Fashion is a constant and ever-changing force. It influences how we express ourselves through our apparel, shoes, and accessories choices. Whether you’re a fan of popular culture or not, there’s no denying that it has a particularly strong influence on humanity’s fashion history and current trends.
Pop culture fashion is constantly evolving thanks to the attire choices of celebrities, musicians, and other pop icons.
But this is nothing new.
In the 1960s, icons like the legendary model Twiggy and her bold make-up and quirky outfits influenced fashion trends. In the 1980s, people worldwide followed suit when Madonna, Cindi Lauper and Michael Jackson donned sleek black leather, angsty fishnets, voluminous hairstyles and striking sunglasses. Today, celebrities including stars like Cardi B, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Kanye West still influence fashion trends.
Here’s how pop culture fashion is being created and innovated in the modern age. And how our pop legends are shaping the future of fashion.
Understanding Pop Culture Fashion
Fashion has long been a way for people to express their individuality and creativity. Pop culture is its primary driver. It influences fashion because of its power to influence our preferences, lifestyles, and choices.
Pop culture affects our fashion choices by shaping society’s trends and how we communicate. As well as the music and media we gravitate towards. For example, people who enjoy Nicki Minaj’s music are more likely to be inspired by her unique wardrobe choices. They’ll mimic her dress and style and socialize with other people with similar tastes and attitudes.
Nowadays, what we see online also significantly influences our personal styles. Celebrities and influencers command pop culture fashion trends by posting their own attire and favorite brands on social media platforms. These platforms have a huge global reach and massive followings of younger trendsetters in the making.
Both pop culture and fashion are means of creative expression. And also along with the art, music, film styles and television shows of a given age. Pop artists and media set the trends. Fashion-forward followers adopt them to emulate the actions of the creators they look up to the most.
How Celebrities Command the Fashion World
The so-called “Kate Middleton effect” is one of the best examples of how celebrities and pop icons can influence fashion trends.
Middleton has repeatedly shown her power to prompt product sell-outs after choosing to wear accessible fashion choices while out in public. In 2014, Middleton opted for a stunning Tory Burch dress to wear to a play date with her son. Not long after getting photographed in the dress, the garment was completely sold out on the brand’s website and all of its affiliated sites. This clearly illustrates the power of indirect celebrity influence on our fashion choices.
Kate likely chose that specific dress consciously – either for comfort or for style – and the designer was not associated directly with the images of her wearing it. However, Tory Burch benefited from the press photos published and the months of popularity the brand received after the public saw them.
More and more designers are starting to recognize how influential celebrities’ fashion choices are. It’s now not uncommon for brands to form partnerships with pop icons to take advantage of their power and influence.
Years ago, designers were already teaming up with film stars to create customized outfits and associate these celebrities with their brands in the public eye. But more recently, they are working with social media influencers to create unique branded attire that helps people to express themselves and pay homage to their favorite content creators amid the increasingly diverse fashion landscape.
The Biggest Influencers of Fashion Today
The past few years have been challenging for people in most parts of the world. These changes have led to a shift in the dynamics of the fashion industry. Smaller pop icons and designers are becoming a larger part of the landscape. They’re enjoying success in going viral online without the same advertising tactics and hefty budgets used by global brands. According to fashion retailer Lyst, customers searched for up-and-coming brands most often in 2021, favoring them over more established brands in many cases. This new trend cycle has created plenty of opportunities for smaller independent brands. Especially those that can provide entertainment and engagement to their audiences online.
Fashion & Music
Music videos are also driving trends in the 2020s, with Kanye West boosting demand for his Yeezy label by 128% after launching his Donda album. Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Blackpink’s Lisa, and Olivia Rodrigo have also become major trend-setters, driving growing demand for fashion items like platform boots, latex pants, and rhinestone shirts.
These celebrities’ increasing support of newer, lesser-known fashion brands has brought many up-and-coming names onto the fashion scene. When Lil Nas X wore a Richard Quinn suit to the 2021 BET Awards, the brand’s page views for floral suits and other fashion pieces skyrocketed by 78% the following day. Hailey Bieber’s Allessandra Rich evening gown prompted a similar effect, with searches for the young brand rising by 168% within a mere 48 hours.
