Social Media: Powerful, Influential, and in Control of the Fashion Industry

By: Kennady Armstrong

Lots of people with cell phones taking pictures of models walking down a runway at a fashion show
(Image credit: Spectators at Fashion Week take videos and pictures of the collection.

Who controls what fashion trends become popular?

Why do the fashion trends move so quickly?

Social media is mainly responsible. 

More specifically, social media influencers create the trends, people use social media to voice their opinions and show what they purchase, and as a result, heavily influence the fashion industry by setting fast paced trends that encourage overconsumption. 

From social media influencers and fashion trends to fast fashion and overconsumption, this blog is dedicated to looking beyond the runway and exploring how social media is driving decision making in the world of fashion.

Influencers create the trends. 

An influencer is a person who can sway their audience to believe, purchase, or do something they encourage. The term influencer has been popularized and associated with the 20th century, however, this concept has existed long before social media’s debut.  

Members of the Royal Family were the first influencers on fashion trends. People would look at what the kings and queens wore to dictate what clothing they would purchase for themselves. People conform to match the rest of society. They would rather blend in with society than to be outcast, which is why they follow trends.

Social media has gained popularity and created platforms for people to see what others are doing, wearing, and buying in a matter of seconds. With the rise of social media, came the rise of social media influencers.

Woman with red turtle neck and white sweater standing outside holding up a small purse
(Image credit:
Emma Chamberlain posing in one of her looks.

Take for example, Emma Chamberlain, is a 20 year old Youtuber and influencer. Chamberlain has 11.1 million subscribers on Youtube where she posts fashion hauls, thrift store item finds, vlogs, and other miscellaneous videos. Chamberlain also has a partnership with Louis Vuitton, her own merch, a coffee brand, and various other brand deals. 

For many in the Gen Z target audience, Chamberlain and other influencers like her, dictate trends like the Royals did decades ago. People look to her for inspiration, what to purchase, and guidance on fashion choices. Further illustrating her power, Chamberlain has made scrunchies, yoga pants, Dr. Martens, shoelace belts, multicolored sunglasses, and sweater vests into popular trends that her subscribers and many viewers participate in. Chamberlain has a strong influence on the fashion industry, but she would not have this influence without social media.

Trends move faster. 

Social media causes trends to move faster.

For example, on Tik Tok, a video sharing platform, a trend emerged where people would share what they thought was “cheugy.” “Cheugy” is a slang term coined in 2013 to mockingly describe someone or something as uncool or out of style. 

A blonde woman standing in front of a screenshot of the word "cheugy"
(Image credit:
A Tik Tok user displays the definition of “cheugy” and her examples of what she considers to be “cheugy.”

This social media trend is responsible for people moving on from some trends faster out of fear of social rejection. Seeing other’s opinions on social media can influence others opinions on fashion trends. Many trends die because of social media, shortening their life. 

Users on social media voice their opinions on fashion trends often, creating pressure for people to ditch old trends that are deemed uncool and purchase clothing that is deemed in style by their peers. 

Shopping hauls encourage overconsumption.

As trends die, new trends emerge leading to more consumption. One way this consumption is promoted is by influencers’ promotion of their “hauls.”

What is a “haul?” 

A “haul” refers to videos where people show their followers the items they purchased. These videos are commonly fashion purchases.  

Social media platforms make sharing quick, easy, and visible to a wide audience. Users are able to share their lives, interests, and shopping hauls on platforms like Youtube and Tik Tok. On Tik Tok especially, users will frequently post what they purchased. These videos often gain a lot of attention and likes, which encourages users to film their own “haul” videos and update their wardrobe so they are staying on trend.

Youtuber Sydney Marie shows her haul of over 30 items from fast fashion site Shein.

In the past year, popular fashion influencer Sydney Marie has posted 28 clothing hauls. However, she is not the only person to do this. Many influencers, and non influencers will create and post haul videos on Youtube and Tik Tok. 

These posts encourage overconsumption of clothing, particularly fast fashion in order to stay “on trend.”

Social media encourages people to consume fast fashion.

Trends change quickly. People insult your style calling it “cheugy” or out of style. There is pressure to update your wardrobe often to fit in. 

These social media trends and posts cause people to consume fast fashion

With constant urges to update their closets, people turn to fast fashion because it is affordable and has all of the current trends. Consumers do not need their clothes to be high quality or last long since they know the trend will soon be over and out of style.

Fast fashion sites are infamous for their quick turnaround of creating knock offs of celebrity or catwalk looks. These brands are able to make affordable versions of trending expensive pieces, and do so with a quick turnaround.

Fashion Nova, a fast fashion company, created a “knock off” romper just days after influencer Kylie Jenner was seen wearing her custom birthday outfit.

While this is not illegal, people argue this is unethical and unsustainable

The rise of fast fashion was mainly caused by social media and it has forever changed the fashion industry. Social media encourages overconsumption and many people can only afford fast fashion to stay on top of the fast paced trends. They know the clothes do not have to be the best quality because it will not need to last more than a couple months to a year. 

Through social media, more people have learned about fast fashion sites, such as Shein, and the attractive price points. 

However, with people learning the benefits of fast fashion sites, people also learn about the drawbacks. There has been a push for sustainable and ethical fashion. But oftentimes, users will receive backlash in their comment sections for posting about how fast fashion is unethical. Users argue that it is “classist” and privileged to assume everyone can afford sustainable and ethical fashion. As a result, social media has made fast fashion more popular than ever. 

Social media has greatly impacted the fashion world, both negatively and positively. Social media has changed the way the fashion industry works, mostly benefiting fast fashion companies. 

Without social media, consumers would not be able to influence the fashion industry this severely. Trends would last seasons instead of weeks, fast fashion would not be as popular, overconsumption would be less of an issue. Social media has not solely caused all of these changes in the fashion industry. However, it has sped up the pace of these changes and raised popularity. Social media is powerful, influential, and in control of the fashion industry.

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