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Thread: cycle-stages of social preferences (the fashion cycle)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    cycle-stages of social preferences (the fashion cycle)

    A useful construct to classify exposure to trends/changes in social mores and preferences is the six categories of cycle-stages. Their characteristics are shown in the table below

    Cycle-stage / % of pop. / Source of inspiration / Preferences

    Avant-garde / 0.1% / Creativity & Recycling retrogr / Unknown to general population and mainstream media

    Connected / 4.9% / Imitation / Known or adopted by a restricted elite

    Aspirational / 25% / Imitation / Adopted mostly by ‘edgy’ media and trend-conscious

    Mainstream / 40% / Imitation / Mass-consumed but represented as desirable

    Unfashionable / 25% / Imitation / Former mainstream no longer considered desirable

    Retrograde / 5% / Tradition & int’zed rewards / Broadly considered archaic or obsolete

    For any given choice/life value there may not be a single continuum or set of parallel tracks (separate continua by economic group/age) that conform perfectly to that schematization. That is especially true of more abstract value (as opposed to commercial choices). However, it is a useful construct for marketers and societal observers.

    Some point of interest are:

    Ø The mechanism by which a preference transitions from one group to another

    Ø The permanence of a preference in ‘higher *******’ stages even as it cascades down the stages

    Ø The dual source of inspiration for preferences at the extremes of the stages (avant-garde and retrograde)

    Ø The partial recycling of retrograde preferences into avant-garde ones

    Ø The virtual unknowability of avant-garde preferences until, ex-post, they have filtered down to the ‘connected’

    Ø The fact that, whereas the 'connected' are very often urban/urbane and professional, teha vant=-garde often is localized and economically marginal (though far from always)

    As an example that might resonate with most people we would characterize two sets of choices along this continuum (for middle-class men)


    Cycle-stage: Means of locomotion

    Avant-garde: ???
    Connected: Non-car / Hybrid car
    Aspirational: Car-based SUV
    Mainstream: SUV
    Unfashionable: Toyota
    Retrograde: ‘luxury’ sedan / non-car


    Cycle-stage: Dress for a ‘formal’ evening out

    Avant-garde: ???
    Connected: Mix of designer grunge and retro-preppy touches
    Aspirational: Designer grunge
    Mainstream: Suit-jacket without a tie
    Unfashionable: 'smart slacks’ and a blazer or sweater
    Retrograde: A suit worn with a tie
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    This seems like it would be a pretty useful method of classification. Where did you find this info?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    I thought about it and then I wrote it down.

    The population percentage % is purely based on my perception/observation, nothing sicentific about it.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    Cyburbian Boru's avatar
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    "I thought about it and then wrote it down"

    I cant help but smile at the self-belief involved in that sentence.

    I had just copied and pasted that into an email then sent it to my friends querying which cohort they were in. Serves me right for not checking the source (or scrolling the whole way through the thread).

    I cant stop chuckling.
    Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Yeah thank God we have Luca here to explain to us how social trends work. Between him and Jaws we'll never have a question again about things that can't be answered by some self-appointed expert. Tell me, Luca, why don't we just find out who these madly creative avant-garde are and just watch them? Or is the system not nearly as hierarchical as you think it is? Also, if all ideas go through this "fashion cycle" why aren't we eating people now? Seems our disgust with cannabalism is one idea that has remained firmly planted in our society for so long that it's not on any cycle. I could think of more ideas or cultural memes that are not on a cycle as well, that's just the first thing that came to mind.
    Reality does not conform to your ideology.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Also, if all ideas go through this "fashion cycle" why aren't we eating people now? Seems our disgust with cannabalism is one idea that has remained firmly planted in our society for so long that it's not on any cycle. I could think of more ideas or cultural memes that are not on a cycle as well, that's just the first thing that came to mind.
    Don't worry -- The System chews people up and spits them out all the same. It just does it in a fashion that let's folks feel like it is the victims fault so we can take the moral high ground and pretend it's okay.

  7. #7
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Yeah thank God we have Luca here to explain to us how social trends work.
    Between some of the goofy eggheads and Luca, I'm more inclined to trust the person who just has an idea and puts it out for people to examine. I think it was an interesting read, Luca simply should have noted that it was authored by him (her?).
    -----------------------------------------------------------------
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    I'm standing right here Mr. Destiny
    If you want to talk well then I'll relate
    If you don't so what cause you don't scare me

  8. #8
    Cyburbian statler's avatar
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    I think it's interesting as well.
    I'll try architecture:

    Avant-garde: ???
    Connected: ???
    Aspirational: Deconstructionist
    Mainstream: Post-Modernism
    Unfashionable: International Style
    Retrograde: Modernism

    That doesn't seem right. Someone want to pick up the slack?
    "So, if a city has a personality, maybe it also has a soul. Maybe it dreams." -Gaiman
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    maudit anglais
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    Keep at it Luca, at least you're generating something new for discussion.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Interesting *keeps eye on thread*

  11. #11
    What stage does Madonna fit in?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    Cycle-stage: Dress for a ‘formal’ evening out

    Avant-garde: ???
    Connected: Mix of designer grunge and retro-preppy touches
    Aspirational: Designer grunge
    Mainstream: Suit-jacket without a tie
    Unfashionable: 'smart slacks’ and a blazer or sweater
    Retrograde: A suit worn with a tie
    Not sure if it is aspirational in the UK. But fashion-wise in the U.S.A., "aspirational" is the use of a pocket square is the new accessory for sports or suit coats for those who do not wear ties.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  13. #13
    Gunfighter Mastiff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    What stage does Madonna fit in?

