The runways might start the trends, but Google Search shows us which styles really catch on with shoppers. To get the latest consumer insights, we looked at search patterns and geographic data driving this year's biggest fashion trends.
Fashion may have gotten fast, but consumers have gotten faster. On Google, they're shopping in countless moments that matter every day—looking for ideas, finding the best, and buying with a tap. Taken together, all of these retail-related searches give a snapshot of styles on the rise that can make for impactful trends.
Our latest Google Fashion report highlights three of these trends—military chic, free spirit, and ready wear—that stand out in both the United States and United Kingdom. More than just the latest fads, though, these styles (and how people search for them) hint at broader shifts in consumer behaviour and cultural values.
Bomber jackets are the new uniform
There was a time when women dressed for men. Today, they're dressing more like men, reappropriating traditionally masculine styles like bomber jackets and biker jeans. At the same time, men are sporting these styles in more "feminine" colours and patterns. The result is a growing and evolving trend in "military chic" that's giving fierce a new face. When we interviewed a group of shoppers in the US, one woman said she liked this style because "it makes any look a bit edgier."
The bomber jacket is leading the trend. While search interest has been growing steadily for years, it just recently surged, starting in London late last year.1 Since then, it has spread to most major cities across the US and UK2
How people search for bomber jackets reflects its style evolution from military to mainstream. While it's often searched with words like "flight," "army," and "MA1" (the traditional style), "David Beckham" and "Kanye West" are also common, reflecting the influence celebrities have had on the trend's adoption. General terms like "mens," "womens," "petite," and "plus size" suggest interest has made its way to the average consumer. Where's it heading next? Check the playground—"kids," "baby," and "toddler" are all top-associated terms.3
This trend doesn't seem to be going out-of-season. In April, searches for bomber jackets grew 297% YoY in the UK and 612% YoY in the US4, and people looked for more spring-ready colours and materials like satin, silk, pink, florals, and embroidery.5
Off-the-shoulder is so on-trend
Off-the-shoulder tops and dresses are trending, along with other flower-child styles like boho dresses and kimonos. The off-the-shoulder look has grown in both markets from December 2015 to May 2016—261% in the UK and 347% in the US6
The look is comfortable, stylish, and adaptable, making it a go-to for consumers across the board. Associated keywords range from "dress" to "bikini," "wedding" to "beach." People are also looking for "maternity" and "baby" versions of the style, highlighting its cross-age appeal. Indeed, search data shows that celebrities from Michelle Obama to Kendall Jenner helped popularise the look. As for materials, lace and denim top the charts, showing the versatility of the trend.8 "I wear off the shoulder tops because they are sexy, but easy to wear," said one interviewee. "It's a playful way to show a bit of skin, without feeling self-conscious," said another.
Make room for rompers
One of the best things about the free-spirit style—its ease—goes double for the third trend: ready outfits. Jumpsuits, rompers (called playsuits in the UK), two-piece dresses, and co-ords are all one-stop styles on the rise.8 While British consumers led the romper/playsuit trend in 2013, Americans embraced it two years later in a much bigger way. In the US, interest in the romper/playsuit has seen steady growth between 2014 and 2016.9
As evidence of its mainstream appeal, searches for rompers are now spiking in areas across each country, not just major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London.10 It also has major crossover appeal. Top attributes span ages ("baby," "teens," "adult"), occasion ("festival," "wedding," "beach"), even gender ("women," "girls," "men," "boys").11
Playsuits have wide appeal partly because they're quick and easy (important for time-strapped women), yet still fashion-forward. "Playsuits are great at helping you avoid decision fatigue without sacrificing style or comfort," said one woman we spoke with. "Put one and you're done." As another put it, "Playsuits feel like pajamas but look polished enough for the office or date night."
Like the other fashion trends, it's influenced by celebrities—this time Taylor Swift, Kate Hudson, and YouTube creator Bethany Mota were often searched along with the style.12 Mota included playsuits in her Spring 2014 line with Aeropostale, leading to a big surge in searches. In fact, she made history that year as the most searched-for fashion designer on Google—a first for a YouTube star. The fact that she ranked above Kate Spade and Oscar de la Renta shows the massive and growing cultural influence these creators have on consumers.
What people search shows popularity, how they search reveals opportunity.
What searches say about consumers
What people search shows popularity, how they search reveals opportunity. Looking at associated terms for these retail trends, brands can get a better understanding of consumers—their attitudes, influences, and needs—that can inform everything from new products to media plans. Here are four themes we saw supported by search data:
1. Kids' clothes are growing up. With fashion magazines reporting on stylish toddlers and coveting Blue Ivy Carter's wardrobe, parents are now looking for kid-sized versions of the latest styles. Terms like "boy," "girl," "newborn," and "toddler" were commonly searched along with all three of these trends. At the same time, people are searching for "adult" versions, hinting that they may have first seen the style on North West, not Kim or Kanye.
2. Gender lines are blurring. Just as kids and adults are embracing the same styles, so are men and women. Consumers are searching for bomber jackets and rompers along with gendered terms ("men," "women," "boys," "girls"). "There's a revolution going on," said Ellen Sideri, founder of ESP Trendlab. "The characteristics of masculine and feminine are not owned by each gender, they're owned in common. The walls are coming down."
3. One style isn't fitting all. Consumers may be adopting these looks en masse, but they don't want a cookie-cutter style. They're searching for many different takes on these trends—from cropped to longline bomber jackets, tunic to body-conscious off-the-shoulder dresses, fitted to harem rompers—to get a more personalised look.
4. Fashion is getting functional. All of these styles are comfortable and fuss-free, and people are looking to wear them everywhere. Whether it's a playsuit for a festival, an off-the-shoulder bikini at the beach, or a lightweight floral bomber jacket for spring, consumers are searching for items by occasions and activities. They're both looking to adapt trends to the moment and find styles that can go anywhere. "We're trying to accomplish things at such a rapid speed that everything is playing into function," said Sideri.
1,4 Google internal data, US and UK, indexed by May 2010 search volume for "bomber jacket," May 2010–May 2016.
2 Google internal data, Jan.–Mar. 2016.
3,5 Google internal data, US and UK, associations are defined as phrases searched with "bomber jacket" and "bomber jackets" (combined), Mar.–May 2016.
6 Google internal data, US and UK, indexed by May 2010 search volume for "off shoulder dress," "off shoulder top," "off the shoulder dress," "off the shoulder top," "off shoulder dresses," "off shoulder tops," "off the shoulder dresses," "off the shoulder tops" (combined), May 2010–May 2016.
7 Google internal data, US and UK, associations are defined as phrases searched with "off shoulder dress," "off shoulder top," "off the shoulder dress," "off the shoulder top," "off shoulder dresses," "off shoulder tops," "off the shoulder dresses," "off the shoulder tops" (combined), Jan. 2013–May 2016.
8 Google internal data, US and UK, Mar.–May 2016.
9 Google internal data, US and UK, indexed by May 2010 search volume for "romper," "rompers," "playsuit," "playsuits" (combined), May 2010–May 2016.
10 Google internal data, US and UK, May 2016.
11 Google internal data, US and UK, associations are defined as phrases searched with "romper," "rompers," "playsuit," "playsuits," (combined), Mar.–May 2016.
12 Google internal data, UK, associations defined as phrases searched with "romper," "rompers," "playsuit," "playsuits" (combined), Jan. 2013–May 2016.