fashion forecast 2050

From the Fashion-Incubator, Kathleen asks us:

What would the effect on our industry be if gas prices doubled over the next ten years? What if they tripled or quadrupled over twenty to twenty five years? Any prognosticators in the crowd?

The consensus at F-I is that increased energy costs would favour local producers but would severely affect the availability of raw and therefore processed materials. The most significant obstacle noted by Kevin Carson:

The how-to information is out there, and the building blocks of local production are already widely distributed. The question is whether people can get over the learning curves, and put the building blocks together, faster enough to cope with the dislocation.

We live in an affluent but dependent world (those of us with internet connections), rich with education but poor in applicable skills when it comes to producing things. There will be a leap of ingenuity required and it seems that many will be unprepared for. The quality of things produced availably can be expected to be less and of poorer quality than the cheap abundance we are used to.

Still, I am not sure that widescale chaos will erupt as a result of soaring energy costs. Things will be different, for sure. Humans are very adaptable. For what it is worth, here is some prognostication, though I have pushed the date of my prognostication to a lovely round numbered year.

The most affordable materials will be the ones produced closest to you. In the case of most cities, this will be garbage. Garbage economies will spring up to reap the rewards of another generation’s refuse.

The most fashionable materials will be the most unavailable. For people in Toronto, that would be virgin cotton or silk, or as Canada produces hardly any fibers or fabrics, practically any virgin fiber.

Since there are no weaving factories left in Canada, most new fabric will likely be knit either by machine or by hand. Fur will become more common. New woven garments will be an exotic rarity.

There will be a larger divide between rich and poor than there is now, although quality of life will decrease somewhat for everyone. The rich will be more likely to have their clothing tailored and updated to reflect the trends – yes fashion will go on with the usual variations. The poor will wear a previous generation’s castoffs. There will be a slightly more defined difference between the dress of the rich and the poor than there is now.

With less energy, buildings will be heated less in the winter and cooled less in the summer. Clothing will reflect this – winter clothing will be insulated and layered and summer clothing will be loose and light. The strength of the UV rays will be much stronger with less particulate matter in the air – clothing worn outside will often be sun-protective. Outer clothing will be washed less often.

Rising inflation suggests that wealth will be more likely to be worn as jewelry than saved in the bank. This is one of the factors that creates starker differences between the dress of the rich and the poor.

Clothing that takes more skill to make will become hyper-valuable, as will anyone with any skills in this regards. Shoes will certainly be affected by this – cobblers are rare here in North America, most of the ones I am aware of will be dead in 2050. Good shoes in the most common sizes will be extremely dear. Improvised substitutions for shoes are more common. There will be more shortages of things, and less variety available in everything. Local cuisines will develop; and so will more extreme regional variations in dress.

Wages will be generally depressed, bringing greater world parity when it comes to the cost of labour, but also much less consumer spending. There will probably be a lower level of employment as the economy is in the process of shrinking. There will be less productivity, so fashions will also change more slowly. People will be thinner on average than they are now, meaning that the idealized fashionable body will become more voluptuous.

There will be a decrease in productive fertility too, by necessity. It is hard to tell if this will result in more or less equality for the sexes, which historically is a major determining factor for how people dress. Unfortunately if major social trends in the modern Western world are taken to their logical conclusions, it may be a far more religious and conservative society in 2050 than we have now. There may still be access to information but it may be protected by elite gatekeepers. Clothing reflecting a greater power divide between the sexes means that men’s and women’s clothing will be less similar, more defined and restrictive.

Just a guess. Whatever actually happens will probably be way more interesting. So, what do you think you’ll be wearing in 2050?

5 thoughts on “fashion forecast 2050”

  1. Thanks for the mention, Danielle.

    I especially like your idea of garbage economies. Sounds awfully Jane Jacobs-ish.

    One thing I probably disagree with you on is the rich-poor divide increasing.

    It’s true the super-rich have managed to come out ahead in past dislocations: large-scale business failures hurt the ordinary corporate economy, but for those at the top of the food chain–the finance capitalists–it just means a lot of bankrupt assets to buy up while they’re underpriced, and owning a larger portion of the economy when the recovery starts. The Marxists probably have it right on this: a bust just devalues over-accumulated capital and makes it profitable again to the new owners.

    But the combination of Peak Oil with other input crises may actually be something new under the sun. In the past, the accumulation of wealth by those at the top has been made possible by a lot of different kinds of state action. The government has increasingly subsidized all kinds of inputs and operating costs of big business, until a major part of the costs of the corporate economy are socialized (i.e., paid by the taxpayer) while the profits are privatized. And when input costs like energy and transportation, technical education and R&D, etc., etc., are subsidized, big business naturally tends toward production models that gobble up more and more of those inputs. After all, when somebody else foots the bill you’re not too careful about economizing–Free Market Econ 101. The problem is that, because of the subsidized consumption of these inputs, the demand for them always outstrips government’s ability to supply them. And I suspect state is near the breaking point, at which it can no longer meet the demand for subsidized inputs at all. We’re very near the absolute ceiling on the state’s ability to keep big business artificially profitable.

    Anyway, sorry for the long rant.

  2. Well thanks for the comment Kevin!  You bring up some interesting points and perhaps that would affect the way people dress in ways that my knowledge of fashion history can’t anticipate.  We live in such interesting times.
    I’m just a fashion blogger so my prognostications are pretty elementary… but I couldn’t resist I just find it a fascinating subject.

  3. I still don’t think that increased energy costs will be a “this changes everything” moment for many people. There will always be an elite because the reality is we are not all born with equal abilities, intelligence, resources and opportunities.

    If Kevin is right and the gap between rich and poor narrows or stays the same, the difference between the elite and the middle class will stay fairly subtle, as it is in 2007 and perhaps continue to develop “style tribes” as is the broad trends seem to be right now.

    It is true the blog is called “final fashion” but I don’t think the urge for something current or something better ever leaves and I don’t think fashion dies. There are many things in human nature that compell us to adorn ourselves and many reasons why adornment is important. Even in Communist China, fashion finds an outlet in the style of the pens in their pockets. Dress is a form of communication for humans and is significant no matter what the form.

    The instigating factors for fashion – the interplay of the elite and the common, the relationship of the sexes, the attitudes of society, the effects of agriculture, technology and trade, flourish in even the most averse situations.

  4. “There will always be an elite because the reality is we are not all born with equal abilities, intelligence, resources and opportunities.”

    Totally agree. The difference is that when the sorting is just by ability rather than government-enforced privileges, the differences will be less–more like rocks in a sea of gravel, rather than boulders in sand as we have it now. Those with ability will have to keep using that ability rather than living off the rent of one-hit wonders, as Bill Gates does with the help of copyright law; and with freer access to vacant land and self-employment, the threshold of comfortable subsistence will be considerably lower.

  5. The sharp divide I describe is about what people wear more than an abstract idea I guess, I have my biases. It is fun to speculate is it not?

    Does anyone else have any comments? How do you think the various speculative future scenarios affect the way people would dress?

    Because you know that is the important thing I want to discuss =)

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