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From Subculture to Mainstream

Pear shapes, apple bottoms, and clothes that accentuate these fruity figures were once looked down upon by the mainstream. These standards of beauty were really only valued by “us folk.” The ability to create our own standard of beauty and style speaks not just to the oppressive systems that made it necessary but to our ability to thrive and create when the larger socio-cultural system did not recognise our value.

No longer relegated to certain neighbourhoods or alternative media, urban and mainstream fashion have merged. The days of a few fashion magazines telling us dos and don’ts are no more. Now we are influenced by a wider range of magazines, sites, and influencers who look like us; and we can make our own rules and determine for ourselves what qualifies as fashion or style.  This is great but it also comes with greater responsibility.

Shift in Mainstream Culture

As is common in a democratic society, we all have a right to express ourselves through fashion. You might see someone outside in their PJ’s or in a designer gown complete with opera gloves. There is no longer a consensus of what constitutes good style, and with the democratisation of style you may very well be praised for wearing something that has traditionally been known as bad taste if you have enough social power to do so.

While we have an omnipresent media to keep us informed, we can get swept up in other peoples’ styles. And when everyone’s clothing choices seem cool and of-the-moment, it can feel like no one’s does. So the challenge becomes how do we create individual style with such an overwhelming amount of media?

I think we can look to Black and other historically marginalised style makers whose sense of style reflected a unique self-expression that developed within a very specific sociocultural context. Eighties hip-hop artists donned the styles of their communities; and amplified trends like door-knocker earrings and Addidas sneakers’, forever altering the mainstreams’ perception of desirable dress (think suits with sneakers). And in the 60’s, the afro exploded into a whole socio-political discourse about beauty and acceptable dress. And somehow, the decision to embrace one’s own “natural hair” became a symbol of strength and courage.  

According to psychology, behaviour can be explained by some combination of environment, genetics, and psychology. Thus, these style makers may have been influenced by mainstream and subcultures, predispositions to certain styles, and their distinctive ways of interpreting it to create something unique. So how can we create individual style within our unique sociocultural system?  We may not be able to alter our environment and genetics, but we can have some control over our psychology. Here is how psychology can help us hone our individual style.

Using Clothes to Communicate a Specific Message to Others

Research shows that fashion communicates a message to others. And we interact using clothing symbols that guide our behaviour. So wearing a wedding gown typically means marriage, or wearing a bathing suit typically means swimming.  Are we aware of the clothing symbols attached to our clothing? Love it or hate it— leggings once worn only for workouts or around the house have now become a legitimate part of the outfit. It may be seen as sexy by some, and as lewd by others. And you will have to have enough cultural intelligence to know what to wear when in order to communicate the message you intend.

One theory proposes that people attach specific meanings to appearance cues, or parts of the outfit that stand out. And they use these cues to make inferences about other people. For instance, large hoop earrings may signal spicy, sexy, or sassy while studs may say something more understated. Are you aware of your appearance cues? What stands out on your outfit— the colour, a shape, a piece of jewellery? What message does it send? Consider the look you want to convey and determine which look closely matches that.

Using Clothes Communicate a Specific Message to Yourself

Our fashion choices not only send messages to others but to ourselves as well. Research shows that the meanings we attach to our clothing are validated by others’ responses. So if your pants suit says you’re about business, and people respond to you with a certain reverence, then your message is validated; and will reinforce your perception of yourself as someone to be taken seriously.

Studies also show clothing we wear triggers us to act differently depending on the symbolic meaning the clothes has for us. What symbolic meaning do your clothes hold for you? Do you feel good because you are wearing shoes you saw X celebrity wear? Many of us are driven by the emotional experience that occurs when we wear something we saw on someone we admire. 

We feel peer validation by evoking the image through our clothing; and this reinforces positive feelings about ourselves. It is through this process that clothing as symbols are strengthened. And the more we are aware of it, the more we can be in control of our style choices rather than feel controlled and overwhelmed by them.

