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Did micro-trends kill the trend cycle?

Last summer saw a quick succession of micro-trends: Sofia Richie Grainge’s wedding in the South of France boosted quiet luxury, Hailey Bieber cemented tomato (and strawberry) girl summer with beach shots to match her Rhode products, while Margot Robbie drove Barbiecore into the mainstream with her dedication to method dressing.

The trend cycle accelerated, and trends became even more niche. But in recent weeks, the tides have turned. Less ‘cores’ are making their way from TikTok feeds to fashion publications, and the fashion crowd is wondering whether the coolest thing to do is not to trend at all. Meanwhile, others are writing about summer 2024’s ‘trend’ of leaning into personal style, straddling the industry’s current grapple with the algorithm and current culture’s need to define and name micro-trends. Pinterest is offering up more weird word combos, like ‘tomboy femme’ and ‘Y3K aesthetic’.

Are we gearing up for a summer sans micro-trends? If these aesthetic trends are the result of hyper-online dressing and scrolling, might this summer signal a turning point back to dressing — and marketing — for the physical world we’re living in?

Micro-trends fade, but trends last forever

Trends aren’t yet on their way out, argues trend forecaster Agus Panzoni, who is also Depop’s trends spokesperson. What is on the decline, is the need to categorise styles into hyper-niche aesthetics.

“We’re moving away from the need to say, ‘These items put together are an aesthetic,’ and moving towards a more fluid state,” Panzoni says. Instead of “grabbing” an aesthetic as a whole, consumers can take elements and incorporate them into their own style. “This shift is why we haven’t seen a micro-trend pop in a little bit,” she says.

This is, in part, down to early fashion fans distancing themselves from the mainstream (where these trends proliferate) in a push back against algorithms that blast the same “micro” trends to the masses, says Rukiat Ashawe, editorial and social executive at marketing agency The Digital Fairy.

It doesn’t mean we’re ushering in an era of complete individuality — certain items are picking up steam as summer trends, says Panzoni. On Depop, searches for “mesh” are up 47 per cent since January, “sheer” is up 34 per cent, “micro shorts” up 234 per cent, and “tank top” up 212 per cent. The fact that these are generic, summery items, rather than specifically worded aesthetic categories, may well signal a shift beyond the need to label so intently.

This de-emphasis on micro-trends bodes well for brands, as it’s less constraining than the niche micro-aesthetics they were tasked with setting, skipping or conforming to. But brands still need to cultivate a story consumers want to buy into, Panzoni flags. “In an era of referential dressing, the brand needs to provide that reference. Those that do are the brands we’ll gravitate towards.”

The return to IRL

This summer is about clothes in context. As Vogue Business predicted at the beginning of the year, 2024 has seen a shift towards offline experiences. Seventy-four per cent of Gen Zs think IRL experiences are more important than digital ones, per Vogue Business’s recent study. Yet the micro-trends that dominated last summer — and continued into this year — felt chronically online.

This is shifting, Panzoni says. “Now, we’re going back to wearing clothes more for the purpose of whatever you’re using the clothes for. There’s still an element of grabbing items and using them to storify yourself a bit, but IRL is the driving force.”

Where tomato girl summer and quiet luxury were based on aspiration and fairytale, this summer, experts expect people to dress more for the activities they’re participating in. Take Miaou’s recent social campaign: an Instagram reel filmed from inside a shopping cart. Shoppers — wearing Miaou, of course — put corn chips, buns, jam and Betty Crocker cake mix into the cart, prepping for a barbecue that would happen off-screen.

This comes as brands are figuring out new ways to interact with customers offline. “Faced with a decline in footfall to bricks-and-mortar stores and a hybrid work culture that has left consumers eager to leave the house, brands are transforming retail storefronts into third-space hubs for community, culture and creativity,” says Marta Indeka, senior foresight analyst at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory. “Tailored to the interests that align with their customer base, these third spaces are intensifying brand identity and consumer loyalty.” She points to Babylone, Saint Laurent’s newly opened bookstore-cum-cultural hub in Paris. “Reimagining traditional stores as cultural hotspots will help luxury brands connect with Gen Z high-net-worth individuals who value creativity and community,” she says.

Earlier this month, Sporty & Rich hosted a wellness day with Forma Pilates and Reserve Padel, leaning into the trend towards physical exercise experiences. Run clubs are trending in the UK, Ashawe says, leaving brands ample opportunity to tap in.

This applies to luxury as well, Indeka adds. “Bold activations outside the remit of core business are becoming a status symbol for large brands,” she explains. “Expect this to manifest in the convergence of sports and fashion on a luxury level never seen before.” The Future Lab is watching Paris this summer in anticipation of this trend manifesting at the Olympics.

Panzoni expects more brands to lean into this physicality. “World-building is really important for brands right now, more than tapping into the latest ‘core’,” she says. What better way to do so than to lean into the physical world? It’s where we’ll be wearing the clothes, after all.

The original article can be found on Vogue Business.

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