Roman Mars [00:00:01] Upwork wants to let you in on a little secret. It’s all made up. The 9 to 5 workday. Commuting back and forth. Relocating talent to your corporate headquarters. Why are you still working that way when you could just make up something better? With Upwork, you can change the way you work and hire. Upwork allows you to tap trusted expert talent, so that you can access the right skills at the right time and build your team. Visit upwork.com to get hiring. This is how we work now. Reboot your credit card with Apple Card. Apple Card is the credit card created by Apple. It gives you unlimited cash back every day on every purchase–up to 3%. And you can use that cash right away. No waiting and waiting for rewards. Just daily cash you can use right away on anything. Apply now in the wallet app on your iPhone and start using it right away. Subject to credit approval, daily cash is available via an apple cash card or as a statement credit. See Apple Card Customer Agreement for terms and conditions. Apple Cash Card is issued by Green Dot Bank Number FDIC. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear. For its first two seasons, it existed nestled warmly within the 99% Invisible nest. But for season three, host and producer Avery Trufelman has taken it to new heights as a completely independent production. And I couldn’t be more pleased and proud. This is the only episode of Articles of Interest that we feature, so you have to search for Articles of Interest in your favorite podcast app and subscribe to get the rest of the story, which is a season-long investigation into a particular look that has come back in style again and again and again. And Avery is going to find out why. It is a great honor to present to you Avery Trufelman’s Articles of Interest.
Announcers [00:02:18] Chapter one.
Avery Trufelman [00:02:21] Once upon a time, six years ago, I was given a glimpse of the future. But that future is now the past, so at this point, you’ve seen it, too. Oh, my God. So, these are jeans for 2018. Oh, my God. In 2016, I was allowed to see what blue jeans would look like in 2018 because I was at the office of WGSN–perhaps the world’s largest trend forecasting company. Almost every major brand and retailer consults them.
Sarah Owen [00:02:54] And they’re subscribing to us to kind of get a projection of what to expect in consumer patterns and changes over the next two years.
Avery Trufelman [00:03:02] It was so exciting that trend forecaster Sarah Owen would let me look at WGSN’s website to see the jeans of the future because normally WGSN charges thousands of dollars to look at their predictions. What does WGSN stand for?
Sarah Owen [00:03:18] I’m not sure why because I know we went through some rebranding, and it’s kind of become an acronym that doesn’t really have a meaning.
Avery Trufelman [00:03:24] So that was all from a story I did about WGSN in 2016. And ever since, I’ve been mildly obsessed with this company. It kind of gave me the same feeling as when I was a kid and someone told me what sex was, and I was like, “Is everybody doing this? Is it everywhere, but no one is talking about it?” In the case of WGSN, it turns out, like, yeah, kind of. So many companies do use WGSN. And as I did more and more stories about clothes and fashion, I started asking everyone I spoke to whether or not they consulted it–even this director of menswear at a company that makes Hawaiian shirts. Like, this company makes aloha shirts. The directive seems pretty clear. We all know what aloha shirts are supposed to be. But the design department of this company wants reassurance and a second opinion when they’re seeing silhouettes shift. There’s a big shift happening now because it was huge boxy shirts, right? And that was the norm for a long time, and it started to get smaller and trimmer fit. So, we started to bring our fits in. But now it’s shifting the other way and becoming boxy and oversize again. So sure, everything’s a cycle. That’s a truism. But once I learned about WGSN, I couldn’t help but wonder the role that forecasters play in the trend cycle. Like, if every company is consulting WGSN, is WGSN creating the trends? And then do people buy the trends just because they’re there? Is the tail wagging the dog? I mean, so many people subscribe to WGSN. If you said, you know, clear plastic studs are going to be in style in, you know, 2018, people will probably use them.
Sarah Owen [00:05:08] The chicken or the egg?
Avery Trufelman [00:05:09] Yeah.
Sarah Owen [00:05:09] Yeah, that’s always a hard one because, like I said, we do have some of the most influential and recognizable brands in the world using us. So, if we are giving them that insight and information that they should be doing a certain trend, it’s like, “Did we create it, or was it actually about to come to fruition?” So that’s a hard one to, like, directly answer.