Our clothes undoubtedly hold huge importance in our lives. Not only do we wear them every day but they allow us to portray different aspects of our personalities, depending on the situations we find ourselves in. However, our clothes may not only reveal truths about our personality traits, but our wardrobes can also indicate what sort of shopping habits we engage in. Using Fashion Psychology research we’ve created a quiz to help you discover what type of shopper you are, to help you learn more about yourself and make informed shopping choices!

Well, what are you waiting for?

Take our quiz!

It is no secret that our society is dictated by prejudices and discriminatory behaviours that we may not even be aware we are endorsing. Unfortunately amongst many others, the fashion industry reflects a ‘white privilege’ and it has even been suggested that ‘racism is at the heart of fast fashion’. A single glance up your local Highstreet or quick google search makes it immediately evident that the vast majority of both affordable and high-end designers are white and accommodate primarily white individuals. Little further reflection will also reveal how utterly absurd this underrepresentation is. Since when did, or should, the colour of someone’s skin determine their creativity, talent or potential? 

These attitudes are incredibly damaging to current and aspiring fashion professionals, but by simply becoming more aware of who we choose to buy from, real differences can begin to emerge.

With this in mind, we have created a collection of 22 black-owned brands that we believe deserve a little more love. There should be something to suit all styles and budgets, so consumers at every level can experience the fashion industry’s hidden talents.

Affordable

Offering non-toxic, cruelty-free nail-polishes that are individually made, 516 Polish is an ethical, sustainable brand. They pioneer ‘swatch diversity’ by providing product samples on a variety of skin tones and have specially formulated products that complement customers of all ethnicities. 

Boucléme creates British-based, cruelty-free and plant-based products that enhance natural curls. Their easy-to-follow 3-step regime encourages women to feel empowered rather than embarrassed by their curls. 

Selling sunglasses and jewellery that are inspired by North African heritage, this accessories label aims to create trendy yet timeless pieces.

Founded in a small New York apartment, Fanm Djanm (meaning ‘strong women’) is an accessory-based store best known for its bright and bold headwraps. Each piece is handmade in Brooklyn using sustainably sourced fabrics.

Cruelty-free cosmetics inspired by 80s and 90s music culture are what MDM Flow are best known for. From multi-use ‘glossy pots’, to lip products in a range of natural and experimental shades, this beauty brand has the potential to create fun, fresh and funky looks that take you from day to night. 

Selling beautifully crafted yet affordable 14k gold-plated jewellery, Saint Kojo is a hidden gem. If the elegant aesthetic is enough, they also use a portion of profits to educate and empower disadvantaged women in Africa. 

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✨✨✨ 📸 :@jenloumeredith

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This London-based brand celebrates diversity through it’s simple yet sexy garments that represent individuals of all ethnicities. At its heart, Sincerely Nude hopes to ‘break stereotypes one shade at a type’ by raising the awareness and accessibility of a more inclusive industry.

Vitae London incorporates ‘minimalist watch design with maximal social justice’. Working closely with charities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, each watch purchase provides a child with life-changing educational supplies. Their classic designs come in a range of metal colours and materials to create a bespoke timepiece. 

Premium

Andrea Iyamah is a clothing line ‘inspired by nature, inspired by colour, ethnic cultures, nature and design elements that stay true to creating authentic clothing’. Started by Nigerian designer Dumebi Iyamah at the age of 17, it hopes to modernise and embrace traditional African cuts and colours to create unique garments that make a statement.

Nalé’s designers are inspired by different aspects of travel, culture or the simplistic beauties of everyday living. This luxury womenswear brand is characterised by its appreciation of diversity, allowing consumers to learn about cultures all over the world.

Nubian Skin provides lingerie, hosiery and swimwear that aims to cater for consumers of all skin tones. Their founder Ade Hassan, MBE wanted to redefine the industry’s narrow representation of ‘nude’ undergarments, which seemed to disregard a significant proportion of the market – most notably women of colour.

Edgy streetwear in bold patterns and prints are at the core of Phlemuns. For those who want to elevate their everyday pieces and invest in stand-out sweats, their collections will not fail to make a statement.

Starting in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, Sacha Cosmetics values the ethnic diversity of their consumers. They aim to formulate high-quality products for all individuals, regardless of race. Something all beauty brands should aim to do too.

Blending contemporary and traditional techniques, Tihara Smith is a recent graduate who creates fun and fresh fashion accessories. Inspired by her Caribbean heritage and London upbringing, Tihara creates unique pieces that allow her customers to carry a piece of the Caribbean with them.

Luxury

Aurora James founded this luxury accessory company in 2013 to help maintain traditional African designs and techniques. Each piece is inspired by an aspect of different cultures worldwide, ensuring a range of heritage styles are kept alive within the fashion industry. Using traditional practices in the production process, Brother Vellies ensures artisanal jobs are sustained and the manual craftsmanship involved is still acknowledged.

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Tyla Sandals • Summertime fine 🤎🦢

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With an array of luxury ready-to-wear and bridal women’s wear, Cushnie has something to offer the modern woman for every occasion. Designer Carly Cushnie creates timeless, minimalistic pieces with a fine attention to detail, all of which encourage women to feel both elegant and powerful.

Described as “a contemporary Ready-to-Wear apparel line for Women Without Limits”, Hanifa designs each of its garments with women of all shapes and sizes in mind. Ruffles, ruching, pleats and puffy sleeves best describe the brand’s aesthetic which collectively form figure-flattering, femeine and elegant pieces that undoubtedly suit every type of body.  

In recognition of the nude-shoe market’s poor diversity, Kahmune was formed. The luxury footwear is constructed from sourced, premium Italian leather, making their shoes a life-long investment. Each piece is available in 10 shades which are inspired by the global ethnic diversity, allowing every customer to find their staple nude shoe.  

Mateo New York is a fine jewellery designer founded by self-taught Matthew Harris who was born and raised in Montenegro Bay, Jamaica. Describing their collections as having an ‘aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism’, their collections are designed with modern women and art in mind. With the delicate use of diamonds, pearls and precious stones each piece conveys a sense of natural elegance.

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🌸 🌸🌸🌸🌸

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Specialising in ready-to-wear and bespoke jumpsuits, Rebecca Tembo ensures each client has a personalised, luxury shopping experience. All pieces are made one at a time using sustainable methods. She also founded The Entry, a course which aims to help aspiring start-up designers to build their brand and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Established in 2005 by Telfar Clemens, an undergraduate student born to Liberian parents in New York, Telfar is a pioneer of unisex fashion. Driven by its core value of inclusivity, the fashion brand is known to promote contemporary garments in ways that stand against the fashion industry’s historical discrimination and misrepresentation of non-white ethnicites.

The Folklore is an online concept store that sells a limited selection of pieces from African designers in order to promote their work and improve their financial success. Their curated collections represent ‘the diversity of Africa’s contemporary urban landscapes and design aesthetic’ and allow people online access to the African fashion industry that previously relied primarily on remote, local selling. If you’re after a one-of-a-kind piece, this is the place to look. 

What are your favourite Black-owned businesses? Comment below or tweet us @fashionispsychology

All dressed up with nowhere to go. That’s been me at least once per week since lockdown started. On this blog, we’ve gone on and on about the power of comfort dressing. One of the (very) few good things this pandemic has given us is the ability to be comfortable daily. However, and I can’t stress this enough, giving up the glam life is not recommended. 

Read more: Can loungewear make you better at your job?

Your clothes can help you experience different realities

Although we are limited by things like cultural norms and money, your clothes are still a powerful tool of self-expression. They can help you enhance certain aspects of your identity and even embrace traits you never knew existed in you. You should think of your clothes as a roadmap that helps you navigate these different realities but what you may not know is that your clothes can also help you escape your current reality. 

We’re currently living through one of the most trying times of our lives. Around the globe, people have lost their jobs, their loved ones and any sense of normalcy due to COVID-19. You may be trying to simply get on with it but it’s important to develop strategies, no matter how small, to help you take your mind away from the doom, gloom and uncertainty and one way to do that is by playing dress-up. 

