Fashion Trends: Which Are Timeless and Which Should be Tossed?

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Image of a woman in a clothing store, looking at a green dress while smiling. Text overlay that says how to shop for fashion trends, which are timeless and which should be tossed.

What trends do you see lasting and which ones are going out of fashion? I usually guess by what goes on clearance but I see cold shoulders on clearance and cold shoulders in new arrivals. Help!

It seems like plus-size offerings are saturated with bell/balloon selves and cold shoulders (still!!). Any idea how long the bell/balloon trend will stick around? I'm trying to buy quality instead of quantity, and I don't want to invest in pieces that will look dated in a season or two.

Allie, are lantern and bell sleeves still going to be a “thing” this fall? Should I buy a dress with sleeves like this?

Cold shoulders, statement sleeves, wrap-style skirts, knotted tops, high-low hemlines, deconstructed shirts, kick flares, ruffles, oh my! Everywhere you look it seems that clothing has a lot of embellishment and trendy details. How to know which trends will last and which ones will be a passing fancy?

The First Rule of Shopping Fashion Trends: Chemistry

The first rule of any fashion trend is don't buy it unless you love it. If you would have purchased it even if you didn’t see it on every blogger, coworker, and stranger walking down the street then buy it. If you found the trend really weird or ugly and feel you’ve finally been worn down by seeing it everywhere… don’t buy it.

I love off the shoulder fashions… but I have for years. My favorite dress is a long-sleeved jersey maxi dress from Tart Collections that is off the shoulder. I bought that dress in 2013 and continue to wear it regularly because it makes me feel sexy and stylish without a lot of skin or a lot of effort. When the off the shoulder trend became popular a few seasons ago, I rejoiced because I could find more things that would make me feel effortlessly sexy like that dress. I buy them now, knowing I’ll still be wearing them years from now not because the trend is cool but because the trend has become part of my personal style.

A collage of photos of Barbra Streisand wearing the cold shoulder trend
Babs has rocked the cold shoulder trend for years

I hated the cold shoulder trend when it came out. I hated it when Donna Karan did it decades ago, I always connected it to Barbra Streisand who often wore cold shoulders (nothing wrong with Babs, but she wears it so often it's become one of her signature looks). But cold shoulders were EVERYWHERE and the trend finally wore me down and I bought a cold shoulder top. I wore it three times before I donated it, regretting the purchase. If a trend needs months of seeing it everywhere to wear me down it’s not worth a purchase.

The Second Rule of Shopping Fashion Trends: Practicality

If a trend requires you to buy special undergarments, a new silhouette of coordinating garments, or special shoes… I don’t recommend buying it. No trend is awesome enough to completely transform your closet and invest so much money and time to make it work.

The same holds true for many of the trends right now that aren’t easy to wear. Crisp cotton tops covered with ruffles that need to be carefully ironed after each washing. Lantern sleeves that get in the way when you eat or type. Skirts with high slits. Dresses with open backs. If it doesn’t work with your lifestyle, don’t force it. Forcing fashion is never stylish.

The Third Rule of Shopping Fashion Trends: Shop Low, but Look High

A trend is seen on the runways. Without even discussing it, several designers featured the color green, or micropleats, or wide belts. The next season, you’ll see the color green, micropleats, and wide belts everywhere from Nordstrom to ASOS. The season after, you’ll find micropleats and wide belts at Target and Kohl’s and may be able to score one of those designer green pieces at TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack. Rock those trends and whatever price point and from whatever brand works for you.

The time to let go of a trend is when those brands at Nordstrom and ASOS have dropped it. The lower-end retailers (and sadly a lot of plus size retailers) hold onto trends far longer than they should be around. Sometimes it’s because they don’t believe their customer to be savvy enough to know when trends have expired, sometimes it’s because that trend is just so gosh-darn easy to create at a low price, and sometimes it’s because it’s a really wearable trend no matter your size and budget. This last reason is why cold shoulders continue to show up in stores and online boutiques. Cold shoulders are this decade’s empire waist crinkle fabric peasant top.

Be Honest, Will Statement Sleeves Continue to Be Stylish?

This is the kind of trend that can continue to be wearable and even stylish if it works with your personal style. If you have a dramatic, artistic, or boho personal style you likely were wearing this trend before it showed up in every store at the mall. So buy it to your heart’s delight and rock it for as long as you desire. If you never wore it but as soon as you saw it you had to have it and now own several pieces with the trend and can’t imagine your life without them… keep rocking them. A top with a statement detail will always be great, just switch up the jeans you pair it with to keep those a current wash and silhouette and the outfit will look purposeful not dated. A dress with a cool sleeve can also work beyond the trend, as long as there aren’t any other trends in there to scream, “I bought this in 2017!” A shift or a-line silhouette that hits around the knee is a simple cut that nicely balances a statement sleeve, especially if it’s a solid color.


