2032 Spring Fashion Preview (Part 1)

Enough with the heavy stuff about surveillance and putting the Fourth Amendment through the shredder. Now I’m going to try something truly foolish: figure out what people will be wearing in May 2032 in the Southern California of South.

This is foolish because it’s hard enough to predict what will be in fashion next spring, far less twenty years from now. Trends and influences come out of nowhere, hang around a few milliseconds, then disappear. Still, I’ve got to do it. As usual, this subject grew beyond the bounds of a single post. This entry will talk about design influences; Part 2 will consider the clothes themselves.

Since I’m not a complete idiot, I’ve stacked the deck in my favor. Most of the characters in South are poor or at best getting by. Fashion changes slowly for the poor. Most of the major characters are men – fashion changes slowly for men. Of the major female characters, one is a nurse (scrubs don’t seem to be going anywhere), another is an FBI agent (not imaginative dressers) and a third is a maid (the basic black maid dress hasn’t changed much since the 1960s except for hemlines).

Fashion Influences in the 2030s

Dominant economies tend to shape mass taste and design. Since the 1940s, it’s been America setting the pattern for what clothing styles are popular. (Before the 1940s it was Britain (menswear) and France (women’s wear).) Its dominance in mass media – especially film and TV – has gone a long way toward making American tastes global tastes.

So in 2032, who has the dominant economy? China. Whether the size of the Chinese economy surpasses that of America’s by 2020 or earlier, there’s little doubt it will do so. More importantly, there are already 200-300 million middle-class Chinese (far more than the number of middle-class Americans), and that may grow to 1.4 billion by 2030, with another one billion-plus middle-class Indians that same year. By 2035, four of the five largest middle-class countries in the world may be in Asia. Even if the American middle class doesn’t largely disappear by then (as I assume in South), it’ll still be dwarfed. All those middle- and upper-class Asians will want cars, homes, and clothes that suit them, their climates, traditions, tastes and lifestyles, even if basic forms are derived from Western models.

The arts and design tend not to fare well under authoritarian rule, though, so unless China’s politics change radically in the next twenty years, we may not see many designers or artists of global stature coming out of China. However, traditional design elements may be co-opted by others to appeal to the enormous Chinese middle-class market.

In contrast, India’s vitality (some would say barely-restrained chaos), political freedom, growing wealth and millennia-long artistic heritage could be rich potting soil from which a new generation of tastemakers, artists, designers, architects and so on grow. These people will have grown up in a culture with a couple centuries’ worth of experience in melding Western forms to Eastern sensibilities. It’s not unreasonable to expect Indian designers to be leading several of the big fashion houses by 2030. Indian mass media (especially Bollywood) are already making global inroads; imagine their influence after another twenty years of development.

In that nobody manages to do anything to stop the gradual warming of the planet, the highly populated temperate zones are becoming less temperate, with higher highs, expanding long-term drought and more severe storms. Lightweight natural fabrics and breathable synthetics are the norm; woolens and tweeds are the mark of people who can afford to live in air conditioning all the time. In that these conditions are nothing new to South Asia, this gives Indian designers yet another leg up.

Fashion Environment in America

Those Americans who manage to make a go of the design arts as a career (far fewer in 2032 than today given my scenario of a return to Gilded Age politics and economics) take their cues from work in the newly-dominant East. Younger people in America will also desire the assumed status of wearing the clothes popular in “progressive,” “modern” Asia, just as young people in the far corners of the Earth used to covet American (or faux-American) clothing.

The triumph of reactionary politics in South’s America and the rise of quasi-theocracy in many states leads to two additional, contradictory fashion influences.

  • On one hand, self-appointed, officially-unofficial guardians of public morality (essentially, Christian basiji) have appeared in many areas. These thugs threaten anti-establishment protesters, destroy “subversive” or “blasphemous” art, intimidate “undesirable” voters, and attack gays, interracial or same-sex couples, and women they consider immodest or immoral (usually synonymous). So, being able to pass muster with the basiji while out in public can be important to anyone who may run across them.
  • On the other hand, the general devaluation of women in the workplace and society – a return to the pre-feminist late 1950s and early 1960s – has re-emphasized the role of women’s fashion as display. Women are increasingly shut out of non-traditional roles (our heroine Nora, an agent in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, was relegated to a desk job when the FBI Director thought it unseemly for wives and mothers to be field agents), which reinforces their value as armpieces and eye candy. Figure-enhancing and -showcasing fashion (think Bollywood and Mad Men) is big business, while women’s professional clothes are a declining market segment.


This is the environment fashion inhabits in South’s version of 2032. Next time, I’ll go into specifics about what all this means to the characters’ closets.

What else am I missing? Given the scenario already laid out, what other fashion influences would you expect to see?

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