The myth of trickle-down. How fashions do (not) spread in European fashion magazines, and what this tells us about power and status in the global fashion system


This chapter offers an empirical examination of this common account of how fashion works. Do fashion styles ‘trickle-down’? That is, do we see the diffusion of styles from high-status to lower-status actors within countries, and from central to more peripheral fashion fields? We analyse this by looking at European fashion magazines from four countries, over a period of 30 years (1982–2011), focusing on various aesthetic elements. We first look at trickle-down within three national fashion fields, namely, France, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Second, we look at transnational trickle-down from high-status magazines in fashion capitals Milan and Paris to more peripheral countries. Our analysis shows that mechanisms of status-based imitation and trickle-down do not suffice to understand the spread of fashion. To explain a change in fashion, we point to three other processes that interact with, and sometimes counteract, status-based diffusion. First, immediate attunement, that is: the sharing of information and material resources that creates similarity without (much) time lag. Second, identity: the persistence of distinct, durable styles typical of countries, institutions, and social groups and categories. Finally, there is a large residue of ‘endogenous’ change that is not easily captured by sociological mechanisms. We therefore conclude that innovation in fashion does not necessarily come from high-status locations, and that change does not require explicit consecration of high-status actors. Indeed, as the power of fashion magazines is increasingly challenged by fragmented, transnational networks of influencers and platforms, trickle-down is likely to become an (even) less important driver of change.