While fads come and go (and occasionally come back as retro), the availability of MTV and the internet to recent generations means that a newly-minted style can go from "in" to "out" faster than you can process your online order at PacSun, replaced by some other equally pointless fad.
So who's behind these trends that pop up and spread like wildfire? Usually, it's some damned celebrity. For instance ...
Who's To Blame: Ice-T, "Marky" Mark WahlbergFew fashion trends are so abhorred by some members of the public that they can land you in jail, but this is exactly where you can wind up if you let your jeans sag enough to expose your underwear in the town of Delcambre, Louisiana. As sagging has been said to have originated among prison inmates (due to prisoners being issued oversized clothes and not permitted to wear belts) this means that your punishment for wearing sagging pants in Louisiana could be ... a sentence to six months wearing saggy pants. Yeah, that'll deter and "reform" those saggy-pants-wearers, Louisiana!
The drooping pants started showing up around 1992, but as early as 1988, rapper Ice-T was boasting that his "pants are saggin'" (in the track "Colors") so we're blaming him for starting the whole thing since we have him on record.
Though he did show some restraint
By 1993 Marky Mark Wahlberg was doing Calvin Klein ads showing off the look, and there was no keeping it out of the mainstream.
Good job, guys. You created a trend so awful they're having to threaten people with jail to stop it.
Who's To Blame: Jennifer Aniston
This haircut worn by Aniston in the early years of Friends was voted as the "most influential hairstyle of all time" in a survey of 2,000 women though we question any such survey that doesn't include Princess Leia's earmuff hair Star Wars in the top 10.
Apparently, it's influence was limited to fans simultaneously copying the style in 1996, and then immediately dropping the style after realizing everyone having the same hairstyle as you at a party is more embarrassing than seeing just one other person wearing the same outfit.
Who's To Blame: Melanie Griffith
In 1988, the film Working Girl starred Melanie Griffith in a succession of broad-shouldered suits, showing women the path to success was pretending to be someone else and boning Harrison Ford.
Harrison Ford lobbied hard to have "boning Harrison Ford" become the dominant women's fashion trend, but a nasty case of--well, legally we can't say, but it rhymes with "syphilis"--took him out of the running and the shoulder-pad became the ultimate symbol of late '80s go-getter women's empowerment.
Because clearly the best way to convince people to take you seriously is to dress like your suit barely contains the rippling muscles of your massive shoulders. Women dressing like linebackers eventually lost its pull, but lately the fashion world is buzzing about bringing them back. Meanwhile, we're still trying to figure out why the male version of this trend never caught on after Road Warrior.
Who's To Blame: Poison
This style, which involves treating denim with chemicals that fade the dye and create white streaks in the jeans somehow became popular in the mid-'80s. Even if it were possible for something advertised as being washed in acid to look cool, the look was often deworsified by ensuring the jeans were skin-tight and worn with a matching acid wash jacket and big hairspray-lacquered hair.
This seems to have started with the hair metal bands of the '80s, since Poison was sporting the look on stage before every single '80s sitcom star and high school kid picked it up.
Hoping that we will not learn the tragic lessons of history, various stores are attempting to stage an acid wash comeback, presumably because enough time has gone by to finally unload warehouses full of unsold pairs on a new generation of unsuspecting consumers. They can already be seen on some celebrities like Rihanna, who weren't alive when this first became big and thus do not know any better.
Who's To Blame: Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.
Pastel linen suits over skin-tight pastel t-shirts, loafers with no socks, five o'clock shadow all day long ... there was a time when these things together made up the most macho look on the planet. It was a time called the '80s.
Maybe if you really were a tough-as-nails undercover cop in Miami, this was exactly the look required to infiltrate only the most dangerous drug cartels. Because if you're dressed as a 60-year-old Italian interior designer, no one will suspect the bulge in your pants is an automatic weapon.
Unfortunately, this look proved less effective when every jackass stockbroker in the country started dressing the Miami Vice way. No socks in the Miami summer = comfort. No socks in the Detroit winter = frostbite leading to double-foot amputation.
Who's To Blame: Flavor Flav
Nothing says "bold fashion statement" like covering an important body part in expensive metal. Of course, nothing says "you look like an idiot" more than having little bits of food caught between those gold teeth. Do you know how hard it is to properly floss your grill? Do you know how bad your breath gets with pieces of rotting food trapped in there? And the only thing worse than being on a date with a broccoli-tooth-grinned Flavor Flav is seeing your reflection in the gold teeth reminding you that you are dating him.
Flav seems to have inspired a generation of rappers to wear these ridiculous things after he started doing it in the '80s (he got his from Eddie's Gold Teeth, a shop in New York that was apparently the first to sell retarded things). At least it was the teeth that caught on and not the huge clock thing.
Who's To Blame: Eddie Vedder, Alice in Chains, Kurt Cobain
As any Pacific Northwest lumberjack from the early 1990s knows, it was difficult to identify your co-workers in the forest from the legions of Gap-plaid-clad youth who apathetically body-surfed into your forest from the neighboring Lollapalooza concert.
Fortunately none of these Generation Xers were harmed as even the trees were too apathetic to consider falling during this grunge revolution.
Who's To Blame: LL Cool J
For generations, music fans had been trying to invent a way to play their favorite tunes loud enough to blast across an entire ghetto. Finally in the early '80s, the dream of walking down the street with a 70-pound piece of audio equipment projecting dangerous levels of bass-heavy sound directly into your ear, and pissing off everyone in a 10-block radius, was realized: The ghetto blaster, also know as the boom box and the "if you don't turn that shit down I'm going to cave your head in with a rusty pipe."
We're going to say that the first mainstream rap acts like LL Cool J made this popular, mainly because we don't want to admit that '80s breakdancing crews were doing it before them.
Prior to LL Cool J it's all just a blur
These things were the anti-iPod, and these days with everyone on the street listening to MP3s on discreet headphones, we can be nostalgic about a time when you could hear your friend approaching from three miles away.
Who's To Blame: Jennifer Beals
Hey, you know how the Green Bay Packers' linemen have a tradition of not wearing sleeves even if it's minus 40 degrees at game time, just to show how tough they are? Well, wearing wool leg-sleeves to help keep your muscles warm prior to indoor dance routines is about as opposite of that as you can get, which partially explains the 1984 Packers' 140-0 victory over the cast of Flashdance.
Who's To Blame: Good Charlotte, Swingers and any Nu Metal band
A perfect example of function getting stomped by fashion. You're a big time celebrity, you have a wallet stuffed with one million dollar bills and you're constantly getting jostled by assistants, fans and paparazzi. So you get a big chain and hook it to your wallet, ensuring no one can grab it and dash off. Great idea, members of several nu metal bands!
But you're not a big time celebrity. You're just an everyday person, walking down the street with a huge chain showing every psychotic hobo you pass exactly where your wallet is. And when they lunge at you with a knife, how far can you run? Why just as far as the chain they just grabbed will let you: exactly two feet! For a hobo, that's optimal stabbing distance. As you lie there bleeding on the sidewalk, all you can hope is that knife wounds are the next big trend.
Who's To Blame: Axl Rose, Milli Vanilli
Spandex was developed in 1959 by a DuPont scientist who wanted a way to display the genitalia of male bicyclists without violating public nudity laws. By the late '80s, spandex bicycle shorts could be seen across the music community, from headbangers to pop stars to the female dancers in pretty much any rap music video.
Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose may not have been the first to sport the look, but his white "I've spray painted my junk" shorts are certainly the ones most burned in our memory.
At least we can all agree there was at least one benefit of the less revealing attire of the grunge era that began in 1991 and helped spell the beginning of the end of the careers of some of the artists supporting this trend. Axl Rose and his junk have been in hiding ever since, and for that, we thank him.