Avery Trufelman [00:05:29] And you would think that I–now, in 2022, as a person of the future–would know the answer. Like, at this point, I could see if WGSN was right about the jeans of 2018. And ever since I did that story, I have periodically been asked what I saw–if the jeans of the future ever came to be. And I have to admit that I absolutely forgot. I don’t remember at all because–I don’t know–a bunch of other stuff came up in the last six years. Oh, my God. So, these are jeans for 2018? Oh, my God. So, everyone’s always like, “Were they right? What are the jeans of the future?” Do you remember? Sarah Owen didn’t remember the jeans of the future either.
Sarah Owen [00:06:17] I don’t remember the visual we looked at, but I can definitely find out.
Avery Trufelman [00:06:21] Sarah is not at WGSN anymore. She went on to found another company–called SOON Future Studies–which takes more of an academic approach to future research. Sarah will write up these long, comprehensive, multi-page, in-depth analyses about everything.
Sarah Owen [00:06:35] What I’ll do–and what we will do on our team–when we’re looking at trends is we’ll always look at it in a context of mega, macro, and micro because that helps you differentiate between what’s kind of a fad and what has longer legs and is really going to make a shift in the world.
Avery Trufelman [00:06:55] Trends often get talked about like fads. But trends and fads are different. Trends are longer than fads. Fads are often a look, or a product, or an idea that gets really popular in a small subset of the population. They hit. And then as quickly as they came, they go away. But a trend has resonance because it hits the zeitgeist. That’s what Sarah Owen says. True trend forecasting is all about connecting micro trends, like clothing, to larger societal shifts, a.k.a. mega trends.
Sarah Owen [00:07:27] The mega framing of the world–which is decades-long–to me, that’s really how you start to kind of talk about trends in the context of the time horizon that they’ll exist in.
Avery Trufelman [00:07:38] So do you want an actual trend report? Do you want to know what the real mega trends are? Here’s your trend report.
Sarah Owen [00:07:46] We are seeing demographic polarization. We are seeing increasing wealth inequality. We are seeing a weakening of global institutions. We are seeing the climate crisis unfold. And then there’s also the mental health crisis. I’m maybe missing a couple, and there’s a lot more.
Avery Trufelman [00:08:03] Are you worried about that? I think a lot of people could look at your macro trends and be like, “Yeah, those are all the things that keep me up at night.”
Avery Trufelman [00:08:09] I think so. In the sense that you’re saying that the mega trends–we’re so in it that they seem obvious. Is that what you mean?
Avery Trufelman [00:08:16] Yeah. Especially if we’re like, “Well, then what is this? What is trend prediction?”
Sarah Owen [00:08:22] Yeah, I mean, I think anyone can identify a trend, whether it’s a mega, macro, or micro. What people can’t do is tell the story or see the context of the marriage of those trifecta coming together. So, yes, you could exist in today’s current climate and feel the burden of the climate crisis. You could suffer from anxiety. You know, you can see and spot the mega trends, but can you understand the connections and the impact? But it’s not saying that “Oh, weakening global institutions means you’re going to be wearing this kind of pattern.” It’s not that clean cut. You can reverse engineer into those stories.
Avery Trufelman [00:09:09] I think a lot of trends are getting reverse engineered right now–or at least some have to be–because there are so many trends right now.
Random Subject 1 [00:09:16] Fairy grunge.
Random Subject 2 [00:09:17] Ballet core.
Random Subject 3 [00:09:18] Weird core. The weird of core.
Random Subject 4 [00:09:20] Let’s talk about the twee aesthetic from the late 2000s.
Avery Trufelman [00:09:23] There are simultaneously more trends than ever. And also, it seems like trends don’t really seem to matter anymore.
Random Subject 5 [00:09:29] Clown core, also known as “Circus Core…”
Random Subject 6 [00:09:31] The pendulum will swing back to indie sleaze hipster in the next couple years.
Avery Trufelman [00:09:36] And this attitude towards trends really does feel different from the first time I talked to Sarah back in 2016. There are just too many trends now. Or maybe there are just more trend forecasters? Sarah says it’s just because there’s so much data.
Sarah Owen [00:09:50] Because you see so much pattern recognition, and connect the dots, and therefore, oh, three’s a trend. You know, there you go. And so, all of a sudden, you could almost reverse engineer anything to be a trend just by the default. There was so much collateral, and data, and research out there, everything is almost a trend in the sense.
Avery Trufelman [00:10:09] This influx of trends creates the illusion that almost nothing is out of trend. Like, there are so many styles happening all at once, you can choose whatever you want, and everything is sort of up for grabs and okay. And as if to prove that point, Sarah Owen did very kindly end up asking a colleague back at WGSN for the Trend Report from 2018. And she sent it to me. And sure enough, there were the jeans of the future that had shocked me so much in 2016. They were wide legged jeans with dark dyed accents on the sides. And it was so funny. I mean, when I first saw these jeans, they did look very new. So much so that I gasped at them. But looking at them now, I was sort of indifferent to them. Those jeans did not look cutting edge, and they did not even look outdated. They didn’t really look like anything to me. They were just another style of pants–another trend in the veritable ocean of trends.
Rachel Tashjian [00:11:10] Everything is a trend. We’re constantly being told that “This is a trend. That is a trend.”
Avery Trufelman [00:11:15] Rachel Tashjian, the fashion news director at Harper’s Bazaar, is tired of talking about trends.
Rachel Tashjian [00:11:20] It’s funny, a lot of what is happening now is not forecasting. It’s really like saying, “Something is already happening.” And a lot of it is because so much of this is manufactured by social media. Like, by its nature, social media encourages trends and encourages many people to act in a similar way. They’re all sort of meaningless because there are so many of them. It’s like grains of sand or something. I would say probably the only real trend right now is, like, trendiness itself.
Avery Trufelman [00:11:51] So I’ve been reading a lot of trend-forecasting books, and a number of them have said that a lot of trends come with countertrends. And that’s different from a backlash. A countertrend just means that two opposing trends can be in at the same time. They’re just opposite reactions to the same set of circumstances. So, minimalism can be in at the same time as consumerism. 24/7 connectivity can be in at the same time as the desire to disconnect and go live in the woods. And so, while trendiness itself might be a trend, I think there is a countertrend–a trend that turns away from trends entirely. And there’s a look that goes with it. Well, it seems like it’s a reaction to trends. It seems like people are tired, like you are, and they’re like, “Yeah. These are trendless clothes.”
Rachel Tashjian [00:12:51] Right. I definitely think there’s something to it.
Avery Trufelman [00:12:54] I think I do have an idea of what we will be wearing in the future. It’s a style so obvious that I didn’t realize it was a style at all. Americans have been wearing some version of this style since the early days of our nation–and this look has since been exported all around the world. And I think we will continue to wear some version of this look going forward. And I think I know why. But I am going to need to use the entirety of this season of Articles of Interest to tell you.
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Avery Trufelman [00:16:51] It is so tempting to point to a trend forecasting company, like WGSN, and be like, “Aha! See? Trends are a conspiracy.” But WGSN is just one company–one of many. And ultimately, as much as designers and manufacturers can follow WGSN’s lead and obey their predictions, the clothes still have to be purchased for them to actually make them in-trend. They need to find their way into stores and retailers for them to be successful. Which means the clothes need to be selected by someone like Peter.
Peter [00:17:25] I’m an apparel buyer–a men’s apparel buyer.
Avery Trufelman [00:17:29] At the time I talked to Peter–in the spring of 2022–Peter worked for a very big online fashion retailer. And his job was to determine what this massive online shop would stock and what would actually be available for the consumer to buy.
Peter [00:17:42] I am pitching my trends for fall ’22 right now.
Avery Trufelman [00:17:48] And of course, Peter was not judging whatever he would want to stock. He had to think of what the consumer would be likely to purchase–what is in trend–what is connected to larger, impactful forces in greater society. And so, it seemed counterintuitive that in spring of 2022, Peter would show me a book from 1965.
Peter [00:18:11] It’s an English translation of the 1965 book Take Ivy.
Avery Trufelman [00:18:18] Take Ivy was an anthropological study of what the students on Ivy League college campuses wore in 1965. This English translation of the book didn’t come out until 2010, and I’m pretty sure around that time I encountered it for sale at a J. Crew.
Peter [00:18:33] Originally, it’s published in Japanese for the Japanese market.
Avery Trufelman [00:18:37] Take Ivy is mostly pictures of beautiful young white men walking to and from class, lounging in archways, going to sports practice–and you lose track of which college is which, and it all blends into a beautiful, mid-century, homoerotic American dream. But it’s actually quite comprehensive as a culture study.
Peter [00:18:55] So there are short essays about Ivy League students and culture. There are these miniature glossaries about different apparel terms–about the colleges themselves. Like, it talks a lot about the architecture of the schools, about how large the campuses are, how students need bicycles, that kind of thing, to inform the conversation that it’s having about dress.
Avery Trufelman [00:19:23] And my God, how to explain how these college guys are dressed.
Jason Diamond [00:19:29] Ivy-style is kind of difficult to explain.
Avery Trufelman [00:19:32] Jason Diamond is a writer and contributor to GQ.
Jason Diamond [00:19:35] I just tell people, “You start with this book called Take Ivy.”
Avery Trufelman [00:19:38] And in Take Ivy, they are wearing khakis.
Peter [00:19:42] Like, loafers and, like, a pair of madras shorts.
Avery Trufelman [00:19:45] And chunky-knit sweaters and sweater vests.
Jason Diamond [00:19:47] There’s a guy with a blazer and a collared shirt, but it’s not like a collared shirt that you’d wear with a suit.
Avery Trufelman [00:19:53] It’s Ivy-style.
Jason Diamond [00:19:55] It just looks so neat to me.
Avery Trufelman [00:19:56] It’s kind of a variation on the style more commonly known as preppy. Although some real diehard fashion nerds are definitely going to get mad at me for calling Ivy “preppy.”
Jason Diamond [00:20:07] Because some people say, “Oh, well, Ivy and preppy are totally different.” And I don’t really think they are.
Avery Trufelman [00:20:13] Why not?
Jason Diamond [00:20:15] I just think they’re one developed from the other.
Avery Trufelman [00:20:17] Describing the difference between Ivy and preppy is like parsing the difference between rock and roll and rock. There is a difference, but it’s mostly a matter of chronology. So, for now, I’m going to use the terms Ivy and preppy interchangeably.
Jason Diamond [00:20:30] It’s all about evolution. It’s like if you want to, like, say, “Ivy,” “preppy,” whatever, technically you are talking about going back to that book. That’s like, again, the bible for this.
Avery Trufelman [00:20:44] So Take Ivy is an amazing document because these guys really look fantastic. And it’s not for the clothes themselves. The garments are pretty conservative. It’s about how the students are wearing this stuff.
Jason Diamond [00:20:58] So you have these guys who come from these, like, really well-to-do, upper crust, white families, and they’re kind of going out of their way to dress down a little bit. But it looks kind of cool. So, it’s sort of anti-style without even being anti-style.
Avery Trufelman [00:21:14] Because these guys are making some choices!
Rachel Tashjian [00:21:17] You know, rolling up the sleeves, like, layering shirts over other shirts, layering shirts over sweaters.
Avery Trufelman [00:21:23] Rachel Tashjian is all about it.
Rachel Tashjian [00:21:25] To me, the best part about this clothing is, like, layering the things and rolling things up in a strange way. You know, there are such great images of these guys going to crew practice and they’re wearing, like, sweaters and shorts–like, athletic shorts–or they have chinos on, but they’re rolling them up because they’re getting into the water. That sort of style that comes from utility–and this kind of self-creation–that’s what makes it really fun.
Avery Trufelman [00:21:58] And that’s what the Japanese authors of Take Ivy are so fascinated by. They keep coming back to this one point over and over again–like, “Wow, these kids aren’t even trying. They’re just tossing these things on. And yet they each look so unique, and good, and different from each other.”
Rachel Tashjian [00:22:13] That’s what the clothing is about. That’s why Take Ivy is so popular–because you see people given the same limited palette who are doing these ridiculous things. You know, there are really strange choices made by the people wearing those clothes, especially in that book.
Jason Diamond [00:22:32] That’s why I tell people I go back to the book–I go back to take Ivy because you look at these guys and they’re not trying. That’s it. If you’re not trying and you look cool, you’re cool. Like, I can’t really fight that.
Avery Trufelman [00:22:44] And so Take Ivy is kind of a cult classic, especially for menswear nerds. It’s kind of helped define what mid-century-style was. And it’s become sort of the definitive record because no American would have thought to photograph and observe all of this. Only someone visiting from another country would have bothered to catalog and recognize this look so thoroughly.
Peter [00:23:03] It was funny to me to read about this writer’s experience of men in loafers without socks on and how subversive and rebellious he found that.
Avery Trufelman [00:23:19] Peter, the men’s wear buyer, says the authors of Take Ivy really nail it on the subtext. They know that this is not a look about dressing appropriately for the occasion of learning–that what these students are really playing with are markers of class.
Peter [00:23:34] They’re, like, cutting denim into shorts. They’re cutting the sleeves off of a sweatshirt. They’re walking barefoot between classes. And that was such an interesting tension for me between, like, these markers of obvious wealth–but that the real signposts, at least for these people writing this book, are those things that suggest the opposite, right? Like this kind of uncaringness.
Avery Trufelman [00:24:02] But it’s not like you would look at these clothes and be like, “Hey, everyone looks really good. The stuff is still in style.”
Peter [00:24:09] Well, this very much is.
Avery Trufelman [00:24:12] Peter pointed at a coral-colored cardigan. And then he went through Take Ivy methodically and pointed out–
Peter [00:24:17] Tweeds, the tartans…
Avery Trufelman [00:24:19] All the other items that were similar to what he was intending to purchase for fall 2022.
Peter [00:24:24] This kind of loafer. This I just bought from “bleeped” brand for fall ’22.
Avery Trufelman [00:24:32] No way.
Peter [00:24:33] Yeah, this is still very much a part of the conversation. Preppy comes back in and out. Yeah.
Avery Trufelman [00:24:43] You agree that it’s a trend right now–the preppy thing?
Sarah Owen [00:24:47] Yes. Very much so. Oh, my God, so much so.
Avery Trufelman [00:24:51] Of course, I asked Sarah Owen for her trend forecaster take.
Sarah Owen [00:24:54] You do see the manifestation of preppy clothing coming through the mainstream, for sure. If I had to start to cross analyze why–on the spot–thanks, Avery…
Avery Trufelman [00:25:10] It might be about wanting some control in the world.
Sarah Owen [00:25:12] Very controlled aesthetic. Like, it’s very put together, and it seems to kind of have this visual cue of being, “Oh, I’ve got my shit together.”
Avery Trufelman [00:25:23] Or it could be because, as Sarah says, looking educated is in and being smart is sexy.
Sarah Owen [00:25:29] We saw that when we thought about the changing face of influences and how we saw influences five, ten years ago being very lifestyle, and fashion, and aesthetic driven. And now it’s more about, like, “Who’s got opinion? Who’s an expert? Who’s that psychologist you follow? Who’s that engineer you follow on Twitter?”
Avery Trufelman [00:25:49] Right. People want to learn things on TikTok.
Sarah Owen [00:25:50] Yeah, like, people are hungry for knowledge in a world of fake news and misinformation.
Avery Trufelman [00:25:55] But do note that Sarah did not give what I thought would be the most obvious answer, which is that dressing Ivy makes you look rich. It makes you look like you went to private school, and you have no debt. It makes you look like you can pop into the lobby of the Yale Club with no eyebrows raised–like you know how to ride a horse–which, in 2022, makes no sense that it would be in-trend.
Derek Guy [00:26:18] I just don’t think that the social connotations of Ivy are easy to swallow.
Avery Trufelman [00:26:27] Derek Guy writes for Put This On and his own website, Die, Workwear!
Derek Guy [00:26:31] People do not necessarily want to dress like these people, so–
Avery Trufelman [00:26:34] These people being?
Derek Guy [00:26:36] Basically, like, rich, white people. Old money people. So, it’s hard to sell that image when we’re a little bit more politically aware of what are some of the darker sides of that world.
Avery Trufelman [00:26:49] Right. But if Ivy is indeed back, maybe that means it’s no longer the look of rich, white people. Maybe the meaning of the look is shifting or has shifted.
Rachel Tashjian [00:27:02] I think what a lot of fashion is is convincing people of things through imagery. It’s not necessarily making a great product.
Avery Trufelman [00:27:12] Rachel Tashjian of Harper’s Bazaar again.
Rachel Tashjian [00:27:15] A lot of designers really are stylists, right? They’re not necessarily inventing or creating new clothes. There are very few who actually can do that.
Avery Trufelman [00:27:25] Just, like, finding an entirely new way to, like, cover a shoulder or something.
Rachel Tashjian [00:27:29] Exactly.
Avery Trufelman [00:27:30] Essentially, these days, trends are less about, like, “miniskirts are in” or “skinny ties are out.” I mean, to some degree, this can be true. But more often, looks are not about individual garments. And they’re more about a vibe.
Derek Guy [00:27:45] I think of outfits not so much as artistic expression but social language. So, when people put together an outfit, I think of it as in, like, writing a sentence.
Avery Trufelman [00:27:53] An outfit is a sentence that says, “This is what I’m doing today. This is what the weather is. This is who I am.” So as menswear writer Derek Guy puts it, a lot of mainstream fashion references archetypes–the punk, the cowboy, the raver, the blue-collar worker. These are frames of references that already exist. And you can tell subtly–even if you don’t overtly name it–if a jacket is sort of workwear-looking, or western-looking, or biker-looking. Implicitly, you sort of know if you’re dressed up like a businessperson, or a bohemian, or an intellectual, or whatever–like normcore or coastal grandma–whatever the new archetype might be.
Derek Guy [00:28:36] You can’t be a completely new thing. You can’t just introduce a random word and then expect it to catch on. It has to be a way that people can fit into the way they use language.
Avery Trufelman [00:28:45] If you were to leave the house wearing, say, a feather boa with a fireman’s jacket, it wouldn’t send a clear message. It’s also why something totally new on a runway looks ridiculous–to the point where it almost doesn’t register and you’re like, “Whatever. That’s weird.” Because it’s a totally new thing. It’s illegible.
Derek Guy [00:29:03] You know, Noam Chomsky says you can make up this random sentence.
Avery Trufelman [00:29:06] Noam Chomsky created this sentence that’s grammatically correct.
Derek Guy [00:29:10] But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Avery Trufelman [00:29:12] “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” That’s what it’s like if you’re wearing a fireman’s jacket and a feather boa. You can wear clothes, but sometimes they don’t make sense together.
Derek Guy [00:29:23] Because you have to communicate with people. And I think dress is very much the same way. People dress in a way to communicate certain messages, so that sentence has to make sense–has to communicate something.
Avery Trufelman [00:29:33] So this is part of why commercial mainstream fashion tends to stay within the symbols and the messages we already know. When clothing is understandable, it references a world and a set of meanings, even if we don’t consciously realize it. And so, I think for a long time, a lot of us have been dressing in reference to one particular world. I think a lot of us have been dressing like college students.
Derek Guy [00:30:02] Everybody wears Ivy because there’s a certain section of Ivy that’s just clothes. Flat front chinos–it’s just clothes. An Oxford button down is just a dress shirt. It’s just what people wear.
Avery Trufelman [00:30:14] This is why no one calls it “Ivy” and no one really uses the word “preppy.” Now, these clothes are mostly called “classics” or “basics.”
Derek Guy [00:30:25] So these things have become so popular and so consumed by everybody that they are no longer an esthetic. They’re just clothing. So, it’s difficult to say whether or not Ivy’s going to come back because…
Avery Trufelman [00:30:37] It’s here.
Derek Guy [00:30:38] It’s here. It’s just canon. It’s just what people wear. It’s just clothing.
Avery Trufelman [00:30:43] They’re just standard. They’re not the clothing of a subculture. It is the clothing of the dominant culture. And Ivy has gotten to this place because it has weathered massive mega trends in culture. Like, not only has it survived trends, it has survived trends in how trends themselves have operated. But I’ll tell you what I mean after the break.
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Avery Trufelman [00:34:29] When you think about clothing as a language that needs to be registered and understood, it makes sense that groups of people would all want to use the same words and slang–that people would dress in similar ways and they wouldn’t want to just be like, “Blah–colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” And it makes me think that trends are not some sort of conspiracy of magazines, and social media, and WGSN–that maybe trends are, to a degree, something innate in human culture, a way we know how to follow each other and move within our time.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:35:02] I mean, spring blossoms come out, and everyone is suddenly aware of new life and the presence of spring. And that’s associated with different colors. And we’re all feeling that collectively together because we’re living in a world that changes every day. And we’re all responding to those changes together.
Avery Trufelman [00:35:19] Sofi Thanhauser is the author of Worn: A People’s History of Clothing.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:35:24] And I think sometimes the corrosive feeling part of trends is that they’re so aggressively capitalized on. But I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with the way we feel things in unison sometimes. I was in Wyoming a few years ago, and I went to this bluegrass jam. And you could participate. And I had a guitar with me, and I just came, and I was wondering how everybody knew when to do the chord changes. And I didn’t understand how, but being in the circle, you could just feel, “Oh, it’s time to change.” And I think it’s sometimes like that with trends. Obviously, it can be brutal, too. I mean, I remember junior high and the way trends happened–it wasn’t fun. It was just survival.
Avery Trufelman [00:36:09] Trends can be vicious. And they can be a weapon of mass consumer culture. But as much as I would like to accuse trends of being a byproduct of capitalism, I think trends are larger than that. There were, of course, trends under feudalism. In the court of Louis the 14th, high end fashion trends were there. They were just very strictly dictated by the monarch.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:36:31] And the deal was, you can’t wear silk after such and such a date. You have to switch over from winter fabrics to summer fabrics on this date, no questions asked.
Avery Trufelman [00:36:42] Because trends were set by the king–know wondering where they came from–you had to keep up with trends as a show of obedience and patriotism. Louis would change fashions every season as an active way to help the French textile industry.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:36:56] Yeah, so Lyon was the center of silk making at that time. And the silk makers in Lyon change patterns every year, so that it’s obvious if you’re wearing last year’s silk.
Avery Trufelman [00:37:09] But in the transition from feudalism to capitalism–when suddenly there were no more strict overt rules about what’s wear and there were no longer permanently affixed stations in the court–suddenly you couldn’t tell what class someone was by what they wore.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:37:23] Once the noblewoman is no longer the only one allowed to wear silk–for instance, if the rich lawyer’s wife can also wear silk–then the noblewoman has to wear her silk dress in a way that cannot be imitated by the lawyer’s wife. So then, of course, the lawyer’s wife wants to have that. And so, then the aristocratic woman has to move on, and it becomes more and more rapid.
Avery Trufelman [00:37:47] And this became sort of the 19th century definition of how trends start and spread.
Derek Guy [00:37:53] If the elites are wearing something, then you want to dress like the elites.
Avery Trufelman [00:37:57] Derek Guy again.
Derek Guy [00:37:59] Just because you want to portray yourself as being of a better status.
Avery Trufelman [00:38:02] So that whole trickle-down theory doesn’t entirely hold up now, which I’ll get into. But it is the most simple manifestation of what trends are at their core, which is a ripple effect of imitation. At their root, trends come from the tension between wanting to stand out and wanting to fit in. Both desires have to be present for trends to disseminate because if everyone wanted to stand out, we’d all be just dressed in our own weird nonsense way, like colorless green ideas sleep furiously. And if we all wanted to dress the same, we’d just wear little uniforms, and that would be that.
Derek Guy [00:38:37] Fashion is both your desire to project yourself as an individual within a group but also say that you are part of a group to outsiders.
Avery Trufelman [00:38:47] So most early 20th century writings about trend dissemination use these ideas of an in-group and an outgroup based almost entirely around class and economics. And class is at play in trend dissemination, but it’s really not as clear cut as trickle-down effect anymore.
Derek Guy [00:39:02] It’s no longer the case that you just want to dress like rich people. Rich people might want to dress like artists, and artists might take inspiration from the working class. Some people might take their fashion sense from the working class that’s not even existing today. They might take it from, like, 1930s, or 1940s, or whatever. So, I think class plays a role, but it’s not as simple as who owns money. It’s more like who has social capital. It’s not necessarily financial capital.
