Main Body

by Marilyn DeLong, College of Design, University of Minnesota(bios)


Understanding aesthetic experience not only helps to guide the trend forecasting process but also is needed to understand how new apparel products correspond to current trends. The aesthetic experience of both you and your prospective client can be compared but first you need to follow these steps to become an expert viewer.

To develop an expert’s perspective, you will need to sharpen your subjective and objective skills. Subjective skills such as awareness and intuition are built over time, but need constant refreshing through new experiences and inner dialog for interpretation. Objective skills such as analysis and evaluation play a critical role in forecasting as well. An educated eye is needed to extract conclusions from objective interpretation and transform it into specifics of silhouette, color and texture trends.

This chapter will introduce how individuals experience and build understanding of an aesthetic response based upon knowing your response and learning about form-viewer-context relationships and then translating those experiences to your profession.

This chapter will introduce how individuals experience and build understanding of an aesthetic response based upon knowing your response and learning about form-viewer-context relationships and then translating those experiences to your profession.

Experiencing what is new

Being fashionable is about appearing up-to-date. This can involve any number of different avenues, such as selecting something new or rearranging how you wear a product you already have. How do we experience what is up-to-date in fashion as it changes over time? Zeitgeist, defined as the “spirit of the times”, is prevalent in our thinking and this means continual renewal of what it means to be up-to-date. But it also depends upon a person’s continual awareness and interest in what is current.

Aesthetic experience is based upon the sum of influences such as past experiences, present expectations, attitudes and preferences within a specific cultural context. Understanding this is the first step in trend forecasting. Let us examine the aesthetic experience first from a personal perspective and then discuss how this knowledge can guide you as a professional in the trend forecasting process.

Research shows that the “schema” that you hold in your mind provides you with an image to compare with what you see and the opportunity for an instant aesthetic response of “I like it” or “I don’t like it”.

Research shows that the “schema” that you hold in your mind provides you with an image to compare with what you see and the opportunity for an instant aesthetic response of “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. We make categories of what is important to us—so if what is new and up-to-date is important to you—it will become a part of your schema (DeLong, Minshall, & Larntz, 1986). You continually compare your schema of what you value to what you are currently experiencing. It is ever changing based upon other images you become aware of that continually modify your schema. Your schema relates to what you pay attention to and offers a short cut to the myriad of images available that could overwhelm you, if you did not have such a schema.

What you pay attention to affects the image in your minds’ eye and this plays a part in developing your aesthetic response. Under usual circumstances, a schema is mostly intuitive and not a part of conscious thinking. As you respond to various products, familiar patterns play a critical part in developing your schema, but response also depends upon some aspect of the product that attracts your attention, such as new colors or design details. By recognizing your innate schema, you can train yourself to consciously pay attention to what you pay attention to. You can expand and deepen your schema in this way. You can even change your patterns of attention to become more aware of what you experience and its relation to yourself and your world.

As a professional, you can make this personal schema work for you. But it needs to become part of your conscious viewing. Exposure to new experiences is important. This requires a curiosity and focus on taking in what you are experiencing. You will need to express the form and meaning relationships in what you see and to open yourself to examine the implications of new experiences that broaden your aesthetic response. Setting up a dialogue with yourself helps you to learn how to use your schema for professional reasons. Activities to follow:

  1. Use your schema as a guide to develop a niche market –and you will be good at this market if the knowledge that you already have about it, the similarities to your own likes and dislikes, behaviors and past experiences, reflect those of this market niche. For example, regarding her rapid rise to success in the apparel industry, Tory Burch explains:

    “ . . .it was a tremendous amount of work to find that one opening, that niche where we knew we would fit. We specifically targeted that particular customer who wanted fine crafted things that didn’t cost a fortune. We knew that woman was out there, but didn’t want to wait for her to come to us. We decided we’d have to reach out directly to her.” Explaining what attracted Tory Burch to this particular customer, she said: “Like minds, perhaps. As a woman, it’s natural to want to design the clothes that I personally want to wear, because they suit my work, they suit my life, they suit my age. And in doing so, you want to celebrate and incorporate the inspirations that excite and inspire you (Rubenstein, 2014, p.82).”

