Lawrence Laundry: How trends catch on

I recently found myself sitting around a table of entomologists. I walked into a friend of a friend’s cozy home on a Sunday afternoon and shimmied up to the table with 10 others to eat authentic, homemade Filipino food.

Because I was the only writer among a table of scientists, I found myself explaining a bit about my job. If you’ve never described fashion writing to 10 self-proclaimed nerds, let me tell you, it’s more than a little intimidating.

I followed their conversation on why we should only speak in Latin terms (I think they were halfway joking) with why stripes are going to be popular in the spring (I was dead serious).

I’ll be honest with you: To some, fashion seems superficial. It seems inconsequential. It seems, well, kind of pointless.

And for some, style might be inconsequential. There are those who choose to express themselves using other methods or art forms. Some use their words; some use their work; some use their homes or cars; most use their actions.

All use some combination of these vehicles, but many — at least in part — use their clothes. And therefore, for many, style is very consequential.

We can accept that style and fashion are certain people’s individual art forms, but the question of how style matters on a macro level came to me as I sat around the entomologists’ table.

I’ve wrestled with why New York Fashion Week, the week that broadcasts the next season’s greatest trends, brings in $865 million to New York’s economy every year. I’ve wondered why people are attracted to the same things at one time. I’ve pondered on what makes a certain style element become trendy and cool.

And while it might be iniquitous to equate health and social epidemics with the latest trends presented by the editor of Vogue, I can’t help but think that they’re not all that different.

There has to be a reason that Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer of The New Yorker magazine and 2005 pick for Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, has written about fashion and “coolness” as well as crime statistics, health epidemics and smoking rates. I don’t mean to associate them in terms of importance to humanity, but all these topics, as offered by Gladwell, are in some way based around this idea of trendiness.

While I’m not prepared to give an expository on how certain health epidemics are started, Gladwell offers this insight about smoking rates in his book “The Tipping Point”: “Smoking was never cool. Smokers are cool.”

This idea of people being behind the trends instead of trends standing on their own could explain why trends as arbitrary as cupcakes, ironic moustaches and, of all animals, owls have been popular for the past couple seasons.

Cupcakes aren’t cool. The people making and eating cupcakes are. People aren’t cool because they eat cupcakes. Cupcakes are cool because cool people eat them.

So do trends matter? And more specifically, do fashion trends matter? Should we care about these passing crazes?

I would argue yes, we should care. Not because we want to be cool, not even because these trends in fashion will have long-lasting significance on our lives.

We should know them, appreciate them and jump on board with the ones we like because they transcend clothes and are very much a part of the American way, at least for the season.

— Ali Edwards can be reached at


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