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EXCLUSIVE: Which Trends Are Making It From Spring Runways to Consumer Closets? Psychology Says the Answer Is Rooted in Nostalgia

The U.S. may be experiencing a 40-year inflationary high, but the consumer economy continues to move forward — even growing slightly despite budgets on non-discretionary items being put into place, according to the U.S. Census.

Unsurprisingly, many consumers have turned to buy now, pay later solutions to make purchases on a budget. But what are consumers shopping for? Utilizing its first-party purchasing data from its largely Millennial and Gen Z shoppers, Afterpay’s team has identified the top seasonal trends in fashion, beauty and home.

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To bring Afterpay’s data to life in a contextual way, Zanna Roberts Rassi, host, journalist and Afterpay fashion and beauty expert, lent her insights to the company’s findings. Rassi has been a longtime partner of Afterpay and said “There’s so many things about working with Afterpay that I like, but one of which is actually seeing which trends that we see on the runway actually resonate and people actually spend their money on. There are so many, so it’s interesting to see which filter down [and create] trends.”

She added that it’s important to also understand the why behind these trends and the reason people are buying into them.

Looking across all fashion purchases, including apparel and accessories, Afterpay’s data found that two key trends are rising above the rest: maximalism and prep. Rassi pointed to the many ways maximalist fashion was having a moment on the spring and summer runways, calling it “fashion with a capital F.”

“It’s been kind of exemplified by this modern-day flapper which we saw at Prada,” said Rassi. “We also saw on the runway the drop waist and metallic fringe that was updated in a way with really cool tank tops and worn with short shorts. But we also saw this continuation of a ’20s vibe with pearls.”

Street style at Paris Fashion Week Fall 2024
Street style at Paris Fashion Week.

Within the maximalism fashion trend, Afterpay’s data found consumers looking to both the ’20s and the ’80s with modern takes. Consumers, said the company’s experts, are looking to show off through fashion as a form of escapism. Trending items included oversized sunglasses with a 54 percent increase year-over-year, big-shoulder apparel with a 122 percent increase year-over-year, feather hats with a 74 percent increase year-over-year, long pearls with a 364 percent increase year-over-year and beaded dresses with a 47 percent increase year-over-year. Fringe skirts also saw a 9 percent increase year-over-year.

To give further insights into the shopper’s psyche when they are shopping maximalist fashion, Shakaila Forbes-Bell, author of “Big Dress Energy” and consumer insights psychologist at Afterpay, said that often modern flapper looks are tied to a sense of freedom. Reflecting on the 1920s being a time of restriction and cumbersome hemlines, people sought to be adventurous.

“At the center of everything it was comfort,” said Forbes-Bell describing the sense of freedom that people saw from ridding themselves of restrictions. “Maximizing comfort is linked to many positive things like increased happiness, a decrease in adrenal stress responses and it has even been found to result in fewer cortisol spikes. I think that’s why people are leaning into this trend.”

While on the surface, it may seem like the ’20s and ’80s are completely different, but according to Forbes-Bell, both are tied to maximalist fashion so it’s unsurprising that they would come forward in the same season. And importantly, both emphasize a desire for nostalgia.

“It’s just emphasizing [maximalism] on different levels,” said Forbes-Bell. “These throwback trends allowed people to experience freedom on a different scale. Nostalgia is so beneficial from a psychological standpoint. It’s something I’m talking about all the time when we see these regurgitations of styles. Feeling nostalgic has been found to increase your level of social support, reduce feelings of loneliness and even make you feel more charitable towards others.”

Forbes-Bell and Rassi agreed that the company’s second fashion trend, preppy fashion, also speaks to a sense of nostalgia, while also taking cues from upcoming pop culture moments where shoppers are excited about the upcoming Olympics while looking at previously popular, sporty styles.

Preppy fashion trends, said Rassi, will consist of relaxed approaches to mix-and-match styles. In addition to the upcoming Olympics, she referenced “Saltburn” for its take on preppy rebellion and Zendaya’s upcoming film “Challenges.”

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 22: Blake Abbie is seen on the street during men's Paris Fashion Week wearing red checker blazer with green checker skirt and neck tie with navy cap and white sneakers on June 22, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images)
Street style at Paris Fashion Week. (Photo by Matthew Sperzel/Getty Images)

Trending items within this category on Afterpay include button-down shirts (18 percent increase year-over-year), quarter-zip sweaters (65 percent increase year-over-year), white sneakers (11 percent increase year-over-year) and tennis skirts (8 percent increase year-over-year). Other items gaining popularity include striped shirts and track pants, followed by polos, blazers, varsity jackets, cardigans and miniskirts.

“We are of course going to be influenced by pop culture,” said Forbes-Bell. “But with this classic kind of preppy style people are looking to add these sporty elements to their wardrobe, because studies show that when we dress in a sporty way or embrace these kind of sporty stuff is a way for us to kick-start our lifestyles and jump out on a side-note-free way of living and be more active. It makes sense as an easy way to almost trick yourself into being more active, especially when it’s, you know, getting into spring and summer you want to be out there.”

The coquette look continues to surge in popularity within the beauty category. Rassi said that she has seen the trend sticking out on the red carpet with stars like Emma Stone and Ariana Grande creating very romantic looks.

Coquette beauty.
Coquette beauty.

Again, Forbes-Bell said that the trend has hints of nostalgia in it. “Embracing these kinds of looks is rooted in psychology. There is a hypothesis called the baby face hypothesis and in a study, it was found that adults who appear to have higher levels of baby faces are perceived to cause greater competence. There are also benefits with embracing the croquette style and research has shown that having a baby face can change how we are perceived and explains that [we believe] people with baby faces should be treated kindly.”

Top products in Afterpay’s data for the coquette look include pink eye shadow (103 percent increase year-over-year), long-lasting stain (281 percent increase year-over-year), white eyeliner (155 percent increase year-over-year), lip stain (108 percent increase year-over-year) and eye shadow sticks (66 percent increase year-over-year). Other products increasing in popularity within this trend include false eyelashes, followed by doll lashes, highlighter, multipurpose products and soft pink blush.

Looking at home and interiors, Afterpay’s data found that curved shapes, which began trending in recent years, are now clearly taking over harsh lines and squares as consumers invest in more wavy furniture and home accessories.  According to the company’s data, curved sofas have seen a 207 percent increase year-over-year. Also trending are curved ottomans (169 percent increase year-over-year), curved tables (90 percent increase year-over-year), curved chairs (67 percent increase year-over-year) and curved furniture (34 percent increase year-over-year). Other products expected to increase in popularity include wavy picture frames, curvy mirrors, scalloped catchall trays and S-curve sofas.

From a psychological viewpoint, Forbes-Bell said that curved furniture and lines are preferred because curves are easier on the eyes, whereas angular designs are associated with education and seriousness. Curves make you feel more at ease. While not quite the clear bullseye for nostalgia as Afterpay’s fashion and beauty trends, Forbes-Bell said the curved home trend doesn’t escape a throwback, given senses learned in days of hunting and gathering.

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