Femme Luxe Black Tie Front Organza Mesh Sleeve Crop Top - Dash
Top (gifted): Femme Luxe Black Tie Front Organza Mesh Sleeve Crop Top, Jeans: River Island wide leg jeans in light blue

Playing dress-up is a form of escapism

Playing dress-up is not just for kids. Doing a full face of make-up, styling your hair and wearing a sultry dress are all acts of playing dress-up because right now, the places we would normally showcase these looks are restricted. Engaging in these acts when you’re stuck at home can seem ridiculous but it can also constitute a powerful force that can positively affect your mental wellbeing.  

Recently, a friend of mine remarked that she felt silly for wanting to buy a new pair of heels that caught her eye. I’ll tell you what I told her – there’s no need to completely suppress your shopping habits even though right now they may seem out of the ordinary. Studies have shown that “extraordinary” shopping experiences can be cathartic and can act as a break from daily habits that too often leave us feeling stressed and underwhelmed. We’ve all become increasingly aware of sustainability and the damaging effects of overconsumption. So, rather than regularly whipping out your credit card, you can mix in a few new pieces with those that haven’t seen the light of day since lockdown. The most important thing is that you make playing dress-up your new weekly ritual. 

Fashion psychology
Top: John Zack velvet cowl front top in lime

Certain clothing styles can release tensions

Wearing clothes that are a far cry from the hustle and bustle of everyday life act as a symbol for you leaving that life behind, even for a few hours. Studies have shown that people have fun by simply engaging in the act of wearing outlandish, sexy or even eccentric outfits which contributes to a feeling of escapism because “clothes in themselves carry this tensions release dimension”. 

Femme Luxe Emerald Bardot Cowl Neck Ruched Midi Dress - Malia
Dress (gifted) Femme Luxe Emerald Bardot Cowl Neck Ruched Midi Dress - Malia

We’re living in highly politicized times when even wearing a mask (please wear a mask) is seen as a form of social commentary and frankly, it’s tiring. Ultimately, your clothes should be an area of your life that brings joy. While comfort is important, you should attempt to get ‘all dressed up’ at least once in a while to embrace the power of your wardrobe to help you escape the bleaknesses of your day-to-day life; even if you have nowhere to go and even if it’s just for a little while. 

In the comments, let me know what pieces you’ve missed wearing this year.

⁠I was delighted to speak to The Guardian about the increased interest in tennis-inspired outfits this summer. ⁠⠀
⁠⠀
“The fact that Wimbledon has been cancelled may, paradoxically, have fuelled the trend. With the pandemic causing many aspects of ordinary life to be put on hold, the idea of dressing vicariously, whether for Glastonbury or Centre Court, has seen the sartorial principle of wearing your Worthy Farm finest to sit at home and muddle through.⁠⠀
⁠⠀
Fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell thinks this idea of dressing for the occasions may be an attempt to regain control at a time when we have little power. “There is that collective desire to get back to our normal lives given this feeling that we’re missing out on so many things… ‘I can’t go but I can still look the part’.”⁠⠀
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Click here to read the article in full and scroll down to check out my Wimbledon inspired looks. 

Dress: American Apparel, Shirt: Zara, Sunglasses: Asos

With COVID-19 putting a pause on the world, the fashion industry has been forced to adapt accordingly, and with the year’s second season of fashion weeks fast-approaching unsurprisingly, they are not proceeding as normal. Unwilling to disrupt the economy and put designer’s work to waste, the industry has followed in the footsteps of most other businesses and moved its highly-anticipated event online.

London led the way by streaming its virtual fashion week from the 12th to 14th June. Hosted by londonfashionweek.com, the three-day event offered a selection of interviews, podcasts, videos and digital showcases of SS21 collections for viewers to tune in with. Supposedly due to the disruptions in the production line, there was significantly less of a focus on the garments themselves and fewer of the leading fashion houses made an appearance. However, this did offer the opportunity to strip the industry from its jam-packed schedules and theatrical catwalk performances, providing the time and space to reflect on its contribution to current affairs as well as its hidden talents in the form of smaller designers.

