Most of us would like to think our fashion sense is individual. Failing that, we'll settle for timeless. If that's how you feel, you might want to ignore the idea of trend forecasting entirely. Because once you hear how your personal style has been obsessed over, debated and then decided for you, it might not feel personal at all.
Fashion forecaster sounds like a job somebody made up, like chocolate taster or unicorn tamer. When Loot spoke to Sharon Graubard, senior vice president and fashion director of Stylesight, a fashion-forecasting company that advises Brooks Brothers, Converse, Godiva, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Reebok, Saks, The North Face, Uniqlo and others, there was more than enough fodder for a skeptic.
"Where do we get our ideas?" Graubard said. "It's part intuition and part analytics. We'll go to hotbeds of creativity, we travel internationally, you'll start to feel the zeitgeist." Perhaps noticing Loot's frozen smile, she continued: "Sometimes it's a gut feeling: I'm feeling a knee-length, A-line skirt. Or: I'm feeling a Russian peasant look." At that moment, Loot was feeling: "Zoolander" outtake.
But amid the rainbow of gut feelings were various, uncomfortably accurate rays of truth. When asked, somewhat facetiously, if trends ever stay the same for more than a season, Graubard said, "If we're going to tell clients who depend on us for direction, 'Yeah, yawn, plaid shirts are continuing,' it won't inspire the clients, or the customers, to buy anything."
Instead, Graubard and her peers will focus on subtler things. "Is the button-down collar smaller?" she asked. "Is the plaid sharper? Is it more blurry?" In other words, year after year, season after season, if you're someone who buys clothes, even occasionally, you'll be conforming to a forecaster's ideas. You just might not notice you're doing it.
That's how, for instance, men's blazers have inched ever shorter -- and how men, "even if they hate that shrunken-blazer look, are probably wearing jackets that are a little short, and a little tighter, without even realizing it," Graubard says. "Even men who are a little older, who are overweight, who aren't fashionistas, are doing it." Why? "Because it's changed our eye."
And if you think about how odd someone would look in a gigantic, baggy blazer these days, Graubard has a point. Even if you're the most run-of-the mill, nonchalant dresser, your clothes have changed over the past 15 years, whether or not you've realized it. You've become inured to a specific silhouette.
Certainly no one has a gun to your head telling you to buy drop-crotch pants. "That's always the thing," Graubard acknowledged. "You don't have to buy it."
Plus, fashion is cyclical -- things come back, partly because people like Graubard always need new material.
"There will be a moment where something looks wrong, just totally wrong," she says. "And then it will be gone for a few years. And then it will come back."
So sure, your style just might be timeless, if you wait long enough. But is it individual? Fat chance.
James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.