  2. Consider broadening your perspective beyond your likes and dislikes. Learning to explore how you respond helps you realize that your preferences are yours and not another’s. By understanding and then distancing and separating yourself from your own preferences, you are free to listen to and learn from your potential clients about their schema and their preferences and become more focused in serving their needs, wants and desires. Not everyone is going to find a niche for their professional energies and dreams, which appeals directly to their own likes and dislikes, as did Tory Burch. You may find yourself marketing a global brand for children where their likes and cultural aspirations are completely different from yours. Or you may find yourself relating to the demographic trending of an aging population, and develop a niche market that relates to their likes and dislikes, behaviors, and past experiences. Then it is important to be open to the other’s perspective and for this you need to develop an expert’s view. As noted, this work is particularly important in the global market place of the twenty-first century. Fashion professionals must push themselves beyond their own comfort zone or frame of reference into understanding those market segments they will serve to position themselves for success.

What is behind this “Wow!”

Now think of your own response: Reacting to some special apparel product or an individual’s appearance, you may simply exclaim, “WOW” and never probe further about why you responded in this way. But as you think about a career as an apparel professional, stop and ask yourself what is behind your “WOW”. You will discover that what takes priority usually has something to do with the sum of your past experiences and preferences and what you have come to value—reference to your schema. The more aware you are of your past experiences and the more varied and diverse your exposure has been to new experiences, the more likely you are to be effective in your profession.

You can’t stop with your own “WOW.” Being open to and listening to others when they express themselves may make you wonder, “Do I agree?” If their “WOW” is an expression of a close friend or family member whom you know well, you may have similar likes and dislikes. And we know that preferences are influenced by the sum of such things as your past experiences, knowledge and expectations and are a powerful influence on your present thoughts attitudes, beliefs, and expressions. However another person’s “WOW” may not be similar to yours. In that case, you may need to understand the “WOW” from their perspective.

Importance of continual inner dialogue and critique

One way to understand what is valued is to learn how to be curious and critique what you see, touch and smell. This can take place in your own inner dialogue or in conversation with others. Similar to trend forecaster, Faith Popcorn’s concept of cultural brailing, this requires fully immersing yourself with all your senses. A person may have a pleasurable experience without a conscious understanding of how and why it took place. Ideally, we would engage in examining the reasons for such peak experiences and how they relate to what we value. You may express your “WOW” because of soft to the touch fabric quality, or impeccable tailoring, or the way colors are put together, or the care in which a friend has chosen to appear at a special event, or simply a pulled together look that captures the essence of the Zeitgeist at the time.

Much of understanding your own response comes from your ability to engage in good and useful critique. To critique means to be aware of and express reasons for one’s experiences, and in this instance, we are focusing on dress and other such designed products for the human body.

Much of understanding your own response comes from your ability to engage in good and useful critique. To critique means to be aware of and express reasons for one’s experiences, and in this instance, we are focusing on dress and other such designed products for the human body. Engaging in discussions about aesthetic criteria means exploring the patterns and characteristics of a product that provide meaning for you—for example, how it is used or how it relates to your lifestyle.

What makes a good critique involves the ability to recognize the subjective nature of your response and then to justify it through reasoning. This is quite different than the rush to judgment that often occurs when one becomes satisfied with “I like it” as the only and sufficient response. An expert viewer may have learned to make a quick judgment but then moves on to thoughtful critique. For example, how do the product properties, i.e. the visual aspect of the product, relate to how it will be used and further, how will the product relate to the cultural context? Learning how to do a thoughtful critique brings us closer to understanding the complexities in what we experience—the layers of first response to physical attraction, to affirmation of its use and how it fits into its intended cultural context. This probing is necessary for developing an educated eye and there is a continual need for the educated eye of the expert viewer.

Analysis and critique require some experience with in-depth and systematic examination. Analysis of any product within a culture starts with “form” as object and moves to relational aspects of viewer and contextual perspectives. DeLong (1998, 306) suggested an Expert Viewer’s Framework in four steps: 1. Observation: attending to and describing what is seen; 2. Differentiation: the viewer considers the relations in what is seen; 3. Interpretation: the question, “What summarizes the form?” is asked; 4. Evaluation: the value of what is seen is assessed. Emphasis is placed on holding an evaluation until the conclusion of analysis to see how it compares to your initial “I like it” perspective. This approach is the beginning of an understanding of the nature and depth of critique and is valuable in advancing the process step by step. Choose a head to toe example of a look that includes one or several products that attract your attention to start this four-step process

(Note: Refer to Exercise An Expert Viewer’s Framework at the end of the chapter). Is this a link to the Exercise? Any text to go with it specifically?

