FROM THE PRINTING PRESS TO TIKTOK: HOW ADVENTS IN COMMUNICATION HAVE SHAPED THE FASHION INDUSTRY
BY CARLY BRECHNER AND SPENCYR ARONSON
COVER ART: JULIANNA LUKACS
While the Renaissance is known for being a period of cultural and artistic rebirth following the Middle Ages, it was also a period of crucial innovation and technological advancements. Similar to the Renaissance, today’s post-pandemic Modern Renaissance is categorized by transformations in fashion, art, and mass communication. TikTok, specifically, represents one of the newer social media platforms whose impact during the Modern Renaissance mirrors that of the printing press during the previous Renaissance.
The printing press, discovered around 1436 by German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg, was one of the Renaissance inventions that accelerated the spread of knowledge, discoveries, and literacy throughout Europe, contributing to significant changes in the understanding of fashion.
With the improvement of communication and the continuation of global discovery voyages, significant intrigue around the stylistic choices of other countries came to fruition. Through these new means of connection, the word “fashion” was first used in its modern sense. In an address to King Henry VIII, a petitioner in 1529, deploring the sinfulness of the people of England, wrote: “The principal cause [of sin] is their costly apparel and especially their manifold and diverse changes of fashions which the men and especially the women must wear.” In addition, the development of the middle class and the growing distinctions between a wealthy Catholic and a simple Protestant sense of style had a lasting impact on European fashion, culture and society.
When discussing the printing press and its effects on fashion, University of Michigan history professor Megan Holmes mentioned that,“there was a category of printed book known as a costume book about showing a variety of costumes, often in a single locale, often comparing different locales.” Holmes, whose research specializes in studies of the Renaissance, added “that [these costume books were] where you start to get the idea that Europeans are curious and interested in peoples of the world.”
Shortly after the invention of the printing press, the printed page was used to convey emerging fashion trends. As a result, the fashion plate, with its origins rooted in late-17th century France, gained momentum rapidly. Defined as drawings, engravings, and illustrations to show women the most popular styles of the era, fashion plates highlighted how others around the world were dressing. Thanks to the printing press, styles had begun to change quicker than ever, making fashion plates an efficient way to promote fashion workshops in countries throughout Western Europe. Additionally, in order to advance French society and promote the sales of luxury products, King Louis XIV sponsored the production of fashion plates by prominent designers throughout the country and overseas. As a whole, fashion plates can be considered the first fashion magazines. Without them, there would have been no resource available to suggest the latest and most appropriate outfits for specific occasions.
Besides the introduction of fashion plates, early publications dedicated to style began during the Renaissance. The French publication Mercure Galant, which began in 1672, featured countless combinations of illustrations, poems, anecdotes, theatre and art reviews. For example, illustrations of the seasonal attire during the winter of 1677-78 promoted military scarfs for men and embroidered petticoats for women. Notably, the Mercure Galant was considered the first gazette to report on the fashion world, playing a pivotal role in the spread of fashion texts to other countries.
As the printing press revolutionized fashion communications during the Renaissance, similar patterns are occurring during today’s Modern Renaissance with social media platforms. Brands are able to leverage the power of the mass media to advertise and promote their products given its millions of users, subscribers, and readers.
TikTok, specifically, is a relatively new video-sharing platform that has gained immense popularity. Throughout quarantine, TikTok took off as an entertaining outlet to keep people occupied with its fast-paced “for-you page.” As society enters the Modern Renaissance of post-pandemic innovation and cultural awakening, companies have adapted their communications strategies to use TikTok in creative and strategic ways.
Brands now engage with TikTok to scout models, provide behind-the-scenes footage of their creative processes, and market their products to its billion users. TikTok enables older, well-established brands such as Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton to connect with younger consumers while understanding the driving forces behind current trends; the “Y2K” comeback this year was incredibly popular on TikTok with the hashtag #Y2KFashion having gained over 227.5 million views. Brands such as Von Dutch and Juicy Couture noticed this social spark and used it to revive and re-market their products. Even the highly-coveted front row seats at fashion week are filled with TikTok influencers, while brands like Prada are live-streaming their runway shows on TikTok to gain over 3 million views. Given these brand efforts, over 50% of TikTok users have reported purchasing a product or service they saw on the app.
Along with TikTok, other social media platforms such as Instagram have revolutionized the fashion industry. Personal and commercial content flow through social media feeds to constantly promote new brands and trends both subconsciously and through advertisements. Never before has it been so easy to both see a product and purchase it at your fingertips. This instant-gratification purchasing experience provided by social media platforms has helped social commerce sales grow this year by about 35.8% to reach $36.62 billion.
When asked about the differences between the printing press’s influence on the fashion industry and that of social media, Professor Holmes noted that “social media is just considerably more pervasive, interactive, and dynamic. The printing press was not that instantaneous and the geographic kind of extension was not very broad compared to the responsiveness and reactivity of social media.”
From the Renaissance to the Modern Renaissance, there are constantly new forms of communication methods developing, consequently shaping the fashion industry. As time changes and consumer demands shift, brands have to adapt to new methods of marketing their products, emphasizing the fascinating ways in which media can promote fashion. Similar to how the printing press functioned in the Renaissance, new forms of social media highlight how technology can revolutionize the fashion industry and society as a whole while leading us into the Modern Renaissance.