    I think it depends on her mood for that day...

    Rosebud: Might Madonna be a Basselope?
    Milo: Not this week...
    -----------------------------------------------------------------
    C'mon and get me you twist of fate
    I'm standing right here Mr. Destiny
    If you want to talk well then I'll relate
    If you don't so what cause you don't scare me

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Boru wrote: "I thought about it and then wrote it down" I cant help but smile at the self-belief involved in that sentence.
    I had just copied and pasted that into an email then sent it to my friends querying which cohort they were in. Serves me right for not checking the source (or scrolling the whole way through the thread).

    *** Sorry if anyone feels, somehow, 'cheated' by my post. I thought it would be obvious that if you say or wrote something and not attribute it to a source it means that it is your own statement/opinion.

    *** I find it interesting and telling that, before realizing that it was 'just' my little private pensee, it somehow had greater significance to one or more people. It happens that I work in a field where issues of credibility and authority have substantial commercial and indeed even legal repercussions; so I have a strong personal interest/curiosity re. that phenomenon. Next time I'll write it up as: "According to a new hypothesis advanced by a top-rated 'social scientist'...." It brings to mind the Dilbert cartoon where the guy becomes an expert by virtue of his having a card that says he is one, rather than the persuasiveness/insight of his ideas.

    *** More a case of starting a conversation than self-belief; though, admittedly, there is no shortage of that chez Luca.

    Jordanb wrote: "...Tell me, Luca, why don't we just find out who these madly creative avant-garde are and just watch them? Or is the system not nearly as hierarchical as you think it is? Also, if all ideas go through this "fashion cycle" why aren't we eating people now? ...."

    *** You seem to think that I see some sort of 'value' hierarchy' in that categorization. I don't. Why would you want to do something just because someone else is doing it? The reason so-called 'cool-finders' are hopeless about finding the avant-garde is that it is not a single set of people, I dunno, living in a loft in Tribeca. For any given trend/preference, they could be anyone; not always the same set. The 'connected' are easier to identify and that is what magazines like Wallpaper write about.

    *** It's obviously NOT the case that all new trends (or even most) start as recycled ones. Some preferences, like cannibalism or the Spanish inquisition are, mercifully, unlikely to become big again. I merely pointed out that sometimes archaic customs/trends which were super-marginal (think tattoos) become fashionable again. Many new trends are actually new (see 'creativity') No big insight there.

    Hope that clears things up. Jordan.
    Last edited by Luca; 10 May 2006 at 2:42 AM.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Mastiff wrote: Between some of the goofy eggheads and Luca, I'm more inclined to trust the person who just has an idea and puts it out for people to examine.

    *** I probably AM a goofy egghead anyway

    statler wrote:

    I'll try architecture:
    Avant-garde: ???
    Connected: ???
    Aspirational: Deconstructionist
    Mainstream: Post-Modernism
    Unfashionable: International Style
    Retrograde: Modernism

    ** At least here in the UK/Europe I’d say:
    A-G: ???
    Conn’: ‘Green’ yet very modernist forms
    Asp’: ‘Wallpaper’ modernism in a seriously 60s building
    Main’: Pseudo-loft, stripped wood floors, etc.
    Unfash: Suburban house
    Retrogr: not sure, probably a full-on classicist

    jaws wrote: What stage does Madonna fit in?

    *** Madge herself or people who buy her records? I think most people fall into more than one category, depending on which preference we are talking about. I think in terms of music taste she’d have to be between Mainstream and Unfashionable.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Boru's avatar
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    Luca, I find the whole idea very interesting. I'd quickly post this to yourself as a form of copyright before I claim it for myself . Can I have the Irish franchise?

    Ok, so taking that you are not a sociologist, or employed by a main street fashion chain to 'spot' what the youth are wearing, how did this get figured out. Another question I have to raise is that although you make reference to avant garde, no-one seems to be able to pin it down. Could this be an indicator that our social contacts only go as high as aspirational? So if you see some dude wearing clothes like a homeless person in a bar but you know hes loaded, is he avant garde or retrograde or deeply unfashionable? Apart from the 3 central themes of aspirational mainstream and unfashionable, the remainder seem quite interchangable.

