2017 Trend Prediction: The Year of Eliminating Excess

With all the authority of a junior marketing strategist who reads about trends on the daily, here’s my prediction for the macro-trend that will define 2017. In the wake of a stimuli-saturated, peak niche-market, and politically tumultuous year, a rebellion against excess will characterize 2017’s collective consciousness, and our relationship with cultural pillars like fashion, food, and media.

Trends don’t come out of nowhere, and the sentiment of simplifying lifestyle and reducing consumption isn’t new. I’ll only go back as far as the existentialists: Thoreau said “simplify, simplify” and it seems we might finally be taking his advice to heart. The careful, conservative consumption of Gen Z-ers (18 & under) suggests that even young people are overwhelmed by options. On the whole, Americans’ increasing investment in conscientious cultivation of time and goods intensifies the friction with status-quo consumerism.

I see elimination of excess as a specific type of streamlining that will build on movements of simplification and minimalism. A more utilitarian philosophy — that resents micro-decision-making and tradition for tradition’s sake — seems to be catching up with the pared-down aesthetic that has dominated digital and physical spaces in the last half decade. Add political virulence to the mix, and people seem particularly eager to toss the trivial to the wind, and whittle down to essential experiences, expressions, and purchases.

Here are a few manifestations of eliminating excess that guide my prediction.

Fashion

In April of 2015, Matilda Kahn, a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote a piece in Harper’s Bazaar on why she wears the same black pants, white collared shirt, and leather rosette to work every day. The uniform saves her money that would be spent on a wide assortment of clothing and accessories, and saves her time that would be spent arranging these pieces into a unique and polished look every morning.

Though Kahn’s wardrobe pragmatism is more extreme than most, other examples of functional-first approaches to dress have cropped up across the fashion landscape. Arianna Huffington called for women to celebrate their repeat outfits. Ecommerce company MM.LaFleur has made a business of shipping simple, classic pieces to professional women who hate shopping. “Capsule wardrobes” are flooding Pinterest, 40 years after their inception. Why now?

Saatchi & Saatchi had a “Dress Like Matilda” day to celebrate their Creative Director’s daily uniform. Photo courtesy of Michele Daly, via Harper’s Baazar.

For one, we’re obsessed with mindfulness and productivity. Weeding down a wardrobe is a good way to minimize decision-making, routinize the day, and ensure a focus on performance over appearance. Pursuits to increase productiveness and prioritize family, friends, and fulfilling time for wellness will drive people to clear away clutter.

For many women, awareness of divergent gender expectations and behavior underlies the functional fashion trend. As Kahn noted about her work uniform: “There’s a group of people that have embraced this way of dressing for years — they call it a suit.” In a Salon article on the future of the women’s movement, Michelle Goldberg recounts how she witnessed women starting to dress for purpose rather than presentation in the past year: “In my little corner of Brooklyn, ambient feminism appeared to influence the way fashionable young women dressed. They wore oversized shirtdresses or loose wide-legged pants and chunky shoes, clothes for doing things rather than displaying oneself.”

I anticipate that attributes of women’s dress and clothing — like ridiculously small pockets, which recently received viral attention — will continue to be politicized, veering us towards more utilitarian takes on what we wear. Early 2016’s “athleisure” look optimized versatility, late 2016’s inventions like Thinx combined period products with undergarments, and I’m eager to see what 2017 influences will pare down what people purchase and pursue.

Enough with clothes. Let’s talk about food.

Food

I won’t go so far as to say that the artisanal-hipster food cult bubble has burst. But it has certainly started to crack.

