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Are new trends just recycled trends from the past?

Nostalgia is in our every day lives, sometimes without us even realising. Music, haircuts, clothes, video games and TV shows all include recycled trends that you might not even know about.

Are the trends we think of as new actually just trends from the past returning to the limelight?

Key examples in music include Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, which has been brought back into the spotlight through popular Netflix series Stranger Things, or Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’, which we saw return through the 2022 edition of Top Gun in cinemas.

For haircuts, you only have to step foot on a train or tram in Melbourne, and you’re bound to come across a 13-to-18-year-old male with a mullet – mullets were massive in the 70s. 10 years ago, the majority of teenage boys had Justin Bieber haircuts, now they’ve got mullets.

When it comes to clothes, flared pants for women are back in fashion – these were also huge in the 70s. For men, the woollen cord jackets that were prominent in the 80s also have returned over the past couple of years.

On the new Nintendo devices engrossing us today, Nintendo has held onto classics like Super Mario Bros, which was an extremely popular game on the Nintendo 64 (launched way back in 1996).

So many of us have a fascination with TV shows set in the past, like Stranger Things, Riverdale, Downton Abbey, Bridgerton, Mad Max… the list goes on.

We caught up with Associate Professor Clare Corbould from Deakin University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences for her take on nostalgia and why certain trends from the past return.

Nostalgia has turned from a medical condition to a commodity

 Assoc. Prof. Corbould points out that nostalgia used to be a medical diagnosis, linked to homesickness and believed to cause illnesses and even death. But now, nostalgia is thought of as harmless, and just a way to process rapid technological changes.

‘There’s an argument that those cycles, especially in clothes and adornment, are getting ever shorter,’ Assoc. Prof. Corbould says. ‘Millennials are looking back in amazement at the 90s now, and in the 90s there was a recycling of fashion from the 70s. For young people, especially, the recycling is a way of processing change.’

We often see fashion trends returning from the past without many of us even realising. A key example you’ll see at the moment is flared pants returning to fashion, or as Assoc. Prof. Corbould points out, ruffled sleeves, which also often come and go.

‘Fashion is interesting. Some styles will go back to the 19th century, for example ruffled sleeves were popular in the 1830s and then they come back again later at different times,’ she says.

Women are also back to revealing their waists, and while skinny jeans were in fashion until recently, now it’s back to high-waisted pants, another trend from the past.

Recycled rock appeals across generations

Assoc. Prof. Corbould suggests the frame of all new music has been heard before, but it’s just recycled to reach the modern audience based on what is trending.

‘My stepfather used to give me a hard time and he’d say there’s no new music. What you’re listening to is rock from the 50s, 60s and 70s recycled. There’s nothing new,’ she says.

‘A more recent example is Dua Lipa’s remix of the four Elton John songs. It takes his excellent vocals and makes them into something new with the underlying pop track.’

This tactic is successful because it takes something that was popular in the past, appealing to older Elton John fans, and fits it into a current style, allowing it to also appeal to a younger audience.

‘It appeals to all kinds of people, it reached me and I don’t follow pop music at all,’ Assoc. Prof. Corbould says.

How entertainment appeals to a widespread audience

Assoc. Prof. Corbould believes the creators of Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ were smart because they’ve created a show set in the 80s that appeals to the older generation, but using a young cast means it also appeals to the younger generation.

Including music from the 80s catches the attention of those who grew up when songs like Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that hill’ were released.

‘It is a way of reaching a very wide audience by taking something old and giving it a new spin,’ Assoc. Prof. Corbould explains.

‘It’s revelatory for young people who never lived through that and nostalgia for the rest of us.’

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Dr Clare Corbould
Dr Clare Corbould

Associate Professor,

Faculty of Arts and Education,

Deakin University

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