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Cultural Studies Literature Review

Cutting-Edge Retro?

Modern fashion as an eternal recurrence of previous trends

Illustrate your essay with specific examples


Contemporary fashion collections appear to be a constant regurgitation of trends that seem to be all too familiar. Can something that is obviously based on a retro style ever be considered cutting-edge? This thesis explores the recurrence of previous trends in current fashion in the contexts of post-modern thinking, second-hand culture (with a particular nod to vintage clothing) and the retro phenomenon. It argues that although the appearances of trends in fashion are indeed recurring, it is the context that is ever-changing.


In 1998 British Vogue saw model Kate Moss as unsuitable to match the desire of the new and unseen that existed at the time. Instead of featuring her on the cover of the September edition, three newcomers were chosen - Angela Lindvall, Bridget Hall and Carolyn Murphy on a cover that loudly proclaimed "All Change." In a piece inside Fiona Ellis, a scout for Models One Agency at the time, was quoted as saying "I think Kate Moss gets more beautiful every time I see her - but people were getting a little tired of all that perfection" (Holgate, BV 1998: 204). Only two years later, however, Moss was back for a September edition of this fashion bible again and is still now, in 2007, arguably one of the leading representatives of the fashion world. This illustrates how fashion, which claims to be constantly changing, actually appears to operate in cycles.

The motive of foreignness, which fashion employs in its socializing endeavors, is restricted to higher civilization, because novelty, which foreign origin guarantees in extreme form, is often regarded by primitive races as an evil. This is certainly one of the reasons why primitive conditions of life favour a correspondingly infrequent change of fashions. Civilization, however, transforms this affection into it's very opposite. Whatever is exceptional, bizarre, or conspicuous…exercises a peculiar charm upon the man of culture. (Craik, 1993: 3)

Tolkien puts it differently: "The kaleidoscope of fashion, ever turning, ever new but never new - what goes around comes around, and rediscovering and reinventing the past is part of the fun" (Tolkien, 2000: 6). Whether seen as an existentialist mannerism of the post-modern condition or just fun, the recurrence of trends in fashion is not an exploitation of the past, but a re-interpretation within new contexts. It allows designers to utilise, admire and question what has come before and thus create a richer future. Retro can indeed be cutting-edge.

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