The excess of specialty flavor combinations and foodie inventions has become too much, even for committed culinary folks. Hear the exhausted disdain in Keith Blanchard’s article in The Wall Street Journal, “Why Hipster Cooking Gizmos Are Killing Cooking”:

Those post-ironic facial-hair experimenters decided to ruin comfort food by miniaturizing everything, by stirring in eco-politics, and by infusing even the simplest staple foods with a tongue-torturing chain of exotic ingredients. Mmm, crowd-foraged, hand-folded quail tarts drizzled in a Stumptown cracked-pepper emulsion…just like Grandma’s! It’s all insupportably decadent — there can’t possibly be enough applewood on the planet to smoke all this bacon — but food apparently must now be intriguingly hyper-complex.

Even foodie sites like Grub Street expressed their distaste, in late December 2016, for trends and that seemed to delight young urban professional crowds only a few weeks prior. “Absurdist cocktail names” and “chef-backstories narratives” were among the list of things they demanded restaurants nix.

If 2016 was the year of cross-bred desserts, cold brew nitro coffee, and other instant cult-following foods, I think 2017 will bring a backlash. In Broad City’s “churron” scene, 2016 is Abbi, fueled blindly by the experience economy, waiting outside a bougie Brooklyn bakery among impatient, yoga-panted people for an overpriced churro-macaroon (“churron”). 2017 might look more like Ilana, who casually tosses the macaroon-churro baby into the garbage.

Abbi, Ilana, and a bag of churrons. Photo courtesy of Comedy Central, via Vulture.

The food category suggests that it’s not only the growing breadth of choice that is beginning to feel fraught, but also the depth and specificity of particular food categories. Grub Street’s “8 Dining Trends We’re Tired of” included “rampant sommelier creep.” The article complains that “your friendly wine sommelier has been supplemented, recently by too many extraneous experts opining on too many esoteric food groups, including hot sauce, water, and tea.” Culinary categories and subcategories are perhaps growing too bloated and unwieldy for even invested diners and hobbyists to endure.

I have to wonder if the sudden deflation of excitement around impulsively-inventive and expertise-imbued consumables is a side effect of post-election liberal coping. (Let’s be real, niche food crazes belong to coastal elites.) Are left-leaning city dwellers now hurriedly rejecting superfluous cultural contributions, that feel excruciatingly trite in the wake of a momentous political defeat?

If yes, there’s always the starkest food solution of them all, straight outta Silicon Valley. The epitome of eliminating excess, Soylent plotted its 2017 comeback with two new drink flavors.

Media

One realm that has undeniably been molded by a post-election climate is information and content consumption. Overwhelmed by the impact that different version of the truth can have, people are looking to streamlining the sources they rely on for daily news, and to extinguish disreputable information outlets in the long-term.

Following the presidential election, an eruption of concern over fake news, filter bubbles, and echo chambers pressured media giants like Google and Facebook to identify as such, and to take greater responsibility for distributing honest and objective reporting. Charts like the one below surfaced to help readers whittle down the news sources they engage with, while articles like The Guardian’s widely shared “How Technology Disrupted the Truth” chastised journalists and campaigns for churning out stories that were more loyal to clicks than facts.

Curated media consumption will continue to be a response to information overload, especially now that false reporting and skewed stories are top of mind.

I don’t anticipate a decrease in the amount of content produced by new organizations, or a significant change in the volume of content that is served through social media. However, as today’s teenagers grow up and account for a broader swath of mainstream culture, their preference for private avenues of communication and social media (think Snapchat versus Facebook) could result in less personally shared content making its way onto social platforms.

So what?

Minimized consumption comes with psychological and environmental benefits. It is my hope that a trend of eliminating excess in 2017 will raise our expectations of sustainability and longevity from things (organizations, activities, media, etc.) that take our dollars and attention.

The paradox of movements that minimize is that they often result in waste. As we try to declutter our lives, we ditch things that are no longer relevant, and frequently refill with a fad product or practice disguised as improvement. Be sincere and intensely personal with your undertakings. Your individual preferences will outlast the year’s trends, assuming you outlast the year.

1/10/2017: Check out this year’s preview video for Maison-Objet, a biannual Interior Design trade show in Paris, for a visualization of eliminated excess—in their words, “silence.”


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