Understanding your subjectivity, that is how you respond to any given product, is important when engaged in critique of a product that you consider to be of value; this would include your instantaneous reaction and then rush to judgment—liking or hating it. You may learn about another’s values and decide whether you agree or disagree with what the other may think and feel. However, to make a judgment you must engage in critique: an open and inner dialog about the product and its relation to the whole of the image. In this process, one realizes that the perspective of the individual engaged in critique is the beginning of understanding the collective in aesthetics and collective expressions are what make for successful market niches.

Individual, Collective & Universal Response

Aesthetic response can be approached from three different perspectives. One’s individual response includes such experiences as dressing oneself for individual satisfaction or accessorizing one’s apartment with things you like in your surroundings. To be fashionable means recognizing the relation of your own satisfaction with your collective response as well. In other words, when you relate significantly to a time period within a given cultural group and are able to say that it is so1940s, or so retro – means there is evidence of a collective response in the way you respond. This collective response was noted by Blumer (1969) in his classic research on the selection process of professionals buying from current designer collections and the need to recognize what is going to be fashionable for the current season and therefore popular among your own clientele. Finally, a universal perspective comes when many people across cultures and time agree upon some response based upon their aesthetic experience. As fashion becomes more global there may be a push toward more understanding of a universal aesthetic response. As the market is defined as worldwide, blue denim jeans and t-shirts have become products of a universal response. They are an expression of the need for casual comfort and function and the need for global recognition of dress and appearance. It should also be noted that aesthetic response to fashion is not formed in vacuum, independent from other related industries. The selection of products for comfort and function may be expressed in the cars we drive, furniture we use or the houses we live in.

Sorting out and reflecting upon what is individual, collective, and universal in aesthetic response is important. To understand aesthetic response, it is very useful to consider how specific products represent each perspective: individual, collective, and universal responses.

Relationships to pay attention to in Form and Meaning

A person’s reaction of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from our experiences of sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste, and sense of being. These sensory experiences can be nurtured through awareness of their relationships. For example, think of how when attention is paid to a variety of food colors combined on a plate to enhance your experience of food and eating.

When aesthetics applies to dress specifically, the focus may be on just one product, or on the way the product interacts with other products, or on how products relate to one self or others who are wearing or using the product, or on the look created for a specific time and place. Recognizing these interrelationships in how we choose to appear and the way we want to look to others within a particular context of time and place involves characteristics of both the form and its meaning. Such interconnection and personal awareness (for self and other) is particularly important when designing for markets that encompass cultures other than our own. If such factors are ignored, the fashion professional runs the risk of offending consumers or, worse, causing legal or public relations issues for the company for which they work.

Aesthetics involves understanding what we value, both in the form or physicality of what we wear as well as in the messages we give in the wearing. For example through our appearance and the products we select, we may suggest our age, gender, or occupation (demographics), as well as how modest we are, or even how much attention we would like from others (psychographics). Connotations related to the product are important to recognize – appropriateness to the situation or event – the nature of what appears up-to-date and just right for this season or the coming year. All these are relationships to pay attention to and they include both form and the associated meaning. The professional in the apparel industry needs to recognize the form and meaning relationships of dress and be able to express them.

(Note: refer to online examples of current applications)

Attending to Form and Meaning Relationships in Aesthetic Response

An aesthetic response is involvement in looking and resulting experiences, such as what one likes and selects as an expression of preference (DeLong, 1998). Understanding one’s aesthetic response comes through awareness of the form, the viewer or wearer, the physical and cultural contexts, and the interactions that take place among these three aspects. So let’s discuss each one using dress as an example.

