Fringe trends cater to a small audience, and they’re usually fringe for a reason. Fashion buyers believe that consumer traction for the silhouette, combination or colour will be low, or at least low to begin with. From their point of view, the item is risky, will be hard to sell, and needs time to be accepted by the marketplace. It might sell in small quantities for a while before it goes mainstream, if it goes mainstream at all.
Some trends seem to languish in fringe trend limbo for a long time. For example, Jumpsuits and rompers have stayed fringe for years. Retailers have been assorting limited quantities and they must be selling well enough to suggest trying for another season, but not flying off the racks in a way that suggests they’re about to explode into the mainstream.
Some trends stay fringe through exclusivity. This is often true of brand new runway trends. They initially surface in ranges by high-end designers, where the price keeps them exclusive. Designers deliberately support this exclusivity by only offering the trend in their highest end lines. Lower price brands stay away because the trend hasn’t shown enough signs of mainstream acceptance. Round shouldered jackets and two-piece dresses are examples of fringe trends on the exclusive track at the moment.
Many fringe trends become mainstream trends. Recent examples are boyfriend jeans, cut-out booties, hard-edged looks, and high-low hemlines. These items gained traction over the course of a few seasons, ultimately giving fashion buyers the confidence to order them in larger quantities and increase their availability. It’s fun to see a trend start out as fringe, and go mainstream after two or three years.
A good indication that a fringe trend is about to go mainstream is when the popularity for something seems high, but availability is limited. The case for the trend is even stronger when it is wearable by a large part of the market. The hard part for the buyer is recognizing these opportunities and then taking the risk.
Here are four trends that I would be expecting to go mainstream if I was still a buyer today:
- Midi Skirts: Midis are still fringe. Calf lengths are hard to wear, but just-below-the-knee lengths are much easier. They are ideal for a more conservative office environment and for those who prefer not to bare their knees. Also, the elegance factor of a longer skirt is high.
- Forest Green: Judging by the overwhelming support for the colour last week, this dark neutral should go mainstream very quickly.
- Midi and Maxi Coats: It’s hard to find a dressy coat that’s knee-covering (midi) or calf length (maxi). These lengths are great to wear over midi dresses and skirts in colder weather. They were widely available in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but have stayed fringe since then. I bet their increased availability would stimulate Fall and Winter dress and skirt sales.
- Baggy Trousers: Although roomy trousers are slowly becoming more popular, tight trousers reign supreme. Mega slouchy trousers with low crotch points are still an acquired taste, so it makes sense to keep those silhouettes fringe. But baggy trousers with a relaxed fit on the hip and thigh with a tailored crotch point are perfectly wearable by us all, and provide a refreshing change to tighter silhouettes.
Fashion is a delicate balance of fringe and mainstream trends, and I thoroughly enjoy following their development over several seasons and even decades. Identifying the next big trend is always top of mind for a retailer. There is an incredible array of analytics that supports the decisions made by buyers, but there is just as much intuition and educated guesswork involved. I loved being a buyer. It was a stressful job with a big burden of responsibility, but at the same time extremely exhilarating.