Celebrating 40 Years

Boomerang Trends of the Last Four Decades

Words by Fran Sheldon, Fashion Forecasting & Sustainability Lecturer
Celebrating 40 Years Trend Forcasting
Boomerang Trends of the Last Four Decades

Fashion really is a sign of the times and whether it is realism or escapism being offered, the social, political and cultural mood is always being reflected back at us through what we wear. 

Image: Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss attend the De Beers/Versace 'Diamonds are Forever' celebration at Syon House on June 09, 1999; (Dave Benett/Getty Images)

The 1970s offers a sliding scale from the gritty realism of punk, through the allure of bohemian escape, all the way to the fantasy glamour and glitz of the disco aesthetic. Highlighting the reinvention of the disco trend into the daylight disco trend of today. 

Like today, the 1970s was a people-power decade, remembered for its activism for peace, equality, and the freedom of expression, and if we consider the headlines of today, we are still fighting those battles. Taking inspiration from the 1920s, where fashion offered a similar response to a tumultuous time.

If we take women’s rights, the 1920s saw women take control over their femininity through the bob haircut and wide-legged palazzo pant. In the 1970s the flared pant-suit juxtaposed against hip-length locks provided a re-working of the power-dressing trend, and today our slogan t-shirts protest ‘Nasty Woman’ and ‘Me too’ paired with mermaid hair, much in the same way that Vivienne Westwood’s ‘destroy’ graphics, and the sex pistols ‘Anarchy in the UK’ slogans expressed the nation's angst 40 years ago. Fashion is often an emotionally charged and environmentally driven form of expression, but is very rarely new, or void of emotional cues from decades past.


Despite the fashion industry being obsessed with newness, it is heartening to see that the survey also uncovered vintage as the favourite style from the last 40 years, echoing the sentiment that recycling; whether that be trends, emotions, or just the clothes themselves, has a place in our heart.

The constant cycling of trends has offered every grand-parent and parent in the land the glee of saying “We used to wear that!”, or “I had some just like that!”, responded by the never-out-of-fashion response of the teenage eye-roll. The excitement of seeing the fashion of your teenage years trending again. A great example of this is the bell-bottom trouser. The story of the skinny jean dates back to when Kate Moss revived the style almost singlehandedly in the noughties, but it matured into a staple with the help of River Island, driving it big into their product offer, and is now seen in every level of the market; mens, womens, childrenswear and maternity, to the point where retailers now rely on it.

That being said there is the constant flirtation with wider styles to breathe freshness into their denim assortments. The death-knell for the skinny jean has been rung in more January new-season campaigns than I care to remember. Whilst we’ve never seen a considerable shift in market share from the skinny to wider styles, consumers have more control of trends than ever before thanks to social media. Retailers are getting better at responding to trends, rather than proclaiming them. If, like the survey suggests we do want more vintage, 1970s styles to reign supreme they could start backing the flared styles more. 

Celebrating 40 Years Trend Forcasting Image Content
Britney Spears poses at US Open Kids Day in Authur Ash Stadium August 27, 1999; (Getty Images)
Pendulum trends & never say never!

Fashion trends are fascinating to track and besides the cyclical, boomerang patterns previously discussed it is also worthwhile shining a light on the pendulum effect. Trends that don’t manage to mature will fade, and are replaced often by trends that excite us. It is not uncommon to see one season obsess over sporty, androgynous looks, only turn completely on its heels and provide glamour and hyper- femininity/masculinity in the next season. If the recent spring summer 2020 catwalk shows are anything to go by, we could be taking a turn towards floral, ruffled romance a la Erdem and Richard Quinn, and away from the athleisure styles that have been exhausted for upwards of 6 seasons now.

Another trend analysis rule is ‘never say never’. With 43% of the survey banishing the mullet into neverland (despite most middle-aged people being able to spot at least one mullet offender in their wedding photos), it would seem implausible that this could make a come-back. The same might once have been said for the bumbag or ‘fannypack’ but there it is, adorning teenagers and celebs alike. True, it's rarely worn around the waist, instead casually slung across the body, or has simply been reborn as the ‘purse belt’, a more luxurious cross between belt and bumbag, as the perfect blazer or coat accessory to add a waistline. Nonetheless it is the bumbag - never say never!

Head to centre:mk now to shop the boomerang trends of the last four decades of style.

Celebrating 40 Years Trend Forcasting Image Content 2
Will Smith on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1990; (Ron Galella / Getty Images)