and the monastic look in the 1980s, the fashion industry lost its ability to dictate trends to the public. She tells us that “the power now belongs to us, the consumers, who decide what we want to wear, when we buy it, and how much we pay for it.” (404) The author then cites four megatrends which changed the way we view fashion.
1. Women Let Go of Fashion
Women started getting serious about their careers and lost interest in the frivolous clothing fashion was turning out. They preferred the authoritative power look necessary for the workplace. Many salon deaths, such as the 1992 closing of Martha, put Parisian suppliers at risk. In fact, “styles were no longer trickling down from the couture to the masses. Instead, trends were bubbling up from the streets, from urban teenagers and the forces in pop music and counterculture with a new vital ingenuity that was infectious.” (405)
2. People Stopped Dressing Up
By the end of the 1980s, most Americans were wearing casual jeans and sneakers around, even to the office. Men rejected the business suit, led by the .com boom and Internet CEOs. Alcoa became the first major corporation to allow casual office attire, spawning “casual Fridays” all around the country. Many boutiques suffered and closed, like Charivari, as Americans no longer felt the need to dress to impress.
3. People’s Values Changed with Regard to Fashion
Stores like The Limited and Gap made fashion available at every price level, and designer labels started to seem useless. It was fashionable to pay less money and to be a bargain hunter. Studies by Consumer Reports opened the public’s eyes to the “Wizard of Oz discovery: behind the labels of many famous name brands was some pretty ordinary merchandise.” (406) Additionally, the movement of manufacturing facilities out of the US made quality available at a low price, compatible with the classic clothing trends of the 1990s, and the fact that Generation X-ers were used to the wash-and-wear functionality of clothing.
4. Top Designers Stopped Gambling on Fashion
Many fashion houses, like Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, are publicly traded companies, which must maintain steady growth for their shareholders. Therefore, they can no longer afford to gamble on the whims of the fashion industry. Agins tells us that “today, a designer’s creativity expresses itself more than ever in the marketing rather than in the actual clothes…fashion has returned to its roots: selling image. Image is the form and marketing is the function.” (408) Branding and logos are the main ways that designers can distinguish their otherwise ordinary clothes. Fashion publications have also lost their power to make or break trends in editorial pages.
The consumer is king. Agins ends by proclaiming, “those who will survive the end of fashion will reinvent themselves enough times and with enough flexibility and resources to anticipate, not manipulate, the twenty-first-century customer.” (408)
Relevancy - Consumer Reports: