James Laver was a museum curator for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from the ‘30s through the ‘50s. He was also a fashion theorist and historian who conceived Laver’s Law — an attempt to make sense of the fashion trend lifecycle.
Here is Laver’s Law:
|Indecent||10 years before its time|
|Shameless||5 years before its time|
|Outré (Daring)||1 year before its time|
|Dowdy||1 year after its time|
|Hideous||10 years after its time|
|Ridiculous||20 years after its time|
|Amusing||30 years after its time|
|Quaint||50 years after its time|
|Charming||70 years after its time|
|Romantic||100 years after its time|
|Beautiful||150 years after its time|
Stanley Marcus, the former president of Neiman Marcus, recounts in his memoir Minding the Store how Laver’s Law was used by Neiman Marcus clothes buyers in the late 60’s. There was a heated internal debate on whether the trend for that next year would still be the mini skirt (which was the current fashion) or the longer midi skirt. Marcus asked Laver point blank if the mini skirt was dead. Laver told him that the mini skirt had at least another 2 years to go — against expert opinion at the time.
His forecast was right, the midi was a complete flop, many women continued to wear the miniskirt, and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make up their minds went into the pants suit. Pants were bound to come, but the skirt-length controversy made pants acceptable at an accelerated rate.
The brilliance of this timeline is that it can be applied to nearly all creative mediums — not just fashion but also art, design, architecture, and even music. Smart, or Current Fashion, doesn’t have a particular time frame attached to it. Something can be smart for 1 year or a even few years.
Think back to some of the trendy things of the past and you’ll see how it applies: candy colored iMacs, Victorian wallpaper, Emigre fonts, Disco, Sears homes of the 1920’s, Preppy clothes, Atari video game box covers, and Braun products of the late-50’s early 60’s.
Hitting that sweet spot around Daring and Smart when you’re trying to design, create or sell something is crucial. There’s even a market for Dowdy too, right? Just look around at your local mall or shopping center. Just remember that in a few years it’ll start to look bad. In 10 years it’ll look REALLY bad. Then, after some time, it will be appreciated — or even revered — again. I take comfort that something like Comic Sans (theoretically) will have a shot at being beautiful in 100 years time.