Have you ever thought to yourself, “I just know people are going to be wearing lighter denim this season” and sure enough, you were right? Or maybe you assembled an especially cute outfit for yourself, and the next thing you knew, it’s twin was on the runway! If so, you may be a natural trendspotter.

Trendspotting or trend forecasting can be a full-time job, and those who do it well are highly valued. The best forecasters have diverse backgrounds and keep an eye on what’s going on not only in fashion but in the world at large. Movies, books, music, food, technology and more all create the cultural milieu out of which fashion emerges. Likewise the fashion industry influences other aspects of the culture, creating a sort of ever-evolving feedback loop. Even economic trends can play a role, as we saw after the financial crisis of ‘08. Suddenly bright colors just didn’t feel right, and grey ruled the day for a while. Clothing repair has also been big since the crash, as consumers watch their spending more closely.

Musical artist Björk was roundly ridiculed in 2001 when she wore this infamous “swan dress” to the Academy Awards. She may have had the last laugh 13 years later when Valentino showed a similar design on the runways of Paris.
A design from Valentino’s Spring 2014 collection. See some resemblances?

According to designer platform Not Just A Label (NJAL), “… trend forecasting … has fast become one of the most important weapons in a retailer’s competitive armoury. In a fast moving and crowded marketplace, identifying ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ is crucial in staying one step ahead of the competition.” Forecasting company Fashion Snoops provides another insight: “In today’s always-on world, the way people connect and interact means that what’s going to be popular next is essentially a constantly moving target”—but, presumably, a target they can help brands hit—for a fee. (A bullseye will cost a little extra.)

Cañada fashion department head Ronda Chaney has developed a few of her own methods of fashion forecasting. “If you’re looking through fashion sources, count the number of times you see a new idea show up,” Ronda recommends. She notes that right now bare shoulders can be seen “across fashion houses and price points.” Her prediction is that the focus on the shoulder will continue but in new ways. Though we never thought it would happen, the shoulder pad is going to come back, according to Ronda.

The shoulder pads sported by such stars and Linda Evans and Joan Collins during the 1980s could have been used as flotation devices. Will we see them—and wear them—again?

Another rule of thumb: “When a trend has gone in an extreme direction, it always goes in the other direction,” Ronda observes. “You’ll see it this fall with bell bottoms after years of skinny jeans.”

There are bell bottoms and then there are BELL BOTTOMS. Can a trend go too far?

According to designer Anja Broenink (a.k.a. Anya SF), who worked in Paris as a fashion forecaster, you should pay attention to the things you don’t like as well as those you do. Why? Because those apparent outliers can serve as signposts for what’s coming next—perhaps not this season but the following. The latest innovations frequently look strange to our eye until they are more widely adopted.

But are fashion forecasters really predicting trends, or are they shaping them? Well, the answer may be found in the tagline of WGSN, the largest forecasting company in the world: “Create. Tomorrow.”

So whether you are considering becoming a professional forecaster, yourself, or you just want to be the first to wear a new trend, it’s useful to be aware of these companies and follow what they have to say. They often have free newsletters you can subscribe to.

Our own faculty and students saw ruffles in abundance while in Italy this summer. Even if a chartreuse ruffled coat is not your thing, it’s wise to pay attention. Today’s “Eew” may be tomorrow’s “Wow!”