    Another point which must be made with regard to this, and this is coming once again from a clothing point of view, is that apart apart from the a-g, conn and retro, the prevelance of worldwide clothing chains and television means that:-
    1. Everybody is beginning to look the same;
    2. What is considered by the masses to fall into the main 3 categories becomes narrower.
    3. This makes the need for the outer 3 categories more important.

    I must go back to that pedestrian city centre street and sell blood paintings from the back of a citroen V2 truck wearing a boiler suit over a John Rocha tux. The coolness will eventually filter down.
    Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    Can I have the Irish franchise?
    Sure

    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    Ok, so taking that you are not a sociologist, or employed by a main street fashion chain to 'spot' what the youth are wearing, how did this get figured out.
    I could be functionally termed an 'applied economist', though that isn't my job title, obviously. The idea came from observing that many 'preferences', regardless of whether we are talking about material consumer products or subtle attitudes to certain ideas or even market acceptance of certain financial hypotheses, seem to spread at a rising rate and with a clear time sequence, they then 'decay' at a roughly opposite rate. Sometimes, they come back, often not. That observation per se I think is not terribly original. I think the mechanism of 'passage' from one stage to the other as well as the difference in the source of adoption (the extremes don't imitate much but the middle cycles do) is of interest though. Another thing that I think is different from typical classifications is the differentiation between the actual first-adopters (avant-garde) and the perceived first-adopters (connected). I want to make it tot. clear that these are not fixed groups. Someone who was A-G on a given preference may well be mainstream in every other sense.

    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    Another question I have to raise is that although you make reference to avant garde, no-one seems to be able to pin it down. Could this be an indicator that our social contacts only go as high as aspirational?
    Maybe my choice of term, avant-garde, is inappropriate. What I mean by that 0.1% is the set of people that initially started adopting a certain practice / preference / view in a very specific context / situation. This was done due to some internal choice and not in a self-conscious or (initially) outwardly oriented (persuasive) manner. I mean like the first guy (or, more likely, contemporaneously, many people) who started painting in a non-academic way. Many must have done it and it just died with them, then someone did it and no one but he and a few friends knew about it. Then some smart Parisian art dealers, etc. took notice and went up against the ‘establishment’ to buy/support these guys, etc.., etc.

    The ‘avant-garde’ is not really knowable, by the average observer, until ex-post, once that ‘preference’ has become popularized; people go back and trace the historical roots. Obviously SOME people who are in the right place in the right time DO know, in that particular case, that’s why I term them ‘connected’. The aspiration are not directly connected to the originators/avant-garde but they keep their eyes and ears peeled for new trends to adopt (or not), they serve as the conduit through which mainstream media becomes aware of it (or even word of mouth) so that eventually the mainstream adopts that preference.


    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    So if you see some dude wearing clothes like a homeless person in a bar but you know hes loaded, is he avant garde or retrograde or deeply unfashionable? Apart from the 3 central themes of aspirational mainstream and unfashionable, the remainder seem quite interchangable.
    He can’t be retrograde, because never was never a time within current experiential memory (say 75 years) where it was the norm for non-poor people to were soiled and ill-fitting/worn clothing. Also, there is no in inherent value to it, no utilitas.

    Again, I am defining unfashionable something that was reasonably mainstream in the not too distant past, but is no longer considered desirable. Unfashionable, after enough time does become retrograde, basically when it is so unpopular/uncommon that only die-hards consider it desirable. For the guy in question to be avant garde, dressing like that would have to be something that is unique or unusual. IF, and only IF, it then becomes more widely accepted by other ‘hipsters’ THEN whoever did it ‘first’ was the avant-garde (it’s an ex-post concept, if it never gets picked up, it was just a dead-end ‘experiment’).

    I would characterize such a preference, now, as aspirational.

    Quote Originally posted by Boru
    ...from a clothing point of view, is that apart apart from the a-g, conn and retro, the prevelance of worldwide clothing chains and television means that:-
    1. Everybody is beginning to look the same;
    2. What is considered by the masses to fall into the main 3 categories becomes narrower.
    3. This makes the need for the outer 3 categories more important.

    1. Everybody is beginning to look the same;
    2. What is considered by the masses to fall into the main 3 categories becomes narrower.
    3. This makes the need for the outer 3 categories more important.
    [/QUOTE]


    1. To some extent, yes, but more in the sense of new preferences being international than preferences being the same in any given group/place.
    2. What are the 3 main categs? Asp/main/unfash? I think they still cover most all preferences
    3. I don’t think any of this is ‘important’ or ‘necessary’. I just think it’s the way it tends to work. Setting aside some forms of technology and ideas, there is absolutely next to no utility in the cycling of most preferences, other than employing marketing people.

    Maybe a better terminology for these cycles, to borrow from biology, might be

    1. Random mutation / environmental shock
    2. Emergence.
    3. Propagation.
    4. Genetic norm
    5. Population decline.
    6. Vestigial
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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