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At a Glance: Two Decades of Teen Fashion Trends (and How Popular They Were)

teenagers girls shopping 90s

Image: Getty

Teenagers! They are moody, pimply and not very nice to each other. They Snapchat, sleep late and possess underdeveloped frontal lobes. 

They also have massive purchasing power — which tops out at $819 billion globally — and a big stake in pop culture. No wonder teenage retail is such a fiercely competitive segment; and no wonder so many full-grown adults take their style cues from teen fashion trends (cough cough Hedi Slimane). 

Here's a chart we spotted today on the digital financial outlet Quartz, which shows how these two factors — retail sales and teen clothing trends — have played out over the past two decades: 

teenage retail and fashion trends

Image: Piper Jaffray via Quartz

The index above, created by the investment bank Piper Jaffray, shows when specific fashion trends were popular over the past twenty years and how they correspond to underlying teen retail sales growth. So for example: you can see that chinos were big in the late Nineties, during a retail boom period, and that skinny jeans correspond to the recent period of economic decline.

"The economic cycle has a much bigger bearing on apparel retailers than fashion preferences do," writes John McDuling for Quartz. However, fashion trends are still somewhat connected to the overall economic outlook, as evidenced by the period representing 9/11 in the graph above: Both the sudden decline in sales and the depressing dominant fashion trend ("bleak colors") were presumably directly connected to the tragic event which preceded them. 

So where are we now? Coming out of the recession, Piper Jaffray is cautiously optimistic: 

"[The firm] thinks the beginnings of a 'replenishment cycle' led by colored denim pants could already be underway. However, it says, consumers are in 'pause' mode as they focus on 'editing' rather than 'investment' in their wardrobes. For growth to really return, Piper Jaffray argues, something bigger would be needed, ideally suitable for both sexes, wearable by people of all ages and sizes, and novel enough to get them to buy." 

[Two decades of American teen fashion in a single chart — Quartz]