Form: The form is the distinctive arrangement of colors, textures, lines, and shapes that are created by the interaction of the body with all that is done to manipulate or modify the body (DeLong, 1998). Attending to the form means not only attending to the details of surface but also to the lines created such as the shapes of buttons, cut of sleeves and collars, and the silhouette. The character of these details and how they are combined and arranged is what provides definition and distinctiveness to the form. Information can be concrete, such as what is perceived as present in a definite and physical way, as well as abstract, that is, what provides meaning, such as the iconic nature of the form, or the recognition of its symbolic relation to a culture.Unit of Analysis: Focus on not only the individual components or products, such as shoes, handbag, or trousers, but also the interactions created among products and how they look on the body, i.e. the apparel with the body and the entirety of the body from head to toe. This means recognizing not only details of surfaces i.e. color and texture and perceptible lines and shapes i.e. sleeves, silhouettes but also relations of part to whole, i.e., surface details of color and texture to silhouette. The entire unit of analysis needs attention with all of the information received from the look or image created from the interaction of the body of the wearer and this includes body proportions, hair shape and texture, skin color and texture, that is, all the physical aspects that are present, are manipulations, attachments or modifications of the body, and the materials arranged upon the body.

For the best understanding of the aesthetic outcome, the unit of analysis is the entire body from head to toe, including everything attached or placed upon it – such as hats, hosiery and clothing – or inserted – such as earrings into pierced ears – or the sound made when the body is moving – such as the rustle of a taffeta skirt or leather boots. Or if examining furniture, the unit of analysis would be the entire room and how the furniture will look in the viewer’s scan. But one’s perception may involve only parts and details, especially when parts are discrete products, such as shoes, a hat or a chair. One can get caught up in footwear, for example, and talk about shoes, heel height, color, and textural details and learn something from the discourse, but unless consideration of how this footwear affects the whole unit of analysis, something is missing in our understanding of aesthetic response.

Meanings related to the Form: Various meanings can result from viewing the form. There are several ways that meaning occurs: through expression from the form itself, for example an expression of femininity may arise from certain colors, textures, lines and shapes, such as light values and muted hues, curvilinear lines, small shapes and smooth textures that define the body in a soft and lingering way. Another type of meaning that may arise as a result of viewing the form includes associations such as a smile resulting from seeing bright cheerful colors on a small child skipping along the street. Viewers may associate emotions with the form, such as nostalgia for the past. For example, a mature viewer may experience a look that reminds him of what he wore as a teen-ager.

Viewer/Wearer: The viewer may be the observer of the form or product, or the wearer dressed in an ensemble and looking into a mirror. Each brings to his or her aesthetic response those individual traits such as gender, age, personal aptitudes and skills, knowledge and experience, likes and dislikes (DeLong, 1998) – all of which affect one’s response.Preference is the favoring of one thing over another, such as a favorite color being blue or favoring curvilinear lines or geometric ones. Likes and dislikes influence you as an apparel design or merchandising professional—some are more constant preferences and others could be described as in a state of flux. For example, the color blue is very popular in the coming season and you know that your client dislikes the color. By consciously searching and using your knowledge of hue, value and intensity, you find a blue that works for your client. So her dislike of the color blue remains her preference, but your priority for finding a color related to what is popular helps in the solution of finding just the right blue for your client.

Preferences may be approached and understood from an individual and collective response to dress, especially when the viewer is experienced enough to differentiate aesthetically. Such a viewer can recognize when his response is individual or that the fashionable image provokes a favorable collective response from others. For example blue is a favored hue in the USA and is related to blue denim—a favored textile for a popular casual garment.

Great pleasure may be found in recognizing good design, or even asking questions, such as “What product gives me pleasure?” and “What message do I want to give to others in how I appear?” An apparel design or retail professional must also consider these questions as they relate to others. Learning through our experiences of good design related to ourselves can be translated into understanding others. Have you ever said, “But that is so YOU!” – and in saying this, recognizing that it is not necessarily something you would wear, but it is perfect for your friend? This is the start of understanding one’s own aesthetic viewpoint and considering the importance of another’s aesthetic point of view. Practice in taking on the role of the professional means learning how to gauge your aesthetic response with that of another.

The viewer who brings those patterns formed from past experience to his or her present aesthetic response through his schema is confronted with expectations of both the familiar and the new in forming his or her aesthetic response. Past experience influences the present and the evolving nature of one’s schema. Perceived patterns that form a schema become a part of the expectations brought to one’s next experience (DeLong, Minshall, & Larntz, 1986). Viewer expectations are important to aesthetic response; for example, different combinations of lines, shapes, colors, and textures may be preferred in summer and winter seasons. Though certain expectations may have developed over time and become familiar, what is new is also an attraction within a viewer’s schema.

