Trending. The word has become synonymous with current hot topics thanks to Twitter, and what’s trending changes constantly. Over the course of a week, trending topics can vary between sports stars and events to celebrities to politics. It’s a microcosm of how trends work in the real world. What’s hot today may be cold tomorrow. Like Heidi Klum says on “Project Runway”: “One day you’re in, the next you’re out.”
As a kid, my dad always tried to steer me away from being trendy. He told me I’d look back on pictures of myself one day and think “what the heck was I wearing?” and regret it. His rule was: I could by trendy things, as long as I didn’t spend a lot of money on them. If I was going to buy expensive items, they had to be timeless. (He also had a theory that if a woman was rich enough and pretty enough, she could wear a garbage bag and call it high fashion and other women would copy her. I’m pretty sure he was spot on here. Just look at Juicy Couture, Uggs/cowboy boots with mini skirts, should pads, and a myriad of other poor fashion choices rich, attractive women have steered popular culture toward). Sure, I hopped on several trends back in the day, and they were glorious failures! I went to a private Catholic school from kindergarten to the 8th grade, so I wore a uniform every day for nine years. Suffice it to say, in my spare time, I had no idea how to dress.
In the early 90s, one of my favorite outfits was this fantastic over-sized t-shirt with a giant pink, puff-painted roller skate, with reflective discs glued in random places for some reason. I’d take a shirt clip (you remember them, those great pieces of multicolored plastic specifically made for tying shirts) or a scrunchie and tie the shirt-tail to the side. This would then be paired with a pair of jungle print bicycle shorts, Keds, and neon plastic sunglasses.
In the late 90s, when I was starting public high school, I still had no concept of fashion beyond plaid skirts with Umbro shorts underneath (per school rule, we had to wear shorts under our skirts, but specifically weren’t allowed to wear Umbros–I guess because they were loose, we also couldn’t wear anything in our hair that might damage our eyes so who knows what the school admins were thinking? Umbros were my little act of private rebellion. Plus, if anyone was going to turn me in, they’d have to admit they’d been looking up my skirt). Naturally, I tried to fit in at public school–who knew Duck Head wasn’t cool?–and got a pair of Timberland boots and Tommy Hilfiger jeans, both were all the rage freshman year. Later it was Birkenstocks, which my dad called “ping-pong paddle shoes” and to my immense sixteen-year-old frustration, actually demonstrated their usefulness for this purpose on several occasions.
For the most part though, I stayed true to my dad’s wishes and dressed how I wanted, not based on the trend, and he was right. I can look back at the majority of my 90s wardrobe and not be embarrassed (at least the late 90s, those gigantic hair bows and floral dresses with the enormous collars my mom stuffed me in in the early 90s will always be terrible and border on child abuse). To my dad’s credit, he also followed his own advice. From the early 80s until the day he died he wore pretty much the exact same clothes: Levi jeans, a Polo, and Blucher Moccasins (I added the link in case you don’t know what those are–you’ll know them when you see them). He loved those shoes so much he bought several pairs at once and stashed them in his closet. When a pair wore out, he’d just toss them and whip out another. My husband actually has a pair now that we found after my dad died. Daddy was always in style, always classy. My brother (age 19) dresses very similarly, if you take away the Bluchers and replace them with Polo tennis shoes or loafers.
Thanks to my dad, I learned to be my own person and wear and do what I liked, regardless of what was trendy. (I originally had wear/do in that sentence, but reading back over it, it looked like weirdo, haha. Just thought I’d let you in on what goes on behind the scenes. I’m here all day people. Tip your waitresses). This is a lesson I will be eternally thankful for, and one that affected my life in more ways than just what I wore. I never was the type to give in to peer pressure when it came to drugs, etc. I didn’t care everyone else was doing it. I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. For a time, while I was in college, all the sorority girls were wearing Chanel “purses” around their waist–yes folks, high-priced fanny packs, see my earlier comment about rich, pretty women. I equated the fancy fannies to drugs. It cost too much money and made you look stupid to everyone who wasn’t doing it. The hot thing in law school was to take Adderal to help you focus and study. The same principal applied and I bucked the trend. (Side story–yeah, I’m full of parentheticals today–my husband’s college roommate took some Adderal to help him focus and study for finals once. My hubby walked in and found him completely zoned, staring at his computer, watching clips of Celebrity Jeopardy from Saturday Night Live. He’d been at it for hours! He focused alright! And back to the chlorophyll–that’s an Adam Sandler reference, FYI. Wow, I’m all over the place today!) Currently, I don’t care that everyone has granite counters throughout their house or lives five feet from their neighbors. I don’t like it, so I don’t do it. (Weird how things change as you grow up, haha).
My dad’s lesson has bled into my writing too. A lot of writers write to the trend, or try to predict the next trend, or catch the trend before it goes out. They say “Paranormal Romance and Dystopian are on their way out, what’s next? Ooh, Steampunk and SciFi are getting big, let’s jump on that!” I say, who cares? I write for me. I write whatever story comes to mind. If that happens to be popular at the time, great, hopefully someone will pick it up and it will sell. If not, so what? I’ll write another. If you shoot for the trend, you’ll always be behind. My husband and I just bought a house and the concept is the same. Don’t try and predict the market–you’ll always get screwed.
For those of you who aren’t in the publishing community, did you know it takes years for a book to hit shelves? Years! Books that are out today were, for the most part, written around 2009. Sure, there are always exceptions, but on the whole this is true. This means if, say, Dystopian is hot right now for readers (it is), and you decide to catch the trend and write a Dystopian, by the time you write it (say 3 months), edit it (another 3), query it (who knows how long that could take? Anywhere from a few months to a couple years. We’ll say a year to make it a nice, even number), the agent edits it and you revise it (perhaps 6 months), you’re already at 2 years and it hasn’t even been shopped to editors yet. That process is like looking for an agent all over again, then there’s editing, copy editing, ARCs/galleys have to be sent out, covers designed, booksellers contracted, printing, publicizing, and more. After all that, who knows if Dystopian will still be hot? Agents are already getting burnt out, so this trend is pretty close to done. (The converse is true also, though. If you just have a great idea for a Dystopian and that’s what you want to write, screw the trend, write it! Everything cycles back around. Vampires were popular before Stephanie Meyer–see Anne Rice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Dystopian was popular before Susanne Collins–see George Orwell and Aldous Huxley).
What I’m saying is, forget the trends. In all aspects of your life, but especially if you’re writing. Do what you like because you like it. Don’t eat sushi because all your friends do. Don’t cover your house in leopard print because animal decor is the hot thing. Don’t wear something that makes your body look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man because all the girls (or guys I guess, it would be horrific either way) on tv are wearing it. And don’t spend months and years of your life writing something to stay with the trend. Eat what you want, decorate how you want, dress how you want, and write what you want. Trust me, you’ll be happier, and who knows, maybe you’ll be the trend setter instead of the follower.