Trends in the fashion world have always moved fast — as Heidi Klum once said, one day you're in, and the next day, you're out. But between the ever-increasing presence of fast fashion and the dominance of social media, these days, it seems that "It" items have a shorter shelf life than ever.
This begs the question: If you're looking to invest some of your hard-earned money (say, a tax return?) in a splurgy fashion item, how can you be sure that it won't be out of style in mere months? Whether you have your eye on a recent runway item like Gucci's bootleg T-shirts, or something that become a seasonal staple like Valentino's Rockstud shoes, a big purchase like this deserves careful consideration. We talked with execs at FarFetch, Moda Operandi and The RealReal to try and get a grasp on the average lifespan of an "It" item to help mitigate some of that shopping risk. While there is no specific time frame for a trend, we did manage to pull together some tips you can use while planning your next fashion investment.
If you really love something, buy it straight off the runway.
The best way to be on-trend is to buy something ASAP, of course. Customers, especially on the high end, have become savvy about knowing exactly what they want — rather than waiting to be told what to buy. "We have the very VIP customers who will start requesting or searching for [a piece] the second it hits the runway," says Candice Fragis, buying & merchandising director for Farfetch. "They can alert personal shopping, who have great relationships with them."
Don't just limit yourself to looking at runway shows, either; social media can be a valuable tool for predicting what's coming next. "I reference social media, because that's made it a lot easier to figure out what those ['It' items] are: everyone's talking about the same shoe, or the same jacket, or that same trend," Fragis says.
If it's a "see now, buy now" situation, just take the plunge. If not, look around for trunk shows where the item might be available for pre-order. Moda Operandi's GMM of Apparel Lizzie Leventhal says their customer has moved beyond thinking about what's currently a trendy item to thinking about what will be trendy next season. "It really is the starting point of that piece becoming the 'It' item six months later," she says.
Ultimately, if you really love something now, you'll likely still love it when it finally arrives a few weeks or months down the road. Go with your gut reaction. "Fashion is meant to be very emotional and personal, and I think it's really just about an immediate reaction," says Leventhal. "It's your gut that spearheads that something is going to be the next big item."
Still not convinced? Wait to see what stores stock.
If you fell in love with something during fashion month, but weren't sure it was going to stick, take the time between runway and production to mull it over. You can look through broader trends that run across New York, London, Milan and Paris and see what stores are starting to stock to get a feel for the trend before investing. Then check back with sites' "New Arrivals" pages. "The minute [an 'It' item] hits 'New In,' that's when you're going to see the spike; our customer is very savvy, and it's one of the first areas of the site that she's checking, because it's refreshed every day," Fragis says.
Keep an eye on those trunk shows too — they can determine if a product comes into the season strong. "If it's an 'It' item in trunk show, it will [also] be an 'It' item in-season; it definitely influences our buy because we're the starting point of discovery for that trend," Leventhal says. "Then we also make sure that in our in-season model, we're representing it in a way that is different from what [our customer] bought in trunk show, maybe through new iterations or playing with colors."
Don't sleep on secondhand sites, even in-season.
It stands to reason that if trends move fast, the people changing the trends are switching up their trophy pieces, too. If you're seeing an item you love in street style galleries, start checking secondhand websites. "When [an item] becomes hot, we see it coming in probably in that same month," says chief merchant of The RealReal, Rati Sahi Levesque. "We have such a big consigner base and a lot of celebrities who sell with us, as well as a lot of high-profile consigners that need to look relevant, or they've been photographed in something and they need to get rid of it and move on to the next thing."
Don't expect a deal — those items will be priced according to their demand, naturally — but you'll still be able to get your hands on a trending item for a slightly lower price. And act fast: Trending items can sell within days, sometimes within seconds, so put yourself on a wait list and have your information saved.
Specific accessories generally have a longer shelf-life than ready-to-wear items; however, ready-to-wear trends can last for several seasons.
Remember when we thought the off-the-shoulder trend would be done by the end of summer 2015? It's nowhere close to slowing down, which means you didn't have to buy Rosie Assoulin's voluminous balloon-sleeved top when it first hit stores to get in on the trend. The same thing is happening with puffer coats thanks to Balenciaga: According to Levesque, the item has seen a 50 percent increase in search popularity since Demna Gvasalia presented his fresh take on the wardrobe classic. A rising ready-to-wear tide floats all brands; sometimes, a ready-to-wear trend can even be a safer bet than a wait-listed accessory.
"Athleisure has had a longer spell of popularity than the Dior tribal earring, which is not in our top 10 search terms anymore," Levesque says. "There was that six-month period where they were really hot, and I'd say within the last three or four months, they moved out of the top search terms."
Wait and see if something gets restocked for multiple seasons.
If an item has lasted more than a few seasons, or is re-issued every season in new colorways, it has likely become a staple. The Gucci loafer has managed to hang on since Alessandro Michele introduced the style, and the brand's Dionysus bags continue to find new life thanks to new patterns and Gucci's customization offerings. That all comes down to demand. "When an item becomes a staple, it actually starts to be defined as a carryover for a designer and a product category," says Fragis. "I think once you see something consistently selling for more than two seasons, that's when its definitely transcending a current trend."
If you're tired of seeing it, chances are other people are, too.
Trend lifespans vary wildly, but ultimately it comes down to you, the customer. "It's completely determined by the consumer," Leventhal says. "She really dictates as long as its going to be around; you can see an 'It' item for a season, for two years, even for five years."
When you start to see a drop in prices or a glut of the item on sites like Vestiaire Collective or The RealReal, it might be time for you to move on. And if you see multiple iterations of it popping up around the mall, its inevitable death is near. "Once [a piece] becomes saturated, you see a lot of knockoffs and that sort of thing affects the resale market," Levesque says.
When in doubt, buy a classic.
If you're looking to invest your money, but still don't want to risk owning an item that will be dated in just a few seasons, you can't go wrong with the classics — they're dubbed "investment items" for a reason. "All of the classic-to-those-brands styles and pieces always have really consistent resale value and always stay very consistent in terms of search terms," Levesque says. Chanel flap bags, Hermès Kellys and Birkins, Cartier Love bracelets, Burberry trench coats, Manolo Blahnik pumps — they've all earned must-have status by staying relevant no matter what the trends dictate, and are a pretty safe bet when it comes to dropping a significant amount of cash.
Homepage photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Bergdorf Goodman