Appearing up-to-date is important to understand in aesthetics. And for the design or retail professional this means training to look for what could be new in the design of products, recognizing what still works and what no longer works for the next season. A product may no longer work because it does not relate to the body in the same way, or a change in focus may create a need to change the product and the way it relates to the overall appearance. For example if handbags change from blending in and coordinating as part of the ensemble to becoming a focus, a change in the product is likely to be required. Finding the right combination of the familiar but offering something new in the mix is often what it takes to appear up-to-date.

(Note: Find online examples of product adaptations and innovations.)

Changes in an individual that occur over time need to be recognized. For example, age of a client (or a targeted persona) may influence how an individual can appear up-to-date because of changes such as body weight or physical coloring. However, a person whose body shape has not changed in years may be very aware of needing to make strategic selections in order to continue to appear up-to-date. Compare this situation with a young child whose body changes at a yearly rate. The child may change his or her look simply because clothes are outgrown before they wear out. Some of these changes can occur in the collective, but are still experienced individually in terms of timing and duration.

(Note: Find online examples of changes that could affect your client’s choices.)

Context: Context includes the physical space that immediately surrounds the form. Lighting of the immediate space, the colors and textures that exist around the form all affect aesthetic response. If a black suit is viewed in the dark or in artificial light, it will be different than when viewed in daylight. This is especially important to recognize in designing for the theater. Context also includes the time, place, and current and past values and ideals held by the viewer within his or her society (DeLong, 1998). For example, the use of certain colors changes meaning in various cultural contexts. Nothing about the color itself changes – just its meaning. For example, the use of white is expected and commonly worn in the USA for weddings for the first bridal experience. Contrarily, white in Korea has been commonly worn for funerals and is only being adopted for weddings emphasizing cross-cultural expressions of dress. Thus, context influences meaning related to the form.Appearing up-to-date or fashionable is an evaluative criterion of aesthetics but is also an aspect of context. Fashion is a term that is applied to dress within a particular time and situation. Fashion is defined as a pattern of dress or the look accepted by a society at a given time and usually implies an expression of currency and being up-to-date in the way the forms of dress are presented on the body. Fashion also implies product innovations that may relate current technology, cultural events or designer creativity to the products of dress.

Fashion, defined as an innovative or new look, must constantly evolve and change with time and with cultural values. However, it is important to understand fashion and the tension resulting from our wanting some measure of both the familiar and the new in the introduction of any fashion. Laver (1973) suggests that with time, response to what the eye sees may vary. Thus, a look that has immediately passed in fashion is perceived as ugly but years later may be perceived as attractive and pleasurable once again because enough time has passed for it to again look new.

Style in aesthetics was defined by Nystrom (1928), an early 20th century marketing specialist, as the characteristic or distinctive manner of expression, presentation or conception in the field of some art (1928, 3). For example, a blazer is a category of dress with a combination of features that distinguish it from other forms. Style as currently used in relation to aesthetics of dress may be considered in a variety of ways—“This person has style,” meaning that the individual consistently looks and acts in a distinctive or characteristic manner. Or “The style of this ensemble is defined by the 1940s,” giving reference to a group of characteristic features of 1940s dress. OR “The style of the designer portrays a soft and feminine look.” In the first instance style is used primarily as an expletive but also implies a reference to expressive characteristics, and in the others as a defining factor that identifies one expressive pattern of shapes and surfaces is the basis to categorize and give meaning to what is viewed.

(Note: Find online examples of fashion and style and people related to each.)

Using Fashion and Style in Studying Trends

Fashion and style are important words in the study of trends that are related but quite different in their use. Fashion is about what appears current, and being fashionable is about appearing up-to-date. What makes you appear up-to-date often means focusing on details such as hem length or handbag color, or even how clothing fits the body. But fashion is also considered the prevailing style—that is the way a group of people during a given time and cultural setting choose to appear. Style is the established and recognizable pattern—the overall expression of dress or appearance. This involves patterns of shapes, lines, colors, surfaces, and silhouettes that become recognizable because they are repeated or become iconic because of a strong relationship to a specific time, specific group of people, and location. Using a term like “1970s retro” is a reference to past fashion that is recognizable as a certain style involving specific interrelationships of lines, shapes, surfaces, colors, and silhouettes. Thus a style may be historic and you may differentiate by saying an example of a collar style is the Peter Pan—a recognizable rounded shape that lies relatively flat against the neckline – but this style of collar may not be fashionable at this time. Thus, fashion and style are not used interchangeably.

