It has been said that “fashion reflects the temper of the times” in that when political stability and economic prosperity reign, frivolous fashion rules. On the other side of the pendulum, in serious or unstable times, consumer confidence takes a hit and fashion sways towards sensible and practical. We decided to put this theory to the test by looking back over the past six presidential administrations to study the political economic trends that defined each period and the correlated fashion trends.
1989- 1993, President H. W.Bush
If there is one word to describe the international political environment during H.W.’s tenure, it would be unity. The Berlin Wall fell and Germans were united, the Cold War ended, USSR passed significant economic reforms and subsequently disintegrated. The Eastern Euro bloc fell and solidarity triumphed in Poland. Essentially, the modern political landscape was coming together, bringing along with it a sense of togetherness and hopefulness. That was until 1991 when President Bush led the US into the Gulf War, a decision that had negative economic consequences and most likely was the reason he wasn’t elected to a second term. If we short track the above, the first 3/4 of Bush’s term was solid and prosperous, with the effects of the war not really appearing until 1992.
Dominating Fashion Trends:
Who can forget the late eighties and early nineties. Surely no one who also remembers what Atari is. Sure there was the good and the bad, but if any trend was pervasive, it was the grunge movement. Brought on by the Seattle music scene (Kurt Cobain in particular), flannel shirts, stonewashed straight cut jeans and Converse tennis shoes was a look popular with the famous, infamous and everyday high school students all around the country. It was the opposite of the polished, power looks of the 1980’s made so popular with the Melanie Griffith film ‘Working Girl’.
Kurt Cobain, the King of Grunge
Back in the day before every celebrity had a fragrance or licensing deal, Cobain created a capsule collection of Converse tennis shoes:
The other major fashion trend of the early 1990’s, neon color, also stemmed from the music scene. Originating with hip- hop, this style of dressing penetrated the masses via neon color slapstick bracelets, layered slouch socks and hair scrunchies used to tie off t-shirts on the hip:
Slap Bracelets and Tying off T-shirts
Test Results: Early 1990’s fashion could not be denied to be frivolous in many ways (slap bracelets and hypercolor t-shirts) but it was also exploratory in trying out a new music scene and a new form of unisex dressing in the grunge movement.
1993- 2001 President William Jefferson Clinton
During Clinton’s presidency NAFTA took affect, the EU was formed and significant deficit reduction legislation was passed. Simply put, national and international politics were quite stable and focused on increasing commerce and stimulating wealth creation. People were making money and with the reliable promise of more to come, they were spending it.
Dominating Fashion Trends:
With no other explanation other than money was flowing like water and therefore consumers were willing to part with their dollars (and credit) on fashion fads, without much concern for practicality, overalls became a big hit:
Lauryn Hill and the Fugees
Accessories also had their moment in the hideous halls of 1990’s fashion and the prevailing trend for both and women was the choker necklace:
Jordan Catalano in ‘My So Called Life’
In 2000, denim invaded. Prior to this time, jeans were generally reserved for casual settings, but the new millennium ushered in the possibility of wearing jeans to more formal, even professional settings including work. This was due in part to the proliferation in the use of high end raw denim and post production treatments (remember wiskering?) by premium denim companies such as Paper, Denim & Cloth, Seven and Paige. As is customary, when something goes big, it tends to go to extremes:
Brit and Justin in full on denim looks
Test Results: I think it is fair to say that the mid to late 1990’s continued with the fun, experimental and frivolous fashion trends set earlier in the decade. The formalizing of denim was a foreshadow of the fashion trends to come in the 2000’s.
2001- 2009 President George W. Bush
Calling George W. a wartime president is like calling Bill Gates ‘rich’. Only four months after taking control of the White House, President Bush had to lead his country after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil occurred at the World Trade Center in NYC on September 11, 2001. Shortly thereafter, he led the country into war against Iraq, one we are still fighting today. An inevitable result was uncertainty towards the future and a decline in global consumer confidence lead to an economic recession. In an effort to stem the downturn, President Bush issued the largest dollar rate tax cut in world history. The end of Bush’s presidency was categorized by massive national debt and tough economic times for consumers.
Dominating Fashion Trends:
Trendwise, the 2000’s was a bit like Katy Perry; all over the place. From pulling inspiration from blue collar workers, to the birth of leisure wear to disregarding all aesthetic value of footwear, the 2000’s brought some of the most memorable fashion fads:
Trucker Hats- it may have started with actor Ashton Kutcher, but everyone jumped on the bandwagon:
Justin Timberlake and Ashton Kutcher
Velour Track Suits:
Paris Hilton, Repeat Offender
Remember these? I wish I didn’t
Crocs: No one can really explain how an extremely ugly and non functional shoe can spark such a national fanatic base, but suffice it to say, children and parents alike embraced these bright colored clogs:
Kelly Taylor, Dr. Cullen and kids, all in Crocs
Rhianna wearing updated, gray Crocs
Super-chef Mario Batali takes Crocs formal
Test Results: Finding versatility in fashion is definitely a way to be economically conservative and between the tracksuits that take you from bed, to the sofa to the streets, and Crocs coming to the surface as the only shoe that the whole family can agree on (discount for bulk purchase of course), the 2000’s were about the masses mimicking celebrity fashion trends, independent of how attractive or flattering they were.
2009- present President Barack Obama
Oh, where to start. I think we can all agree that the U.S.’s prolonged presence in the Iraq War, the continued high rate of unemployment, the economic recession both here and abroad (Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Iceland and Ireland among others) and an inability to bring consensus in Congress have been a major plague on Obama’s first term. The discontent has lead to some interesting fashion trends:
1. Longer Hemlines:
So the theory goes that when the market is up, minis are the rage and when the market goes down, hemlines get longer. This surely seems to have been true in Fall 2009, 2010 and continue for this Fall 2011:
2010 Look from Louis Vuitton and Celine with Hermes belt
Michelle, Kate and Minnie keep their gams covered
Calf length skirts shown at FW 2011 NY Fashion Week
2. Fur- In 2009, exotic animal pelts started to make an appearance in Fall designer collections either as a spectacular show stopping coat or as a wonderful funnel neck scarf or great hat. Since then, the fur trend has only grown and is now everywhere and applied to any type of apparel or accessory:
Test Results: It isn’t surprising that luxurious products, including furs, see an increase in attention during tough economic times. In fact, luxury apparel has done extremely well during the past three years, with many brands seeing double digit growth. Wait, a bad economy and luxury good sales increase? What gives. Put simply, when the market contracts, consumers either go for high quality, expensive goods or they default to cheap, inexpensive purchases that won’t have a major affect on their bottom line.
As we move into a campaign year to determine the 45th president of the United States, it will be interesting to see how the changing political and economic landscape impacts the fashion trends that are proposed by designers, but ultimately adopted and scaled by the consumer.