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Beating Their Own Fashion Drum

NEW YORK — Everyone knows that teens and young adults have strong opinions about everything, including fashion. Having left the cliques and peer pressure of high school behind and free from the watchful eyes of parents, many develop a personal...

NEW YORK — Everyone knows that teens and young adults have strong opinions about everything, including fashion. Having left the cliques and peer pressure of high school behind and free from the watchful eyes of parents, many develop a personal style that will inform a lifetime of sartorial decisions. While many favor a predictable roster of mall stores, there’s a strong contingent of individualists. (See The WWDList above for their favorite shops and brands.)

Look-Look, a global research and marketing company specializing in youth culture, surveyed its network of 17,000 trendsetting and mainstream young people to get a beat on what moves them. The results indicate a group of consumers that’s leading fashion, not simply swallowing trends whole.

Young people interested in asserting their personalities through style are using fashion as a form of self-expression. Thrift store finds, which scored as high as the Gap on the Look-Look brand survey, indicates that uniqueness is a priority. Garments with images and slogans also give a hint of the wearer’s identitiy and interests with legends found on caps, T-shirts, jean jackets, mini-Eighties buttons, arm, wrist and headbands, nameplate pendants and patches.

Because patience is a virtue many young people haven’t yet mastered, a typical theme among trendsetting youths is instant gratification. Disposable fashion utilizing do-it-yourself techniques such as permanent markers and T-shirts suits their needs and allows them to express their many fleeting moods.

Kadorable, a T-shirt-of-the-month subscription service, capitalizes on the idea of exclusivity. Limited-edition shirts are available to those who pay $130 for five issues. All prints are done by hand, giving Kadorable an element of wearable art. A variety of colors ensures that the market isn’t flooded with exact duplicates. Designer Ken Courtney’s clothing line, Just Another Rich Kid, features vintage styles screen-printed with appropriated slogans and graphics, including a version of the Lacoste alligator logo.

Young tastemakers aren’t into conformity or the confinement of overly sophisticated styles. For evening, Look-Look found that many young people favor a mix of casual and dressy garments for an air of dishabille and inadvertent cool so many are trying to achieve. After all, nobody wants to look like they tried too hard. For girls the uniform is stilettos with khakis or dressy skirts with T-shirts, while guys opt for dress pants with T-shirts and specialty sneakers.

This story first appeared in the May 8, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

And speaking of sneakers, the quest for limited-edition, rare or vintage sneakers has become a mainstream pastime, according to Look-Look. Web sites based in Japan, the U.S. and Europe showcase footwear in various styles and colors replete with custom details. High-end sneaker boutiques are popping up across the country. Nelly’s hit song, “Air Force Ones,” talks about the most coveted Nike Air Force 1 shoes and has become an anthem for the sneaker-obsessed generation.

Young people raised on a steady diet of technology have come of age in a sexually explicit world. Not surprisingly, there’s a growing acceptance of uncensored photography in art and media among this generation. Digital photography, urban pop culture, skateboarding and the Internet are all colliding. A raw, sexually provocative and shocking style is emerging and trendsetting young adults are in thrall. Terry Richardson’s photography; the Gucci ad featuring a model with a “G” shaved into her pubic hair, and Web sites with soft-core porn photo galleries such as nerve.com are popular, according to Look-Look.

Digital photography, graffiti and other forms of street art are gaining acceptance in the fine art world as well as within mainstream tastes, much to the delight of young people. Marketers use the street credibility of graffiti to peddle fragrances, such as the limited-edition Calvin Klein CK One, in bottles decorated by popular graffiti artists such as Espo, Futura and Delta.

While today’s young people may have edgy taste, they are concerned about the environment and critical of their parents’ conspicuous consumption. They realize that material possessions don’t necessarily bring happiness, nor does wealth provide a refuge from disturbing world events or an economic downturn. In Look-Look’s survey, 66.7 percent of respondents said their interest in sport utility vehicles has decreased over the past six months. Like Cameron Diaz and Spike Jones — celebrities they identify with — they’re considering more realistic and fuel-efficient options such as Toyota’s Prius, a gas-electric hybrid vehicle.

A backlash against excess is also evident in young people’s choice of food. It’s out with mashed potatoes and in with brown rice, hence the popularity of healthy fast-food options such as Baja Fresh and Real Food Daily. The socially responsible group supports fashion firms with anti-sweat shop policies such as American Apparel.

Finally, if times are tough all over, then young people are certainly not immune. Their social activities are shaped by a lack of cash, Look-Look discovered. Yet, their ingenuity is evident in parties and events with corporate sponsors or hosted by collectives of friends, stores and art galleries. Soled Out, an event held in Los Angeles in December and San Francisco in March, featured art, music and a sneaker bar where 2003 styles were on display.