A time for reflection

The digital London Fashion Week opened with a poem by James Massiah, which captured “all the things that are fun about Summer and all the things that we might miss because of lock down.” It further emphasised how fashion should no longer focus on “peoples’ identity, race or class. You can choose the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with and the places you go and I really wanted to focus on those things more.” This recognition of current affairs and pressing global issues set a striking tone of reflection for the days to come, in line with the slowed pace of life COVID-19 has encouraged us all to adopt. I’m sure we can all agree that taking the time to appreciate what we have got and could work further to achieve is a habit many could adopt.

Research has shown a relationship between being mindful and having more sustainable consumption – both of which have also been shown to improve long-term wellbeing. This brings to question why the fashion industry hasn’t adopted a greater focus on enhancing the wardrobes we currently have, rather than what we should add to it (Geiger, Grossman & Schrader, 2019).  What’s more, adopting a mindful approach can also benefit those around us too, as being aware of our actions makes us more likely to adopt them to become more prosocial (Donald et al, 2018).

Telling a story

The benefits of these new forms of Fashion Weeks may not lie only with the consumer. With approximately 4.57 billion people actively using the internet in April 2020, hosting catwalk shows online hugely increases the accessibility of live content worldwide – if you compare it to the handful of chosen celebrities and industry experts who sat in the front rows each year. By exposing the work of designers to thousands, if not millions, of more people it significantly increases the profiles of professionals and ultimately ends in more sales.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Fashion Week showcases are the stories that each collection conveys; and it is this narrative that allows people to connect with both the designers and the garments themselves. People are more likely to remember information presented in a story format, rate the brand more positively and be more likely to purchase the products (Lundqvist, Liljander, Gummerus & van Riel, 2013). Furthermore, stories are easy for consumers to attend to. From a young age many of us are presented with information through stories, we learn to connect to others by learning about their experiences and appreciate the world by engaging in its history (e.g. Woodside, Sood & Miller, 2008). Although we have begun to see live streams of catwalk shows made available to the public in recent years, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken a pandemic to push the fashion industry into expanding its online presence during Fashion Week, given the accessibility, adaptability and arguably increasingly effective nature of the internet.

What’s next?

This wave of innovation is something that has been deemed as an inherent human instinct; we are driven to adapt to environmental and situational changes, or pressures in order for us to survive – both in physical and organisational terms (Reiter-Palmon, 2011). However, as in most cases, a first attempt is not perfect, so with this season pioneering the new fashion week modality, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.

Researchers have shown that innovation and creativity however is not always as simple is learning from and acting upon mistakes. In fact, there are a number of specific factors that foster change more effectively than others. Axtell, Holman & Wall (2006) noted how a high initial level of external support for new suggestions is needed, followed by structural job changes like the level of autonomy which allow individuals to freely adapt and generate new ideas. Finally, team members and colleagues must also be supportive of and willing to implement such changes. Although not a complete explanation, this may help to explain why this seemingly obviously beneficial method of communicating Fashion Week has been resisted until now.

Similarly, while we do indeed love to adapt and innovate, we are also creatures of habit. And one thing digital Fashion Weeks threaten is a love for tradition. These historically social and creative events have been held biannually ever since 1943, which provides us a sense of security. Their predictability subtly indicates that everything is constant and ‘normal’ – which is when we naturally feel most comfortable (Psychology Today). As I’m sure you are all aware, the current global situation is somewhat abnormal, and moving these events online only signifies this further by disrupting the predictability, constancy and normality that we crave.

It is still too early to see whether digital Fashion Weeks will be responded to with resentment or seen as a revolution, but whatever the case it is no secret that this new digital scene will take some getting used to. Hundreds of photographers, reporters, celebrities and stylists congregate in the world’s fashion capitals to observe the next-season’s trends, so to see these cities silent in what is usually one of their busiest times of year will be a significant change.

