New or reused: Are we just recycling the same fashion trends?


New or reused: Are we just recycling the same fashion trends?


Jackie Burkhart from That ’70s Show, played by Mila Kunis, is one of the muses of this season’s retro fall fashion.

If there was any TV character I wanted to be growing up, it was Jackie Burkhart from That ‘70s Show. I loved her sassy personality, her makeup, and her hair. But most of all, I loved her clothes.

In fact, I love anything ‘70s fashion, and for the longest time I thought no one understood my affection for bell-bottoms, off-the-shoulder tops, and jumpsuits. That is until this fall, when the fashion industry is calling in a ‘70s revival. Yes, I am ecstatic to finally dress like Jackie. But as I waded through racks of suede skirts and vintage vests at the mall, I began to feel like an imposter, stealing another generation’s fashion trends rather than cultivating my own.

The question of what our generation will be remembered for has pestered me plenty and each time I can only conjure up a short list: yoga pants, skinny jeans, Uggs, logo t-shirts…these all seem so frivolous next to Chanel suits or flapper dresses. Another image that comes to mind is Paris Hilton in a pink cami, low-rise jeans, and handheld Chihuahua. Trashy but true.


Charlie Angel’s actress Cheryl Ladd, photographed here in the 1970s, wears the decade’s signature dark-wash bell-bottom jeans and stripped sweater. Many retailers this fall have recreated similar looks, like the one from ASOS below.

The trends that I am proud of all originate from previous eras. Today’s essential jean jacket beckons the ‘80s. The bob haircut, which Rihanna revitalized in 2007, nods at the Roaring ‘20s. Flannel from the ‘90s. Mod dresses from the ‘60s. Midi skirts from the ‘50s. Even Hunter or riding boots are popularized versions of classics once worn for a practical purpose.  

When you realize most new trends are actually old, you almost feel betrayed. Your status as a young adult trying out crazy new styles is threatened. While you once eagerly flipped through magazines to discover what new pieces the following season would bring, you now have lost faith in the fashion industry to invent new designs.

Some would argue, however, that bringing trends back is just as innovative as creating them in the first place. Businesses certainly endorse this message, with clothes touted as vintage whenever given the chance. Retailers like ASOS have even added “Reclaimed Vintage” collections where old Levis, leather, and fabrics get repurposed into pieces that still carry dated motifs.

Why all the fuss? There is just something cool about something old. In fashion, and the world in general, the common becomes mundane and humans constantly look for the different. When sleek technology is the norm, it is cool to go into your grandparents’ closet and slip on a manual watch. Hence the popularity of hipsters, and thrift shopping as first sung by Macklemore.


Missguided Pocket Detail 70s Flare Jean from ASOS, $60.

The appeal in popping some tags is not only in how the coat looks but also how old it feels with its original fabric and embellishments. Contemporary stores cannot manufacture age, and this is part of the reason why consumers can feel cheated by recycled trends. Nordstrom may have rows of shearling coats, but made from tacky faux suede– the coats look more like a Halloween costume than a treasure found at Goodwill.

Yet it may be easier for brands to reproduce designs already out there than to create ones yet to be imagined. Art is all about inspiration. Can you blame fashion designers for looking back and using the decade’s worth of designs as a muse?

Reusing is not solely unique to fashion; the whole popular culture industry recycles. Post modernism was labeled a “culture of pastiche…born out of previous cultural production” (Storey 192). We are fascinated with the past, constantly comparing new music to the classics, upholding traditions, and watching nostalgic TV shows, like That ‘70s Show.

Yet as I tap into my inner ‘70s wild child this fall, I am not reenacting That ‘70s Show. I won’t wear my high-waisted, wide-leg jeans to the disco. I won’t wear them to a protest. I will wear them with modern pieces, like a t-shirt reading “Celfié.”

Perhaps this is the real answer as to how new fashion trends are born. There are no new trends, just new consumers who manipulate and weave old styles together in new ways and in a new context. In popular culture, it is said the consumers are the ones who take products and give them their meaning. Today, wearing my own pair of bell-bottoms is somewhat realizing a childhood dream. Thirty or so years from now, I hope the same can be said about yoga pants. 

-Emily Cieslak

Images courtesy of:,, and

Works Cited: Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, Chapter 9. Postmodernism (extract) pp.181-197

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