Be Honest, Will Cold Shoulders Continue to Be Stylish?

If you are Barbra Streisand and you’ve been rocking Donna Karan’s cold shoulder looks for the past two decades, keep rocking those cold shoulders. If you own some cold shoulder pieces and positively adore them and they have become part of your signature look, wear those cold shoulders with pride. But if you haven’t yet adopted this trend… don’t. This trend may still be in department stores, but you’ll see more often than not it’s made in plus size or juniors sizes, and it’s often on sale. This trend is so specific that in 20 years people will be cutting holes out of tops to make a ‘10s costume for Halloween.

Will Ruffles Continue to Be Stylish?

Ruffles have never not been in style, but the past couple of years have seen them bigger, in groups, and in unusual places. I’d refer to what I said about statement sleeves: if it’s your thing, rock it. If you are only buying it because you want to look hip or it’s kinda cute you guess and it’s on major clearance… save your pennies.

How to Shop for Fashion Trends

My best tip for shopping fashion trends is shop for what appeals to you, but before you buy do a bit of homework. Whip out your phone, google the trend and see what comes up. If the first page of google shows articles about this trend and the dates for them are two or more years old (or are all pieces about how much that trend is Oh-VAH) you may wish to pass on it. But if you love the look of the piece, it works with your current wardrobe and lifestyle, it really sings to you? Screw everything I’ve written and do what is right for you. Wear it with pride and confidence and you will look fabulous!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. That’s the best rule: buy it if you truly like it. Wether on trend or not. In my case I have two or three one shoulder tops I have had for over 10 years and bring them back in rotation when the trend seems to be making a come back.

  2. So I think I’m in the minority here. I know that cold shoulders are not super fashionable, but they allow me to show a little skin and get that summer feel without showing my upper arms, which I don’t want to do. I’m a 20 with a baby pooch. When I find pieces that let me wear them while not fussing or worrying about my tummy or my arms, and that I feel comfortable in, especially for summer (cold shoulder tops and shorts that actually look good from Lane Bryant and Target this year), I go for ia.

  3. This advice applies to colors as well. I love dark espresso colored sweaters and tops but the color can be hard to find. I try to buy what I need when it’s in-style even though it is a forever color for me.

  4. Great advice, as always. I have a related question, which is about how to find a newer pants/jeans silhouette when you’re in a skinny jeans rut. For years I have had a ‘uniform’ which has suited me just fine – skinny jeans/pants, shirt/top, great jacket and boots. Now it’s starting to feel a bit tired, and I feel like it’s the bottoms that need to change, but I just can’t get my head around cropped pants. Any thoughts?

    1. I find a slow transition is the easiest. Going from skinny to straight but the same length, then try a crop. Cropped pants are hard to get used to, they totally change the silhouette. For me, I couldn’t even consider them without a bit of a heel. I tried them with pumps, which felt a bit Sandy in Grease but that felt right to me because it kept a similar silhouette. But some trends… just don’t do them. You don’t need to do cropped, but try a straight leg that is shorter/no break or bend in the fabric and see how that feels!

  5. Alison – thank you for this great article. I have fought the cold shoulder trend, thanks for the validation. Sounds like it might be time for me to clear out some of those statement necklaces ….
    Keep the fab content coming, it’s so great to see and hear you both here and instagram. Thanks for being you and keeping it real!

  6. This post reminded me of something I read a while ago that said once the bubble statements necklaces (remember those?) were available in walmart the trend would be over. Sure enough, the day came when I saw
    Them covering a wall at Walmart!
    I really enjoyed this post- I love how you always emphasize our own personal style. Oddly I feel like my personal style didn’t really become apparent until I hit 40!

  7. Good advice. I fought skinny jeans for years. I’m still not on that train but I do wear straight jeans more fitted than I used to. So I adapted the part of the trend that works for me. Good post.

    1. I think not adopting trends at all can be even more of a fashion risk than adopting dated ones. I think you hit the nail on the head about trends, they slowly adjust our tastes, and we can usually find something that both adopts them but also fits our figure, lifestyle, and preferences. Thank you for this comment, good point!

  8. I wish cold shoulders and ruffles would go away already. I hate seeing them on dresses in otherwise classic and wearable fabrics and styles. It hurts my heart! (But protects my budget!)

    Same for extra large statement sleeves (a little of that goes a long way). I kind of hope that peplums stick around for a while. I’ve bought a couple of simple knit tops with peplums because they really dress up what would otherwise be a basic tee.

    1. Trends are so personal, it’s funny how many people tell me they wish peplums would go away already and they love the ruffle trend for adding interest to basic knits! I personally find peplums, at least subtle ones, to be very flattering without being too trendy!

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