However, this new wave of innovation could be somewhat exciting. Technology is continually advancing, such as the introduction of shopping in virtual reality (Hur, Jang & Choo, 2019), leaving the possibilities for the future of fashion almost endless. Could we be witnessing a momentous change in the fashion industry, or do you think the tradition is too strong for any changes to have a lasting impact? 

A new feature this week in my favourite publication refinery29! I spoke to the lovely Georgia Murray about the irresistible appeal of the colour yellow and why every designer from Emilia Wickstead to Christopher Kane is having a love affair with the hue at the moment. 

In the natural world, too, colours which sit beside yellow on the spectrum mix with it to create putrid shades that bring to mind acid, pus, poison and toxic foods and flowers, causing revulsion and fear. Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and founder of Fashion is Psychology, notes that it’s the colour most associated with urgency and alertness. “Having a greater effect on attention compared to cooler colours like blue and grey, yellow has been proven to induce feelings of high arousal which activates the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in the brain, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure, mobility and readiness to respond,” she explains. Think of the use of yellow in everything from road signs and horror films (Kill Bill, we’re looking at you) to graphic designer Harvey Ball’s 1963 smiley face, later adopted as the symbol of rave culture. What gets hearts beating faster than ecstasy and two-stepping?

Click here to read the piece in full and scroll down to see my favourite yellow outfit gifted from the lovely folks at Next. 

Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell

There has been a correlation between fashion and our own bleak view of the future ever since Chanel showed cocktail dresses with ragged hems during the 1930s (Forbes, 2014). We flashback even further to the French Revolution, where men (but not women) dressed down no matter what their stature as clothes became a political statement:

“…Lace cuffs, knee breeches, ruffles, frills, frockcoats, lighter colours, high heels, big wigs, the flamboyant Macaroni style—all of this fell out of favour. In its place came the rise of darker clothes, ankle-length trousers, matching jackets, suits, and short, natural hair.” (All About Candian History, 2016)

This drastic change was not merely a coincidence and we have to wonder in today’s society can we still attribute outside forces to our fashion sense. Let’s push forward to the most drastic event of the Millennial generation, The Great Recession. 

In 2007, just before the Great Recession, ruffled miniskirts and low rise jeans were all the rage with Ron Frasch (CMO of Saks Fifth Ave at the time) referring to the era as being “colourful and sexy” (Vox, 2018). Later that same year, the recession hit and fashion drastically changed. Even rich consumers, similar to the French Revolution, shied away from logoed clothes and bags perhaps in solidarity. “It was suddenly uncool to look rich” (Christian Binkley, former Fashion editor, Wall Street Journal); a trend that still persists today. Literally, fashion seemed to have changed overnight not figuratively but in taste. Stores slashed the price of inventory to remove those bright summer trends. Saks was the first to slash prices to 70%.

It was too late to retract the colour wheel and the Great Recession abruptly ended in June 2009; way too soon to create clothes that matched the mood of the citizens but that didn’t stop trendsetters from shying away from bright colours.

Even popular blog, popsugar.com had a hard time picking out which celebrity was the worst dress in 2007, showing how much the economic turndown affected the rich and powerful (popsugar, 2007).

Today, being aware of the tone of the economy isn’t just for people; businesses have learnt the hard way back in 2007 that the mood of people can dictate consumer behaviour on a large scale The fear of another economic turndown not only drives consumers to shop less but designers to create dark clothes in hopes to match the mood of the consumer and propel them to make a purchase. So perhaps the answer has layers. It’s certainly true that we noted that consumer behaviour changes when outside forces, either political or economical, make us re-examine our fashion choices. For now, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the runways and the FTSE to see what the future has in store.

If you haven’t been able to get your hands on the Jacquemus Le petit Chiquito, it’s because the mini bag has sold out. Measuring a little more than two inches and priced at $258, the micro sensation falls under the category of ‘meme fashion’. 

These are unique items, produced with oodles of humour and idiosyncratic character, always managing to immediately kick up an internet storm – exactly like the Le petit Chiquito that Olivia Heraud, a London-based stylist has been eyeing for a while. ‘It is even worse in terms of size!’ she says, comparing the ‘it’ bag to its predecessor, the slightly larger Le Chiquito bag she owned previously. It’s interesting to note that Heraud’s current obsession isn’t big enough to even hold her keys. 

