The real reason people follow trends according to psychology and fashion professors

A quencher Stanley cup, one of this years many trends. Stanely/Lariat

A quencher Stanley Cup, one of this year’s many trends. Stanely/Courtesy of Stanely

Lindsay Fox, one of Saddleback’s fashion instructors, brings out that trends are nothing new. Fashion trends began in the early Middle Ages. 

She explained that historically people felt pressured to keep their wardrobe up to date because clothing trends reflected status. Today a glance at someone’s shirt won’t tell you what their bank account looks like, yet trends are still going strong, and people are still flocking to burn their skinny jeans and buy out flared leggings.

“They help keep the creativity flowing and help companies profit,” said Paitlyn Black, head of Saddleback’s fashion club, while explaining a company’s outlook on trends and their motivation to egg them on. 

If everyone kept a piece of clothing until it truly wore out, clothing companies wouldn’t make nearly as much profit.

However, this doesn’t answer the question as to why people are so quick to buy new wardrobes. 

If you were to ask someone with a Stanley cup why they own it they might answer with ‘Because it’s cute.’ But if people only buy objects because of their usefulness and aesthetic value, why not buy a Yeti Rambler? It looks nearly the same and is of the same value. 

“I really think it’s about belonging and wanting to find social cohesion,” said Ashley Weller, social psychology professor. “Following a trend means you’ll see someone on campus carrying a Stanley cup with you and you already have a bond with that person on the surface.”

Weller explained that humans crave a sense of community and connection.

“We’re social creatures. We want to be able to relate to other people,” she said.

Trends are an easy way to get that feeling of connection without taking too many risks.

She explains that finding an actual deep connection with others “is much harder because it’s much more vulnerable.” 

Weller implies that what the surface connection trends provide are dissatisfying in the end when she explains that studies show a vast majority of people still struggle with loneliness. 

She said that she feels so many people around us lack kindness and that negatively affects personal choices. Many might choose to wear a clothing piece they don’t really like just out of fear of being ostracized if they don’t. 

Weller said many have the mentality of “I’d rather not be comfortable in my body than be [socially] uncomfortable and be made fun of.”

Caroline Gee, a Ph.D. recipient and instructor of biological psychology speaks about whether she thinks all people follow trends for subconsciously deeper reasons than just thinking a piece of clothing is pretty.

She explains that trends are a form of conformity. Conformity is when you start doing something others are doing even if no one told you to do it. 

“There’s different explanations for conformity and one of them is I’m just doing it because I felt like it. It just turned out to be a cool trend,” she said.

However, even if someone is not consciously trying to fit in they aren’t likely to dress like they did twenty years ago.

“Trends have to have some amount of pressure to fit in or else if I really like these jeans I’d just wear them forever,” Gee said.

Of course, there are people who purposefully repel trends, dying their hair any color but the color of those around them and dressing to stand out from the crowd. That poses the question, if it’s true that all people crave connection, then are these people just going against human nature?

Weller touches on this, explaining that most times people who are purposely trying to stand out are drawn to others who purposefully try to stand out, forming their own community. These people are supposedly forming surface bonds over the fact that they aren’t wearing the same shirt as everyone else, while others are forming bonds because they are wearing the same shirts as everyone else. Really, they’re doing the same thing.

Trends also feed into the desire people are found to have, which is to gain entrance into a group by doing something, not just automatically being accepted. 

“The research that they did with that was really cool, where they asked people to join a group and half the people had to take a test to join the group and the other half just got to join” Gee, explaining a study, said. “The people who were asked to take the test before they joined the group, they then would grade it that they liked the group more.”

There really isn’t a clear answer to whether or not trends have a positive or negative impact on people. 

“I think because of social media, because of the trends, people are losing touch with who they are,” Black said. “I see people, people I know personally or who [I] have known personally before and I can just tell that they’re not who they were and they’re trying to be someone that they’re not.”

All these claims hold truth. These educated thoughts shine light on the reasons why many follow trends and inspire some to take a closer look at their own reasoning. People are all different and according to Gee, “different people will do things for different reasons.”