Sometimes a single word is used that means a whole complex of details that make up a style or “look.” For example a “Chanel” suit refers to the French designer of the early twentieth century who dressed women in casual clothing quite different from what she had worn previously. In the USA, a Chanel suit probably references her comeback in 1954 when her signature look for women became a two piece pencil skirt with a jacket, often with a geometric surface pattern such as checks, with coordinating braid around the neckline and jacket front. The one pictured in Figure X is three pieces with a coordinating blouse to be worn along with chunky costume jewellery. This is the signature Chanel suit style.

(Note: Find online examples of signature looks that are enduring styles.)

Sometimes a pattern of relationships becomes an enduring style – a recognizable pattern or image that may be reintroduced from time to time with minor variations. The trench coat is such an example. The layout of the trench coat is memorable because of its large, shaped collar and middle value, smooth khaki colored surface. The trench coat has a front opening and is belted often with a double row of buttons. The trench coat flatters many body types for both men and women and as a style, has been worn throughout much of the 20th century, even though details may change that make it fashionable again.

Shared meaning relationships=communication

Understanding that form and meaning must come together for communication to take place is an important first step in understanding aesthetics. Communication means shared meaning and the professional must be skilled at understanding and communicating such relationships. One way to communicate effectively is to think about your intended audience for design and distribution of products as a target market. Your target market is often best identified through ethnographic field research focusing upon who they are now, their present activities and future aspirations.
Communication of a target market may be through the individual user, sometimes referred to as the “persona.” “Persona” is a term for what many in the apparel industry refer to as the typical individual they imagine for their target market. This link to the individual user continually references an intended audience. This persona includes demographics such as age, gender, body size, where located (geographics), jobs they might hold, activities they pursue, and psychographics like their likes, dislikes and preferences.

Trends as link to communication. Trends are the link of product to historical context of time and location. The relationship of a trend to your intended market and product is important to understand. Much of what we find offered in the marketplace is familiar for the user with only a little change—in details, for example. This we would call an evolving mini-trend—when a product evolves from one season to the next – from wide to a gradual narrowing of a pant width, for example. (link to other chapters)

But at times there is a cultural shift that becomes influential in changing the way people see themselves. Such a shift is called a mega trend and results in a more abrupt change in what is offered in the marketplace. And market shifts in demographics, attitudes or behaviors needs to be considered. For example in the US, WWII created a major shift in the way men and women viewed themselves—all of a sudden men were off serving their country and women became part of the war effort with administrative or service related jobs that created a shift in their thinking—putting marriage and family on hold. Then when the war ended and service men returned home both men and women once again shifted their thinking to marriage and family. The “New Look” was so called because it signaled a definite market shift in clothing products on the market for women. The war time practical and economical look of women who served their country, shifted to a look that emphasized the feminine body curvatures with dropped shoulders, nipped in waistline and longer, more flowing skirts. The male look changed as well, from uniform or double-breasted suit with squared shoulders to the man in the grey flannel suit in the daytime, but living in the suburbs and grilling and golf as casual pastimes that called for wearing casual clothing. This trend went well beyond clothing. With the move to suburban lifestyle and interest in casual entertainment, disposable dining products (and their quick clean up) became very attractive and a large, new market segment in housewares. Other casual pastimes such as playing golf called for the purchase of golf clubs and wearing casual clothing.

Trends are important to recognize and at times these trends are massive enough to influence current practices across industries in a major way. For example such a current issue is a sustainable planet that includes better environmental, social and economic practices, and designing with the goal of furthering the health and wellbeing of the citizens of the world (Black, 2008); (Fletcher, 2008); (Hethorn & Ulasewicz, 2008). This involves switching marketplace models from fast fashion to slow fashion. Realizing the part played in aesthetics in the switch from fast fashion to slow fashion that is savored for its ability to relate dynamically to each wearer is a goal worth striving for. To promote such sustainability according to our environmental, social and economic needs and a better understanding of our human interactions with clothing, one needs to understand the nature of aesthetic response. If the product is not pleasing to the eye, such approaches will be limited. For example, if a matching suit jacket and skirt or trousers are not current, then finding a way to use the jacket in mixing and matching with other ensembles may offer an economical direction to use what one has in a more up-to-date way. We need to continually ask the question about aesthetic response from a universal perspective: How can I develop an educated eye and thereby learn to act as a citizen of the world?

