Explore 250 Years of What Makes Fashion “Trendy” at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology

A new exhibit, “Trend-ology,” examines the origins of fashion’s hottest looks

Yellow was once negatively associated with "heretics" but became popular once European courts began to embrace Chinese culture, which celebrated yellow as a color associated with the Emperor. Dress: yellow silk faille, 1770; Men's coat: yellow silk, 1790. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
The Industrial Revolution, which brought about the department store and mail order catalog, allowed trends to spread more quickly. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
As women became more active in the 20th century, knitwear became more popular: it allowed women to play a round of tennis or walk through the city. Designer Paul Poiret's knitwear (pictured above) drew inspiration from fashions of the Near and Far East. Paul Poiret, 1912. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
The increasing popularity of air travel in the 1960s inspired designers to create garments using vivid colors and patterns, an homage to "exotic" locations. Left: Oscar de la Renta, 1963; Right: Emilio Pucci, 1970. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
The 1980s marked a period where conspicuous consumption was celebrated in fashion trends, typified by this teal satin cocktail dress by Christian Lacroix. Christian Lacroix, 1988. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
This 1991 Chanel ensemble was inspired by the trend of hip-hop: the necklace is meant to represent Karl Lagerfeld's vision of the gold "dookie" chain worn by artists like Run-DMC and Salt-N-Pepa. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
The dress on the left is Rodarte couture, created for the 2010 spring collection. The ensemble on the right is Rodarte for Target. Together, they represent increasing interest in creating "high-low" collaborations. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
The Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 bag designed in collaboration with Japanese artist Takeshi Murakami illustrates the 21st century trend of luxury accessories. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology
Throughout the years, camo has remained a constant trend in the fashion world. Here, it is shown in garments created in 1976, 2001 and 2011. Left to Right: Vera Maxwell, Speed Suit Nugal, 1976; Claude Sabbah, God is Camouflage in the Seventh Year Itch, 2001; John Galliano for Christian Dior, 2001. Photo: Fashion Institute of Technology

Fashion changes every season, but the concept of "trendy" always remains. Comfortable knitwear was the preferred trend for women in the 1920s, just as black-and-white contrast pieces flew off the shelves last season. And changes in fashion's whims can be quite dramatic: in Europe, for example, the color yellow used to be associated with heretics—no one would be caught dead wearing it. Then, in the 18th century, growing interest in Chinese culture suddenly made yellow—a color associated with the Emperor—en vogue.

But what makes something popular, and how do trends emerge? Visitors to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York can ponder these questions while examining the evolution of trends through 250 years in a new exhibit, "Trend-ology." The show features over 100 objects, including glamorous ensembles by Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Rodarte, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.

"You can think of trends like physics," Emma McClendon, one of the exhibit curators told the New York Daily News. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The bold colors, jewelry and exaggerated shapes of the 1980s evolved into the minimalist silhouettes and color palettes of the '90s. The straightforward dresses of the early 1940s were succeeded by the overtly feminine shapes of Dior's post-war "New Look." The exhibit, organized in reverse chronology, guides visitors through these shifts, asking fashionistas to contemplate how the trends of today were influenced by fashions from decades before. 

"Trend-ology" will be on view through April 30, 2014, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT.

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