Fashion, female fashion in particular, is going to stay with us through “the snap”. It is also going to be as unpredictable as it is today. So, what will be different about fashion in the future? That is the topic of this essay.
Roots of Fashion
I have written about the roots of fashion in my books Evolution and Thought and How Evolution Explains the Human Condition. First, the concept of seeing beauty in someone has practical roots. It helped survival in the Neolithic Village environment. Seeing beauty in a person, or thing, is an instinctive signal to cooperate with it — to help it out. This instinctive thinking was successful because it encouraged everyone in the village to help out young child-bearing mothers and children, and when they got extra help the village survived better.
Older mothers didn’t need as much help, they had learned the ropes and their oldest children were becoming little helpers instead of helpless, so thinking about older women could change and the village would still be successful. Village women aged from brides into matrons, and the village thinking about them changed as this happened.
But… these matrons were smart people, they were innovative humans. Some experimented, and discovered that if they continued to look young, they would continue to get the cooperation they did when they were young. Voilà! Fashion is invented. Fashion is a way of gaming the instinctive thinking system.
Fashion has been around long enough that human thinking has adapted to this matron gaming. The constant cycles of fashion are a way for young women to identify themselves as truly young, not matron gamers. The randomness of fashion is part of the protection, it keeps the oldsters guessing.
So, one element of fashion is looking young. Another element of fashion is appearing as if a sacrifice has been made. Why this is important and powerful is not so clear to me, but it’s clearly an important element in fashion. In today’s fashion scene heavy cosmetics, towering high heels, slim figures, and piercing’s and tattoos are all sacrifice signals. But those were not the same signals as two decades ago, just as with other fashion elements, which sacrifice signals are popular changes with each generational cohort. This is part of the protection. (Here’s a wonderful Youtube music video about beauty sacrifice Yelle – Je Veux Te Voir.) (And here is a 1 Dec 12 Economist article indirectly about beauty sacrificing Thin cases: Many find pro-anorexia websites repellent, but banning them is futile.)
Fashion in the Future
For decades science fiction movies have been depicting women of the future as being dressed more casually and more revealing than the contemporary styles. Now that we’ve arrived at short shorts and bare midriffs in 2012 it’s hard to imagine where that trend can continue. (but, then again, that’s been the feeling of those shocked by fashion changes since women began revealing their ankles and arms.) Hunger Games (2012) veered away from more revealing by depicting fashion outrageousness instead, and some form of outrageousness is a certainty. In 2012 we have the Ukrainian Barbie and Manga girls as examples. (6 May 12 Fortune article, Deconstructing a Ukrainian Barbie by Katya Soldak)
There will be more prosperity in the future and less connection with harsh reality. This means that both outrageousness and sacrifice will become even more routine than they are today — they are powerful instinctive signals so they aren’t going away. Keep in mind that they are different, and instinct will support a lot of unexpectedness, so both trends will be actively supporting changes and the results will be surprising. Example: There will be “retro” in the coming cycling, but also a lot new, and the retro will in fact be caricatures of the old styles that use new materials and techniques.
One issue that could be different in the future is: Who will these women be signaling? With men and women being more equal and urban, and child raising moving more to the periphery of day-to-day living, who a woman tries to signal is going to change. It will become more diverse. Even today, fashion, particularly high fashion, is more about women signaling other women than it is about women signaling men. In the 2050’s, when cybers are bringing home the bacon, not men, not women, who will women want to signal?
Hmmm… is Sugar Cyber going to replace Sugar Daddy?