(Note: Find online examples of slow fashion and activities related to sustainability.)

The work of the forecaster.

The role of forecasters is to signal such shifts in market place dynamics – the social and cultural changes that are evolving and continuously point to a new direction that needs to be recognized. For example slow fashion is gaining ground in opposition to the fast fashion movement of clothing made inexpensively and readily disposable. But the shift will not be just one solution, but many. For example, slow fashion may include upcycling, repurposing, user wardrobe management of clothing throughout its life cycle, as well as designer innovation, such as zero waste or innovative uses of resources and alternative construction techniques.

Forecasters may also signal major shifts in what is available in the marketplace or even what type of information the user wants. For example, what is of aesthetic worth and authentic is an important focus of cultural critic, Virginia Postrel (2003). She defines authenticity as the desire of the consumer to have information that confirms the product – such as the story behind it, the way, and where it was designed and manufactured and other such documentation that provides the consumer with meaning about the product. This concept of authenticity has even spread to the ever increasing acceptance of used clothing in the form of recycling, upcyling and repurposed products. The user of recycled clothing increasingly is interested in knowing and honoring the history of the product, such as who wore it, where and when.
Forecasters also signal minor or seasonal shifts that focus upon a changing color or accessory. They play a role in establishing color palates and color ways that influence what is offered for the future, for example. Such a role is often about establishing a system of relationships that differ from past offerings that are aesthetically pleasing and harmonious for the specific design field, such as interiors, architecture or apparel products.

Communicating what is new.

Today, aesthetics involves communicating the continually evolving nature of fashion. This means recognizing what is an expression of the current time via products that are both adaptations and innovative. Clothing is mass produced and plentiful – often designed in one country, manufactured in several others and marketed worldwide. This global process involves many opportunities to incorporate the new in products offered in the marketplace.

The user also influences fashion. What one wears and how one chooses to appear is ever changing – today wearing this ensemble with this scarf or tie to set it off; tomorrow wearing the ensemble minus the scarf or tie but with the addition of a jacket and brightly colored shoes, based upon current mood and activities. Knowing how one appears in various ensembles, that is, appearing consistently or experimenting with a variety of appearances continues to provide an interesting window on personality. It recognizes the active role of the individual in creating a personal style.

Style tribes are those groups within a culture that wear a recognizable, collective look. Ted Polhemus (1994), an anthropologist, pointed out the congregating force of style tribes and street styles. Street style is the term used for creating a personal style that can be seen on the streets and is often publicized in the media. The Sunday New York Times started a visual display of street style based upon Bill Cunningham’s snapshots of how people were dressing for the street; this became a regular feature and illustrated the ephemeral nature of a contemporary aesthetic Other avenues of social media have developed, such as Internet blogs, that acknowledge the significance of communicating what people actually wear. Though such activities do not satisfy the philosopher who wants to discuss the enduring beauty of dress, it does recognize the significance of aesthetics in everyday life as well as its evolving nature.

Professional roles are important to consider in aesthetics, such as designing and producing products or creating viable niches for the marketplace. In a professional role, for example, designers need a market to succeed and merchandisers need consumers to buy what they stock and sell. But there is more to creating, selling and buying. The professional must help the consumer translate what is fashionable in general to what is meaningful and particular to that individual. For example, the consumer may need help predicting product satisfaction and how this relates to his or her purchases. Personal shopping services have been popular as a way to shorten the shopping time for busy individuals who want advice on what to wear. As the etiquette surrounding what we wear changes and relaxes, the need for such advice may dwindle. Then a new need may surface that requires understanding aesthetic response and the critical relation of product to culture and to values of individual and group. Aesthetics is ever important because if a product design does not please aesthetically, few will buy or wear that product.

Keywords: Zeitgeist; Schema; Individual, Collective and Universal Response; Form, Viewer-Wearer, Context, Meaning Relationships; Fashion, Style; Mini-trend, Mega trend; Style Tribes.

