Clothes and Misery

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shopping Messages

When I worked as an image adviser (which was a very short period in my career), one of the things I found most fascinating was how colours and styles are forecast, and the link between world events and those forecasts.

You see, it isn’t just a random event that we end up with certain colours one season, and different colours in the next.  Someone is forecasting those colours.

How these colours and forecast is not an exact science and seems to involve a degree of intuition and just plain guessing.  Colour forecasters attempt to guess the mood (and subsequent buying behaviour) of us, the keeper of the keys: the consumer, in 18 – 24 months from now.  The process of forecasting colours flows from there.

That’s an extremely quick sketch of how colour forecasting appears to work (and the full article from that link is quite an interesting read, with diagrams, flowcharts and everything).

So what’s that got to do with this blog, I hear you ask.

Well you see, being here in California has seen me out and about in shopping environments much more than when I’m at home.  And what I’ve seen in the stores in the last couple of weeks is clothing that falls into quite a distinct theme, whether it’s in Banana Republic or BCBG Max Azaria.  What I’m seeing is a lot of muted colours and soft drapey styles.

This photo, left, was taken just yesterday in a Century City conglomeration of consumer paradise (or purgatory, depending on how you look at it).  And I had my fair choice of stores in which an almost identical photo could have been taken.  The stores are full of this kind of stuff right now.

The stores are stocked with clothing in dove and charcoal and other dull and deep greys.  Then there’s the dusky blues and reds (like indigo and plum), over-ripe colours designed to seep into the background.  I spotted murky yellows like mustard, and burnt off colours like ash and mahogany.

I call it the Les Miserables look.  That’s the Laymiz cast to the left there – can’t you spot the similarities in colour between what they’re wearing, and the photo above?

If clothes could be despondent, then these clothes would be that.  There’s a weariness to them.  They seem, at least to me, fatigued in some way.

If clothes really do inform and express something about us, if they really do say something (which I believe they do – see here and here for more musings on that theme), then what are these kinds of wafty and subdued offerings saying?  Nothing optimistic, it would seem.

I remember an image adviser friend telling me once that during flat economic times, men stopped wearing bright yellow ties.  Well, bright any-colour ties, really.  It just didn’t seem right to be wearing a cheery slice of silk on your chest when you were about to tell your client that their retirement funds had been depleted, through no fault or action of their own, by 25%.

It made me wonder about all these weary looking clothes I’m seeing.  Are they trying to tell us that it’s time to keep our heads down and our hopes to a minimum?  That this is no time for laughter and bliss and joy and optimism? Or am I reading too much into all this?  It’s not as if the fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar one where nothing happens by accident.  Oh wait!  It is that kind of industry! So maybe there’s a message behind these melancholy medleys after all?

Now not everything I’ve seen lately falls into the Jill-dubbed Les Miserable collection, sure.  I did see pockets of brighter and lighter colours and more shaped and structured items.  I saw my all time favourite, animal print, around too (well, it never really goes out, does it?  It’s just its degree of in-ness that seems to change).  But by and large, it was these darker, murkier, softer, duskier numbers that abounded.

So what does this mean?  Well, to me personally it means there’s not a lot of temptation out there.  I had a list of items I was looking for (this is one of my key staying on the wagon strategies – always shop with a list, and use it!), and I found them harder to find – my treasure hunting became quite extended.  I ended up shopping fatigued because of that – I got sick of looking into yet another store of samey samey stuff, none of which appealed to me.

On a broader level, it may mean that those in the colour forecasting business believe that tough times are going to continue, at least for a while.  That may be true.  And I believe it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around us.

But it’s even more important to tune into your own reality and set your own course with mindful awareness.  Sure, we may be hearing terrible news every time we turn on the TV – but let’s use the remote control and switch that message off.  Let’s choose the good, the uplifting, the blissful and the joyful to be the soundtrack of our journey.


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