In 2022, Lyst believes that some of the biggest cultural pioneers in pop culture fashion will include the likes of activist, poet and model Kai-Isaiah-Jamal, actress Emma Corrin, poet laureate Amanda Gorman, actress and musician Zendaya, and Grand Slam winner Emma Raducanu.
However, major brands are still popular, driven in part by references in new pop music and promotional videos from celebrities. Lyst notes that Balenciaga was among the most popular major fashion labels in 2021. After launching its collaboration with Fortnite, searches for the game rose by 72%, while the brand also attracted the most online searches during the Met Gala and Paris Fashion Week, during which searches rose by 355% and 505%, respectively.
Celebrity Influences in Fashion Design
Celebrities have the power to influence not only the public’s fashion choices but the entire design process and the hair and beauty trends that go with the outfits. Celebrity events and film and music awards ceremonies give global trendsetters a chance to don unexpected new outfits, accessories, hairstyles, and makeup. It usually isn’t long before consumer demand for these outfits, accessories, makeup, and hair skyockets.
Annual awards ceremonies and red carpet events like the Golden Globes and Oscars are especially important spots for fashion trendsetting. The red carpet is where the year’s prevailing runway trends are made more accessible to the public. Plus, they give smaller fashion brands a chance to take inspiration from the work of the world’s leading haute couture design houses.
This has been the case for decades. At the Oscars in 1954, Audrey Hepburn dazzled audiences with her slim-waisted Givenchy dress and set a long-lived trend for similar pieces throughout the rest of the decade. Later in 1997, Nicole Kidman’s satin Christian Dior number inspired a new movement that would see similar dresses being worn by pop icons and film starlets alike. Halle Berry’s 2002 Oscars Elie Saab gown set a trend for rich, silky fabrics, deep colors, and revealing styles. And Angelina Jolie stole the show at the 2004 Academy Awards in her Marc Bouwer creation.
In 2022, fashion is taking inspiration from both pop icons’ choices and vintage influences. Kendall Jenner, Rihanna, Selena Gomez and Bella and Gigi Hadid have all been seen sporting tiny 70’s-style sunglasses this year. Gigi Hadid is also popularizing the glasses chains that were once thought to be a relic of the 50s. Head scarves and power suits are making a comeback thanks to celebs like Amal Clooney and Victoria Beckham. And stars like Chrissy Teigen and Gabrielle Union have brought the iconic puffy-shouldered dresses of the 80s back into the limelight.
Gigi Hadid and Rosie Huntington-White have made the square-toed heels of the 90s popular among Millennials and Gen Zs again. Dua Lipa and Selena Gomez have pioneered the return of the 90s-esque trend of brightly colored statement bags in 2022, complete with fun accessories reminiscent of the era. This year’s pop culture fashion trends blend a wide range of influences from past fashion movements. It is led by demand for diversity and novelty from younger fashionistas.
Pop Culture Keeps Fashion Moving Forward
Pop culture has been influencing fashion since the turn of the 20th century. It will continue to pioneer fashion trends into the 21st century and beyond. The world of fashion is becoming more diverse, flexible, and tolerant of up-and-coming designers thanks to the influence of the digital landscape. In the future, social media influencers and online icons are expected to play an even greater role in setting fashion trends in the future.
A new focus on smaller brands is making celebrity-endorsed fashion more accessible to the general public too. This could see more and more people donning in-demand attire from designers who have been brought into the spotlight by the likes of the Kardashians, the Hadid sisters. And also pop stars like Doja Cat, Lizzo, Olivia Rodrigo and Kanye West.
To sum up, there’s no denying that pop culture influences fashion and is largely responsible for keeping the industry moving forward. With new stars emerging all the time and new platforms promoting exposure, fashion looks set to go in exciting directions.
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* Written by Megan Hudson.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Fashinnovation’s columnists are their own, not those of Fashinnovation.