Exercise: An Expert Viewer’s Framework—Steps in the Process

Directions: This process is intended to help learn to critique a specific look or style. Select a head-to-toe photograph of current fashion that you respond with “wow”. Then when the first three steps are completed, select an image that you dislike. Proceed through Steps 1,2,3 and then move on to Step 4, Evaluation. Compare the two.

  1. Observation: Attending to and describing the form
    • Note existing descriptive information, such as designer, manufacturer, date, country of origin, target market for whom intended, materials and techniques used.
    • Focusing on the entire form, observe and describe what is there as completely as possible. How is the silhouette defined? How does the form separate from the surrounding space? How is the silhouette related to the body? How is the body defined?
    • Describe the features that define the form. What is emphasized and what has priority e.g. how does the ensemble create focus? Describe the lines and shapes: Are they rounded, angular, straight; small or large or a combination? How many shapes are there and what is their orientation: vertical, horizontal, diagonal? Describe the colors in terms of hue, value, and intensity. What textures are used: Are they rough, smooth, crisp, soft?
  2. Differentiation: Considering the relationships: the influence of one part on another. Note: a part is a unit that separates from the whole in some way.
    • Order the parts: Which parts are noticed first? Number the parts in order that you notice them.
    • Examine the parts within the whole in detail. Why were you attracted to first: to #1,2,3 and so forth. What separates from the whole for attention? How many parts are there?
    • Describe the organization. How are you directed throughout the form? If directed, is it vertical, horizontal, or circular? What causes the direction of the path? If undirected are the parts separate and independent or blending and dependent?
  3. Interpretation: Look for the associations of form and meaning that seem to summarize and explain the form.
    • How much activity is taking place? How many relationships can you count? What are the priority relationships? Does the whole seem more simple or complex?
    • Consider and record all associations. Try to record without judgment. Consider all alternatives of interpretation. Pull from all your past experiences, consider and test alternatives of interpretation. What associations are directly observed in the form? Step back from the evidence provided by direct observation and consider indirect associations. What relates to cultural values and priorities? What interests you, what would interest your target market?
    • Select the ideas that help to characterize the form. Consider your first impressions: In what specific situations might the ensemble be worn? To what audiences might the form appeal? What features help determine your impressions. Consider the way it is organized and how ideas are presented. What is the message?
  4. Evaluation: Assessing the value
    • Look back over the previous steps. How does your description relate to what is valued within cultural context? How do you respond—with pleasure and satisfaction or displeasure?
    • How does this particular form relate to others? What is similar and dissimilar?
    • How is it a statement of the here and now – another historic era – a departure from the current look? How is it/might it be valued within the culture – among what groups – what target market?


Chanel hound's tooth pattern suit, 1955
Figure. Chanel suit c. 1955. Courtesy of GMD


Black, S. 2008. Eco-Chic, The Fashion Paradox. London: Black Dog Publishing.

Blumer, H. 1969. Fashion: From class differentiation to collective selection. The Sociological Quarterly. 10:3, 275-291.

DeLong, M. 1998. 2nd Ed. The Way We Look, Dress and Aesthetics. New York: Fairchild.

DeLong, M., Minshall, B., & Larntz, K. 1986. Use of Schema for Evaluating Consumer Response to an Apparel Product. Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, 5, 17-26.

Fletcher, K. 2008. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Design Journeys, London: Earthscan.

Hethorn, J. and Ulasewics, C. 2008. Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? A Conversation
Exploring Issues, Practices, and Possibilities
, New York: Fairchild Publications.

Laver, J. 1973. Taste and fashion since the French Revolution. In G. Wills and D. Midgley, Eds. Fashion Marketing. London: George Allen Irwin.

Nystrom, Paul. 1928. The Economics of Fashion. New York: Roland Press.

Polhemus T. 1994. Streetstyle: From sidewalk to catwalk. New York:Thames & Hudson.

Popcorn, F. and Marigold, L. 1998. Clicking: 17 Trends that drive your business and your life. New York: HarperBusiness.

Postrel, V. 2003. The Substance of Style, How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce Culture and Consciousness. New York: Harper Collins.

Rubenstein, H. “The Tory Effect,” Delta Sky. May, 2014. pp. 81-83


Communicating Fashion: Trend Research and Forecasting Copyright © by kjensen. All Rights Reserved.