Avery Trufelman [00:39:27] It’s clout.
Derek Guy [00:39:28] Yeah, it’s clout. Yeah.
Avery Trufelman [00:39:30] Because in the mid-twentieth century, there was this shift from wanting to look rich to wanting to look cool. That nebulous, unknowable, undefinable thing that you really only know when you see it. And that’s what the Japanese authors of Take Ivy loved about Ivy. It wasn’t because they wanted to look American, or look rich, or look like they went to Harvard. They just thought Ivy clothes were cool. And I guess they are. I guess they are a bit cool. I just didn’t recognize them as a look at all.
Jason Diamond [00:40:04] My wife always makes fun of me. She’s like, “Why do you have so many navy blazers, like the Brooks Brothers?” I’m like, “Navy just looks good. You can wear it with pretty much anything.”
Sofi Thanhauser [00:40:13] A button down shirt sort of looks great on everyone.
Derek Guy [00:40:16] Ivy was also this kind of development of this, like, middle class uniform that masked class, to some degree, so that the bosses and the employees dress the same.
Sofi Thanhauser [00:40:25] Part of the experience for preppy women’s wear–like, it’s the act of borrowing from the boys–that is still essential to the style.
Jason Diamond [00:40:35] Martin Luther King. He’s kind of got this, like, preppy look. Or look at a picture of Allen Ginsberg, and he’s kind of got this preppy look. Or Jack Kerouac–they all have a little bit of preppy in them. There is something sort of rebellious about this, and you don’t have to be a member of the Young Republicans Club to dress this way.
Derek Guy [00:40:51] It was the uniform of Black jazz musicians. It was the uniform of people who didn’t even go to college. It was just an American look.
Avery Trufelman [00:41:03] And yet Take Ivy is ultimately a vision of America that does not exist anymore and maybe never did.
Derek Guy [00:41:13] If you go to Harvard, and Princeton, and Yale, the majority of students are not dressed like this. When Ivy was written, the majority of students were also not dressed like this.
Avery Trufelman [00:41:22] Because take Ivy–that Bible, that reference, that cult classic authority on what this look is–turned out to be not exactly true.
Derek Guy [00:41:34] They, like, staged this whole thing for the book. So that world died a long, long time ago.
Avery Trufelman [00:41:40] Take Ivy, as you will come to learn in the course of this story, was made as a form of propaganda. For the company that published this book, there were very high stakes to make the Japanese public think that Americans dress this way–which, like, sure, some Americans used to dress this way. But it was once a very small, very elite world. And that style should have died out or disappeared entirely at various points in history. But against all odds, Ivy has been reincarnated over and over again. To the point where, I think, it will never quite go away.
Sarah Owen [00:42:21] But for now, it’s really hard to say what the future holds for that. Like, I would have to spend three months kind of analyzing the macro landscape to understand what preppy will look like in two years, where will it resonate, and things like that.
Avery Trufelman [00:42:40] I think I might be doing that. In fact, I did do that. So, this is my trend report. Let’s take Ivy. Articles of Interest is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX. It is written, cut, and performed by Avery Trufelman. Kelly Prime edits the scripts and makes them make sense. Ian Coss does mixing, mastering, and sound design. Jessica Suriano checks all the facts. The logo art is by Helen Shewolfe Tseng with photo by Matty Lynn Barnes. The theme songs are by Sasami, with a collegiate reinterpretation by the Beelzebubs, the Tufts University a cappella group. Additional Music by me and Rhae Royal, whose work you can find at rhaedawn.com. Special thanks this episode to Zach Fischman and Sai Sion. And gratitude forever to Roman Mars.
Roman Mars [00:43:53] You can and should subscribe to Articles of Interest wherever you get your podcasts. 99% invisible is Delaney Hall, Kurt Kohlstedt, Vivian Le, Christopher Johnson, Emmett Fitzgerald, Swan Real, Chris Berube Lasha Madan, Jayson De Leo, Martín Gonzalez, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Sofia Klatzker, intern Olivia Green, and me, Roman Mars. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora building… in beautiful uptown… Oakland, California. Keep up with us at 99pi.org.