Why do people as they age get locked into the look and style of their prime?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while because I just happened to be gravitating towards looks that I really like but that have moved on. While I mix them up with contemporary items and accessories, I feel that I should explore more overall contemporary looks.
This tension caused me to look around the influences that shape fashion sense and why they may cause fashion paralysis versus fashion exploration. I have observed 4 forces that may be the culprits: Corporate discouragement; Style stealing; Teen undercover identification combined with the explosion of individualism; and The rise of thrift.
Corporate discouragement is likely the biggest influence. Most companies support a common look, be it formal (the suit) or casual (often the Dockers khaki). People enter the workforce with some form of identity be it a slight variation of the norm or a unique subculture. Once in a working environment, especially a larger and more corporate one, there are dress codes and, even more importantly, the need to assimilate to be effective. To assimilate you have 2 ways of doing so: You can truly stand out and be admired, or you can run with the flock. Most people tend to go with option two. This “corporate herding” is important for a company to create a culture and a sense of unity. Unfortunately it also makes people somewhat lose there desire, however tiny it may have been, to have a unique fashion sense. Consequently, many people inadvertently get stuck in the look that they had prior to entering the workforce. Granted, the growth of the small company will change this but I feel that the dynamic is still here now.
The second influence is style stealing. This is where fashion designers give old looks and old designs a re-birth. It happens time and time again. Look at the recent Milan Fashion Week. Plaid was very prevalent. This is a pattern that is age old. More importantly, the designs using plaid skewed towards looks of more conservative times. Therefore, there is a sense to the person who does not know the insides of the fashion scene that looks frequently re-emerge. Consequently, the motivation to explore new looks can be suppressed. Let us not forget that people have increasingly little personal time and thus not needing to explore the shops for the latest look, relying instead on the styled down offerings of larger scale retailers, can become appreciated. This will encourage people to not think about fashion and thus all they remember about fashion is from the time that they actually cared about it.
Another influence is what I call teen undercover identification. In short, this is where teens build their unique identities through fashion manifestations that are not noticeable to those not in the know. From the outside they look like many other teens. They look like teens from when you were young. For example, I visited London this week and made a point of observing the fashions of teens in this fashion leading city. Many stayed true to the standard jeans and Ts look, varying only in the designs of the Ts. Then you look closer at the accessories and the unique generational identity becomes evident, such as the way they wear their headphones, their jewelry, their bags. In addition to this dynamic is the mass explosion of individualism. Therefore, teens no longer have a select amount of tribes that they can belong to. Due to technology, global connectivity, brand abundance, teens can truly create micro sub-cultures. So with all this going on, how on earth are “adults” supposed to keep up? The natural reaction is to stick to what you know. Unfortunately what you know is dated.
Lastly is the rise in thrift. Due to the dynamic of overt individualism mentioned above coupled with the need to hold back on excessive spending driven by the economic downturn, today’s youth are heading back to the thrift shop. While they tend to rework what they purchase to create truly unique pieces, they are generally recycling old looks. This may already be influencing the runways if I am to judge recent fashion week shows. The affect on older mass consumers is similar to what I mentioned above about style stealing. I’ve always got something in my wardrobe that is in now so why bother? Worse, I go and buy that style at Walmart. The slight changes in design and the additions of accessories that make the old look new aren’t as pervasive as say the 80s fluoro look.
Overall, there seem to be several major forces that drive fashion paralysis: societal norms that set in as one enters and becomes consumed by the workplace and its group dynamic, and detail blinding that occurs with mass micro changes in teen culture and pop culture. My assumption is that paralysis will start to change as people are forced to place more emphasis on individuality given the push away from large scale company security into personal enterprise. Simply put, the personal brand will grow in importance and losing touch with fashion will no longer be an acceptable alternative