Fashion Forward and Back, Rawls and Yeezys

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

It is undeniable that we live in an image-oriented world. We could spend hours thinking through the implications of that statement but let us take one aspect of it: Fashion. This author will analyze aspects of fashion and, in the end, leave the implications up to you. The three questions are:

  1. Does fashion follow the times, or do the times follow fashion?

  2. Is fashion a public good?

  3. What are the economics of the “hypebeast” culture?

First of all, what way does the causality run for fashionable items? Let us break the question into two puzzles and hem them (bad pun absolutely intended) as we go along;

Puzzle 1: do the times, i.e., changes in the environment, cause fashionable items of a certain kind to proliferate or

Puzzle 2: do fashion designers create the future, and we all follow along?

I’m willing to bet that the causality runs both ways with later justification. For proof, a 2014 WSJ article shows that the deliberate introduction of face masks on the runway in Hong Kong Fashion week was heavily influenced by “Beijing’s notorious pollution.” Fashionable items also tap into the prevailing mood as blankets become the new going out accessory and shearling slippers and phone cases become a thing. Indeed these examples support puzzle-one thinking.

However, a cursory look at the most popular items in each category of shoes of 2020 shows that eight of the ten most popular shoes of the year hail from a time before ours, 80s and 90s to be exact. This fact offers support to the puzzle-two mode of thought.

That said, how can we fuse both puzzles? Well, I argue that the causality runs both ways. The times call for a certain aesthetic; for example, Covid calls for comfort, pollution calls for face masks, and the like and popular culture look to the past to find styles that define their generation. Fashion designers, the good ones at least, create the future (to a certain extent).

From this author’s perspective, three things drive the current style trend: Covid, Dancers, and Japan’s street style. Covid has given and produced what I term the sweatshirt and sweatpants culture. An extreme leisurely way of dressing up. On the other hand, dancers are known to be at the cutting edge of street style, and their popularity on Tik Tok drives fashion forward. What about Japan’s street style? As I write in “animations and society” The Japanese culture of anime is strong and runs quite deep in those that choose to indulge. In this case, the anime aesthetic heavily influences the Japanese and, by implication, the world’s style.

The question arises: if we all participate in fashion as is, is it a public good? Yes and No. In a certain way, fashion, like ideas, is a public good. It is a public good that is more easily definable in this day and age because of the relative uniformity in and around the world. I would stress the difference between public good and publicized good as:

“A publicized good is any whose ‘public’ character results only from a policy decision to make some good freely and universally available.”On the other hand, a public good has three primary criteria. Let us check:

  1. Non-excludable: Cannot be stopped from enjoying or using a certain good.

  2. Non-rivalrous: My usage does not diminish your ability to use a good.

  3. Indivisibility: cannot be divided into units that can be shared.

Fashion easily meets the first of the two criteria but seems to fail the third on its face. However, if we define fashion as a monolith or an ethereal entity enjoyed visually, it begins to fit the third. This puts it in a class of its own with ideas.


What is the economics of the “hypebeast” culture?

D = Demand and S = Supply

The demand part of the supply and demand model shows the willingness and the ability of consumers to purchase a certain good. As a result, as you go down the demand curve, the willingness and ability to pay decreases. Re-sellers take advantage of those at the higher parts of the demand curve through speed. For example, suppose Victor and I like a new computer, and there is only one computer produced and I, being the speed demon I am, get the computer first. If Victor wants it more than I do, he can pay me a higher price than what I paid for it and he gets the computer, while I make a profit. Through speed and luck, re-sellers are able to purchase highly coveted items and sell them for outrageously high prices to those higher on the demand curve than them. In a way, the demand curve also measures our ability to wait, especially in this modern day. The Yeezy craze exemplifies this. Consumers know fully well that they would get the Yeezy for a lower price if they waited for some time. Those at the higher parts of the curve forego this substitution for enjoyment now. In the end, the culture needs these guys. Don’t we?

Certainty rating: N/A

Fun rating: 99%


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