How to spot a microtrend – and tips for building a wardrobe that lasts

No, it’s not summer 2003 – it’s 2022, and clothing brand Miu Miu just brought micro mini skirts back into the mainstream.

After every influencer and their dogs were seen donning the tiny, low waisted skirt at the Miu Miu AW22 fashion show last month, copycat barely-there skirts have quickly trickled down into the fast fashion realm.

This isn’t new – in fact, it’s how the fashion industry works.

It’s something we saw happen last summer with the ‘avant basic’ trend, which quickly filtered down from the likes of House of Sunny and Paloma Wool to more affordable brands such as Motel Rocks and PrettyLittleThing.

These items, which featured bright colours, psychedelic patterns and lots of checkerboard prints, were, as journalist Serena Smith put it at the time, ‘dressed up as cult, must-have products on [our] Instagram feeds’.

micro-trends

While there are still remnants of avant basic in this summer’s fashion staples, the trend was quickly discarded for the now-in-favour French girl style or Bridgerton-inspired regencycore.

Again: nothing new.

As trend strategist and author of Break the Internet: In Pursuit of Influence, Olivia Yallop explains, trends go through four phases.

‘[There is] introduction (where a trend is coined by innovators), growth (where a trend is popularised by early adopters), maturity (where a trend is seen amongst the early & late majority), and decline (where laggards interact with it until it dies out from mainstream culture),’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
When trends are seen to cycle through these phases quickly, they become what is known as microtrend (or a fad).

A microtrend, then, ‘is a small, ‘flash in the pan’ fad that is defined by its limited timeframe, limited audience, or limited scope,’ says Olivia.

Buying into microtrends is extremely common, particularly among young people.

New research by online personal stylist service Stitch Fix found that 31% of 18-24 year olds admit buying on a whim based on the latest trend, with 35% of the clothes they own remaining unworn.

This is likely due to social media: ‘The thinking is that thanks to social media and algorithmic culture, the already short life cycle of a microtrend appears to be getting even shorter,’ Olivia explains.

‘On TikTok in particular, microtrends are taking place at greater speed and frequency than ever before – and social-first brands such as Shein are stepping in to both meet and encourage demand.’

Yallop notes a symbiotic relationship between ‘throwaway fashion and throwaway social media content’ – these platforms not only enable microtrends, but champion them.

‘Trends on TikTok equal trends in fast fashion and vice versa,’ she says.

‘It suits platforms to keep the microtrend machine churning, as it aligns with and supports their business model.’

But now, algorithm fashion is wreaking havoc, not just on our wardrobe space, but on the environment, too.

This is because, as Yallop puts it, ‘microtrend products are, by definition, manufactured with planned obsolescence.’

Aja Barber is the author of Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism and a stylist and consultant working at the intersection of sustainability and fashion.

She tells Metro.co.uk that microtrends are ‘one of the root causes of overconsumption.’

‘Once the trend is over, many people no longer want the clothes, which creates a lot of waste,’ Aja says.

That people buy into microtrends without actually thinking about whether they’ll still wear the item when it’s vanished from their For You Page, only to discard them in a dusty pile at the bottom of their wardrobe, means that they cannot be divorced from the climate crisis.

And that’s before mentioning the social and financial pressure such trends place on consumers who are simply trying to keep up.

How to build a wardrobe that will last

Understanding the polluting nature of fast fashion, overconsumption and micro-trends isn’t enough.

It’s important to fight overconsumption in your own life by attempting to build a wardrobe that will last.

This means ditching microtrends (unless you know you’ll wear the item again and again) and buying clothes for you and you only.

Buy clothes based on your personal style, not trends

‘Figuring out your personal style and working with what feels good to you is one way to steer clear of microtrends,’ says Barber.

‘Not every trend is for every one person, but sometimes we get confused because trends are shoved down our throats.’

Next time you’re thinking of buying the latest fashion must-haves, Barber says, take a moment and ask yourself ‘is this me or is this a trend?’.

Buy clothes that fit the rest of your wardrobe

‘Asking yourself if the garment already works well inside your existing wardrobe,’ says Barber.

‘If you have five pieces the trend already goes with, then that’s a winner.

‘But if it sticks out like a sore thumb among your existing clothes, it might not be the piece for you.’

How to try out a microtrend without contributing to over consumption

The above makes perfect sense, unless you’re trying to switch things up, something that should be honoured, especially in your younger years.

Sometimes finding your true style does mean trying new things, and sometimes making mistakes, but if you do want to try a micro-trend, there are more sustainable ways of going about it than simply buying and wasting a product.

Barber suggests:

  • Buying second hand
  • Clothes swapping with a friend
  • Renting an item on a clothing rental site like ByRotation so you can try before you buy

Focus on colours over trends

Finally, instead of opting to follow straight-up trends, Barber suggests focusing on which colours are currently in season.

Colours are much less likely to go out of fashion: the greens and browns that accompanied the avant basic trend, for instance, are still very much thriving.

‘Every season has a new colour palette and sometimes those colours are already in your existing wardrobe,’ she says.

‘Instead of buying something new, look for key colour trends that you already own.

‘Sometimes you don’t need a new item, you just need to mix and match things in a different way.’

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