The biggest trend in fashion for the new year might just be that there isn't anything especially trendy.
Based on runway and retailer previews, the must-have look in 2013 could be menswear-inspired and tailored, or ladylike chic. Colors are bold and bright, or graphic black and white; fabrics are slinky and silky, or textured and tough.
And pick your silhouette: There are both short sexy minis and long flowing maxis to be had. Check off dressed-up shorts, jumpsuits and slinky mermaid gowns.
It was largely the same story for fall 2012 — and spring before that. 2011, too.
"The problem with trends is that we are trended out. ... We are so exhausted by overload that we just don't have a way to process anything new," says trend analyst Marian Salzman, CEO of ad agency Havas PR North America.
Remember the days when a new fashion season meant a new must-have and a corresponding closet purge? Out with boy-cut jeans, in with skinnies. Out with skinnies, in with bell-bottoms.
Years ago, there was often a single muse who dominated the season. If she were a bohemian free spirit in the spring, she might be a tough biker chick in the fall. It seemed as if every designer was courting her at the same time.
Now the models on one catwalk seem like they were dressed personally by the designer from his or her singular point of view. Looks aren't stagnant, and you can see tastes evolving — right now there certainly is movement toward sophisticated, grown-up clothes in rich jewel tones and sultry touches — but there isn't a feeling that it's being done frenetically.
One style might be more "in" than another, but nothing is quite "out."
"When I started in this industry over 20 years ago, we'd be on the plane after the shows and talking about the trends of next season," says Elle creative director Joe Zee. "We really lived in the bubble. You could say, 'It's all about the miniskirt,' and immediately you'd hear, 'Oh, well, there's nothing for me.' Now, I can say it's all about the '60s and miniskirts again, but there are still a lot of palazzo pants, and jeans, and everything else, so you'll find something."
Do a search for high-waisted bellbottoms on any given day, and you'll find a million pairs out there — and that's a season when they weren't deemed "trendy," says Zee, who also is curator for the online shopping destination Vente-Privee.
Of course, the Internet has played a huge role in this. Shoppers see new styles more or less at the same time as the retailers and editors sitting in the front row, so fashion has become more democratized. There's still a role for insiders, but it's more as style interpreters instead of final arbiters.
Stores have a much bigger selling space with their websites, so they don't have to choose between the wide-leg pants or the skinny ones. And consumers don't have to wait for the big deliveries a few times a year. There's always a rolling supply of new items — and things headed for clearance racks.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing for fashion.
It was a stretch for a designer long respected for career clothes to tout hot pants. The same could be said for the wunderkind doing embellished ballskirts. Now they don't have to. This allows for more creativity, not less.
No one has to look alike. No one has to squeeze into an unflattering must-have item just because a few fashion insiders deemed it must have. After years of the industry preaching personal style, it seems it's taking its own advice, and designers seem more concerned with carving out their own look — and gaining fans of it — than jumping on an inauthentic trend.
Women can approach fashion as if they have options, Zee says. Take colorblocking, for example.
"I've said that's a 'trend' for five seasons. This season I'll say it's black and white, and maybe last year I said it was red and pink, but the look hangs out, has a longer life, and that gives you a broader sense of style," Zee says.
When tastemakers began touting "personal style," Zee says he's not fully sure they meant it. But say something often enough, and people start believing it.
"In the moment maybe it was a marketing ploy," he says, "but then came 'Sex and the City'— which I think was a tent pole of personal style — and then the Internet and the popularity of 'street style,' and now I think women are saying, 'I'm going to do what I like to do.'"
There's also the importance of value in fashion now, and there's not just a dollar sign attached to that. Quality, heritage and integrity are factors.
Going into 2013, Salzman says consumers have developed a mindset that will focus on a bigger picture than one snapped at the end of a catwalk.
"We're going to spend more time thinking about what it means to buy something, and we're much more engaged about what our clothing says as our signature," she says.