Fashion Features #1: The Time-Honored Tradition of Untimely Timeless Fashion
Nothing is truly timeless. Fashion is cyclical. Trends come back constantly, and while no one is actively trying to bring back the enormous poofy sleeves of the mid-1890s, poofy sleeves still reappear from time to time in various degrees of volume. Fashion is always evolving and changing while borrowing from what came before because there is no such thing as a truly original idea. The joy of it in the 21st century is in getting to sample all the styles that have come before and pick and choose whatever best expresses the wearer.
In the mid- to late-2010s we saw a huge push for minimalism in fashion. Many people wanted simpler, “timeless” styles, clothes that were of excellent quality and simple enough designs that they could be worn for decades, particularly modeled after Scandinavian design concepts around simplicity. This trend is ongoing, especially amongst those who are less interested in fashion but want to look effortlessly stylish either at the start of their career or in middle age after a lifetime of struggling with unfriendly, exclusionary trends. Such a mindset makes sense in the midst of complex, confusing, and often terrifying political, social, and economic instability and uncertainty. For women and femmes especially, the pressure to always look put together in a socially acceptable way (you have a head-start if you’re white, thin, and young), even if you don’t care at all about fashion, means having to figure out what the rules are and how to follow them to avoid criticism and judgement from peers, bosses, partners, random strangers on the internet, children (“you look like you’ve been punched in the face!” because you decided to try a dark smokey eye look), strangers on the street, literally anyone with an opinion and a lack of tact. This pressure comes both from people in real life as well as movies, tv shows, ads, the news, books, literally everywhere. Under that kind of pressure it makes sense that many women and femmes (people of any gender identity who present in what modern society considers a feminine way) feel a need to meet specific, yet constantly changing standards and would prefer to do so with as little effort as possible. Enter minimalism and timelessness.
Minimalist, timeless fashion is fashion that ideally will grow with the wearer for the next several decades of their life while providing a sense of comforting sameness and stability against constantly changing trends. It’s clean, usually straight lines, simple in cut and pattern, little to no jewelry, makeup that appears natural or even nonexistent, and a general sense of comfort, with no nipped-in waists or Spanx required. If the wearer can nail the perfect minimalist, timeless look for themself, they can buy a week’s worth of clothes that all match or complement each other and then in theory not need to buy new clothes again until these fall apart. For anyone who wants to look good without having to think about what they’re wearing, it’s an ideal solution, with the added bonus of being better for the environment. It’s a response to the fast fashion that dominated the ’00s and the maximalism of previous decades, when millions of pounds of clothes, whether purchased by consumers or not, were eventually discarded to rot in garbage dumps, clothes with synthetic materials that will not actually rot for hundreds or even thousands of years, clothes that were made by exploited child workers, clothes that fell apart after a single use because they were constructed as cheaply as possible. Those who push for minimalist fashion also push to support small local businesses that use organic materials and high quality construction, with the expectation that their clothes will last a long time, ideally long enough to be passed down to their children, continuing the popular trend of rewearing vintage styles for future generations. In order to make clothes like this, the prevailing idea is that they have to be timeless so that the wearer will not look hopelessly out of sync with future fashion trends but rather exist in their own bubble of style.
Unfortunately, the nature of fashion being what it is, even timeless styles will look dated in 10–20 years. No matter how simple and clean the lines are, no matter how neutral the colors, clothes are always influenced by current trends and will nearly always be easy to date to at least a specific decade once that decade has given way to the next, particularly combined with makeup and hairstyles of the same decade. 2010s “timeless” style will simply look like another 2010s trend by 2030 as the wheels of fashion continue to turn. The idea of timelessness that we have tried to cultivate is a fruitless endeavor if only in the sense that true timeless fashion can not truly exist in a society that is constantly changing, innovating, and reinventing.
What is wonderful about the 2020s is just how many options we now get to choose from to develop our personal styles. People in previous decades did not have the kind of options that we do today. Pre-internet, most folks had few ways of knowing what was trending, outside of what was shown in popular media like tv shows, movies, the news, or in physical places like shopping malls. There were no Tik Tok videos, Youtubers, or Instagram influencers either promoting or setting trends. High concept, non-street-ready ideas were decided on by haute couture fashion houses on runways and then trickled down through more affordable brands and designers into the clothes most regular people actually wore day to day. This is still the case now, we’re just less dependent on haute couture designers to decide what’s “in,” especially since developing and maintaining a love affair with street fashion. Street fashion focuses more on wearability, attitude, and branding — Supreme is a particularly well-known example for their white-on-red logo style they borrowed without permission from conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. These days the market is bursting with both large and small designers putting out clothes of every kind for a growing consumer market that is incredibly diverse. We can find fast fashion to fit every micro-trend that pops up and burns out, or slow fashion for those with long pockets and a thirst for eco-friendly fabrics made and modeled by people who have historically been underrepresented in fashion.
There are countless options for developing a personal style right at our fingertips — we can pick and choose inspiration from the long and well-documented history of fashion and find tons of brands both big and small reproducing historical garments; clothes are more affordable than ever, between fast fashion and secondhand; information about trends is readily available and easy to find; there are countless online communities that are happy to help even a clueless beginner find their style. Unfortunately there are still limitations and people who are still excluded, but it’s much more possible to either find smaller brands or create your own to cater to these excluded demographics.
The joy of fashion nowadays is that we are much less constricted and limited by trends and peer pressure. We are still influenced by them, but we are free to explore our options with greater freedom than previous generations. We don’t need “timeless” fashions to protect us from looking dated or gauche — personal style is all about the journey, there is no destination. Embrace color, pattern, shape, anything that strikes your fancy and don’t put off wearing an amazing garment or eyeshadow color out of fear. Make your life colorful when the rest of the world seems dreary and permanently gray and enjoy the feeling of one of the oldest forms of expression: fashion.