To say that meme fashion is ‘popular’ would be an understatement; it’s driving hordes of consumers like Heraud to shell out precious dollars for products that are ridiculous and expensive. “Fashion has always been driven by an urge to be ‘in the moment’ but today that moment changes more rapidly due to the internet,” says Michael Solomon, a speaker and consumer behaviour expert. “This is accelerated further by the fear of missing out (FOMO) as people strive to show that they are au courant at all times and maybe at all costs. Moreover, we live in a disposable society with an intense need for stimulation and instant gratification, often derived by purchasing novel items.”

The list of such novel – albeit ‘crazy’ ‘ugly’ & ‘impractical’ – items is increasing. The Balenciaga layered parka worth $9,000 that was a viral reminder of Joey Tribbani from Friends. The Y/Project ‘Janties’ and the infamous Viktor and Rolf Spring 2019 couture dresses. The Kylie Jenner-approved Jacquemus La Bomba hat that is big enough for a village to camp under it. At some point, these items have been scrutinized, criticized and ridiculed but, never ignored. Exhibit A: the Balenciaga platform crocs which sold out on pre-order in a day

NYC-based Josh Klinski owns a pair in yellow. ‘My wardrobe is filled with pieces that most people would consider unwearable off the runway,” says Klinski. “I would regularly stop by the Balenciaga store in Soho to check if the crocs had come in yet. One day they did and $900 later I was wearing them. It’s a personal challenge to present them in a way that even the haters would say, ‘it makes sense on him.’” Like Klinski, Andre Braggs too felt an instant connection to the crocs, spotting the covetable pair while on a sneaker hunt. “They screamed my personality – weird, bright, and the centre of attention,” recollects the food & fashion blogger. “I couldn’t leave the store without them. I had to have them because I knew no one was walking around in those shoes every day.”

What’s a better way to make people think than to shock them a bit?

Though this need to be seen is making meme fashion win over a slew of fans, it isn’t the sole driver of sales. When it comes to identity creation, these unconventional products offer something that mainstream fashion doesn’t: Individuality. “While making a purchase, consumers are considering other options than the ones advocated by traditional gatekeepers of fashion,” says Solomon. “Often, objective aesthetics have little to do with adoption. In fact, sometimes consumers take great pride in wearing outlandish products that show they are individuals even though, ironically they’re conforming!” Not surprising that ‘meme fashion’ was the most searched keyword in 2018, according to global fashion search platform Lyst.

This phenomenon has come a long way from being relegated to the realms of Instagram to infiltrating wardrobes of consumers, especially the ones looking for some fun. Or ‘woke’ fashion enthusiasts offering a sense of rebellion with sartorial commentary. “The world around us is very serious and often grey in design,” elaborates Kate Nightingale, consumer psychologist & founder of Style Psychology Ltd. “There’s disastrous news everywhere and not much that we can do other than showing up – physically and digitally – and taking a stand. We can start a discussion and wake people up. What’s a better way to make people think than to shock them a bit? And that shock is best delivered with some humour.” 

However, every item that gets thousands of ‘rofl’s and retweets doesn’t necessarily have the potential to take over retail. “Make it fun but also make it meaningful,” is Nightingale’s advice to brands looking to join the meme-athon. “The product must tackle a consumer issue,” she elaborates. “Designers should understand what impact an item & the meme created from it will have on someone’s identity and self-esteem.” Speed and innovation are equally important. A cookie-cutter approach is bound to fail, resulting in a product that gets immortalised only as a meme. “A brand that wants to catch a viral wave has to look carefully and be prepared to jump quickly,” stresses Solomon. ‘This is true of any fad product, where the first one into the market tends to reap the rewards. By the time “me-too products” enter the race, it’s largely over. The best thing a brand can do is to constantly monitor its best customers: Don’t market to your customers, market with them.”